State legal officials strike a blow to Harper’s hopes to return to office

Published 1:49 pm Thursday, December 10, 2020

Ken Harper’s hopes of returning to serve in his role as county prosecutor took a hit Thursday as the details of an Attorney General’s opinion were made public.

On Sept. 14, Harper abruptly resigned his office in a letter to the Warren County Board of Supervisors saying, “Please accept this letter as my resignation as Warren County Prosecuting Attorney effective September 14, 2020, at 5:00 p.m. Sincerely, Ken Harper.” He gave no reason at the time for his resignation.

Days later, though, Harper rescinded his resignation before the supervisors’ next scheduled meeting.

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It was at that time that both Harper and the board felt the matter was resolved and both groups moved forward.

That was until mid-October when Warren County Judge Marcie Southerland, who presides over youth court — the court where Harper also serves in his role as county prosecutor — went to the supervisors, questioning Harper’s status in his position given he had resigned a month earlier.

During two executive sessions, supervisors met with County Attorney Blake Teller and Southerland about the matter. While the details of the conversations were not public, supervisors asked Teller to submit four questions to the Attorney General’s office concerning any worries about Harper’s status.

In the interim, supervisors moved to withhold Harper’s pay until his status was cleared up. Southerland, a few days later, appointed Lane Campbell as youth court prosecutor and refused Harper the ability to handle any cases while his status was in doubt.

The questions pertained to whether an elected official can resign and then rescind that resignation before any governing body accepts that resignation, and questioned whether the Board of Supervisors was the right body by which Harper should offer a resignation. Supervisors felt a resignation by the county prosecutor would need to be presented to the governor’s office.

In response to those questions, the Attorney General’s office said that it “has previously held that a resignation becomes effective upon the date specified in the resignation and that one may withdraw his resignation up until the stated effective date.”

In this case, Harper’s resignation letter was made effective at 5 p.m. on the day he issued the letter. He tried to rescind the resignation days later.

The opinion also states that the “resignation does not need to be accepted by members of the governing authorities to become effective.”

In regards to the county’s question as to whether the board was the correct legal authority to receive the resignation, the Attorney General’s office said the resignation did not need to go to the governor’s office.

With this opinion in hand, the status of the county prosecutor now moves to the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

Teller said the supervisors will discuss the now vacant position during their Monday work session and will need to appoint an interim until a special election in November can be held.

Teller said supervisors can, in fact, appoint Harper back to the position, but it would remain an interim appointment until a special election.

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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