Wilsons OK to serve on same board

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 14, 2009

If Brookhaven municipal elections work out a certain way thisyear, it will be two victories and double the influence for theRev. Jerry Wilson and his wife Mary Wilson, who are running formayor and Ward Three alderman, respectively.

Mississippi Ethics Commission Executive Director and ChiefCounsel Tom Hood said if the cards fall that way, it’s a legalarrangement for a husband and wife to both serve in the two electedoffices and sit around the same board.

“It wouldn’t necessarily violate the ethics of government orgovernment laws,” he said. “Board members are electedofficials.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Half of the potential outcome is assured after Mary Wilson wonthe Democratic primary in Ward Three race last Tuesday and isunopposed in the June general election.

The Rev. Jerry Wilson currently is the president of the LincolnCounty Board of Supervisors and defeated Brookhaven police officerSudie Palomarez in the Democratic primary. He will go on to facecurrent Alderman at large Les Bumgarner, who is running as anIndependent candidate, in June.

Hood said the issue of family members serving in the samemunicipal government is within the parameters of legal governmentbecause the voters have spoken. There is no employment contract fora city official.

“The difference is an employee has at least an oral employmentcontract; elected officials don’t have a contract,” Hood said.

In other words, Hood said, if one of the Wilsons was mayor or onthe board of aldermen, the other could not work for the waterdepartment, the police department or hold any other city job thatis not elected.

“It’s not going to be an ethics issue if they’re both electedofficials,” Hood said.

However, if the Rev. Wilson is elected mayor, he will have tostep down from his position on the board of supervisors, and notjust because both are full-time jobs, but also for legalreasons.

Article 1, Section 2 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890prohibits simultaneous service in more than one branch ofgovernment, the three branches being executive, legislative andjudicial. In other words, someone cannot serve in two separatebranches of government.

The position of county supervisor falls under the judicialbranch of government, and a mayor would be an executiveofficial.

According to the state attorney general’s office in a 1997opinion, among others, to District 21 District Attorney James H.Powell, III, “Clearly, a mayor of a municipality is also in theexecutive branch of government.”

In addition, in a 2004 opinion to LeFlore County Supervisor OtisAbron, also among others, the AG said, “A county board ofsupervisors is part of the judicial branch of government.”

Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said the decision by supervisorson who would fill Wilson’s position, should he be elected mayor,would not be made until after city elections.

“Our board is not even going to discuss anything as far asappointments until the city elections are over because there’s noreason to consider it until such time as there is a need,” hesaid.