Mayor: Upcoming Moss Point School Board elections a 'catastrophe'

Mayor: Upcoming Moss Point School Board elections a 'catastrophe'

MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - Moss Point's mayor calls the city's upcoming school board elections "a complete catastrophe." Jackson County leaders have a much different opinion, and the back-and-forth debate about the Nov. 7 elections has a lot of people scratching their heads.

A new law went into effect July 1. It requires Moss Point to elect its school board members. The city had 45 days to create five districts so everyone in the school district could be represented on the school board. The law says three of those districts have elections this year. The other two districts vote for school board representation next year.

Mayor Mario King says he's working with the Secretary of State, trying to find a way to postpone the Nov. 7 election because he thinks there's too much confusion and too many questions. Jackson County's circuit clerk doubts that will happen.

King tells WLOX News Now from what he can see, the election is so unorganized, "nobody knows what's going on. We have to do it better."

Jackson County Circuit Clerk Randy Carney disputes the mayor's claim. His office and the Jackson County Election Commission oversee the November school board election. He notes Moss Point didn't meet key deadlines to draw district lines for the school board seats. The city, Carney said, never published the upcoming election in the newspaper, which is a requirement. The circuit clerk contends the city's delays put unneeded stress on the upcoming election.

"In my opinion, they didn't do their job," Carney said. "They didn't get the word out."

Moss Point's attorney disputes those claims. Amy St. Pe tells WLOX News Now the school board map got approved by Aug. 9. She also says the city scheduled newspaper ads to run Aug. 18, Aug. 25, and Sept. 1. What she's waiting to hear from the newspaper is whether those ads ran.

"We met every deadline. We were meticulous with this," St. Pe said.

Lawmakers approved Senate bill 2463 during the 2017 legislative session. It mandates Moss Point elect school board members. It says elections will be held in districts one, three, and five this November and in districts two and four in November 2018.

Candidates in districts one, three, and five had until Sept. 8 to qualify for the city's first ever school board races. Dr. Caterria B. Payton and Amy M. Buckley qualified in district one. Clifton R. Magee and Isaiah "Ike" Hayes qualified for the district five school board seat. But, no one qualified in district three.

Page 21 of the Senate bill that requires the school board election says:

If no individual qualifies for the elective office of school district trustee, the trustee for that specific trustee district shall be filled by appointment of the municipal governing authority; however, the person so appointed to fill the vacancy may serve only until the first Monday in January 2019, at which time the trustee elected pursuant to this subsection shall take office for the remainder of the unexpired initial term.

King supports the idea of the community selecting the men and women who oversee the Moss Point School District's policies.

"I'm 100 percent in favor of board members being elected," King said.

However, he believes now is not the right time to hold school district elections. He said throwing the election together in a hasty manner has been detrimental to the process, because there are too many unknowns and not enough answers.

"This isn't an efficient way to get this done," said King.

With regard to putting the brakes on the Nov. 7 election, Jackson County's circuit clerk said that's unlikely, and he's told King that in recent conversations. Because lawmakers ordered Moss Point to switch to election school board members, Carney said hands are tied.

"I don't have authority. I don't make the laws," said Carney. "I can't give an extension. I can't postpone the election."

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