Former Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering has resigned from his role as executive director of the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board, the board announced in a weekend press statement. MSVA Chief of Staff Melissa Wade also resigned from her position, the statement said.
“The Board thanks both Director Pickering and Mrs. Wade for their service to Mississippi’s 187,000 veterans and their families over the last four and three years, respectively,” MSVA Board Chairman James H. Garner, a retired general, said in a May 13 statement. “We want to assure our veterans and their families that our mission will continue.”
The reason for the 53-year-old Pickering’s departure is unclear. Reached by phone Tuesday evening, the outgoing agency head refused to discuss the decision.
“Veterans Affairs put out the statement that I’m retiring and that’s the only statement you’re going to get from us. I appreciate you calling though. Thank you and have a good evening,” Pickering said as he ended the call without allowing any follow-up questions.
No Comment ‘On Personnel Matters’
MSVA Director of Communications Ray Coleman said on Tuesday that he could “not comment on personnel matters” and did not know the reason for the director’s departure.
On May 9, the Daily Journal’s Taylor Vance reported that Pickering had “either left or stepped away” from his position at MSVA and that an interim director had taken over but that MSVA declined to confirm it citing it as a “personnel” matter. Hours later, though, Vance reported that Pickering claimed he was still director of the board. The May 13 MSVA statement says that while Wade “will pursue other endeavors outside of MSVA,” Pickering “has decided to retire from state government service.”
“We want to assure our veterans and their families that our mission will continue. There are hundreds of team members at Mississippi Veterans Affairs that you don’t see every day,” Garner said. “Still, their passion and purpose truly drive our superior service, care and assistance to America’s heroes through our mission programs and resources.”
The outgoing MSVA executive director serves as a chaplain in the Mississippi National Guard.
During his re-election campaign for state auditor 2015, Pickering’s Republican and Democratic opponents highlighted allegations that he had misused campaign finances to pay for a garage door and personal vehicles, citing reports of an FBI investigation. The former auditor rejected those charges in a statement at the time, saying his “record speaks for itself” and that his work as auditor “sometimes causes me to mark harsh enemies.”
Through Ray Coleman, the Mississippi Free Press asked the MSVA board about the circumstances of Pickering’s departure and whether or not it related to any investigations or accusations of wrongdoing.
“The Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board (MSVA Board) does not comment on personnel matters,” the MSVA board members said in a statement to the Mississippi Free Press on Tuesday, May 17. “As our Agency begins this transition phase, we want to assure Mississippi’s 187,000 Veterans and their families that our team members located across the state are ready to serve them through our mission programs.”
Resignation Effective July 11
Pickering resigned from his position as state auditor in July 2018 in order to lead MSVA. Then-Gov. Phil Bryant appointed current-State Auditor Shad White as his replacement.
Pickering, a Laurel native, is the cousin of former U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering and the nephew of Charles W. Pickering, a controversial ex-federal judge. In 2012, Stacey Pickering served as the Mississippi chairman of Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Before serving as state auditor from 2009 to 2018, he represented Jones County as a Republican state senator from 2004 to 2008 in the seat that Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel now holds.
The MSVA’s May 13 statement says that Wade’s and Pickering’s retirements will officially take effect on July 11, but that MSVA Deputy Director Mark Smith is already serving as the agency’s interim director until the board selects a new leader.