Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How Jim Hood rewrites law for the good ole boys.

A recent Attorney General opinion makes it harder to hold public officials accountable when they tried to avoid the confirmation process.  One problem in Mississippi government is the use of interim appointments.  Mayors have repeatedly abused this practice when they fear a crony can't get confirmed.  Checks and balances are ignored while city councils and boards of aldermen have little remedy save going to court.  However, a law was passed earlier this year to put a stop to this good ole boy practice.

The usual example happens when a Mayor wants to appoint a friend to a plum job but knows he probably can't get the appointment confirmed by the city council.  Many times the interim appointments are not qualified to serve in their appointed positions (See Willie Bell). The Mayor will then attempt to make an end run around the entire confirmation process and call him an "interim" appointment but then never submits his nomination for confirmation.  It makes a mockery out of the entire concept of checks and balances.  Mayors Johnny Dupree, Chokwe Lumumba,  Les Fillingane, and Harvey Johnson all thought they were above the law as they loved to use interim appointments, checks and balances be damned.

The same shenanigans also take place with boards and commissions.  Members are allowed to serve long after their terms expired.   Millions of dollars are spent, hirings and firings take place, and votes are made by members who should have no vote but hey, it's Mississippi. 

The legislature passed a law earlier this year to put a stop to this political malpractice and hold politicians accountable for these abuses.  State Senator Josh Harkins sponsored SB #2587.  The bill passed both chambers and was signed by the Governor.  The short statute states:

  SECTION 1. (1) No person shall serve in an interim or hold-over capacity for longer than one hundred eighty (180) days after the expiration of the term to which he or she was appointed in a position that is required by law to be filled by appointment of the governing body of a municipality, or by mayoral appointment with the advice and consent of the council or aldermen, including positions on boards, commissions or authorities.

(2) If such position is not filled within one hundred eighty (180) days after the expiration of the term, no municipal funds may be expended to compensate any person serving in the position.

SECTION 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2016.

That is it.  There is no grandfather clause.  The money is cut off and the State Auditor can recover any  money paid to the interim employee after the 180 day term expires. 

The first challenge to this law took place in Bay St. Louis, where good ole boy politics has reigned supreme for quite some time in the Mayor's office.  The Mayor fired the building inspector six years ago and appointed a close friend who was not qualified to the job on an interim basis. The Seaside Echo reported in August:

A new state law has some city leaders questioning the legality of employment for Bay building department chief Charles Oliver, who has yet to be certified since taking over the department.

Mississippi Senate Bill 2587 became law on July 1. The law states that no person shall serve in an interim or hold-over capacity for longer than 180 days after the expiration of the term to which he or she was appointed in certain positions on municipal boards.

Although Oliver has been employed by the city for years, since he was never actually certified, he is considered the city's "interim" building official. Falgout read aloud an inter-office memo that he penned and sent to the mayor regarding the issue. According to the memo, dated July 7, "When (SB 2587) takes effect July , 2016, anyone holding over since December 31, 2015, will have been holding over more than 180 days and may not be paid any more.

"Per last night's city council meeting, you were once again made aware of Senate Bill 2587 that was passed into law," Falgout said in the memo. "Any compensation given to Charles Oliver, Bay St. Louis building official interim, from July 1, 2016 ... is a direct violation of this law." “The only reason we are reading this into the record is because you haven't responded,” Falgout told Fillingame Tuesday. “So could we get your response now?”

“Didn't respond or didn't respond the way you wanted?” Fillingame asked. “I think everybody has been aware of SB 2587. Obviously, you're too impatient to wait for the AG's opinion on this.”

Fillingame said that he has already reached out to the AG's office and had gotten "clear indications" that the new law does not relate to municipal employees. “They're not even sure that it relates to department heads and those appointments," Fillingame said. "The bill was somewhat erroneously worded. I'm gonna tell you, Mr. Falgout, just like I've told you every time that you've asked, I don't think this applies to any of our municipal employees. I think that your inner office memo is inappropriate on every level. I think that you have obviously targeted an employee that is a very valuable employee to the city.”

 Fillingame said Falgout's interpretation of SB 2587 was “very liberal” and “irresponsible,” accusing council members of targeting an employee for personal reasons. Rafferty agreed. Rest of post.

However, Mayor Fillingame went running to Jim Hood and the Attorney General bailed him out in a way never even imagined by those who drafted the bill.  Special Assistant Attorney General Phil Carter came back from the dead to resurrect Mr. Oliver's employment in an opinion issued on August 10.  Mr. Carter disagreed with the Mayor and said that the law did apply to department heads:

Section 21-8-23  (2) authorizes  department  heads of a  mayor-council municipality to "hold over" until the appointment and qualification of their successors. The term "no person" in Senate Bill 2587 would include department heads of a mayor­ council municipality.

Mr. Carter states that since the law didn't specify it was retroactive, then the 180-day clock did not begin to run until July 1, 2016.  Someone may have served as an interim appointee for two years when July 1, 2016 rolled around but Jim Hood's office says he gets six more months to serve.  Wait a second, Mr. Carter didn't say that but said he could serve for another eighteen months.  Read it and weep:

We are of the opinion that the 180-day period would begin at the end of any term that expires on or after July  1,  2016.
We understand that the City of Bay Saint Louis will conduct its next general election  in June 2017. Section 21-15-1 provides that the new term will begin on July 1 after such general election "that is not on a weekend." Since July 1, 2017, falls on a Saturday, the  new term will begin on July  3, 2017,  at which  time the 180-day period for anyone  holding over would  begin.
The opinion thus means that an interim can serve for another year and then until the end of 2017.  Mr. Carter next tries to mitigate the damage he knows he just caused:

While the 180-day period for persons serving on an interim or hold-over basis for the City of Bay Saint Louis will not begin until July 3, 2017, we are of the opinion that  allowing such persons to continue to serve in those situations for that  period of time  is  far beyond a reasonable amount of time to make new appointments  and  is contrary to the  intent of statutes that allow such  interim or  hold-over  service.

