JACKSON, Miss. (Mississippi Today) – Mississippi Development Authority Director John Rounsaville’s announced resignation on Aug. 13 came after a state investigation into reports he sexually harassed and touched three subordinate female MDA employees at a Biloxi bar during a business conference in July, sources familiar with the investigation and incident told Mississippi Today.
Following the investigation, a recommendation was made to the governor on July 29 that Rounsaville’s employment be terminated, the sources said.
Gov. Tate Reeves, who appointed Rounsaville to the post in January, announced in an Aug. 13 press release that Rounsaville would be “stepping down to pursue new opportunity” effective Aug. 31 and praised Rounsaville’s “leadership at MDA.” The release quoted Rounsaville saying he wanted to spend more time with his wife and children and less time traveling.
The governor’s office released an updated statement to WJTV 12 News on Wednesday about Rounsaville’s resignation.
MDA Executive Director John Rounsaville’s resignation was tendered on August 13th following an investigation into his conduct. He is removed from day-to-day operations of the Agency and on administrative leave until the end of the month.
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.Gov. Tate Reeves’ Office
When asked for comment, Rounsaville on Tuesday sent Mississippi Today a written statement: “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.”
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, the state’s lead economic development official representing the state across the country and abroad, 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 amount cannot exceed $250,000.
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.
Sources said Rounsaville appeared intoxicated and propositioned the three female MDA employees for sex and rubbed against or touched them. One state government official familiar with the incident described it as Rounsaville being “obnoxious and drunk, hanging on to them and making inappropriate comments,” but said it was an isolated incident and out of character for Rounsaville, whom they otherwise defended.
Sources said the women were reluctant to report the incident, but that more than one non-MDA economic development official who witnessed it vowed they would report it if the women didn’t.
The women reported the incident to MDA’s human resources office the following week, the sources said. State government procedure for when such allegations are made against a department director is for the state personnel director, not the agency HR department, to investigate. As MDA director, Rounsaville reports directly to Reeves.
State Personnel Board Director Kelly Hardwick notified Rounsaville and the governor’s office of the complaints and started an investigation into the matter, sources said. Hardwick completed his investigation and submitted a report to Reeves on July 29, including a recommendation that Rounsaville either be fired or resign, the sources said. They said the investigation concluded there was no cause for state criminal or legal action against Rounsaville.
Citing an exemption of personnel records from the state’s open records laws, the state personnel director would not supply Mississippi Today a copy of the final report from the investigation into Rounsaville’s actions.
Hardwick, in a statement, said: “It is my understanding of state law that matters related to personnel issues are not public records. So then, I cannot share or disclose any information related to the investigations that I conduct without permission. I have no further comment on this matter.”
The three women are still employed at MDA, and sources said to their knowledge none have filed criminal complaints or taken legal action against the state or Rounsaville.