County board flip-flops top spots

Published 11:43 am Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Warren County has a new attorney, a not-so-new board president and new members of its parks and recreation and Vicksburg bridge commissions.

In 18 minutes of rapid-fire votes Tuesday in their first meeting of the new four-year term, the Warren County supervisors also advertised for the top job in the Road Department and rescinded their choice to chair the Warren County Port Commission.

Marcie Southerland was chosen unanimously to replace longtime board attorney Randy Sherard, while newly elected District 1 Supervisor John Arnold drove home crucial votes for Gerald Bailey as the district’s representative on the recreation board and Wesley B. Jones to replace Tom Hill as the district’s choice on the Vicksburg Bridge Commission more than three years before Hill’s term expires.

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Arnold, who spoke out in December against supervisors appointing port commissioners before the start of a term, was a deciding vote to hire a new attorney to replace Sherard, whom former supervisor David McDonald had backed in several split votes in his three terms. Arnold defeated McDonald in the Republican primaries in August.

Arnold limited his comments after Tuesday’s meeting, which also ended in his being named as supervisors’ representative on the E-911 Commission, replacing McDonald.

“It was a unanimous decision,” Arnold said. “I believe (Southerland) is a good attorney.”

Sherard, 66, wasn’t in the board room Tuesday, reportedly due to a family commitment. Reached by telephone this morning, he declined to comment.

Sherard was board attorney from 1992 to 2005 and was re-appointed in 2009 after Mayor Paul Winfield, then the board’s counsel, announced his run for the mayor’s office. Traditionally, the post has been paid as an independent contractor — in Sherard and Winfield’s cases, $150 hourly.

“I appreciate the appointment made by the board,” Southerland said a few minutes after the vote as supervisors sought a legal opinion on a 3-2 vote to rescind its Dec. 19 action to keep Johnny Moss on the port board and appoint Robert Morrison III to the other county-appointed seat. Southerland said she’d look into the move’s legalities. Morrison was retained — on Arnold’s motion — and Moss’ reappointment was squelched when District 5 Supervisor Richard George’s motion died without a second. An alternate motion from Arnold supporting Robert N. Gordon for the port board failed 3-2.

District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale was elected board president, a procedural title given to the supervisor who runs meetings and appears at public functions to represent county government. Lauderdale held the gavel several times while in office in the 1990s; George had held the board presidency since 2007. District 2 Supervisor William Banks was re-elected vice-president of the board.

When reached later, George said he voted for Southerland when it became apparent before the meeting that Sherard wouldn’t have three votes to win another appointment. He also termed the move to yank the board’s decision to retain Moss “really quite bizarre.”

“It was obvious three people had gotten together and decided they wanted Randy gone,” he said, referring to Arnold, District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon and District 2 William Banks, the trio who powered the board’s repeal of last month’s port board appointments. No public discussion took place on board appointments or 11 positions under the board’s purview before Tuesday’s votes.

Selmon nominated Southerland, 58, in 2009 for board attorney, a move supported by only Banks, who was a consistent nay vote on three years’ worth of Sherard’s legal bills, including an invoice submitted Tuesday. Southerland, a former four-term justice court judge, ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2003 while serving as interim county prosecutor.

Jones, 40, president of Wesley B. Jones Electrical, was appointed 4-1 to join the five-member panel that oversees the county-owned U.S. 80 bridge. George was the lone dissenter. Hill, a retired engineer appointed by McDonald in 2005, was not up for re-appointment until 2015. Still, George and Arnold argued in whispered tones about the seat being brought up for debate.

“Is there something wrong where you don’t wish him to continue?” George asked Arnold.

“No, sir, I just have an appointee I want to place on that board,” Arnold answered.

Bailey, 65, will be joined on the parks and recreation commission by current board members Jimmy Harrison, Joe Loviza, Elijah Johnson and L.T. Walker, all of whom were re-appointed.

Richard Winans, road manager since 2005, filed retirement papers effective this week. The job is being advertised in-house for five days, as per county policy on openings in departments under supervisors’ purview.

County Administrator John Smith was retained 3-2, with Selmon and Banks dissenting. Arnold supported George’s motion to reappoint him. Smith was hired in 2005 after 18 years with the City of Vicksburg’s accounting department.

County Engineer John McKee was kept on a 3-2 bare majority, with Selmon and Arnold dissenting. Moments before, Selmon offered Warnock & Associates, run by Madison County engineer Rudy Warnock, for the job. It failed 3-2, on the same voting line.

Arnold also questioned the traditionally informal decision on which, if any, county officials attend lobbying junkets and statewide conferences of other public officials. For about a decade, McDonald had tagged along at the county’s expense with other local officials and segments of the business community on trips to Washington, D.C., each February to further projects of interest to Vicksburg and Warren County, usually those in need of federal dollars to realize.

Selmon was tapped to go on the annual trip this year. Funding travel expenses for any county employee failed 3-2, with George, Lauderdale and Arnold in favor; however, another motion to continue reimbursing travel only in cases to keep a department head’s certification died for lack of a second after about 10 full minutes of discussion.

“Well,” said an exasperated Lauderdale. “I guess we don’t have a policy on travel.”