Ex-DMR board member asked Trust to buy land from boss’ son

BILOXI — The head of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain says a board member employed by the state Department of Marine Resources asked the trust if it would buy land from her boss’ son, if the department provided some money.

The proposal came from Tina Shumate, who resigned early in February as director of the DMR’s Coastal Management and Planning Office, Judy Steckler told the Sun Herald.

Shumate’s attorney, Tim Holleman of Gulfport, said he cannot discuss her role in the land transaction because of continuing state and federal investigations of department spending under fired director Bill Walker.

“This did not originate with Tina,” he said.

The land was owned by Walker’s son, Scott Walker, and bought with $220,000 provided by the Department of Marine Resources.

Board member Melanie Allen described the deal as unique in the 13-year history of the nonprofit, which usually finds money to buy land and then looks at a list of suitable property.

Steckler and board members said they completed their usual investigation before buying the Jackson County land.

In hindsight, Allen said, they realize the transaction created the appearance of a conflict of interest for the board.

Shumate first talked to Steckler about the Walker property in mid-March or early April 2011, Steckler said. The Land Trust bought the property in July 2011.

“I cannot think of another transaction that’s gone that fast,” Allen said. “It’s not unusual for transactions to take a year. It might take a few months, but I can’t think of another one that went through this quickly.”

It closed 12 days before Scott Walker’s final, lump-sum payment was due on a loan, Jackson County land records show.

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