After harassment and ‘drama,’ Mississippi official won’t take oath of office
Published 7:58 pm Monday, December 11, 2023
Following the resignation announcement of Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps at Monday morning’s meeting of the Panola County Board of Supervisors, a few details about how the county will proceed were discussed.
Meek-Phelps also gave some insight about what is technically not a resignation, but an announcement that she will not be taking the oath of office for the seat to which she was elected by a landslide in November. It was her fourth straight election win. Her husband, Shane Phelps, in the same election won an overwhelming second term as Sheriff.
At the close of the regular board meeting at the Batesville Courthouse, board president was about to ask for a vote for the supervisors to enter executive session when Meek-Phelps entered the room and passed out a letter to each board member, the county attorney, and newspaper editor.
The letter is as follows:
“I, Melissa Meek-Phelps, the current Circuit Clerk, after much consideration has decided that I will not be accepting the oath of office for the new 2024-28 term of office. It has been an honor and a privilege serving the wonderful people of this great county. I have worked relentlessly to assist and help in every possible way and serve everyone in a fair and integral manner. I will be happy to assist in any way to help with a smooth transition, especially due to the fast-approaching Federal Election.
Thank you and it’s been an honor working with you all.”
After taking a few minutes to digest the letter’s content, board attorney Gaines Baker asked Meek-Phelps for clarity, saying, “I want to be sure I’m reading this correctly. Is this your letter of resignation as of Jan. 2? You are asking the board to accept your resignation once your term concludes, correct?”
“That’s correct,” she said.
The supervisors accepted the letter by a 5-0 vote.
“I want peace,” Meek-Phelps said. “I think I’m a hindrance here, there is just too much drama. When I talk to the Secretary of State’s Office, they say the only other county they have as much trouble with in the state is Hinds.”
Meek-Phelps said it was important that taxpayers not have to spend extra money for a special election to fill the seat because 2024 is a Federal Election year and there will be March primaries and a November general election.
“There will already be a ballot, you will just add the position to the ballot,” she said. “It will be considered a special election on the ballot.”
Baker said once the Board of Supervisors declares the position vacant, then the Election Commission will prepare for the Circuit Clerk seat to be added to the ballot. The board will presumably declare the office vacant on Jan. 2 when no one is sworn in for the position, and then will have 10 days, by statute, to appoint an interim.
Flint asked Supervisors Chad Weaver to meet with Meek-Phelps in coming days to discuss who might be a suitable appointment to operate the office until the election.
Board members briefly discussed whether their appointment should be a person who would potentially be a candidate for the position in an election. Some supervisors said it would be an unfair advantage for the appointee to also be a candidate, and others said future intentions should not preclude anyone the board intends to appoint.
“I don’t recommend putting that kind of quantifying contingency on (an appointment),” Baker said.
Making that appointment will be four sitting supervisors and one newcomer – Ira Fred Butts, who beat longtime supervisor James Birge in the November election. Butts will be sworn in before the office is declared vacant.
Meek-Phelps said several factors were part of her decision to not accept the office for another term, despite her overwhelming ballot victory just over a month ago. Despite very little public campaigning, few signs, and no paid advertisements, she still turned back all competitors on the primary and general ballots. She has, arguably, the largest base of supporters of all countywide officials, saving that of Gracie Grant-Gulledge, the longtime coroner who did not run for office in this year’s election cycle.
Meek-Phelps said she is willing to work through a transition and will assist whomever the board appoints.
“It will take someone a couple of years to adjust, a year to really get the deer-in-the-headlights feeling away,” she said. “It’s a lot more stressful than what most people understand, but it is with every office here. The amount of work and responsibilities that are added each July really add up. In order to keep moving forward and progressing and serving the people in the manner we should serve them, it takes a hundred percent of you.”
“You can’t come into any public office halfhearted, and you can’t focus on the needs of the people and the future of the county when you are constantly distracted,” she said. “It’s not good for the county and it’s not good for the people.”
– The Panolian