New Report: Tate Reeves Used Millions In Taxpayers Dollars To Renovate The Governor’s Mansion - Including A Meditation Garden And Lemon Tree Room
A new investigative report from the Daily Beast found that Tate Reeves has spent $3.3 million collectively on updates and renovations to the Governor’s Mansion since he took office in 2020.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 11, 2023
Nettleton - A new investigative report from the Daily Beast found that Tate Reeves has spent $3.3 million collectively on updates and renovations to the Governor’s Mansion since he took office in 2020, including $2.4 million in taxpayer dollars. State campaign finance records show evidence of another Tate Reeves pay-to-play scheme where vendors that scored lucrative mansion renovation contracts donated $11,750 to Reeves’ campaign. He also sold his family home when he was elected, so Reeves is no longer paying Mississippi’s rising personal property taxes while he charges taxpayers with millions of dollars to fund his luxury lifestyle. This report comes after Tate Reeves’ bragged that the Governor’s mansion was “his home” and not the property funded by Mississippi taxpayers.
Some of the most absurd renovations include:
“more than $100,000 in family living space renovations—as well as $20,000 in garden work”
“Tax money spent on luxuries like a ‘meditation garden’ and the mansion’s limonaia—an architectural feature specifically designed for lemon trees”
“Another $11,865 item reveals costs to ‘correct elevator code violations’ and repair the mansion’s dumbwaiter.”
“multiple 15-inch ‘undercounter/freestanding nugget ice machine[s] with drain pump’”
On top of these extravagant mansion renovations that far exceed his predecessors, state records show that taxpayers covered $1.2 million in total salaries for Tate Reeves’ security detail, including $140,000 for two new SUVs to chauffeur Reeves around the state.
Read the full story below:
Daily Beast: GOP Guv Spent Millions in Tax Dollars on Governor's Mansion Upgrades
September 10, 2023
After Republican Tate Reeves was elected governor of Mississippi in 2019, he sold his home and moved his family, naturally, into the governor’s mansion.
But that new home, a national historic landmark, was far from perfect for Reeves. And over the last three and a half years, while not having to pay personal property taxes on his new state-owned mansion, Reeves plowed more than $2.4 million in taxpayer dollars into renovations and upkeep for his temporary home, according to public records obtained by The Daily Beast.
During Reeves’ brief stay, the governor’s mansion has also seen what appears to be an additional $900,000 in renovations, restoration, and refurbishments. Those investments, however, came courtesy of anonymous donors, and appear in federal tax records filed by the Governors Mansion Foundation—a nonprofit whose board features Reeves’ campaign treasurer and a top campaign donor who runs a controversial installment loan business.
That would mean that, in the years since he stopped paying property taxes on his old home, Reeves has put a total of $3.3 million into updating the mansion. His former home, which Reeves sold in July 2020, was last listed for $629,000, according to several real estate websites. In the time since Reeves was first elected lieutenant governor—2012—Mississippi property taxes have increased by about 7.2 percent, according to state data.
The spending records come as Reeves faces an election that could cast him out of that new home four years after he set down stakes. Early polls show Reeves in a fairly close race against Democratic challenger Brandon Pressley, though a recent Siena/Mississippi Today survey placed Reeves 11 points ahead.
The largest single line item in the records was the nearly $600,000 Reeves has spent on “Renovation to Staff area/asbestos abatement.” Security was also a top item, with roughly $525,000 in total costs, nearly $400,000 of it related to cameras and surveillance.
But there have been living expenses as well. Since Reeves moved in, state records show taxpayers have footed the bill for more than $100,000 in family living space renovations—as well as $20,000 in garden work on the governor’s mansion. While those costs, like the other tax-backed expenses, are broadly captured in data available through the Transparency MS government website, the scope of information obtained by The Daily Beast in response to open records requests reveals far more detail.
The records show tax money spent on luxuries like a “meditation garden” and the mansion’s limonaia—an architectural feature specifically designed for lemon trees. A Facebook photo shows Reeves and his wife cutting the ribbon at the governor’s mansion’s limonaia in April 2022. The next month, the administration spent around $1,500 on consultations and sketches related to a “Meditation Garden plan,” in addition to a total of $20,000 on landscape architecture consulting in 2021 and 2022, state records show.
The limonaia then saw $1,950 in irrigation system upgrades in September 2022, with another $250 drip irrigation system added this March at the request of Ann Beard, chief of staff to first lady Elee Reeves. The meditation garden also got automatic irrigation and new lighting this March, at costs of $2,950 and $1,640, respectively.
Federal tax filings from the Governors Mansion Foundation nonprofit reveal additional upgrades, but lack the detail returned from the public records request. The nonprofit also does not disclose its donors.
In 2020, Reeves’ first year as occupant, the nonprofit paid independent contractors nearly $550,000 for “renovations” and “refurbishing,” according to the group’s tax records. The next year’s returns show another $168,000 in updates, including for a new gas range, multiple 15-inch “undercounter/freestanding nugget ice machine[s] with drain pump,” and a microwave and mini-fridge “for security area.” Last year, the foundation put another $219,095 into renovations.
