After sexual misconduct investigation revealed, Mississippi governor now says MDA chief is on administrative leave

Published 2:01 pm Wednesday, August 18, 2021

By Geoff Pender


After announcing last week that his chief economic development officer John Rounsaville would be resigning effective in two weeks, Gov. Tate Reeves now says he’s on administrative leave until then, after Mississippi Today broke news of Rounsaville’s alleged sexual misconduct with employees.

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“(Mississippi Development Authority) Executive Director John Rounsaville’s resignation was tendered on August 13 following an investigation into his conduct,” Reeves’ spokesperson Bailey Martin wrote in a statement on Wednesday. “He is removed from day-to-day operations of the agency and on administrative leave until the end of the month.”

On Aug. 13, Reeves issued a press release saying Rounsaville was “stepping down to pursue new opportunity” effective Aug. 31, 2021. Reeves, in that same release, went on to praise Rounsaville’s leadership at MDA and said, “I wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

Rounsaville was quoted in the Aug. 13 press release praising Reeves and saying he was resigning “to focus more on my family and spend less time traveling.”

But on Tuesday, Mississippi Today reported that sexual misconduct allegations led to Rounsaville’s resignation. Sources familiar with the incident and investigation said Rounsaville appeared intoxicated and propositioned the three subordinate female MDA employees for sex and rubbed against or touched them. Additionally, Reeves’ office received a recommendation that Rounsaville’s employment be terminated 15 days before his resignation was announced.

On Tuesday, asked for comment on his resignation in light of the sexual misconduct allegations, Rounsaville said he voluntarily resigned.

In a written statement to Mississippi Today on Tuesday, Rounsaville said: “I didn’t live up to my own standards or MDA’s standards. My behavior was not reflective of my character. I deeply regret that, and I apologize to everyone involved. I believed voluntarily resigning was the appropriate consequence. And, it was my hope to save MDA, my colleagues, and my family further embarrassment by doing so.”

The written response from Reeves’ office on Wednesday was in response to questions from Mississippi Today. Those questions included asking why, after receiving a personnel investigative report on Rounsaville on July 29 that recommended his employment be terminated, Rounsaville’s resignation didn’t come until Aug. 13. They also included questions why his resignation was not effective until the end of the month, and whether any action was being taken to prevent Rounsaville from having contact with the subordinate female employees he allegedly harassed while he works out his final two weeks.

Often, when state employees resign, they make it effective at a month’s end to accrue more service time in the state retirement system. As MDA director, Rounsaville makes a state salary of $180,000 a year. MDA directors typically also receive a stipend from a consortium of private businesses under a 2012 state law. The total pay cannot exceed $250,000 a year.

Reeves’ response said: “The governor follows state law and State Personnel Board rules which direct that in any matter such as this, an investigation be conducted by a professional, independent third party. If such an investigation is completed and the recommendation calls for the resignation of a public official, the Governor will accept it or he would demand it if necessary. After a thorough review of the facts of this case, he allowed the director to resign.

“For the protection of state employees, the identities of individuals making personnel complaints are known only to the investigators and not to anyone else in the administration or media. State statute prohibits disclosure of personnel records and prevents the Governor and other administrative officials from even discussing the matter. Only the claimant and the respondent have a right to discuss such a matter publicly.”

State law allows exemption from open records and open meetings laws for personnel records and matters, but does not include a prohibition on them being released or discussed.

The incidents in question occurred on July 9, when Rounsaville, other MDA employees and economic development officials from across the state attended the Mississippi Economic Development Council annual conference at the Beau Rivage Casino Resort in Biloxi. Sometime in the early morning hours of July 9, Rounsaville and others were drinking in a still-crowded casino bar when he allegedly made sexual advances toward the three women.