Miss. Supreme Court: No simultaneous service in 2 branches of government

Published 10:48 pm Saturday, October 7, 2006

The Mississippi Supreme Court this week upheld a circuit judge’s ruling in 2005 that Democrat David Myers cannot serve as both state representative and member of the McComb Board of Selectmen.

The Supreme Court ruled that dual offices violate the state constitutional ban on one person serving simultaneously in more than one branch of government — legislative, executive or judicial. The court also said that in Myers’ position in the state House, he could have a measure of control over funding that goes to the city.

A majority opinion written by Justice Michael K. Randolph quotes the Bible’s Book of Matthew: “’No man can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.”’

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Neither Myers nor his attorney, state Rep. Willie Perkins of Greenwood, could immediately be reached. Myers had argued there was no conflict in his serving in the two jobs.

The dispute over Myers’ status started when the city filed a lawsuit in July 2002, attempting to remove him from the municipal position.

Norman B. Gillis Jr. of McComb, the private attorney who represented the city, said the Supreme Court ruling on Thursday means Myers forfeits the first elected position but keeps the second. Myers has been on the city board since 1991 and in the Legislature since 1996.

Justice James E. Graves Jr. disagreed with the majority opinion of the Supreme Court, calling the legal analysis “seriously flawed.”

“With a stroke of a pen, and without the support of a single precedent or authority, the majority boldly removes an entire city council from the legislative branch of government to the executive branch of government,” Graves wrote in his dissent.

Sam Mims, the McComb city administrator, said Myers had not contacted City Hall by Friday.

“At some point, I assume the city board will formally declare that the city position is vacant,” Mims said.

Gillis said Friday that the Supreme Court ruling “reaffirms sacred constitutional privileges that the people are entitled to, and that is to be protected from people who are serving in dual offices where one office can be used to override the other.

“The court held that doing that in Myers’ circumstances violates both the separation of powers doctrine of the Mississippi Constitution and also it violates the ancient common law rule that one person cannot hold two inconsistent or conflicting public offices,” Gillis said.

Myers, 44, is running unopposed for re-election to the six-member city board; party primaries are Nov. 6 and the city election is Dec. 4. Mims said it appears Myers will be re-elected but will be unable to serve.

There is a key difference between Myers’ case and the case of another state lawmaker who serves on his local city board.

In 1992, the state attorney general’s office issued a nonbinding opinion that there was no constitutional problem with David Jordan, D-Greenwood, serving in both the state Senate and on the Greenwood City Council because both positions are within the legislative branch. Jordan is now the Greenwood City Council president and serves as chairman of the Senate Municipalities Committee.

Gillis said Greenwood and McComb have different types of city charters. He said McComb’s charter gives the Board of Selectmen three types of powers — legislative, executive and judicial. Myers had argued that his city duties were entirely legislative.

Myers is vice chairman of the House Municipalities Committee. His legislative district is in parts of south Mississippi’s Pike and Walthall counties.