Supervisors clash over choice for clerk

August 4, 2009 10:36:00 AM

Neal Wagner -


The hiring of a Lowndes County purchasing clerk Monday led to a brief verbal skirmish between two county officials during a county Board of Supervisors meeting. 


The argument came after Lowndes County Administrator Ralph Billingsley recommended the board hire current county sheriff''s department employee Terry Thompson as the county''s purchasing clerk. 


Thompson will be replacing former purchasing clerk Brenda Dodson, who recently retired from the office. 


The board voted 3-2, along racial lines, to hire Thompson over current deputy purchasing clerk Gloria Blunt. District 1 Supervisor and Board President Harry Sanders, District 2 Supervisor Frank Ferguson and District 3 Supervisor John Holliman voted for Thompson. 


District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks voted against Thompson''s hire. 


However, before the board voted to hire Thompson, Brooks proposed an alternate motion to instead hire Blunt. 


"Purchasing is just a portion of what Terry does. We have a number of people with that kind of experience," Brooks said. "Gloria handles that entire process five days a week. 


"There''s just no comparison. Gloria has been sitting and doing this job day in and day out every day for 16 years," Brooks added. "It''s very demoralizing to the person that has sat in the second chair for so many years to not get a chance at the top." 


However, Sanders charged Brooks with breaking the law, saying Gloria''s hire could be overturned by the Mississippi attorney general. 


"If you make a motion to hire someone not recommended by Ralph, you are breaking the law," Sanders told Brooks. "If you vote on Mr. Brooks'' alternate motion, you are breaking the law and the hire could be overturned in a court of law." 


"I''m not denying the fact that the attorney general''s opinion says you can''t vote to hire someone not recommended by the department head," Brooks responded, shortly before the board voted 3-2 against the alternate motion. "I just want everyone to know where my vote stands." 


Billingsley told the board he hired Thompson over Blunt after he interviewed the candidates, reviewed their resumes and gave both several computer literacy tests. 


"I found both to be very qualified for the position, but her (Thompson''s) qualifications were just a little bit better," Billingsley said. "Both are experienced, and I think they will make a good team. 


"You obviously have objective and subjective criteria when hiring someone," Billingsley added.  


In other business, the board: 


n Agreed to pay a $2,070 match for a $254,000 Mississippi Department of Transportation grant. The grant will be used to repair damaged asphalt around several airplane hangars at the Columbus-Lowndes County Airport. 


n Tabled a motion to contract out security at the Lowndes County Justice Court building to the North Atlantic Security company.  


While the motion is tabled, Board Attorney Tim Hudson will determine if the security detail could be considered a professional service. 


If the job "meets the definition" of a professional service, the board can enter into a contract with the company without putting the job out for bids. 


If hired, the security guards will replace Lowndes County Sheriff''s Office bailiffs at the court building, and could provide up to $20,000 in savings each year, said Billingsley.