By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Pearl River County supervisors on Monday adopted an order paving the way for the Mississippi State University Extension Service to advertise for a new county 4-H agent in the wake of the Dec. 10 termination of popular county 4-H agent Megan Scott.
However, supervisors split on the vote, 3 to 2.
Exactly what would have happened if the vote had gone in Scott’s favor was not clear.
The whole issue has been not fully understandable to protesters, the public and press, since most of the discussion concerning the matter has been conducted in executive session. Supervisors talked about the issue at the Dec. 19 meeting and at Monday’s meeting in executive session after a short public discussion of the matter. However, the request for the executive sessions came from the Extension Service representative.
So far no reason has been given publicly by the Extension Service for Scott’s termination, and she has not spoken to the press.
Monday’s vote favored taking action to go ahead and fill the vacant post. Scott’s firing prompted a protest over the termination by 4-H members and parents at the Dec. 19 board meeting.
Board attorney Joe Montgomery told supervisors on Monday that state statutes say the director of the MSU Extension Service will make the recommendation on whom to hire and the board of supervisors “shall make” the appointment.
Protesters at the Dec. 19 board of supervisors meeting told supervisors they wanted a letter of support for Scott from supervisors, urging her reinstatement to the job. That was not forthcoming at Monday’s meeting.
Supervisor Anthony Hales, Sr., who said at Monday’s board meeting that he had talked to Scott, said that she told him she had retained an attorney in the matter.
Hales made the motion for passage of the order allowing the Extension Service to proceed with procedures for selecting someone else for the position, and supervisor Joyce Culpepper seconded the motion. Hales, Culpepper and board president J. Patrick Lee voted in favor of the order, while supervisors Sandy Kane Smith and Dennis Dedeaux voted against it.
Smith and Dedeaux gave no reasons for their no votes and took no part in a discussion prior to the vote between the board and Pearl River County Extension Service Director Eddie M.I. Smith, who represented the Extension Service.
While state statutes say the board has power of appointment, it also says supervisors will pay $12,000 annually as a portion of the new 4-H agent’s salary and that the board has to provide office space. State statutes that set up the Extension Service outlines the procedures supervisors must follow to fill vacancies in the county Extension Service.
The statutes have been in effect since 1932, said board attorney Joe Montgomery, who briefed the board on where they stand legally in regards to the issue.
Supervisors gave the Extension Service approval to advertise and select applicants for the job. The Extension Service interviews applicants and makes its selection, and then the person chosen is put before the board of supervisors for appointment.
“We didn’t have any say-so in the firing, did we?” Hales asked agent Smith. “So what authority do we really have in making an appointment? You select; and we appoint.”
Scott’s firing on Dec. 10 prompted a protest by some 4-H members and some of their parents at the board’s Dec. 17 meeting. Protesters, numbering about 23, picketed the supervisors’ board meeting before it convened, and then they piled into the board meeting to address the board.
Spokesperson, the Rev. Jimmy Richardson, a 4-H advisory committee vice-president, urged the board of supervisors to intervene in the matter and demand that Scott be reinstated, since supervisors have an integral part in the procedures for replacing her. Supervisors told the protesters that they would look into the matter, and were not sure how much authority they had in the matter. Richardson said no one was given any clarification or reason for Scott’s termination. He asked for some type of letter of support from supervisors. He said the combination of Scott’s success as an agent and the secretiveness of why she was fired raises questions in the minds of 4-H members and supporters.
Scott was popular with 4-H members and parents and was credited with a period of growth in the organization during her 10 years of service in the Pearl River County post.
During the Dec. 19 board meeting, county agent Smith told supervisors that the termination of Scott had been properly vetted and that attorneys representing the Extension Service had signed off on the matter.
The board was cautious in its approach to the protest.
Said Lee during the Dec. 19 meeting: “I think all the supervisors have gotten a lot of calls and emails over this issue. All have been positive in favor of Scott. Our attorney will have to look into this. It is complicated, the way it is set up. I think the sense of the board is not to make any decision at this time, so the parties involved will have more time to talk to one another.”
On Monday, agent Smith talked to the board for about 15 minutes in open session concerning the issue, and then requested a closed-door session to discuss with supervisors what he termed a “matter of litigation.”
Supervisors then went into executive session. Supervisors later recessed to 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23.