Thursday, March 30, 2017

Senator Harkins stands up to the good ole boys or.... The A.G. strikes out.

State Senator Josh Harkins just taught Jim Hood and the Mayor of Bay St. Louis that the old proverb "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is still true.  The Attorney General and controversial Mayor teamed up to gut a "good government" Harkins bill that was passed by the legislature a year ago.  The bill banned cities from paying the salaries of all interim municipal appointments after six months.  It would fix the problem of Mayors tagging their appointments as "interim" so they could avoid confirmation votes. However, Mayor Les Fillingame went whining to the A.G. and Mr. Hood was more than happy to help him.  Their shenanigans did not go unnoticed and Senator Harkins got a stronger bill passed and signed into law this week that put the two officials in their place.

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.

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 Fillingame, and Harvey Johnson all thought they were above the law as they loved to use interim appointments, checks and balances be damned.

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

Senator Harkins authored a bill that would stop this political malpractice.  The bill is not a sexy topic.  It won't garner media headlines.  However, it is a step in the right direction for bringing good government to Mississippi and making it less corrupt. SB #2587 became law a year ago.  It stated:

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.  It should be pretty simple to enforce but then again, this is Mississippi.

The first challenge to this law took place in Bay St. Louis, where good ole boy politics reigns supreme.  The Mayor fired the building inspector seven years ago and appointed a close friend who was not qualified to the job on an interim basis.   He has never been confirmed by the city council and is not a certified building inspector.  Such things mean nothing to Mayor Fillingame.  Interim means eternal as far as he is concerned.  The city council challenged his employment after the law became effective on July 1, 2016.  However, Mayor Fillingame and city attorney Donald Rafferty went running to Jim Hood for some cover and he gave it to them.   Earlier post with copy of opinion.

Special Assistant Attorney General Phil Carter took a break from chasing groundhogs and turned the law upside down as he issued an Attorney General's Opinion on the new law.

 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 law said nothing about old terms or new terms but damned if Mr. Carter didn't create it out of thin air.  The matter was settled and the forces of corruption in Mississippi won yet another battle - or so they thought.

Senator Harkins submitted a similar bill this year in the legislative session that was more direct in dealing with this problem.  The bill passed the Senate but died in committee over in the House.  Senator Harkins refused to take no for an answer and attached the dead bill's language to HB #51 in the Senate.  The amended bill passed the Senate.  The House voted to concur and Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill yesterday.

Here is the language of the new law.  Read it word for word:

SECTION 2. Section 21-15-41, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

21-15-41. (1) No person shall serve in an interim or hold-over capacity for longer than one hundred eighty (180) days * * * 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 * * *. * * * If such position is not filled within one hundred eighty (180) days after the expiration of the position's term, or within one hundred eighty (180) days after the date of appointment if an interim appointment, the hold-over service or interim appointment shall terminate and no municipal funds may thereafter be expended to compensate * * * the person serving in the position. Further, any action or vote taken by such person after the one-hundred-eighty-day period shall be invalid and without effect. If a council or board of aldermen rejects, or otherwise fails to confirm, an individual submitted by the mayor for appointment, the mayor may not resubmit or reappoint the same individual for that position during the remainder of the mayor's current term in office. Copy of bill.
The law also deals with boards and commissions.  Any votes taken by board members more than 180 days after their terms expire are null and void.  No more sitting around on the JMAA Board of Commissioners and voting on budgets two years after the term expired.  This will apply to municipal school boards such as Jackson and Pearl as well. 

The  second section  makes the law retroactive so no funds can be used to pay the salaries of any interim appointments that require a confirmation vote

(2) It is the intent of the Legislature that the provisions of this section shall apply retroactively to all appointees serving in a hold-over or interim capacity on the effective date of this act and for such appointees, the one hundred eighty-day limitation period shall commence to run on the effective date of this act.

Take that, Mr. Attorney General.  Phil Carter is not the only one who can play hocus pocus with the law.  The new law means that no compensation can be paid to interim appointments who have served more than 180 days come July 2, 2017.  The State Auditor will be able to recover those funds if they are paid in violation of the law.  Any members of municipal boards or commissions can't vote if they are serving more than six months past their term.

Kingfish note: Take that, Jim Hood.  Make no mistake.  Phil Carter wrote this opinion to give cover to to Mayor Fillingame.  Nothing like protecting public corruption among the good ole boys in Mississippi and that is exactly what Mr. Carter did.

Good job to Senator Harkins who didn't take no for an answer, didn't quit, and saw things through til the end . Their are going to be a few howls come July 1 but they are the howls we like to hear.


Anonymous said...

Is this the same Harkins that was a college baseball player? I was wondering what happened to him afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, hold on there, Jim Hood walks on water, right?

Anonymous said...

1:48...That's correct. He does with me!

Anonymous said...

Harkins does a damn fine job.

Anonymous said...

I have the utmost respect for Josh and his whole family.

I firmly believe with just a few more years of experience, Josh will make a great Governor and then to Washington as a "No Nonsense" Senator. He is already showing great potential.

