City can’t change board appointment status

Bay St. Louis representatives on the Bay-Waveland School District board apparently will be able to maintain their appointed status and aren’t in danger of having to run for election, according to a finding by the city attorney.

City Attorney Donald Rafferty had been asked to explore whether the city’s School Board representatives could be required to run for office after their current terms expire. While the three are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, the School Board’s other two members hold elective positions.

Rafferty told the City Council Tuesday night that after talking with state legislators and School Board Attorney Ronnie Artigues, there appears to be little chance the three Bay representatives can be required to run for office in the future.

“My opinion, in talking with the powers that be, is that it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Of the five school board members, only Sherry Ponder and Robinette Lawler must run for office. The other three, Cheryl Ladner, Clevand Williams and Mike Benvenutti, are Bay St. Louis residents who are appointed.

Ponder and Lawler, the elected members, represent areas called the “added territory.” The City of Waveland does not actually name anyone to the School Board, Artigues said.
The question of changing the status of the three Bay St. Louis representatives arose earlier this month after Councilman Doug Seal received citizen complaints when the School Board approved a 1.32-mill tax increase. Board members and the administration said the increase was necessary because of cuts in state aid to education.

Seal had asked that the city look into the issue. “I always tell people, a School Board can do a lot more damage to your taxes than I can,'” he said at the time.

Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame had said he was not opposed to making school board members campaign for election.

But Rafferty said Tuesday that the proposal would require a blanket change in state law that would affect all school districts.

It could not be done under a “local and private” law that would affect only the Bay-Waveland District, he said. Rafferty said the City Council can actually hold School Board members more accountable under the current system than if they were elected.

“Please understand, when you appoint, you have more power,” he said.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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