SUPERVISOR SELMON POLITICKING Letters seeking votes mailed from courthouse

Published 11:26 am Friday, September 21, 2012

The cost associated with mailing letters from a Warren County supervisor asking voters to support a candidate for a state position apparently is ending up on county books.

In the past week, letters returned as undeliverable or with insufficient addresses turned up with postage metered in the Warren County Courthouse.

The last one was dated Sept. 11, and each was mailed at the standard, first-class domestic rate of 45 cents.

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In each letter, District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon asks for a voter’s support for Vicksburg resident Ceola James, a former chancellor and justice court judge who is a candidate for the state Court of Appeals.

The letters describe James as “a personal friend” he is endorsing based on experience. Each envelope also incudes a campaign flier.

Metered mail carries codes used to charge the activity to a business or entity that uses it — in this case, Warren County.

When asked Thursday, Selmon said he supplied the office secretary with stamps before about 12 letters went out. The fifth-term supervisor took issue with questions about the letters’ cost, terming it “a witch hunt.”

“The postage was paid,” Selmon said repeatedly. “This is not going to cost the county.”

About a book’s worth of stamps was kept by the secretary in an envelope bearing Selmon’s name. The secretary was asked about the stamps Thursday and showed the envelope.

Asked for comment, Board President Bill Lauderdale said supervisors try to keep all mailings “official county business” and out of the political realm.

“I can’t see how it won’t end up on the (claims) docket,” Lauderdale said.

Claims dockets, which represent line-item spending from all county coffers, are routinely presented to the five-member Board of Supervisors for perusal and approval.

James is challenging incumbent Appeals Court Judge Ermea J. Russell in the Nov. 6 general election. The judgeship covers District 2, Place 2, and is spread over all or part of 24 counties on the state’s western half. In Mississippi, five districts for state appellate court seats are aligned according to the state’s congressional districts before they were redrawn after the 2000 census.

A call to James was not returned.

Meters handle postage for bulk mail for multiple county government offices, including the chancery, circuit clerk and tax collector’s offices, district attorney, sheriff’s department and the local branch of the Mississippi Department of Human Services. Each meter is leased to the county by the manufacturer, Pitney Bowes Inc.

Nearly all elected officials have access to the machine, located in the accounting department away from the general public, Chancery Clerk Donna Farris Hardy said.

“Much of this is done on an honor system,” Hardy said. “Most mail is sealed and there’s no reason, usually, to ask questions.”

Activity reports are run once a month in the office to show postage charges and the departments that made them. Total mail over a month’s time is noted on the reports, but not specific mailouts.

Questions to the state Ethics Commission about the mailings were referred to the Office of the State Auditor, which oversees use of public funds. Officials in each office said the situation most closely relates to the law on donations, which are defined broadly as expenses the board isn’t obligated to pay.

“Government entities may not make donations unless statutorily authorized,” reads a statement issued by the auditor’s office.