More secrecy about millions

It’s one thing when government officials won’t talk to the press. It’s quite another when they won’t talk to other government officials.

This year, the Mississippi Association of Supervisors is asking state lawmakers to approve a bill that would shed light on the operations of the CMRS board.

Following our experience with the CMRS board, we urge lawmakers to support the measure.

CMRS, which is the colloquial term used for the Commercial Mobile Radio Services Emergency Telephone Service board, oversees how millions of dollars in 911 surcharge fees are spent.

These are the fees each cell phone user pays on his or her cell phone bill. Over the years, CMRS has amassed more than $44 million, which has been set aside in a special account to reimburse wireless providers for ensuring their communications systems meet federal guidelines.

County leaders want to know why this account continues to grow.

Hinds County District One Supervisor Robert Graham said cell phone coverage is strong across the state, and CMRS dollars should be divvied up among the counties.

He could be right. If the account is growing, it could be a sign less money is needed by providers.

Graham, along with the supervisors’ association, has tried to find out more about the account, but have been stonewalled by the CMRS board.

Members of this unelected body have been less than forthcoming with the Sun as well.

Melissa Bryant, the board chair, declined to talk with the Sun over the phone and said members would only field questions from the press at its monthly meetings.

Sun reporter Anthony Warren attended the January meeting, where members tried to stonewall him further.

The meeting was slated to begin at 10 a.m. However, our reporter wasn’t allowed to enter the meeting room until about 10 minutes after.

Members then said they couldn’t answer questions because they didn’t have a quorum. One member suggested e-mailing questions so they could be answered at the next meeting.

Warren asked if there was a communications policy in writing, and Bryant said there was not.

To be fair, members did answer some questions regarding how wireless providers are reimbursed, as well as offered more details on FCC rules governing 911 service.

The board also said providers ask for reimbursements for system upgrades each month, a sign that the account is still needed.

Nevertheless, we find it ironic that a group tapped to manage millions in state communications funds is so unwilling to communicate.

When dealing with taxpayer money, nothing but full transparency will suffice. Let’s hope legislators agree and approve a bill this session that will shed light on CMRS activities.

 

 

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