By Joseph McCain The Winston County Journal
While the Louisville Municipal School Trustees entered into executive session to keep prying ears out, the elevated tones of the discussion could easily be heard in the far reaches of the next room.
The trustees entered one part of the executive session to discuss reassigning one Sixteen Section lease on Brooksville Road from Mike Peterson to Gerald Ray Dempsey. Discussions about the lease in an executive session for possible litigation became loud enough on at least two occasions that the four audience members outside the meeting room could hear portions of the discussion.
According to Bobby Moody, Board of Trustee’s president, no action was taken on the lease based upon advice from the Board Attorney, Jessica Morris of Adams and Reese.
Peterson who serves as Supervisor District 3 and President of the Board of Supervisors may be in violation of state statues with the leases.
“Section 109, Miss. Const. of 1890: No public officer or member of the legislature shall be interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract with the state, or any district, county, city, or town thereof, authorized by any law passed or order made by any board of which he may be or may have been a member, during the term for which he shall have been chosen, or within one year after the expiration of such term.”
A 2011 Ethics Commission opinion clarifies the law specifically to a supervisor and Sixteenth Section lands: “Therefore, a county supervisor may not have an interest in a 16th Section lease authorized during his term or for one year thereafter. This finding is consistent with Advisory Opinion No. 97-148-E, which the commission hereby reaffirms. Moreover, if a county supervisor is a lessee or otherwise has an interest in a 16th Section lease and the board of supervisors takes part in the periodic adjustment of rent on that lease during the supervisor’s term or within one year thereafter, then the supervisor will be in violation of Section 109 and Section 25-4-1 05(2), and the lease will be rendered null and void. Likewise, a recusal by the supervisor will not prevent or ameliorate a violation of Opinion No. 1l-047-E.”
According to the Secretary of State website, Peterson has interest in three Sixteen Section leases in the county.
Peterson and school board president Moody, a former Sixteenth Section lease holder, have been vocal advocates for what Moody has described in previous meetings as more “Fair Market Value” Sixteenth Section rates and appraisals which would have resulted in lower lease rates in most cases.
Sixteenth section lands are state owned lands from the division of territories making every 16th parcel set aside for schools.
The State of Mississippi holds title to 16th Section land, local school boards manage the land on a day-to-day basis. The secretary of state of Mississippi oversees the school boards’ management of the land. The school boards must submit copies of all leases and report all income received from the land to him. 16th Section lands may be leased for farming, hunting, fishing, mineral exploration and mining. Rent for these uses are set by competitive bidding and by appraisal for all other uses. The county board of supervisors approves rents set by appraisal only, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State website. Leases turned into the Secretary of State’s office may be examined by visiting http://www.sos.ms.gov.