Gary was an admirable public servant
I’ve been meaning to write this note about Al Gary ever since I learned of his tragic death, but time got away from me. While his long and varied obit certainly described a life well lived, I wanted to share a few things to broaden the public record. I got to know Al when Ray Mabus became State Auditor and he hired me as his deputy. Al was universally acknowledged as an expert in accounting laws and procedures as they affected local governments, so he became a valued member of the team. But for three years, he took on the unofficial role as the State Auditor’s lobbyist at the Capitol. A lot of what Ray wanted to accomplish as State Auditor required changing laws, which meant convincing legislators that making the change would be worthwhile. It was a job in which Al came to excel. For three years running, Al was a leader within the office of building consensus for these changes among local officials before each session, getting the bills drafted, and educating key legislators of the need for the legislation. The changes they made to state laws to improve the performance of local governments are far too numerous to list here, but the most comprehensive and most far reaching was the 1986 bill to create one set of laws to govern all school districts. Prior to 1986, Mississippi had five different types of school districts operating off of five different sets of laws, generating all kinds of legal conflicts and unfair standards. Municipal school districts, for example, had the authority to raise school taxes by a certain percent without permission from the board of aldermen while county and other school districts had to rely on the approval of their taxing authorities. Some schools had home-rule authority, while others did not. For many months leading up to the 1986 Session, Al worked with hundreds of people all over the state including key education lawyers in Jackson and key legislators at the Capitol to pass the bill. It was certainly a team effort, but representatives and senators came to trust Al and rely on his knowledge and advice. He was an admirable public servant, and served Mississippi taxpayers well during his tenure at the Auditor’s office.