Ex-director utility says he will fight part of audit demand
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Former State Rep. Kenneth Wayne Jones (file)

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
Associated Press

   JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A former director of a city-owned utility says he will fight the Mississippi auditor's demand that he repay a severance package.

   Auditor Shad White said Tuesday that his office is demanding $78,613 from Kenny Wayne Jones, who served as a Democrat in the Mississippi Senate from January 2008 to January 2016 and then worked for Canton Municipal Utilities from early 2016 until January 2018, part of that time as director.

   The auditor said severance pay to public officials is illegal. A demand letter issued last week by the auditor's office said Jones used a utility procurement card to buy a TV and another electronic device, and those weren't found during inventory.

   Jones told The Associated Press on Tuesday the government utility has the TV and the Amazon Fire TV Stick mentioned in the demand letter. He said he believes the severance pay he received is proper because he resigned and was not fired. Jones said his attorney negotiated what he would receive in severance pay.

   Jones said he considers the auditor's demands to be "borderline slander."

   "All of this had given me a black eye professionally when none of it was true," Jones said.

   The auditor is also demanding payment of about $23,200 from 11 other current or former Canton Municipal Utilities employees for alleged misspending between November 2015 and November 2017. About $18,500 of that is for items the auditor said were for personal use; the rest is for interest and costs of recovering the money. One demand letter remains to be served.

   White said the improper purchases at Canton Municipal Utilities included alcohol and gift cards.

   "When this many people violate purchasing laws, you have an organization that needs to entirely rethink its practices," White, a Republican, said in a news release. "Typically, we do not have cause to issue this many demands to a single organization, but that is the case here. Ratepayers and others who put their faith in Canton Municipal Utilities need to be made whole, and the people receiving these demands are personally responsible for paying this money back."

   The demand to Jones is for $75,428, plus $3,039 in interest and $146 in recovery costs. It does not specify how much of that is for the severance pay and how much is for the electronics.

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