Tuesday, November 9, 2010

EDITORIAL: Hiring of Madison County Lobbyist not legal.

Madison County recently expanded the duties of its lobbyist C. Stevens Seale of the Wise Carter & Carraway law firm. The Board of Supervisors hired Mr. Seale in 2008 to provide federal lobbying services at a salary of $75,000 a year and reimbursement for expenses. The board voted 4-1 (Mr. Smith objected) to pay Mr. Seale an additional $2,500 per month to lobby at the state capitol. Such a practice is rare as only Jackson, Alcorn, Marshall, and Wayne counties retain lobbyists.

The question must be asked if Mr. Seale is providing lobbying services or legal representation to Madison County. Mr. Seale's contract drafted by him on April 21, 2010 states "the primary focus of such representation will be to obtain federal funding for various projects as Madison County may direct." Mr. Seale's other contracts contain the same exact language in describing his services.

The board minutes of the October 18, 2010 meeting contain the headline "Discussion of Lobbyist for Purposes of State Legislative Lobbying". The minutes state "Following discussion, and at the recommendation of Board Attorney Eric Hamer, Mr. Paul Griffin did offer and Mr. John Bell Crosby did second a motion to retain for the next six months to provide state legislative lobbying services to Madison County. The vote..."

The Board of Supervisors call Mr. Seale a lobbyist and his services "lobbying services" in clear, unambiguous language. What does Mr. Seale call his services? Board referred to him as a lobbyist in the May 19, 2008, September 15, 2008, September 7, 2010, March 1, 2010, and January 5, 2009 meetings. The minutes call his contract a "lobbying contract" in the April 19, 2010 and April 20, 2009 meetings.

Mr. Seale even referred to himself as a lawyer/lobbyist on the Flora Harvester blog. A check of the Secretary of State's website reveals shazam, Mr. Seale is indeed a lobbyist and has eight clients: Cellular South, Pull-a-Part, TNT Fireworks, Pioneer Aerospace, Consumer Data Industry Association, Imperial Finance, and SAP America, and of course, Madison County. Mr. Seale also has three clients as a registered federal lobbyist.

It is now established Mr. Seale is a lobbyist. The Board of Supervisors calls him a lobbyist, the media calls him a lobbyist, the Board minutes refer to his "lobbying contract"s, and Mr. Seale is registered as a lobbyist. The question that must be asked is can Madison County actually hire a lobbyist?

Section 19-3-69 of the Mississippi Code states:
"The board of supervisors of each county may, in its discretion, contract with certain professionals when the board determines that such professional services are necessary and in the best interest of the county.

The board of supervisors shall spread upon its minutes its finding that the professional services are necessary and in the best interest of the county. The contract for professional services shall be approved by the attorney for the board of supervisors and made a part of the minutes.

A professional within the meaning of this section shall be limited to:
(a) Attorneys at law, admitted to practice law in this state by the State Board of Bar Admissions;" and accountants, doctors, engineers, surveyors, appraisers, and Realtors.

The law does not include lobbying in its very specific list of professional services a board can retain. While one must be barred to practice as an attorney, one does not have to be barred in order to work as a lobbyist. Mr. Seale will likely argue he is an attorney providing legal representation to Madison County and Section (a) of the statute permits the Supervisors to employ his services. However, Mr. Seale is not providing legal representation as anyone else who registers with the state as a lobbyist can provide the same services to Madison County. Thus, Mr. Seale's activities are not of a legal nature. Indeed, he refers to his "primary" function as one in which he will "obtain" funding for Madison County. If Mr. Seale was also licensed as a massage therapist, that doesn't mean the board can hire him to give massages to county employees just because he is a licensed attorney.

The controlling issue should be whether the function of the service itself qualifies for a lawful professional services contract under Section 19-3-69 of the Mississippi Code. Attorney General Jim Hood addressed a similar issue in 2005 in an answer to Marshall County: "With regard to the governmental relations (lobbying) component of the contract we find no provision of state law which would preclude a county board of Previous supervisors from employing a lobbyist or consultant to perform governmental relations work." However, Assistant Attorney General Reese Partridge completely ignores section 19-3-69, which is directly on point about who a county can engage for professional services. One can only wonder when reading the opinion if Mr. Hood already had an outcome in mind before his office studied the law as there is no mention whatsoever of the professional services statute in his opinion. Mr. Hood also does not address the issue of whether a lobbyist can qualify under Section 69 due to the fact he is an attorney.

