- Associated Press - Thursday, September 12, 2019

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ campaign said Thursday that an investigative report about him that was published by his rival in the Mississippi governor’s race, Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, is “deceptive.”

Reeves campaign spokesman Parker Briden issued a statement saying that Hood failed to interview key people about a road expansion project, including a state senator and a mayor.

Hood’s office published a 43-page report Wednesday that said Reeves pushed the Mississippi Department of Transportation to build a frontage road near Reeves’ gated subdivision in Flowood.

The report came out more than a year after the Clarion Ledger published articles that questioned Reeves’ role in the planned frontage road, which was never built, and in the expansion of Mississippi Highway 25, a busy thoroughfare that’s also called Lakeland Drive in the metro Jackson area.

The Reeves campaign statement said: “Hood’s involvement in and mishandling of the report raise serious ethical concerns about Hood’s willingness to abuse his office for his own political gain.”

Hood said he did not interview Reeves because the lieutenant governor withheld email and other documents that investigators requested.

Hood campaigned Thursday in northern Mississippi and discussed his economic development proposals, including additional state funding for community college tuition assistance. A reporter at Hood’s event asked whether Hood had political motivations for releasing the road report just a few weeks before the Nov. 5 election.

Hood said the release date was determined by the amount of time it took to collect information and to receive responses to the report from two former Mississippi Supreme Court justices.

“I had to do my job,” Hood said Thursday. “Enforcement of Section 109 of the Constitution is solely in the authority of the attorney general. The Ethics Commission and the auditor don’t have the authority to enforce it. It’s just the attorney general. I had no choice. I did my job.”

Section 109 of the Mississippi Constitution prohibits public officials having a financial interest in state contracts.

Hood said he will not pursue any civil action seeking to make Reeves repay the public costs of the planning for the frontage road. Hood also said he could not complete a criminal investigation because Reeves did not provide all the documents requested.

Hood’s report includes email messages exchanged between members of the lieutenant governor’s staff and Michael Arnemann, who was legislative liaison for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. One message from a Reeves staffer said “the LTG” had questions about “Phase 1” and “Phase 2” of the Lakeland project.

The Reeves campaign said Thursday that Hood “deliberately” misused the phrase “Phase 2” to refer to the proposed frontage road, when the Department of Transportation meant that “Phase 2” referred to part of the Lakeland Drive expansion.

Reeves also released a campaign video Thursday that included Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads saying city officials wanted a frontage road because people leaving two subdivisions were getting “T-boned” on Lakeland Drive.

“The lieutenant governor had nothing whatsoever to do with this,” Rhoads said in the video.

The attorney general’s report shows there was communication about the proposed frontage road between the Department of Transportation and the property owners association in Reeves’ neighborhood, and that Reeves’ wife, Elee, was elected to the association’s board of directors in September 2017. The report said that because of demands from the property owners association, the Department of Transportation spent $322,721 of public money to obtain rights of way and construction easement and about $80,000 for a preliminary engineering report for the proposed frontage road.


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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