While it’s possible that some of the foundation’s $900,000 in expenses overlap with some of the $2.4 million in taxpayer expenses provided by the Department of Finance Administration, it’s unlikely. The public records requests specified costs directly incurred by government entities, and the DFA is not required to maintain records for the independent nonprofit. The governor’s office did not address any such overlap in response to The Daily Beast’s comment request.
Taxpayer money has also funded significant repairs, including efforts to mitigate known toxins. Those costs include $598,131 for “Renovation to Staff area/asbestos abatement” with a separate $114,490 expense for “asbestos abatement,” which itemizes “air containment, temporary protective barriers, removal, disposal and sample air monitoring during and immediately following removal.”
The living area updates also mention asbestos, a carcinogen formerly used in insulation. One $49,480 expense item includes “the removal of all asbestos flooring” in the living quarters, among a litany of other highly detailed improvements. Another $11,865 item reveals costs to “correct elevator code violations” and repair the mansion’s dumbwaiter.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Mississippi governor’s mansion had to address hazards. The residence—a Greek revival structure which has housed governors and their families since 1842—was the second gubernatorial mansion to be designated a national landmark. It received that honor in 1975, four years after building inspectors declared the structure unsafe to inhabit, forcing the then governor to move out while it was repaired.
But while some of Reeves’ improvements—such as the asbestos mitigation—appear urgent or even past due, not all of the $2.4 million in taxpayer costs fit that description.
Reeves appears to have used about $120,000 in state funds to renovate the mansion’s family living quarters, across three projects, state records show. Those projects included steps “To allow for accommodations for a larger family” (the Reeves have three kids; his predecessor and fellow Republican Phil Bryant had two adult children), “renovations to the old media room,” “closets,” and installing bookshelves and carpeting.
Some improvements are hyper-detailed in the records, such as stripping “peeling grasscloth” and “the removal of two lights and a patch of plaster ceiling, the repair of wood, and the repainting of five window sill lower units only.”
State records reveal that taxpayers also covered another one of Reeves’ top personal costs—the $1.2 million in total salaries for the 18 Mississippi state troopers that have been assigned to the governor, along with around $140,000 for two new SUVs. (In 2019, Reeves’ GOP primary opponent Jim Hood released an attack ad hitting Reeves for spending $400,000 in public funds on security, including personal protection on a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico.)
The records did not include detail about the process for awarding contracts. But state campaign finance records reveal that Reeves has over the years received $11,750 from entities who scored mansion contracts, most of which came from Wier Boerner Allin Architecture PLLC.
In response to The Daily Beast’s comment request, Reeves’ deputy chief of staff Cory Custer provided a 225-word statement, claiming that the governor’s mansion garden is “comparable to the White House grounds” and citing the capital city of Jackson’s top nationwide murder rate as a reason for heightened security expenses. (The White House fields hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.)
“The Mississippi Governor’s Mansion is a 36,000 sq ft nationally-designated historic landmark, built in 1839, that spans a full city block in the middle of the downtown of the city with the most murders per capita in the United States,” the statement read, noting that the building hosts “dozens of employees from multiple state agencies” while functioning “as a working museum and office space.” (The Daily Beast has been unable to confirm that square footage; Ballotpedia lists the mansion at just under 12,000 square feet.)
Custer added that the Reeves family has helped raise donor money to “preserve the landmark,” though some costs appear unrelated to historical preservation. The statement also claimed that there was “no meditation garden at the mansion—just a garden that the First Lady raised significant private funds to repair and has promoted continuously for the public to tour.”
Receipts obtained by The Daily Beast describe multiple separate expenses for a “Meditation Garden.”
“The money spent by the legislature on the Governor’s Mansion is no different than the significant repairs to public buildings throughout the state capital and across the state that have occurred during this time with strong state revenues. The executive security team, which has existed for decades, also protects his young daughters,” the statement concluded.
While it’s true that the mansion has undergone recent repairs, public reports suggest that Reeves’ immediate predecessors don’t appear to come close to his first-term spending levels.
In 2012, the mansion had to be repaired before Reeves’ predecessor—GOP Gov. Phil Bryant—could move in. That work cost $425,000, which was raised from private donors, the Associated Press reported at the time. The report said the renovations covered heating and air conditioning repairs, a repainted exterior, and new gazebo roofs; it also noted a $49,675 private contract from 2009 that repainted the building’s four front columns and repaired the porch. The state funded that work in part through sales of $35 “NASCAR specialty car tags,” AP reported.
In 2004, AP reported that the previous governor, Republican Haley Barbour, had revived the Governors Mansion Foundation and was trying to raise $250,000 in private funds to “modernize” the residence. Among other additions, Barbour used those funds to install a “wet bar.” Bryant did not remove it.
It remains to be seen whether Reeves’ successor will change any of his updates, and, if so, whether those updates will have lasted four or eight years.