Therefore, we strongly advise the Mayor to, forthwith, make the necessary appointments to avoid being in conflict with the obvious intent of the general law on hold-over and interim service.

Kingfish note: Have you ever seen a parent pitifully beg their spoiled brats to behave in public? "Please be nice.  Please.  You shouldn't do that.  Please stop.  Please.".  That is Mr. Carter.


Anonymous said...

That is what happens when you put Donkeycrats in charge of anything.

Anonymous said...

How about Pearl city clerk retiring, staying out for 90 days. They appoint an interim city clerk. Then hire the old clerk as a contract "consultant". That seems legit too right? Basically paying for two city clerks they dont need. Like they are paying for two police captains they apparently dont need either.

Anonymous said...

It makes sense that the AG just gave middle finger to the state leg and citizens of the communities where cronyism runs amok. We know the AG's office is all about politics now. So spare us those pathetic "looking out for the folks" press releases in the future, Mr. Hood. They will fall on deaf ears.

BSL deserves a crackpot for a mayor and building official, and a dysfunctional, ineffective council. The citizens keep voting for these idiots. Maybe when the city is bankrupt, enough "officials" end up indicted and/or in jail and crime is so far out of control they can't handle it, the locals may wake up and do something. Until then nothing will change. Certainly can't depend on the AG to enforce a clearly written state law or investgate the years long DHS disaster in the county. Hood has effectively washed his hands of both issues. Good luck to BSL and Hancock County! Dibert is coming to collect the "state's" fair share of waterfront $'s next!

Anonymous said...

@11:57 its because they have so much ticket revenue coming in. Don't dare go through the Mobile Home capital of Mississippi with so much as a flat tire or you'll get pulled over. I guess that fleecing they took from Yates and Bloomfield has them meeting quotas. Not much tax revenue coming in off that or double wides(blues).

Anonymous said...

So under this AG's opinion and using the Bay St Louis case as an example, the mayor could end the interim appointment of Mr Oliver the day before this term ends. (So Oliver is no longer a hold over from that prior term.) And then assuming Mayor Fillingame gets re-elected, on Day 1 of his new term, he could reappoint Mr Oliver as the "interim" dept head again, and Oliver could serve in that interim position until the end of that new term, another 4 years ??? In other words, make everyone an interim dept head without having to get any confirmation, and that interim can serve the entire term during which they're appointed (and just can't serve as a holdover in any subsequent term for more than 180 days into that new term.)
What farce. That was not the intent of this law, and the AG's office knows that; hence the last paragraph in the opinion letter.

Pruris Judence.. said...

There is not one soul working in Hood's office who would not leave immediately if he could take his PERS years and benefits with him. Hood is set with a large retirement looming and doesn't give a rat's ass. And this jerk actually pretends to give a shit about law and order.

Anonymous said...

6:10... um they can take thier PERS to any other state, county or municipal position. If you actually read the opinion they say to fill the position to avoid being outside the "spirit" of the law

Anonymous said...

6:10 you have no clue, period.

Anonymous said...

6:10 will love trash talking Governor Hood.

Anonymous said...

Hood won't win, period.

Anonymous said...

Hood is a highly educated JD, whereas Feel is a deputy with a juco undergraduate degree. IMHO

Anonymous said...

Rather have Hood than Tate

Anonymous said...

@Pruris Judence--- I work for General Hood and love my job. You may have some bad information. But I also don't sit back and whine/complain. The SB wasn't worded properly and all of us know that after reading it. For every law, there are unintended consequences. Examples available upon request. Carter tried to get BSL to do the right thing in the last paragraph. Hooray for him.

Anonymous said...

It has become a political tactic for one party to hold up appointments made by an elected official from the other party. This is happening nationwide.
IF both parties would approve qualified people and oppose only those who are unqualified for the position to which they are appointed or change the qualifications for the position if they feel those qualifications are inadequate for the task, this drama wouldn't be happening.
The problem is that elected officials put their party's interest and personal power ahead of the interest of the people they were elected to serve!
Honor has been a cultural casualty in our political culture wars. Here's a hint : those who serve, once elected are to serve ALL the people, not just some of the people. They are elected to do a job well and efficiently and honorably, not to make their party stronger or their office more powerful.

Anonymous said...

MOST Republicans I know would rather have Hood than Tate as Gov. It will be a very interesting race.

Anonymous said...

MOST Republicans I know would rather have Hood than Tate as Gov.

You must know extremely few Republicans.

Anonymous said...

Hood staffer posting anonymously here? Sure. Whatever you say.

Anonymous said...

Hey 6:10, where did you go? I know where/who you are.

Anonymous said...

6:10 here. Maybe I was not clear. I was addressing attorneys who work over there but wish they had real jobs. PERS and gubment hours be nice though.

Anonymous said...

Bryant has two master's degrees, a bachelor's degree, and a two-year degree.

OnLine Medical License.. said...

What two master's degrees does Bryant have?

Anonymous said...

Please let's elect folks that cannot be bought.

Anonymous said...

9:52, there is no such person. If one ran for office they would not get any votes. People want the criminals in office as they think they will get part of the action. Turns out to be false but they still try time after time.
We need more honest voters.

Bullet Points... said...

10:34 - Where did YOU go? Every so called attorney over there has his resume saved on 'word' but can't figure out where to send it. It would be better to claim 'Worked for McAllisters three summers' than 'Special Assistant Attorney General' under Jim Hood administration.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

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In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

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There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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