Bill that could have unseated mayors fails in Mississippi

Published 5:45 pm Thursday, February 9, 2023

Legislation that would have allowed special elections for the removal of municipal officials from office in Mississippi was defeated in the state House Thursday.

The bill was defeated in a bipartisan 60-53 vote after Democratic legislators said the bill was targeted at Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat who leads the 80% Black city. Legislators opposing the bill also said it would wreak havoc in small towns where the threshold to unseat municipal officials wouldn’t require many people.

“I think we all know that this bill is about Jackson, but we can pull off the vision we use by just looking at Jackson,” said Democratic Rep. Bryant Clark of Pickens. “This bill is bigger than Jackson. It’s going to affect all of your communities, and it’s going to create turmoil in communities.”

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Rep. Shanda Yates, an independent from Jackson who sponsored the bill, said in an earlier House debate that some of her constituents had asked whether there is a process for removing a city leader from office. Mississippi law currently allows recall elections for county officials but not city officials.

Under Yates’ proposal, a special election for the removal of a mayor would be held if at least 30% of a city’s registered voters sign a petition saying the mayor has failed to fulfill obligations of the job. The governor would then appoint three municipal judges from other cities to determine whether “there is a substantial basis for a removal election.” If the judges find there is, a special election would be held.

For the removal to have been successful, at least half of the qualified voters in the city must take part in the election — and a majority of those casting ballots would have to vote to remove the mayor.

Yates introduced her proposal as several others bills impacting Jackson’s affairs advanced in the Republican-controlled Legislature. One would transfer the ownership of the city’s troubled water system to a regional board.

Another bill would create a new court district in part of the capital city of Jackson with judges who would be appointed rather than elected. Yates was the only Jackson lawmaker to vote in favor of that bill.