For anyone to top the imperious style with which Barry Cumbest presided over the JCBOS would be a tough act, yet Melton Harris has succeeded. The voters and citizens of this county (for whom Mr. Harris seemingly has little regard) should not be at all surprised. Harris gave a preview of what was to come two weeks ago in his comments to a reporter.
Harris remarked that he had trouble understanding why the public (read: voters) kept referring to “the new board.” He was quite animated when he noted that only two board members were new and three incumbents remained. Harris felt that the idea that there was a “new board” was one of the “most asinine” ideas he’d heard. It appears the colloquialism was lost on him.
Today Harris is quoted by Karen Nelson in the Sun Herald as saying, “our meeting is not to be swayed by public comment.” This makes clear how Harris feels about the public policy of this state. He further stated that such comments “bog down” the meetings. Apparently Harris has a million trillion things he’d rather do than listen to you.
It seems that Mr. Harris finds the idea of public service to be inconvenient and distasteful and has little respect for the traditions of transparent government upon which this nation was founded. Mr. Harris cites as support for his limiting public comments the US Congress and the Mississippi Legislature. He notes that there are no public comments available in such forums. This argument fails as these two bodies are ultimately more transparent. There is a robust process of deliberation, the full text of all legislative proposals are made available online well in advance of votes, the proceedings are broadcast live, and there are almost no sessions held in secret. Both bodies also have regular committee meetings wherein testimony, both written and oral, is solicited from those to be affected by legislation. Committee hearings are indeed the ultimate “Q&A” session.
The last year left the JCBOS somewhat immune from pressure from open government groups. The prospect of electoral change was thought to eliminate the need to expend limited resources and funds on litigation with a board who might soon be replaced. The next election is four years away and certain members of the board are starting off on the wrong foot. Again, we encourage the board to read, digest, appreciate, and apply Common Cause v. Hinds County. The board should do the same for our state’s Open Meetings Act.
There stands ready a group of volunteers, lawyers, and open government groups to file complaints with the ethics commission and to file suit in chancery court to enforce the orders of same.
SRHS Watch has already learned of at least one actionable item based on Common Cause that took place at today’s meeting.
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE: The discussion of any item of county business in executive session which was not cited as a reason for entering executive session is in violation of our state’s Open Meetings Act.
New board members shot down on issues of public input, comment, Karen Nelson, Sun Herald
Jackson County supervisors decide to replace board attorney Yancey, Karen Nelson, Sun Herald