/AG Hood’s investigators question MDOT officials in frontage road probe

AG Hood’s investigators question MDOT officials in frontage road probe

Hood began the investigation after Mississippi Today and The Clarion Ledger published articles that highlighted plans for a $2,000,000 frontage road. This would benefit a subdivision in which prominent Republicans reside or own land. Tate Reeves, his brother, Todd Harkins, state senator, Flowood Ald. Kirk McDaniel, and others who contribute regularly to political campaigns. Mississippi Today was informed by a spokesperson for MDOT that investigators had interviewed employees of the agency and turned over digital correspondence and documents related to the project. MDOT didn’t say who was interviewed or when. Jason Scott, spokesperson for MDOT, said that any further information would be provided by the Attorney General’s Office. The office of the attorney general did not respond to specific questions regarding the probe due to a policy not to comment on ongoing investigations. Officials from the city of Flowood have been in contact with investigators after years of working closely with MDOT officials on the frontage roads project. According to Flowood officials, this summer the city granted investigators a request to turn over documents related to the project. Josh Carlisle (Flowood’s city clerk) told Mississippi Today Monday that they have not heard from them. Hood’s office reached out to Reeves earlier in the year. Hood instructed Reeves’ staff and him to save any documents relating to the frontage road project in July. Reeves replied to Hood in a July 26 correspondence by saying that he had conducted two independent reviews to determine if his office played any role in the progress of the frontage-road project. The frontage road would not have been beneficial to any other businesses or communities. MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath told Geoff Pender (Clarion-Ledger’s Political Editor) earlier this year that MDOT decided to build the frontage road due to “political pressure” from Senators. A Mississippi Today investigation revealed that the planning of the project also pushed other safety projects down the department’s priority list. Dick Hall, Transportation Commission Chairman, published the frontage road articles. He had been asking MDOT engineers for updates on road plans for months and announced that he would delay the project. The agency originally intended to invite construction bids this summer. Hall, a Republican said that he wanted to reassess merits of the project to improve safety. He also acknowledged that media reports had influenced his decision not to move it. Hood wrote to 50 state officials in July asking them to keep any records relating to the proposed frontage road. Reeves’ and senators as well as leaders at MDOT who oversaw the project received the letter. Hood stated in the letter that his office was investigating and evaluating any claims the state might have regarding the $2 million “frontage road” project to connect Oakridge and Dogwood subdivisions with Dogwood Festival Boulevard, and its shopping centre. The letter continues: “The purpose and scope of this investigation are to determine whether any violations of Mississippi law” One outcome of the ongoing investigation could result in civil litigation or other legal proceedings under state law. Already, the political fallout from this controversy has begun and will likely continue into next year’s governorship election. Reeves (a Republican) plans to announce his 2019 bid as governor in the next few weeks. Given his multi-million dollar campaign fund, he would likely be the frontrunner for the nomination. Hood, a Democrat has already announced his 2019 campaign to be governor. Reeves gave a brief news conference of 20 minutes in July. He claimed vindication, and then presented a McGrath letter. Reeves has maintained that Hood was not involved in the project, and he accused Hood of “political Grandstanding.” Hood has, however, denied any political motive behind the investigation. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today.