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Pickering talks military service, schools in stops

Military service and education took center stage Thursday as state Auditor Stacey Pickering visited Brookhaven Academy for a Veterans Day program and to speak to three local civic clubs.

     At Brookhaven Academy’s morning Veterans Day program, Pickering emphasized that America’s military is now composed entirely of veterans. Pickering said the dedication of the American military can be seen in that there’s no shortage of volunteers.

     “We’ve been at war 10 years, but consistently met our recruiting goals,” Pickering said.

     Pickering urged the students to consider service in the military.

     “Let me challenge you, if you’ve never thought about putting on the uniform of your country, we need you,” said the state auditor.

     A chaplain with the Mississippi Air National Guard, Pickering described some of his own experiences in the armed forces and the diversity of those he’s served alongside.

     “It’s a tremendous honor to be able to provide those services to our men and women serving,” Pickering said.

     Speaking after the program, Pickering said fulfilling his various roles as state auditor, military chaplain and father requires a balancing act and the sacrifice of his loved ones.

     “It takes a family commitment,” Pickering said.

     Pickering shifted his attention to public education, an issue he said is vital to the state’s future, during a speech before the Brookhaven Rotary, Lions and Servitium clubs later Thursday.

     “Educating the next generation is the most important issue in the state to me,” he said.

     A problem Pickering believes has uncovered in education is with the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. He indicated education funds are not reaching the proper places.

     “I want to scream from the loudest rooftop that the funding does not add up,” he said. “The MAEP funding formula is broken. The money needs to get to the teachers and students and not administrative costs or bureaucrats in Jackson.”

     Also during the meeting, Pickering touched on the recent election and a number of other topics.

     Pickering served at the state chairman for Republican Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful presidential bid. He said he was honored to work with someone like Romney.

     “It was a tremendous privilege to be a part of (his campaign),” he said. “Romney is one of the most genuine figures I’ve been able to work with. I regret as a nation we didn’t have a chance to see him in Washington.”

     Pickering said there were many things to take away from Tuesday’s election, despite how an individual may have voted.

     “Demographics have changed over the years,” he said. “(On Tuesday) heavily populated areas voted very Democratic while rural areas voted Republican. We learned we’re a very diverse nation with some big challenges ahead of us.”

     Looking to the future, Pickering said there are a number of issues facing the nation, such as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) being fully implemented, as well as the national debt.

     While speaking about state issues, Pickering touted his office’s success at keeping track of money received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Only half of 1 percent of that money was lost to fraud in Mississippi, which fell well below the federal government’s expectations of how much would be lost.

     “We did a better job with that money that any state in the nation,” he said. “Mississippi is the best role model for stimulus accountability.”

     Under Pickering’s watch, almost 100 Mississippians have pleaded or been found guilty of embezzling public funds. He added many more arrests are on the way.

     “That’s one thing we get to do day in and day out,” said Pickering of his office’s job of being entrusted with protecting public money. “It’s one of the great privileges we get.”

     Pickering talked about how government employees convicted of embezzlement or fraud are being let off easily and even allowed to work in government again.

     “There are employees working for the government now that pled guilty to embezzlement, but had it wiped from their records,” he said.