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Meagan Scott gets support from 4-H group

A determined group of supporters rallied around former Pearl River County 4-H Agent Meagan Scott, apparently recently terminated from her position on Monday of last week.

Approximately 35 people, including 4-H youth and volunteers, parents and a quorum of county 4-H advisory board members — Jackie Hinton, Roosevelt Poole, Juanita Knight, the Rev. Jimmie Richardson, Agnes Dalton, Ned Edwards and Amanda Dill — met last Saturday morning at the Oak Hill Pentecostal Church annex. The Rev. Larry Head opened the church for the meeting.

Jimmy Richardson, vice-president of the Pearl River County 4-H Advisory Board, said the group wanted to find out what they could do as a board, as a community and as 4-Hers “to rectify what we feel like has been an injustice” in the termination of Scott and to seek her reinstatement.

Members of the advisory council said they were at a loss to explain the recent termination.

He said the State of Mississippi is “an at-will” state, where employees can be terminated for whatever reason, although the Mississippi Equal Opportunity Employment Commission is available to investigate. Richardson said he had spoken to EOEC personnel and believed that agency might be the best avenue to resolve a grievance of this nature.

He said he did not know the reasons for her termination and that the advisory board needed to know if proper policies and procedures guidelines had been followed. He believed Scott had been working within the guidelines of her position.

“If you are working within the guidelines already voted on and approved, I don’t see why you should be reprimanded or fired….

“We all know Meagan. We know that she’s always done the right thing; she always had this county’s employees at heart. We know that she put her heart and into her soul into this 4-H. I think it is only right and fair that we do whatever we can to try to rectify this problem,” he said.

Some have started writing letters to appropriate authorities in support of Scott. Dalton, part-time secretary for the advisory board, said any support letters did not need to be form letters and stressed the tone of any correspondence should be personal and hand-written because, in matters relating to personnel matters, a copy would be sent to the human resources department of the agency.

Richardson said he had spoken to county District One supervisor Anthony Hales about the matter and that the group intended to be at Wednesday’s county supervisors meeting.

He suggested people send an email to their respective supervisors prior to that meeting, voicing their opinions and concerns. Even though the 4-H was “a hybrid” between the state and the county, the county has discretionary funding control over funds allocated to 4-H, though it don’t control the hiring and firing of personnel, Dalton said.

She said the matter regarding Scott could be tabled by supervisors, thus giving the 4-H advisory board more time to determine a course of action.

Head said he had an extended conversation with his county supervisor in District 2, Dennis Dedeaux, and said that Dedeaux “is very upset” about the situation with Scott.

Another advisory board member asked if that board had been formally advised of the pending termination of Scott and was told it had not been. Later in Saturday’s meeting the group discussed attending the supervisor’s meeting and the proper way to stage an outside demonstration in support of Scott. “Whatever we can do I think that we should do,” Richardson said. “I think if Meagan was in this situation she would do whatever she could to help … our kids. So, I think it only fitting that we do the same.” Hinton, advisory board treasurer, said she did not want to write another check from the board until clarification of Scott’s firing was made. She further said that a rebuttal letter to Eddie Smith, who has been appointed interim 4-H director and who had sent the letter to advisory board members regarding Scott’s firing, should be sent by the board once a course of action is decided. Richardson agreed that there should be a “cease and desist on additional funding” from the board, and that more information about the termination was needed before any formal reply was made. Head said any reply from the board should be well thought out and reasoned. Edwards made the motion to cease and desist funding and received a second to the motion. Richardson asked if there was a quorum of the advisory board present, and receiving a yes, opened discussion prior to a vote. It was brought out that withholding of funding might jeopardize some 4-H activities scheduled prior to the advisory board’s next meeting in February. The original motion was amended to reflect that the council should meet and approve individual expenditures as needed. The motion carried by a unanimous show of hands by the seven board members present. “We certainly don’t want to do anything injurious to the kids while we are trying to move forward with this,” Richardson said. Hinton reminded the group of the accomplishments that the county 4-H has achieved under Scott’s leadership, reading a long list of accomplishments and awards since her arrival in 2004. Richardson said a course of action needed to be determined. “At the end of the day, we do want to make a difference. We want our voices to be heard … to say that ‘We don’t like what is happening. That we are aware that this is not an isolated incident.’” Charles Schmitz, an attorney and 4-H volunteer here for over 10 years, said Scott “has built the most tremendous 4-H organization, probably in multi-state,” to which the group broke out in applause. “The very people who are terminating her gave her the award for Agent of the Year in Mississippi, not Pearl River County, not in south Mississippi, but in the state of Mississippi.” He added that under her leadership there have been several volunteers similarly recognized. He said the county and state governments, the media, the state 4-H, the state organization in Starkville, all need to be made aware of this situation. “We should call, write, scream, holler, protest, but … politely, non-personal attacking, knowing that we don’t need to resort to anything out of control.

“Think of how many times that Meagan gave up her time, driving all over the state, loving your kids…,” at which point the group again broke into applause.

Schmitz said Scott had been told not to tell her advisory council about these matters and not to let them vote on them.

“For the administration to tell Meagan she could not include her council, whose paying the bills, … was a direct threat to Pearl River County’s organization and if we don’t do something about it, that’s much bigger than Meagan’s problem.

“That means we’re not in control of our own organization,” Schmitz said. “4-H is the best thing since sliced bread, I grew up in it … but we need to stand up, link arms and be strong. Council, you need to take control.”

Lee Smith said in his growing up in 4-H, one of the things always stressed to the youth was adherence to a code of ethics, “but is there not a code of ethics for these (higher) leaders that we’re talking about (that they) have to follow? Who makes sure they stand and follow their code of ethics?”

Another person had started speaking when the door opened and Meagan Scott came into the room. She received a standing ovation.

Before the end of the meeting, Scott spoke briefly to the group and thanked them for the love and support shown her in the last four days. “I really love your kids and I love what I do here,” she said.

When the applause died down, comments continued about a course of action and that there should be uniform objectives when talking to those in authority.

Head said Poplarville had good connections to Gov. Phil Bryant, and told the group to use their own connections to the area’s representatives and other people in various levels of government.

Schmitz said Cindy Hyde Smith, Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture, has always voiced her support of 4-H and if these questions are brought to that office, “they’ll start asking questions.”

He warned the group that they will be told that Mississippi State University would fully investigate any matter such as this and that it was a personnel matter which could not be discussed. “They will tell you that; they will try to speak around it… .”

The group planned to be at Wednesday supervisor’s meeting and said WLOX-TV had been contacted.

Another person said people should write their personal experiences with Scott and the positive impact that she has had in county 4-H. Another said Rep. Mark Formby in Picayune advised the same thing. Formby reportedly has started conversations with MSU sources about the matter.

One said other people from other counties have contacted them about Scott’s situation and that her support group is large. “You are well thought of,” Head said to Scott.

At the end of the two-hour meeting Head passed a collection hat for Scott because, as he said, her termination came just before Christmas, with no advance warning.