Anonymous said...

Good reporting on this from day 1. Thanks, KF.

Anonymous said...

You can tell the legislative session is over because Harkin has time to sit around and post adoring comments about himself. He is a legend in his own mind. In the mind of everyone else he is a lightweight.

Anonymous said...

A few media reports from the Bay St. Louis area:

* Update: Bay official released without bond after wreck, DUI arrest

"BAY ST. LOUIS -- A city official was arrested on a DUI charge late Friday following a multi-vehicle wreck that left two people injured, officials said.

Hancock County sheriff's deputies arrested City Building Official Charles Oliver, 64, on a charge of DUI, sheriff's Chief Deputy Don Bass said.

The accident occurred about 10 p.m. on U.S. 90 near Washington Street and involved at least four vehicles, Bay St. Louis Police Chief Mike De Nardo said.

De Nardo said two people involved in the accident suffered what appeared to be minor injuries and were taken by ambulance to a hospital."

** Update: Officials say Bay police chief was under investigation in gun sale, payroll fraud

"Bay St. Louis Police Chief Mike De Nardo was being investigated over allegations he had illegally sold at least one city-owned firearm and had committed payroll fraud, Hancock County Sheriff Ricky Adam said Friday.

The investigation had been going on four months, but it wasn’t all about De Nardo.

“It was a multi-point investigation not focusing on just one thing, but on several things going on in Bay St. Louis,” Adam said.

De Nardo shot himself in the chest Thursday with a short, pistol-grip shotgun as he was being escorted from the police station for a suspension, Adam said. De Nardo died shortly afterward at a hospital.

De Nardo left an apology note for the payroll fraud in an envelope on his desk"

*** Justice Delayed: Controversial Bay Building Official’s Circuit Court Appeal of DUI Postponed Again

"Yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Chris Schmidt continued the DUI appeal of controversial Bay St Louis Building Inspector Charles Oliver until the June 2017 court term. Oliver had previously pleaded no contest to the charge in County Justice Court, which came after he caused an accident with injury on Highway 90 in Bay St Louis during the 2015 Cruisin’ The Coast. Blood drawn pursuant to a warrant after the accident showed that Oliver’s blood alcohol content was in excess of 3 times over the legal limit.

According to a Seacoast Echo report dated May 24, 2016, Oliver was represented by attorney Damian Holcomb, who then shared a law office with then Bay St. Louis city attorney Donald Rafferty. Rafferty was replaced by the Bay City Council in August 2016.

The appeal was originally scheduled to be heard on Tuesday February 21, 2017 but was postponed until February 23 due to a scheduling conflict involving Rafferty, whose role in the case was not clear to spectators in attendance as he did not handle the case in his role as City Prosecutor. On Thursday the matter was then continued by Judge Schmidt to the June Circuit Court term.

Yesterday afternoon Slabbed New Media heard from several concerned citizens that were very unhappy with the fact that Oliver has yet to face justice 16 months after the incident with one observing:

Convenient for the Mayor. He won’t have that scandal to deal with during the campaign. Look like the boys from the Pass got together and helped out Hizzoner on this one."

Anonymous said...

"I have the utmost respect for Josh and his whole family.

I firmly believe with just a few more years of experience, Josh will make a great Governor and then to Washington as a "No Nonsense" Senator. He is already showing great potential."

Hey, Josh....or Frog...

Anonymous said...

3:02, did I see the green eyed monster just come out in you !!!!!

Josh is a very hard working young man. He is a Commercial Real Estate Broker and is half owner of Lane/Harkins Commercial. He also owns a General Contracting Firm so don't tell me he sits around posting comments. I'm 2:43 and you are a jealous, stupid asshole. Josh must be stepping on your toes !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Please someone tell me something Frog has done besides work for daddy?

Kingfish said...

Should've known . You can't discuss the actual post itself but instead just want to take potshots at the state senator. So much for the merits of the bill.

Anonymous said...

I occasionally have breakfast with Sen. Harkin. He is but a lightweight. He is as smart as any politician out there today. And his work on this matter is not lightweight, and neither was his initiative to change the Jackson airport, which was successful. He has shown that he is a potent legislator and that his ideas can become law. BTW, what is wrong with working for/with your father? It worked well for Donald Trump.

Anonymous said...

Kingfish, it's all about potshots.

People can't help themselves when they think someone is successful without F---ing over someone else.

Most of your readers are jealous and don't want people to do well. I want people to make as much money as possible as long as they play fair with their customers and INVESTORS. Did you understand that Kingfish ?

Anonymous said...

...because Harkin has time to sit around and post adoring comments about himself.

Versus Hood's bootlickers who drool while fawning over him here at JJ every chance they get.

Anonymous said...

Kingfish is the king of potshots! A bit hypocritical of you to condemn those who would like to respond to a post about a public official. I've certainly seen much, much worse comments about other politicians, particularly those that might not share some of the general characteristics of your primary audience.

