Mississippi attorney general chooses to not issue opinion in city’s quorum squabble

Published 5:25 am Thursday, December 21, 2023

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch chose not to issue an opinion in a city’s squabble over what constitutes a quorum on the city council.

“Official opinions issued by the Attorney General in accordance with Mississippi Code Annotated Section 7-5-25 may not interpret municipal charters or local ordinances as they are best interpreted by the governing authorities who adopted them,” Fitch said in her letter to Natchez City attorney Bryan Callaway, dated Dec. 7.

Callaway requested an opinion from Fitch at the request of the Natchez Board of Aldermen.

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Fitch continued, “For your general guidance, however we would note that, to the extent that a special charter and local ordinance conflict, the special charter would prevail.”

Despite that opinion from Callaway, initially, and the attorney general on Dec. 7, Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier insisted that, while the mayor can make up a quorum, no action could be taken at the meeting unless four aldermen were present.

Frazier has made that statement several times since Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Bridgewater-Irving moved to ask the attorney general for an opinion on what constitutes a quorum. Aldermen voted unanimously to seek that opinion.

However, Frazier has not provided or shown any legal specifics for his opinion.

The question of what constitutes a quorum became an issue after the mayor called a special meeting on Oct. 14 after a fight at the Truth Lounge, 719 Franklin St., took law enforcement 20 minutes after arriving to break up.

City Police Chief Cal Green and City Commander Jerry Ford told the aldermen present — Ward 1 Valencia Hall, Ward 3 Sarah Carter Smith and Ward 6 Curtis Moroney — that the scene outside the Truth Lounge was one of chaos and threatened to overwhelm the city’s police department.

Aldermen Ward 2 Billie Joe Frazier, Bridgewater-Irving and Ward 5 Ben Davis did not attend the special meeting.

Callaway noted Section 19 of the city charter reads the city council is constituted by a mayor and aldermen and “the majority of the council shall constitute a quorum.”

“Y’all are trying to change the whole form of government,” Frazier claimed.

Callaway also issued caution to all aldermen about attending meetings of city commission, whose decisions could be appealed to them for review, and speak on behalf of any one party.

That comment was directed to Frazier and Bridgewater-Irving, who attended a meeting last week of the city’s preservation commission. The commission was deciding about whether and what type of roof could be placed on the home known as Nellie’s on North Rankin Street.

Frazier spoke on behalf of its owner, J.T. Robinson, urging the commission to “do the right thing.” Bridgewater-Irving cheered on the commission from her seat in the audience, saying “That’s what I’m talking about,” when a commission member said he was ready to vote to allow the roof requested by Robinson.