Rolling Fork mayor vetoes payment to Traveler’s Rest agency

Published 10:50 pm Friday, December 15, 2023

The ongoing saga between Vicksburg-based Traveler’s Rest Grant Management and the City of Rolling Fork continues as the mayor has vetoed a payment to the agency.

The Board of Aldermen in Rolling Fork voted this month to pay $195,624 to Traveler’s Rest Grant Management for invoices submitted before Oct. 26, when the non-profit issued a cease-and-desist letter to sever its contract with the city.

However, Mayor Eldridge Walker vetoed the action, according to the Deer Creek Pilot newspaper.

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“As you are aware the City of Rolling Fork received a cease-and-desist letter on October 26, 2023,” the newspaper said Walker wrote in his official veto letter. “Therefore, the Rolling Fork Board of Aldermen should reconsider their vote to authorize the payment of the … invoices.”

According to the newspaper, the board has 10 days to override the veto with a two-thirds vote of members. The original vote to approve the invoices was 2-2, with the vice mayor breaking the tie.

In August 2023, the City of Rolling Fork contracted with Traveler Rest Ministries CDC, the non-profit affiliated with Travelers Rest Baptist Church, to be the official grant management entity for the city with Dr. General Bryant Jr. as the representative of Traveler Rest.

At stake are millions of dollars in federal and state aid for recovery and repairs after the deadly March 2023 tornado devastated the community.

In October, residents in Rolling Fork questioned the terms of the agreement, which would’ve paid both the pastor of Travelers Rest and other ministry members to manage grants and disburse aid, while many residents of the community have yet to receive relief more than six months after the deadly tornado.

Under the contract, an engineer would’ve been paid $9,400 a week plus expenses, which included more than $1,900 for lodging. An administrative assistant with Travelers Rest Ministries will be paid $4,000 a week — approximately $16,000 a month.  Bryant, as the program manager, would have been paid $8,400 a week — more than $33,000 a month.

However, Rolling Fork officials continue to question the impact of the work and the ability to have the expense of the contract reimbursed by state or federal agencies. According to the Deer Creek Pilot, City Attorney Allen Woodward told the board that if “FEMA determined that these invoice amounts were reasonable, they would be reimbursed. If FEMA determined they weren’t, they wouldn’t be reimbursed …

“They (Traveler’s Rest) did bring in the task orders. They did bring in the invoices. They did bring the jump drive reflecting their work product.”

And, Alderman Calvin Stewart said the agency had significantly increased the estimate of damage caused by the tornado, potentially increasing the amount of federal and state aid.

“Before they came in, our rebuild cost was to be estimated at $4 (million) to $5 million,” Stewart is quoted as saying. “After they came in and the people came in and submitted the numbers correctly (to the clerk) our numbers in the portal went up. So, the work that you saw, them riding around, looking at bridges and streets, it did take the projects from averaging $3 (million) to $5 million to double digits, even as high as $12 million. So, there is some positives to it.”