Meridian Star

March 8, 2014

AG rules on civil service commissioners

By Terri Ferguson Smith / tsmith@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     It takes both the mayor and the city council to remove civil service commissioners, according to the Mississippi Attorney General.

    A much-anticipated ruling from the AG's office arrived Friday, clearing up whether only the mayor or the mayor and council have authority to remove commissioners from Civil Service.

    The mayor and council are the appointing power, according to the AG's opinion.

    "The removal of a civil service commissioner requires affirmative action by the mayor and the council, after a hearing and finding of good cause for removal," the AG opinion states.

    The AG office further clarified the difference by which civil service commissioners are removed from office and the way in which city department heads are removed from office.     Department heads are appointed by the mayor, confirmed by the council, but can be removed by the mayor without the council's consent.

    Not so with commissioners, the opinion stated, because civil service commissioners fall under a different law, which says that the appointing authority (mayor and council) may remove them after a hearing if there is a good cause for them to be removed.

    Michael Goggans, city attorney, responded to the opinion on Friday.

    "I will be discussing the opinion with both the mayor and council members so that we all have a clear understanding of everyone's role in this process," Goggans said. "Due to the timing in receiving this decision, it seems appropriate to reschedule the hearings that had tentatively been set for next Monday."

    Henry Palmer is the attorney for the Civil Service Commission.

    "My job as attorney for the commission is to advise the commission. I really don't have a role in the removal process," Palmer said. "Until that happens, I'd advise them that we need to keep doing our job."

    Palmer said as commission attorney, he does not represent commissioners individually and so would not be the appropriate attorney to represent them at their hearings.

    The issue of removal arose in early February, when Mayor Percy Bland served notice of removal to commissioners John Watts, chairman, Robert Stockton, Carol Smith and John House.

    Commissioner Frederick Liddell was not given a notice of removal. He was appointed by Bland and confirmed by the city council in January.

    Bland planned to conduct hearings for the four commissioners, but that stalled over the question of who had the authority to conduct hearings. Discussions led Goggans to ask for the AG's opinion.

    In the meantime, hearings for terminated employees have been delayed.