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Analysis: Quirky or serious, legal opinions guide officials

Lynn Fitch

The attorney general's staff does research and writes legal opinions to guide state and local government operations.

Posted: Sep 20, 2020 6:43 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Can a Mississippi school district give financial rewards to students who do well on college entrance exams?

Can a city government remove a dilapidated building if the owner does not do it?

Is the sheriff's son allowed to work as a volunteer deputy?

These are among the questions that government officials have asked Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch this year.

The attorney general's staff does research and writes legal opinions to guide state and local government operations. Those opinions are posted on the attorney general’s website, giving the public a glimpse at some issues that officials are considering.

Willie Griffin, attorney for the Washington County Board of Supervisors, asked about nepotism. May the sheriff's son serve as an unpaid auxiliary deputy? If so, may he use county equipment? Can the sheriff's department sponsor the son to attend a law enforcement training academy?

The attorney general's office said yes to the sheriff's son working as an unpaid deputy and using county equipment. It said no to sponsoring the son at the training academy because that would run afoul of the ban on public officials compensating close relatives.

The superintendent of the Pascagoula-Gautier School District, Wayne Rodolfich, asked whether the district could provide monetary incentives to students based on the ACT, a standardized test used for college admissions. He also asked whether the district may award monetary incentives to its employees based on ACT improvements.

The attorney general's office said no to giving money to students for test scores, explaining that doing so would be an unlawful donation under Section 66 of the Mississippi Constitution. The attorney general's office wrote that under the constitution's Section 96, incentives may be paid to employees if the arrangement is set in advance.

In a scenario that's begging to be turned into a quirky piece of short fiction, Alton Shaw, mayor of Wesson — population 1,880 — asked if the town government could demolish the remains of a burned house.

“The occupant of the residence now has moved into an outbuilding or shed on the property and has made it his permanent residence,” the attorney general's office wrote in a summary. “The building is in extremely poor condition and the municipal governing authorities have received numerous complaints from citizens about its condition.”

The answer: Yes. State law allows a municipality “to clean up private property it has determined to be a menace to the public health and safety of the community.”

Aelicia L. Thomas, attorney for the 250-person town of Pace, asked the attorney general what action, if any, the Board of Aldermen could take for the mayor's “willful refusal” to carry about the board's orders. She also asked: If the aldermen cut the mayor's pay, could the mayor ask the city clerk to pay him the original amount instead of the lower one?

The opinion said that aldermen, going forward, should not encroach on the mayor's executive-branch powers.

“If a Mayor’s salary has been lawfully reduced, the Mayor would not have the authority to direct the City Clerk to write his/her paycheck for the amount he/she previously received instead of the newly adjusted salary,” the opinion said.

In a somber matter, Katie Blount, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, asked whether ancient Native American remains can be buried on state-owned land. Representatives of the Muscogee Creek Nation contacted the department about the desecration of a burial site and said they would like the remains to be reburied as close as possible.

The Department of Archives and History wants to create reburial sites that are optional for tribal nations that no longer own lands in Mississippi, according to the opinion summary. The attorney general's office said state law would not prohibit that. It also noted that federal laws govern how Native American remains and funerary objects should be treated.

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Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 119336

Reported Deaths: 3328
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds8135180
DeSoto742280
Harrison556687
Jackson491790
Rankin417186
Madison389494
Lee370882
Forrest314179
Jones299984
Washington2667100
Lauderdale2639135
Lafayette259143
Lamar235940
Oktibbeha206656
Bolivar206279
Neshoba1894111
Lowndes183262
Leflore174188
Panola173441
Sunflower166550
Warren157156
Monroe155474
Pontotoc152820
Marshall151831
Lincoln146759
Pike141256
Copiah140437
Scott129029
Coahoma127037
Union126425
Yazoo125435
Simpson124950
Tate124839
Grenada123940
Itawamba119828
Pearl River118860
Leake117842
Holmes115460
Adams110645
Prentiss110420
Alcorn106112
Wayne103522
George103320
Covington100129
Marion97244
Tippah96225
Newton88428
Hancock88329
Chickasaw87529
Winston87021
Tallahatchie86426
Tishomingo83341
Attala81127
Clarke78553
Clay71822
Jasper70217
Walthall64927
Calhoun63813
Smith60816
Noxubee60417
Yalobusha57016
Montgomery56923
Lawrence56214
Claiborne54216
Tunica53917
Perry53423
Carroll51512
Stone50614
Greene48218
Humphreys46817
Amite43513
Jefferson Davis42613
Quitman4246
Webster38313
Benton37011
Wilkinson34321
Kemper33515
Sharkey29215
Jefferson28410
Franklin2533
Choctaw2106
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 162720

Reported Deaths: 2735
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson24088384
Mobile17166319
Tuscaloosa10641142
Montgomery10576205
Madison961998
Shelby766067
Baldwin688871
Lee666965
Calhoun480663
Marshall450051
Etowah444553
Morgan442835
Houston426535
DeKalb357929
Elmore329258
St. Clair313843
Limestone300333
Walker290293
Talladega277737
Cullman271925
Lauderdale243743
Jackson228218
Autauga214131
Colbert212532
Franklin210732
Blount203925
Russell19993
Chilton192632
Dallas189427
Dale186252
Coffee185111
Covington178729
Escambia176031
Clarke139117
Tallapoosa138587
Chambers138147
Pike137014
Marion111831
Barbour10569
Marengo105322
Butler102041
Geneva9597
Winston95313
Pickens90018
Lawrence89933
Bibb86615
Randolph85316
Hale78330
Cherokee76915
Clay76712
Washington75912
Henry7366
Lowndes72328
Monroe66310
Bullock65117
Crenshaw61630
Fayette60413
Perry6026
Cleburne5819
Conecuh57313
Wilcox57212
Macon55020
Lamar5255
Sumter48721
Choctaw39512
Greene34616
Coosa2193
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