The Braille Monitor                                                                      _______        October 1997

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Politics in Mississippi as Usual: Rehabilitation Again Featured


From the Editor Emeritus: As Monitor readers know, Nell Carney, Federal Rehabilitation Commissioner under President Bush, was appointed director of Mississippi's rehabilitation program in 1993. Mississippi's governor is a Republican, and the majority in its legislature are Democrats. From the beginning of her stay in Mississippi, Carney had rough sailing. Democrats in the legislature said she didn't do a good job and that she was overpaid. Others said that her problem was that she was appointed by a Republican governor.

Be that as it may, she resigned from her position late in 1996 and moved to North Carolina. This did not bring peace to the Mississippi rehabilitation department. Apparently legislative shenanigans in the state are still alive and well.

Under date of August 17, 1997, an article by Bill Minor detailing the situation appeared in The Clarion Ledger, one of Mississippi's leading newspapers. Here is what it says:

McMillan's Rise in Power Defied all Ethical Logic-- At best, appointment to head agency suggests conflict of interest

by Bill Minor

With powerful help from his old legislative roommate, former state Rep. Hubert S. (Butch) McMillan was apparently put at the head of the state's highly sensitive agency dealing with disability services, a job for which he had no background.

Earlier this year McMillan was named executive director of Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, an agency that handles nearly $90 million a year in state and federal disability funds.

He got the $70,000-a-year job in February after Rep. Bobby Moody, D-Louisville, pushed the state Board of Rehabilitation Services. Moody chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee, which controls key legislation that affects several agency heads who hired McMillan.

Moody, at the time, was holding two bills hostage--one considered vital to the state Department of Human Services and the other to revamp the state Mental Health Board. The heads of both agencies, it seems, felt pressure from Moody to junk two other nominees for the Rehabilitation Services job and give it to McMillan, who was not even a nominee.

Ironically, Moody's power play made an end run around Governor Kirk Fordice's choice for the rehabilitation job, leaving the would-be appointee stunned that a Fordice administration agency head had abandoned him in the selection process.

McMillan's qualifications for the job are a far cry from those held by his predecessor, Dr. Nell Carney, a longtime rehabilitation professional who was commissioner of the disability services administration under President Bush.

Originally from North Carolina, Carney took over the Mississippi agency in 1993 when Bush left office. After a rocky three years in Mississippi, largely because of her tight administrative style, Carney resigned in December after losing most of her already impaired vision.

After she stepped down, the requirements for the job, which included a master's degree and ten years experience in the field, were lowered by the state Personnel Board.

Retired Air Force Colonel Florian Yoste, now a top assistant in the Department of Economic and Community Development, was Fordice's choice to replace Carney. Yoste, who has several master's degrees and has years of experience in administrative posts in the military, was believed the odds-on choice when the board met in January.

The only other nominee was Jerry Sawyer, longtime vocational rehabilitation director and a former Carney assistant.

However, there was a tie between the two, and, strangely, Don Taylor, director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, who had requested Yoste to submit his application, did not vote for Yoste.

It's more than coincidence that at the time Taylor's number one legislative program, state enactment of the new Welfare Reform Act passed by Congress, was pending before Moody's committee.

Then McMillan's name gets tossed into the pot for the Rehabilitation Services job.

In a February 10 special meeting Dr. Randy Hendrix, who is director of mental health, made the motion to hire McMillan.

This time Taylor voted for McMillan, who was approved unanimously.

Coincidentally, the reorganization of Hendrix's mental health board, which had previously died on deadline in Moody's House committee, was revived.

Evidently Moody has been pushing for a couple of years to give his old legislative crony McMillan a nice salary at Rehabilitation Services. Moody could not be reached for comment.

I interviewed Carney by telephone in North Carolina, where she is now living. She said in 1993, shortly after she took over the agency, McMillan was forced on her department by the administration and given the job of director of the agency's physical plant and maintenance. She concluded that this was the administration's way of placating Moody, who held the key legislative post.

While in his job, McMillan built a home in Madison County, using some of the department's maintenance forces, supposedly working after hours and on weekends. One former employee of the department, Wyatt Price, an experienced plumber, told me he had worked on McMillan's home in 1994 with at least three others from the department, including two workers still in their first-year probation. All of them were dependent upon McMillan's evaluation in their job reviews.

Price said he didn't feel he would lose his job if he didn't help on the building. All were paid for the work, he said, but he did not say how much.

Carney said she filed a complaint to the Legislative PEER Committee about McMillan's use of maintenance employees, but PEER did not investigate.