By Chuck Bailey
The Choctaw Plaindealer
After a lengthy morning session Tuesday, January 19, the Choctaw County Board of Supervisors reconvened for an afternoon session at 1:00 p.m. to discuss the pay for the chancery clerk’s employees.
The meeting that started at 9 a.m. had to be moved to the second floor courtroom due to circuit court business in the boardroom.
Whatever the venue, it all worked out, as the boardroom would not have held all those in attendance.
Several major items were discussed that morning, including but not limited to, the hospital’s operating line of credit, garbage service and ambulance service.
The Choctaw County Board of Supervisors at the end of the meeting agreed to go until the end of January with the current rate of a $1,000 dollars per month being paid by Chancery Clerk Steve Montgomery to the deputy clerks.
District 1 Supervisor and Board President, Joey Stephenson opened the floor for discussion.
Montgomery began by responding to a question District 2 Supervisor Greg Fondren had about the history of how the deputy clerks’ pay got this way.
Montgomery explained when he took office he had four employees and that he paid 50 percent of two employees. He eventually was able to go to three employees and he then paid 50 percent of one employee. Which amounted to about $850 dollars.
“A few years ago we (Montgomery and the Board of Supervisors) came up with a rate of $1,000 dollars to cover for any of those three employees that may have to answer the phone or do other work besides what they are assigned to do,” said Montgomery.
Since Montgomery took office (over six years ago) the board has raised the hourly rate of pay for his employees by $7.23 per hour on average.
“Let’s just say there working 40 percent of the time and there pay is roughly $62,000,” said District 5 Supervisor Eric Chambers. “I’ve got an attorney general opinion here that says you must pay their pay and we can pay them for the portion of work that they do for us.”
The attorney general opinion Chambers referred to is number 2012-00481 regarding the Salary of Deputy Chancery Clerk. It refers to Mississippi Code Section 9-5-133. It states that deputy clerks are employed and paid for service in their capacity as deputy clerks by the chancery clerk or chancery court. The opinion also states that a board of supervisors may, in its discretion, employ one or more of the chancery clerk’s deputies to perform other duties. Therefore, the board of supervisors may compensate a deputy chancery clerk carrying out other duties for which they have been employed by the board.
In conclusion, the opinion states that the chancery clerk must pay a deputy chancery clerk, employed by the chancery clerk and who performs acts or duties that the chancery clerk may lawfully do.
“The $1,000 dollars your paying is way underpaying,” said Supervisor Fondren. I mean we’re cheating the taxpayers of Choctaw County, I think.”
“Well, the way this percentage got out of whack is because we as a board have given these deputy clerks raises numerous times without any consent from the (chancery) clerk,” said District 3 Supervisor Chris McIntire.
“Well then let’s cut their pay, if that’s a problem,” said Supervisor Chambers. “He (Montgomery) has been sitting at the table when we’ve given these raises.”
“Well, if we’d been doing a percentage, I’m sure he would have said something,” said Supervisor McIntire.
“I just sit at the table, I don’t get a motion,” said Montgomery.
“The bottom line is we’ve got to come up with a percentage that we can show is fair to the taxpayers,” said Fondren. “Since I’ve come into office (January 1) I’ve been told three different stories about how we pay the chancery clerk’s employees.”
District Four Supervisor John Shumaker asked had the law changed and when did he (Montgomery) start paying the $1,000 dollars per month $12,000 per year. He was told 2013.
Supervisor Stephenson asked if the county had been audited on this. He was told the county had with no findings against it.
David McCulloch, a concerned citizen, spoke up, “In the minutes in 2012 it was at 37.5 percent and then in 2013 it changed to a $1,000 dollars.”
“37.5 percent is in the minutes and a board speaks to it’s public through it’s minutes,” said Chambers. “Therefore, I make a motion for the chancery clerk to pay 37.5 percent of the two chancery clerk employees.”
After further discussion and every calculator in the room working overtime, the board came to the conclusion that 37.5 percent of those two employees would almost double what the chancery clerk is currently paying roughly $23,250 dollars per year.
Supervisor Greg Fondren then seconded the motion and it failed by a margin of 2-3 with Supervisors Stephenson, McIntire and Shumaker voting against it.
Deliberations continued on this matter for over an hour and the board finally agreed to allow another payment of $1,000 dollars until the end of January, in the meantime the board will seek an opinion from the attorney general and the state auditor.
The Choctaw County Board of Supervisors met Tuesday, January 26, 2016 and the meeting article will appear in an upcoming edition.