The question of whether the Madison County Board of Supervisors can retain a professional lobbyist who just happens to be an attorney is an excellent question to submit to the Attorney General for a re-examination of his opinion under Section 1903069. It should also be pointed out the A.G.'s opinion is not binding. Madison County taxpayers deserve to know if their supervisors have the right to spend nearly $100,000 a year of their hard-earned money of a lobbyist regardless of how many millions he may obtain for the county. It is the opinion of this website the board's hiring of Mr. Seale for his lobbying services is not legal and the board should be held accountable for his employment.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another good reason to have a "Tea Party" movement in Madison County. Until we clean house and get rid of the Hooligans in office now we will continue to pay for their incompetence!

Marley said...

Yep.

Anonymous said...

How does the code/case law define "professional services"? Are lobbying services professional services or more akin to janitorial services?
(some sarcasm here)

Anonymous said...

You do have a Tea Party in Madison County, but good luck trying to get them to do anything...as they are more a social group, and would never dirty their hands on such a topic. They are all about meetings and.....nope that's it, all about meetings.

One must get rid of the President of the Madison County Tea Party to be of any good service to the County.

Tom said...

Madison County's lobbyist contract may indeed be a question of legality. It may also be a question of hypocrisy. The majority of Americans, as well as Mississippians, just elected a House of Representatives opposed to congressional earmarks, a position many County Supervisors support. How then can the supervisors hire a lobbyist to obtain earmarks for the county?

Anonymous said...

How about this for a Tea Party position? Make it illegal for anyone to lobby an elected official unless they are a constituent of that official who receives reimbursement for services only from a group or groups that exist in the district in which he resides.

Anonymous said...

Most of the people in the Madison County Tea Party complain that they don't do anything but meet. They didn't attend the MFIRE Immigration reform meeting because their leader Pat Bruce could not be a part of it. That was so wrong in so many ways.
They need to get someone else to lead them or quit.

Anonymous said...

The code section doesn't include lobbyist in the definition of "professionals". Ergo, the statute has no appication at all to the hiring of lobbyists. The assistant AG says a county can hire lobbyists. KF, your post seems to be "much ado about nothing".

Kingfish said...

The statute says "shall be limited to".

Try again.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it. Could the county not hire a surveyor because the profession of surveyor is not listed under the definition of "professional" in the statute? You're way off base here, KF.

Kingfish said...

If you bothered to read the statute, which you obviously did not do, you would not ask that question. The code states:

A professional within the meaning of this section shall be limited to:

(a) Attorneys at law, admitted to practice law in this state by the State Board of Bar Admissions;

(b) Accountants, certified by the State Board of Public Accountancy;

(c) Architects, licensed by the State Board of Architecture;

(d) Engineers and Land Surveyors, registered by the State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors;

(e) Physicians, licensed by the State Board of Medical Licensure;

(f) Appraisers, licensed by the Mississippi Real Estate Commission or as otherwise provided by law;

(g) Real estate brokers, licensed by the Mississippi Real Estate Commission;

(h) In the sale of personal property pursuant to the provisions of Section 19-7-5, auctioneers who meet standards established by the State Department of Audit.


Try again.

Anonymous said...

You're right, I didn't read the statute. But since a lobbyist is not a professional, as defined in the statute, the statute can't govern the hiring of a lobbyist. That's my only point. If a lobbyist is not a professional, the statute can't prohibit his hiring because he's not listed in the statute. Your argument is completely circular and just nonsense.

Anonymous said...

It certainly could be argued that many lobbyists are not professional.

Anonymous said...

This one is sure not professional but is getting paid like he is. I know a lot of real professionals who would love to have this gig. Heck he wrote his own contract so what does it matter?

But here we go again with the finger pointed at the people who are elected that should know better. We already know that Jerricurle Jim is going to stand up for Jerricurle Rudy and his bunch and interpret the law so differently than it was intended. I wonder if they go to the same hairdresser?

