Questions surround Robert Latham’s claims he knew little as state emergency management director about problems with a program to fortify Coast homes that could leave taxpayers on the hook for $30 million.
Those questions threaten to tarnish the legacy of the man who saw the state through Hurricane Katrina and its initial recovery.
Lee Smithson, the new director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, said he “absolutely” questions Latham’s claim that he didn’t know of major problems with the Coastal Retrofit Program.
“Robert Latham is my friend and he was a mentor to me, but I’ve just got to question that,” Smithson said. “I don’t believe there is any way the executive director was clueless that all that was going on.”
With a federal audit finding glaring problems with the program, FEMA has halted $29.9 million in reimbursement to the state. Federal and state investigations are pending as an auditing firm hired by the state pores through records.
Latham, who left MEMA early this year after being reappointed to post in 2012, said he was dismayed by the federal findings. But some Coast leaders had questioned the project for years. An Office of Inspector General’s report shows state officials became aware of problems nearly two years ago. And state paperwork indicates Latham had some involvement with the program in the private sector in 2010 before he came back as MEMA director.
In 2010, according to state records, the company that won the contract to fortify Coast homes against storms listed Latham as part of its team to run the program.