The Sun Herald is reporting that State Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes is urging legislators who serve on a state watchdog panel to release a report on spending for state port expansion.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review has completed a report on the port’s management of $570 million in federal funds for restoration and expansion. A big question has been whether the work will produce the 1,200 jobs required in exchange for federal funding provided through the Community Development Block Grant Program.

Williams-Barnes said she expects committee members to receive her letter before their meeting begins today at 2 p.m. Any discussion of the report, Arinder said, will be held in closed session.

The letter from Williams-Barnes says, in part: “Please allow me to take the opportunity to encourage you to vote IN FAVOR of the release of the PEER report on jobs at the State Port at Gulfport as originally written.”

“I am very concerned that the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi State Port Authority may exert undue pressure to prevent this report from being released or to force it to be significantly altered.”

MDA has oversight responsibility for the port and also is administering the CDBG funds provided through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Having an informed debate now is essential,” Williams-Barnes wrote. “Where will the Port turn if HUD decides to require repayment of hundreds of millions of dollars in misspent HUD money?

“If MDA and the State Port disagree with PEER’s findings and conclusions, then include their response as an appendix. We as legislators need both for an informed debate. The public is entitled to know what this report has found.”

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