Anonymous said...

Seems the "Good Ole Boys" don't take to younger legislators who are bright, hard working and successful with good ideas; jealous much? Are you afraid Josh might find out what you've been doing all along and tear your playhouse down?

Anonymous said...

This is a GOOD LAW and a long overdue one. THANK YOU to Harkins and everyone else who saw this through.

It's so refreshing to see something RIGHT happen in politics!

Anonymous said...

Harkins is a follower rather than a leader. No one outside of Niknar has ever heard of him. I hope he runs for statewide office like his predecessor Yancey. Then he too will be gone.

Anonymous said...

I read this post and figured I must have missed out on something. So I went and found the opinion discussed, but not referenced, here.

It's here if you want to read it:

The opinion outlines the logic of the statute dealing with the next administration. I'm not a lawyer but it made sense. Carter then goes on to state prolonged interim appointments are inappropriate.

i am glad someone managed to fix the law (even if it had to sneak through on a mother bill).

I don't get how Hood or Carter are the bad guys. They don't make the laws they just provide opinions on how the law should be interpreted as written, right? If there is some backstory to Fillingame here I have missed please clue me in.

Unknown said...

We need good government and may be beginning to see it.

Anonymous said...

This is a refreshing change! Thank you, Senator Harkins. Finally someone willing to stand up against this foolishness. While this won't get rid of our tax dollar waste bucket of a building "inspector" in BSL NOW, we at least have some relief in sight no matter the outcome of the upcoming election.

Anonymous said...

This bill is wonderful in theory.
There is , sadly, a reason that exists here for extended " interim" positions.
In Mississippi, finding qualified people to take these positions is sometimes impossible, especially in small towns.
So, what will be done when after 180 days, there is no one who will take the position? Will the qualifications be lowered?
The real problem is that only 19% of Mississippians have a college degree. And, quite of few of those went to schools that were not accredited.

Kingfish said...

Oh yes, here comes the reader who makes excuses for everything.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Josh Harkins! Great guy and great family.

Anonymous said...

I'm @ 2:20 and I'm not Harkins, a family member, political consultant, nor even a resident of Madison or Camaro counties. I've just seen him work and appreciate his dedication to civility and principles.

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why the young and intelligent leave MS. You can't try to improve system or be any kind of innovative without the people who enjoy the status quo or who want to keep things the way they've always been trying to knock you at every turn. It's the jealous crabs in a bucket syndrome that keeps MS down (blacks and whites alike). Senator Harkins, Councilman Priester, and other innovators are your children, Mississippi and you've done a fine job of raising them. Support them. Don't dismiss them as lightweights. Teach them more. Due to your hard work and sacrifice, you've allowed this generation to receive a better education and become more worldly. You've paved the way for this generation to fly. Let them take MS to the next level, please. I know change is hard and scary, but we are in dire need of a change here in MS. We are being left behind at every turn. Getting back to the subject. Personally, the Harkins' airport bill to me was a little shady, but this bill by Mr. Harkins is damn fine work and needed work as opposed to the Merry Christmas bills other idiots in the have proposed.

paulo said...

Gotta love how Kingfish censors folks... it his way or the highway, this guy is lucky he likes him.

Anonymous said...

Gotta love how Kingfish censors folks... it his way or the highway ...

He cleared your whining didn't he?

Most importantly it is KF's business and if you don't like his offerings or editorial decision making you are free to transit to some other online locale.

Anonymous said...

KF, I'm not making excuses or defending cronyism or opposed to this bill. It's a step in the right direction. I just don't think this will make cronyism disappear or fully address the problem of finding qualified people to fill positions that are vacant which was the " excuse" that worked and can work again.
Also, a political party can put their loyalists in job positions, they will when instead, they could be engaged in more aggressive recruiting.
It's human nature to hire those you know as well.
If you will look at requirements created in bills in other states which address the hiring process for all government jobs, you'll see the ways others make cronyism more difficult. Among other things, you can define how government jobs are to advertised, require all applicants that meet the minimum criteria be interviewed and that the person that meets the highest criteria be hired unless " cause" not to do so can be shown. " Cause " can be defined.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Kingfish, you have to have reciprocal agreements with other states as well for government positions so qualifications and licenses from other States are recognized.

Kingfish said...

It obviously will not stop cronyism and no one claimed it would. Nice try at putting words in my mouth or borrowing the Obama trick of using a straw man.

However, it offers a remedy for an abuse. For example, the current Public Works Director of Jackson has been sitting in interim status for nearly 10 months.

Plain ol' Catfish said...

@ Kingfish

You are an Obama Basher too? Gotta keep the knuckle draggers happy, huh?

Kingfish said...

The City Council of H-burg had to take Dupree to court because he wouldn't submit the interim police chief for a confirmation vote.

Melton, Harvey, Lumumba, and the current Mayor all ignored the confirmation process.

Then there are boards and commissions. This bill is going to stop some of these guys who hang around on school boards years after the terms expire because the Mayor wants to keep them where they are.

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