While all of Jackson County has been paying close attention to the fact that Barry Cumbest has been using elected office to lobby for projects that touch upon lands owned by him and his family, there is another conflict of interest that has been overlooked: he is a member of the putative class in the lawsuit against Singing River Hospital.
The class description defines members as:
[A]ll current and former employees of Singing River Health System who participated in the Singing River Health System Employees’ Retirement Plan and Trust, including their spouses, alternate payees, death beneficiaries, or any other person to whom a plan benefit may be owed.
Barry Cumbest meets this definition due to the fact that his wife, until last year, was employed at Singing River Hospital. As such, she was a participant in the pension plan and Cumbest would be her beneficiary.
The conflict of Cumbest’s wife’s employment at SRHS is not a new issue. Slabbed, this publication, and various commenters thereto have spoken out about the inherent conflict of interest on approving hospital budget votes. It turned out to be moot since the JCBOS had never bothered to actually approve any SRHS budgets. This was under the expert legal counsel of Paula Yancey and her staff of attorneys and her friends at Singing River’s counsel Dogan & Wilkinson.
This conflict was not a secret to Paula Yancey, Billy Guice, or any of the staff attorneys who have attended board meetings and executive sessions. These attorneys have allowed a conflicted Cumbest to learn about, influence, and vote on every twist and turn of the county’s involvement with the SRHS litigation.
This is capped off with the fact that all of these attorneys allowed Barry Cumbest to participate in and vote on the county sending $13 million to the pension settlement trust, the very trust in which Cumbest has a prohibited pecuniary interest. He also participated in discussion on whether or not to rescind the settlement agreement.
Mississippi’s ethics laws are crystal clear when it comes to these kinds of conflicts. Anytime the issue of SRHS or litigation is brought up, Barry Cumbest is to fully recuse and remove himself from the room. He is not to participate, influence, or vote on any of these issues.
Once the county’s settlement goes through, Guice will then be able to pursue a lawsuit against KPMG which could yield him up to $3 million in fees.
What is interesting is that Billy Guice was so willing to threaten SRHS trustees with ethics complaints, but was unable to help his clients avoid violating those same laws. We refer you to the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, which state that Guice had a duty to inform his clients of the potential dangers of the proceeding with Cumbest and to ask them to reconsider that course of action. Rule 1.13
Since not one attorney has bothered to inform the board, we will do so. Barry Cumbest has a prohibited pecuniary interest in any SRHS settlement agreement and any SRHS litigation. He should fully recuse himself and exit the chamber when discussion on the issue begins. If not, he is knowingly in violation of the law.
Should Cumbest choose not to recuse, other board members should call for a point of order. A vote should be taken on whether or not Cumbest is out of order.
The citizens of Jackson County should no longer stand for these brazen unethical acts. Speak out.