After repeated attempts to obtain a copy of the City of Grenada’s current budget, The Grenada Star has formally filed an open records request to obtain a copy of the complete budget for fiscal year 2021-22.
When organizers with the backing of more than two dozen Friends of Grenada Animal Shelter supporters brought their concerns to the Grenada City Council in March and again in April, numerous questions were left unanswered.
However, one question has continued to concern The Grenada Star.
How much funding is actually allocated in the city’s budget for the shelter? During the initial meeting held on March 21, the question regarding funding for the shelter was asked. No definitive amounts were released, however, officials stated that they believed the budgeted amount was $5,000.
With this question in mind, Publisher Adam Prestridge made a gentleman’s request to City Manager Stanford Amos for a “complete copy” of the City of Grenada’s current budget. The simple request was initially made to Amos via text message at 2:16 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13, 2022, two days following the city’s monthly City Council meeting. At the time, Amos said that he was “preparing the city for the forecasted storm” and understandably so could not provide the requested documents.
“I made my request via text to ensure that I had record of the request,” Prestridge said. “I had no reason to believe that the information would be difficult to obtain after speaking to the Mayor the day before during Cathy Bissell’s visit to the animal shelter, so a text seemed easy enough.”
Bissell’s visit came the day following the April 11 City Council meeting. Bissell, founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, wanted to tour the Grenada Animal Shelter in hopes of lending a helping hand. The Star was on the scene at least half an hour prior to Bissell’s private jet landing at the Grenada Municipal Airport in preparation to report on the issue. However, a few minutes prior to the tour beginning, we were told by law enforcement that only Bissell, her team and city officials would be allowed inside the shelter for the tour.
What condition is the shelter actually in?
That was another question concerning The Star, so no access was not an option.
Prestridge quickly pulled Mayor Billy F. Collins to the side and expressed concerns regarding denied access. Collins was quick to rebuke the notion of not allowing a reporter “behind the scenes” and informed law officials to grant Prestridge access. Inside the deprived animal shelter, Prestridge documented the tour by livestreaming it to Facebook. The footage revealed numerous needs within the shelter and the not-so-ideal living conditions of the animals.
These findings raised even more concerns regarding funding for the animal shelter.
“I requested the budget for a second time at 9:10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, after I did not hear back from Mr. Amos regarding my initial request,” Prestridge said. “Mr. Amos apologized and informed me that he was out of town at a conference all week, that Financial Director Donna Harper was on vacation and that the budget would be provided upon Harper’s return.”
On Tuesday, April 26, 2022, Prestridge once again requested the budget and Amos informed him that Harper was still on vacation and it would be provided upon her return. At that time, it had been 15 days since The Star’s initial request.
“I then asked Mr. Amos if I needed to make an official FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request with City Clerk Lois Freelon after asking him if he had access to the budget file and he responded that he did,” Prestridge said. “Mr. Amos then informed me that a FOIA request would not be necessary and that it is the city’s ‘process’ to have the Director of Finance ‘field’ the request I initially made. Again, I thought the request was simple.”
Still with no budget in hand, Prestridge sent an email to Amos and Harper at 11:58 a.m. on Tuesday, May 3, the day following Harper’s return from vacation detailing his conversations with Amos. He also requested a copy of the City of Grenada’s Personnel Handbook and Charter in an effort to learn the objectives, structure and planned operations of the city. Harper responded less than two hours later – at 1:57 p.m.
“I appreciate Donna getting back to me so quickly,” Prestridge said. “She was not aware of my request, so she deferred to Mr. Amos, who has yet to provide the requested documents.”
The Star filed an “Official Public Records Request” last Friday, May 6. The 348-word request was hand delivered to Freelon at 11:50 a.m.
“Prior to filing the official request, I contacted Mayor Collins as a professional courtesy to inform him of my difficulties trying to obtain these public documents,” Prestridge concluded. “Again, the mayor was very cooperative and said that the city has nothing to hide and that the documents should be provided.”
The “Official Public Records Request” reads: Pursuant to the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983, Miss. Code Ann. § 25-61-1 et seq. (Supp. 1996), I request a complete copy of the City of Grenada’s most recent budget, a complete copy of the City of Grenada’s personnel handbook and a complete copy of the City of Grenada’s charter. I request that these documents be provided in printed form for me to pick up at City Hall as well as PDF form emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
The letter also details Prestridge’s numerous requests to Amos. A deadline of 10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 10, was given.
As of Monday, May 9, The Star had not received the requested documents.