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Hood’s gym, weight watchers...

Hood’s gym, weight watchers memberships questioned

By: Magnolia Tribune - September 13, 2011

From the Sun Herald…

In tough budget times, incumbent Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood has spent nearly $50,000 on gym and Weight Watchers memberships for his employees and has received $2,000 in campaign contributions from Weight Watchers, Republican challenger Steve Simpson said Monday…

…State records show Hood contracted with Weight Waters for $10,000 to have the program at the attorney general’s main Jackson office for a year. The office also paid for three contracts, at $12,960 each, with the YMCA, Baptist Healthplex and The Club LLC to allow employees to use their fitness facilities in the Jackson area.

Hood campaign spokesman Jonathan Compretta said the state Legislature authorized such a program with a bill it passed in 2010, to help state employees be healthy. He said such programs would save the state money in the long run with fewer sick days or fewer insurance claims for illness.

Compretta said the agency contracted with three fitness centers across the area because “AG employees don’t all live in Jackson” and having three options would be more convenient.

Hood accepted a campaign donation from Weight Watcher’s for $1,000 and $1,000 from a Weight Watcher’s executive.

Compretta said: “There were donations, but the contract — there’s no connection between the two.”

The Legislature in 2010 did pass, and the governor signed into law, Senate Bill 2646, an act to create a state employee wellness program. But state Sens. Terry Burton and Lee Yancey, two co-authors of the bill, said their understanding of its intent was to encourage fitness through educating employees and allowing flexibility with their work schedules for exercise, not purchasing memberships with gyms or Weight Watchers. The bill encourages agencies “coordinating discounts with gyms and fitness centers across the state.”

While some state agencies or groups of employees work out group discounts with fitness centers, several government officials on Monday said they knew of no other such state-funded programs.

A search of the state contracts database provided no other public agency contracts with Weight Watchers.

Simpson spokesman Scott Paradise said: “Jim Hood is the only candidate to receive contributions from Weight Watchers and the only one we could find who gave Weight Watchers a $10,000 contract … I’m sure many hard-working Mississippians would love to have someone give them a premium membership to a gym, but a lot of them can’t afford it … (Simpson) had to cut his budget four times and pinch pennies not to cut or furlough state troopers, and they’re spending $40,000 on gym memberships and $10,000 on Weight Watchers.”

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Magnolia Tribune

This article was produced by Magnolia Tribune staff.