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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: 117617

Reported Deaths: 3302
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds8011179
DeSoto721079
Harrison539884
Jackson469387
Rankin401686
Madison384394
Lee364082
Forrest309478
Jones296184
Washington260399
Lafayette253143
Lauderdale2499135
Lamar229138
Oktibbeha203755
Bolivar202877
Neshoba1861111
Lowndes181262
Panola170640
Leflore169188
Sunflower164049
Warren156056
Monroe153073
Pontotoc149020
Marshall147330
Lincoln142959
Pike140456
Copiah138736
Scott126229
Coahoma125537
Yazoo122734
Grenada122639
Simpson122349
Union119725
Tate119339
Itawamba115926
Leake115842
Pearl River115060
Holmes114960
Adams109344
Prentiss108320
Wayne102722
Alcorn102112
George101419
Covington98529
Marion95443
Tippah93123
Newton86827
Chickasaw86226
Hancock85928
Tallahatchie84626
Winston84621
Tishomingo82241
Attala80526
Clarke76353
Clay70522
Jasper69217
Walthall64127
Calhoun62713
Noxubee60117
Smith59816
Yalobusha55614
Montgomery55423
Claiborne53916
Tunica53617
Lawrence53414
Perry51223
Carroll49712
Stone48614
Greene47918
Humphreys44916
Amite42713
Quitman4216
Jefferson Davis41711
Webster37813
Benton3608
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32715
Sharkey28715
Jefferson27710
Franklin2483
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 160380

Reported Deaths: 2713
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23573377
Mobile16994316
Tuscaloosa10462140
Montgomery10352198
Madison942298
Shelby750465
Baldwin671269
Lee657165
Calhoun464761
Marshall442651
Etowah434151
Morgan422335
Houston419334
DeKalb349228
Elmore324653
St. Clair304042
Limestone293631
Walker283793
Talladega271437
Cullman255725
Lauderdale233842
Jackson219417
Autauga208231
Franklin206432
Colbert206032
Blount197225
Russell19603
Chilton190432
Dallas188127
Coffee180711
Dale178952
Covington175929
Escambia174931
Chambers136847
Clarke136617
Pike134514
Tallapoosa133987
Marion110331
Barbour10429
Marengo102622
Butler101241
Winston94013
Geneva9217
Lawrence86933
Pickens86918
Bibb85015
Randolph83516
Hale77730
Cherokee75614
Clay75312
Washington75112
Henry7236
Lowndes71628
Monroe65510
Bullock65017
Crenshaw60930
Perry5956
Fayette58913
Cleburne5739
Wilcox57012
Conecuh56513
Macon53920
Lamar5085
Sumter47421
Choctaw39312
Greene34616
Coosa2093
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