HINDS COUNTY, Miss. (WJTV) – Hinds County voters may not get a safe and secure election from the COVID-19 pandemic after a serious dispute between the election commissioners and board of supervisors over a grant.
The main argument is who gets the final say in how much money gets spent and where? Plus is one side’s idea illegal?
Hinds County Election Commission Chair, Toni Johnson, is going as far as accusing Supervisor David Archie of racketeering and doctoring documents to misspend $200,000 in election funds for personal gain. Archie responds it’s Commissioner Johnson demanding blank checks for her ideas.
The grant came down from Chicago’s Center for Tech and Civic Life. Awarding more than $1.5 Million to ensure Hinds County would have safe elections during COVID. But how to meet those goals have leaders at odds.
“It was to be for voter education, cleaning the precincts due to COVID-19,” Commission Chair Johnson said. “None of which he submitted fell within that and the total was $191,000+.”
“I wanted to look into the depth of what she was bringing before us and she would get mad and storm out of the room or hang up the phone every time I would inquire,” Supervisor Archie responded.
At the end of the grant approval documents, the Hinds County board showed us the name of the grantee listed as President Robert Graham leading them to take responsibility for its funds.
“The election commission was supposed to provide items that needed to be purchased and used,” Supervisor Graham stated. “We vote on them and approve them and then they can make their particular purchase.”
“She had a $300,000 item that she brought before this board on just one occasion,” Supervisor Archie added. “I asked her about that item, we discussed that item and she didn’t want to provide any information about that item.”
Commissioner Johnson points to specific language in the grant she says she alone applied for stating its purpose of “planning and operationalizing safe and secure elections” duties under the Election Commission.
“Had this been general fund money out of the general budget the Board of Supervisors would have jurisdiction to do that,” Commission Chair Johnson argued. “This is not taxpayer money, this is philanthropic money directed to run safe elections for elected officials.”
The Elections Commission is also calling for a federal investigation for David Archie’s proposals allegedly violating the purpose of the grant like holding a big event to educate voters and non-efficient COVID precautions.
“There was a proposal in there for a tennis match to perform voter education,” Commission Chair Johnson pointed to. “There was also a proposal for air filters and mats that prevent COVID-19. COVID-19 does not spread on your feet.”
Supervisor Archie responded to us explaining the tennis tournament allegedly hosted by Coins Tennis Company matters for safe elections by educating voters and handing out PPE bags for them.
We reached out to U.S Attorney Mike Hurst’s office for any comment on him opening an investigation into racketeering or strong-arming these funds but haven’t heard back. While the Board of Supervisors is confident they’ll still have a safe election from COVID risks, the Election Commission has doubts.
Archie released the following statement:
Let me start by expressing my gratitude to the Center for Tech and Civic Life for their generosity by awarding Hinds County with a $1.5m grant to support the upcoming election process making the purchase of items and services to ensure a safe and secure environment for Hinds County voters possible.
It is the responsibility of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to oversee the full county budget and ensure it is fiscally sound. This includes the acceptance and/or rejection of revenue and funding from all exterior sources such as grants. Therefore, it is ONLY by the authority of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors that a request can be made to rescind the Center for Tech and Civic Life funding. An election commissioner has absolutely no authority to do so.
This morning Commissioner Johnson presented to the Hinds County Board of Supervisors a request for an appropriation of approximately $1m of the grant award without explanation, specifications, proposals, and/or justification. I was not comfortable with several of the agenda items presented and some adjustments were made by the Board. There may have been some deals cut in the dark by Commissioner Johnson and we are here to shed light and transparency. As a result, I refused to vote and blindly approve all action items as it has always been and remains my goal as a board member to represent the citizens of Hinds County with honesty and integrity.
Unfortunately, Commissioner Johnson has taken this as an opportunity to publicly spew false accusations and derogatory statements against me in a personal, vindictive attack to tarnish my reputation as has been her practice since she made an unsuccessful bid to win the District Two Supervisor seat.
Regardless of how Commissioner Johnson would like to spin the events of today’s board meeting regarding the grant award and her efforts to sling mud about me, my goal for the November 3rd elections continues to be to provide the safest environment possible for the voters to let their voices be heard.David Archie, District 2 Supervisor for Hinds County