Will Mississippi seek to recover millions state auditor says was misspent by community college? Attorney general has yet to decide.

Published 4:09 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2022

The Mississippi attorney general is deciding whether to file a lawsuit to recover $2.3 million in public money that the state auditor said was misspent by a community college and some business leaders.

A spokesman for Auditor Shad White told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that Itawamba Community College, a former college dean, owners of furniture manufacturing company Chapter 3 Inc. and a former employee of the furniture company have not repaid the Workforce Enhancement Training funds.

The auditor’s office demanded the money in October, but it does not have authority to pursue civil or criminal sanctions. Cases go to the attorney general’s office.
Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s chief of staff, Michelle Williams, said the office is evaluating whether to file suit.

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Fitch’s office could have started investigating the case late last year. But when the Daily Journal contacted the agencies, both discovered miscommunication had caused a delay.

Legislators this year largely left the Workforce Enhancement Training fund laws unchanged.

Most of the demand letter recipients have denied mishandling the training money, even as criminal cases are pending.

The money is collected through an unemployment insurance tax on businesses. The funds were previously controlled by the Mississippi Community College Board.
The Office of Workforce Development was rebranded as Accelerate Mississippi and now oversees the roughly $25 million, though it is required to collaborate with the community college board.

Accusations of misspending happened while the community college board still had oversight.

The Senate this year introduced a bill to tweak the training funds. House leaders amended it by directing Accelerate alone to “administer and oversee the funds.” That language was removed from the bill’s final version, so state law still provides a role for the community college board.

Accelerate Executive Director Ryan Miller told the Daily Journal that the organization has worked with an accounting firm and set regulations to ensure training dollars are spent properly. Those guardrails include asking community colleges to apply for training funds similar to how other government groups use a “Request for Proposal” process to solicit bids from vendors.