Who’s auditing the state auditor?
Mississippi’s state auditor is supposed to make sure that everyone in government has a clean nose when it comes to spending the public’s money or using public resources.
What happens, though, when the auditor himself isn’t scrupulously following the laws and regulations he is charged with enforcing?
That could be the case with Stacey Pickering when it comes to the use of a state-owned vehicle.
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger has been digging into how taxpayer-owned vehicles are used by state employees. It has turned up several instances where it appears the vehicles have been illegally put to personal use. The state Department of Audit, prompted by the Clarion-Ledger’s reporting, has been looking into the alleged abuses. Just last week, it demanded that a Department of Public Safety official repay $6,566 for his personal use of a state-owned vehicle.
State law is fairly strict about this issue. It forbids state employees from driving cars for personal use — even commuting from home to work — unless they are in law enforcement or are designated as 24-hour, on-call first responders. Some agencies have gotten around that ban by liberally designating employees, including some agency heads, as emergency employees.
Pickering doesn’t enjoy that designation, though. The Clarion-Ledger has raised questions about a state-owned vehicle that the Republican auditor acknowledges parking at his home in Laurel. Since 2008, the vehicle has logged almost 75,000 miles and has been the recipient of 243 fuel purchases, totaling $8,965. More than two-thirds of those purchases have occurred at locations on the highways between Jackson and Laurel.
Pickering says the car is part of the Department of Audit’s pool and, although it is garaged in Laurel, other employees have occasionally used it. He also claims that all of his trips in the vehicle between Jackson and Laurel have been for state business or for security’s sake.
Maybe all of Pickering’s driving has been on the up and up. We’d like to see him prove it.
Unfortunately, the log book he is supposed to keep of his trips in the vehicle has 40 blanks, according to the Clarion-Ledger. Curiously, each time there is a blank, a fill-up took place between Jackson and Laurel.