Clay supes wrangle over outstanding fines

October 23, 2009 9:38:00 AM

Jason Browne - jbrowne@cdispatch.com

 

WEST POINT -- Clay County Sheriff Laddie Huffman took issue Thursday with supervisors'' assertions that his department was not aggressively collecting unpaid fines, but said he had no objections to the county contracting with nCourt electronic filing services to collect the delinquent Justice Court fees. 

 

A process needs to be followed when issuing contempt warrants," Huffman began. "We need to have a paper trail." 

 

District 5 Supervisor Floyd McKee responded by asking Huffman how many full-time deputies are employed by the Clay County Sheriff''s Department, before producing documentation showing sheriff''s deputies had served 12 warrants in the past year. 

 

During the supervisors'' Oct. 8 meeting McKee said the sheriff''s department had not been effective in collecting delinquent fines.   

 

"You have three officers really doing a lot of work as far as contempt of court," McKee told Huffman. 

 

Huffman countered that deputies had collected more than $14,000 in delinquent fees and arrested 153 individuals for contempt of court since January 2007. 

 

Huffman and McKee argued back and forth for several moments prompting District 3 Supervisor and Board President Shelton Deanes to bang a gavel on the table as a signal for quiet. 

 

"Knock on them doors," McKee said after Huffman finished speaking. 

 

As of the board''s Oct. 8 meeting, Clay County was owed more than $1 million in outstanding Justice Court fines. 

 

The board took no action after hearing Huffman''s comments on the fines; nCourt also offers traffic-citation payment services for Lowndes County Justice Court. 

 

 

 

Sign-in sheets 

 

Before Huffman and McKee aired their grievances, the board heard from members of the Clay County Election Commission seeking a ruling on the propriety of using a sign-in sheet. 

 

Months ago, the election commissioners agreed to sign a time sheet on a daily basis reflecting time worked. District 4 Election Commissioner Wendy Fuller, who said she resisted a similar request in 2007, was not present when the commission voted to adopt the policy and has refused to use the time sheet. 

 

"I was adamant then, and I''m still adamant. I''m an elected official just like anybody else. Why should I be under scrutiny?" Fuller said following the board meeting. 

 

District 2 Supervisor Luke Lummus said the time sheet would be useful when the county is audited; other election commissioners agreed. 

 

No other election commission in Mississippi is required to sign in, and only a judge could mandate such a policy, Fuller countered. 

 

"We''re not under the scrutiny or supervision of the Clay County Board (of Supervisors)," Fuller said during the meeting. "I am not signing, ever, a sign-in sheet until a judge tells me to. And no judge will ever do that." 

 

Furthermore, she argued, the time sheet was void because commissioners repeatedly signed in and never signed out. 

 

"You have people signing in at 11 a.m. then signing in at 9 a.m. When they leave they don''t sign out," she said. "So the time sheets are illegal anyway. They wouldn''t stand up in court." 

 

The process for election commissioners to be paid, according to documentation from John Helmert, senior attorney for the office of the secretary of state, requires election commissioners to sign affidavits stating the time they spent at work under penalty of perjury. 

 

"If we''re signing that, why an in-and-out sheet?" asked Fuller. 

 

Linda Ivy, election commission chair, said she will continue to use the sign-in sheet. 

 

One of Fuller''s final complaints in response to the election commission was District 5 Election Commissioner Jessie Ivy''s daytime job as a teacher at Church Hill Elementary School in West Point. Ivy works her five hour per diem for the election commission beginning at 3:30 p.m. each day, after two commissioners leave at 2 p.m. 

 

"We need a quorum so she can represent her district," said Fuller of Ivy. 

 

The board took no action with regard to any of the grievances brought forth by the election commissioners except to address Ivy''s choice of working hours. The board adjourned to executive session to discuss the matter. Afterward, they chose to take no action based on an attorney general opinion. 

 

The opinion states: "A county election commission as a whole may determine ... that less than a quorum of commissioners is needed to conduct the required demonstrations without the necessity of an order from the county board of supervisors." 

 

The supervisors took no action on the time-sheet issue. 

 

"We feel it goes beyond what the statute and the attorney general''s opinion requires. Therefore, it won''t be a necessity for persons to sign in. However, it''s good, and if there should ever be a contest, that would be a good piece of evidence to support the fact that you did work," said board attorney Lee Coleman.