Anonymous said...

Any Washington lobbyist must be paid megabucks to accomplish anything worthwhile. This is indeed a waste of taxpayer money. A true Washington lobbyist would not lift a finger to help for only $75k. I know as this is what a member of my family has done for years.

Anonymous said...

I live in Madison Co., support much of what I've heard about the Tea Party nationally, and had no idea there even was a Madison Co Tea Party group.

Sure sounds like they need need leadership.

Anonymous said...

Of interest re: the Mississippi Tea Party, whose positions I mostly support, was the article I read (in the CL, I think). Some Tea Party position paper favored the elimination of all State funding for education, leaving only County and municipal funding. I wonder what this would do to county and city property taxes? How much of an increase in ad valorem taxes would it take to replace the state funding eliminated by this proposal? Anybody care to figure this one out?

The Flora Harvester said...

Seales continues to dig while not answering the questions saying yesterday, "I can't explain each and every action or the propriety of my fees to every taxpayer in Madison County."

http://thefloraharvester.blogspot.com/2010/11/seale-says-no-to-column-responds-to.html?showComment=1289243925920#c4959870401534816553

Anonymous said...

12:20- Why can't he? it's our money-

Anonymous said...

Seale is a licensed attorney (as are many lobbyists). The functions of the two can be blurry, and legal representation is not forbidden under the statute.

Anonymous said...

Madison County already HAS legal representation in Eric Hamer, who is paid not only a big salary, but bills the county over $20,000 monthly in addition to his salary. Madison County doesn't need another salaried "attorney".

Anonymous said...

Valid point. He may not be qualified by experience to consult about government relations, but the county should have the responsibility to demonstrate the need for someone who is.

Anonymous said...

Would you want your tax attorney to represent you in a civil or criminal action?? Or a criminal defense attorney to draft documents to start a corporation? You can justify needing counsel with differing expertise.

Anonymous said...

Then pay him as an attorney, not a lobbyist. Of course, then the tax implications of the payments are different, aren't they?????

Anonymous said...

http://www.sos.state.ms.us/elections/Lobbying/Lobbyist_CompRpt02.asp

So if he is working for all the above organizations, making nice fees from each, Madison County gets about 1/7th of his time for $75,000?

Anonymous said...

Something struck a bell with the Madison....hired lobbyist.

Last year, there was a report about hiring Barbara Blackmon. www.onlinemadison.com (or http://tinyurl.com/246kdkc, article dated 7/23/09. "A second county lobbyist was hired by the Board of Supervisors on Monday at $75,000 annually pending review of the contract by the county attorney." Looking back at that article, there's a lot of names listed. I think you'll be interested, KF.

Kingfish said...

If he registers with the state as a lobbyist, calls himself a lobbyst, and the board calls him a lobbyist, he's acting as a lobbyist and not a lawyer and is ruled by section 69.

Anonymous said...

Is there a definable difference between a lobbyist acting as a lobbyist and a governmental relations attorney acting as such?

Kingfish said...

They hired Gloria Williamson as a lobbyist and she's not a lawyer.

Let me see, go practice law without a license and see what happens. That is a line on one side. You have to register as a lobbyist, not as a lawyer representing clients. Works for me.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a real job?

Anonymous said...

6:52, show me anyone in Miss that's ever been prosecuted for practicing law without a license and I'll eat your hat. the Miss bar doesn't care.

Anonymous said...

6:52, show me anyone in Miss that's ever been prosecuted for practicing law without a license and I'll eat your hat. the Miss bar doesn't care.

Ulysses Everett McGill

Anonymous said...

10:54, Greg McIntyre. James' son. Greg is currently in jail for fraud, I believe. But not related to the law-practicing without a license.

Anonymous said...

the bar passed on going after greg. so he torched a few more bridges and pocketbooks before the law caught up with him

Anonymous said...

Huge Rip Off and waste of tax payer's money.... contact your Supervisor now. D I Smith is the only one who's looking out for us....

Anonymous said...

Huge Rip Off and waste of tax payer's money.... contact your Supervisor now. D I Smith is the only one who's looking out for us....

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kingfish said...

That's right, keep making threats against me.

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