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Newspaper sues state agency to get financial records

BILOXI — A Gulf Coast newspaper has sued the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources to get access to some financial records.

The Sun Herald reports it filed suit in Harrison County Chancery Court.

The Sun Herald is seeking a judge’s order compelling MDMR to produce the records. The newspaper also asked for a hearing on the lawsuit to be held within three days, as the Mississippi Public Records Act calls for expedited relief.

The MDMR has cited a state auditor’s investigation to deny the Sun Herald access to the records. MDMR attorney Sandy Chesnut has claimed the financial records fall under the law’s criminal investigations exemption.

Sun Herald attorney Henry Laird says the MDMR is unable to claim the exemption because it applies to law enforcement agencies.

The Sun Herald has requested records related to MDMR’s disaster relief and artificial reef accounts.

The newspaper has reported that a $115,000 check that was supposed to go to MDMR for maintenance of an artificial reef instead went to a foundation former agency director Bill Walker managed.

The Sun Herald also has reported that more than $1.4 million in public money from the Rigs to Reefs program went to upgrade and maintain two boats the private foundation leased to MDMR.

The Sun Herald requested artificial reef records Dec. 27. Chesnut responded by email Jan. 9, saying, in part: “the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) has received a subpoena from the Mississippi State Auditor’s Office for the requested information and therefore, the MDMR is prohibited from releasing this information.”

 

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