Mississippi counties do not have an official, elected by county-wide vote, who serves as the chief executive of the county. Instead, the Mississippi Code provides that each of the state’s 82 counties is governed by five county supervisors, each elected from a specific geographic district of the county.
The state code, most recently revised in 2015, puts both legislative and executive power in the hands of the Board of Supervisors. Each board elects its own president, who presides at the board’s meeting and signs certain documents as directed by the board, but who has no more actual authority than the other four board members.
The state code provides that the county chancery clerk, an individual who is elected by county-wide election, will serve as the “clerk of the board.” The chancery clerk must attend every meeting “keep and preserve a complete and correct record of all the proceedings and orders of the board.”
The code also requires the county sheriff, elected county-wide, “must attend all meetings of the board to execute its process and orders.”
Both the chancery clerk and sheriff may be represented at Board of Supervisors by deputies. However, neither the sheriff nor the chancery clerk has independent executive authority. The sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the county. The chancery clerk also has the duty of keeping land records and serving as clerk of the chancery court.
It is hard to imagine a system of government any more awkward and unwieldy than one which puts both executive and legislative authority in the same hands. But that’s how it is.
The actual governing produced by the Board of Supervisors system means that there are as many variations in how thing actually get done as there are counties in the state. The way business is actually conducted by Mississippi Boards of Supervisors ranges from the ridiculous in some counties to rational and orderly in other counties.
Happily, the Union County Board of Supervisors is one of the ones that operates in an orderly, open, fair and sensible way.
The writer has had the opportunity during the last three decades to observe how county Boards of Supervisors conduct themselves in half-a-dozen Mississippi counties.
First, an example of the way a Mississippi supervisory board conducts business in a chaotic, frenzied, muddled and unfair manner. Twenty-five years ago I was editor of a Mississippi county seat newspaper about 100 miles distant from Union County.
That particular county board would more or less assemble at the appointed time on Monday mornings. There was no printed agenda. The board president might open the meeting with a long ramble about how things were going in the large swine raising operation he owned in the southeastern corner of the county. One or two board members might listen for a while to Bill’s story about his hogs. Others at the table could be talking about a cross county rivalry between two high school football teams. One or two of them might fire up a cigarette and talk to their wives or girlfriends on their county-provided cell phones. (Cell phones were still rather novel in those days, one of the proud perks of serving as a supervisor.) All this while sitting around the meeting table.
Then a couple of supervisors might get bored and simply wander out of the room, perhaps to visit with a comely woman working in an office up on the second floor.
The county attorney might be standing just outside the meeting room consulting with one of his private law clients. They would stray away like children with attention deficit disorder.
On more than one occasion, while trying to cover that county board as a news reporter, I would look up and find I was the only one in meeting room, except for one of the regular full-time court house loafers, snoring his way through a hangover in one of the county’s comfortable leather arm chairs.
“Meetings” of that particular board of supervisors might last all day and end at supper time with no county business having apparently been resolved.
In contrast, meetings of the Union County Board of Supervisors start on time and are officially opened by the sheriff. Somebody says a brief prayer. The work closely follows a printed agenda. Not a single one of the supervisors sneaks away from the table. Any citizen in the room is allowed to ask questions or make comments.
Typically, meetings of the Union County Board of Supervisors might cover and resolve 20 agenda items in 20 – 30 minutes.
The work moves crisply and quickly along.
How can that be done?
It’s because the individual supervisors have been thinking and talking amongst themselves and with others all month long. Each supervisor has done the homework, so he knows what’s going on.
After a (usually brief) discussion, someone makes a motion regarding action and somebody else seconds it. The board president calls for the vote. The vote (usually unanimous) is taken publicly and duly recorded
A perfect system? No. But the Union County supervisors get the job done in as rational a manner as Mississippi’s antiquated code allows.
The next scheduled meeting of the Union County Board of Supervisors will be on Monday, February 4, 2019.