Poplarville request for Attorney General opinion answered

Published 7:00 am Thursday, March 9, 2017

During Tuesday’s Poplarville Board of Aldermen meeting, Board Attorney Nick Thompson said his request for an Attorney General opinion was answered.
Thompson said he posed several questions to the Mississippi AG’s office regarding an ongoing dispute about the legality of a homeschool operating in a residential zone.
After several discussions and two public hearings, the Board voted to request an opinion about whether it had the authority to adjudicate what constitutes as a school as defined by the Mississippi Compulsory Attendance Law, MS Code 37-13-91, according to previous coverage.
The AG’s office opined that the Board does not have the authority to make that designation under state law, only under city ordinances, Thompson said.
He also said the AG’s office could not form an opinion on whether other state statues would prevent the Board from making such an adjudication.
The opinion states the question was too broad to answer, Thompson said.
“As of now, the Board of Aldermen has adjudicated that it is a school under the zoning ordinance using standard usage,” which it is lawfully entitled to do, Thompson said, referring to the operation of Kim Torrence’s home school on N. Jackson Street.
After the reading, Grant Bennett, the attorney for Torrence’s neighbor Jim Brown, addressed the Board and urged them to proceed with caution.
“The Board is setting itself up to miss the forest for the trees,” Bennett said.
He went on to say the Board would open itself up to issues with residents wishing to open a “school of witchcraft” or similar schools of ideology, which meet the standard usage definition previously cited by the Board.
“Under the definition you are utilizing, almost anything can be deemed a school,” Bennett said.
Bennett also said the Board changed its argument in recent years, initially referring to Torrence’s business first as a tutoring service and later as a school.
“Because things didn’t you go your way, now you’ve zoned it as a school,” he said.
Brown later spoke to the Board himself, asking, “If this school is not recognized by Mississippi law, what kind of school is it?”
Thompson said the Board continues to maintain that Torrence’s operation is a school under the Poplarville ordinance and “to date, the Board has not been asked to determine if any other homeschools are schools… Others are welcome to come before the Board to determine if it is adjudicated.”
The Board took no further action on the matter, but Thompson said the Board scheduled a public hearing on April 18 regarding adding an amendment to allow tutoring to be held in residential zones.
In other matters, the Board:
-Discussed working with Pearl River County Engineer Les Dungan to solve serious culvert issues on S. Haynes and Beer streets. The Board previously tabled the work until approximately $80,000 could be found to make the needed repairs.
– Approved three-packs of beer to be sold inside city limits.
-Denied a request for reimbursement of a $50 filing fee for a conditional use permit by Torrence saying the Board has never approved such reimbursements.
-Discussed the removal of advertising and old campaign signs from public and private property. Alderwoman Maggie Smith said several signs she brought to the Board’s attention have yet to be removed.
-Received notification from Poplarville Fire Chief Jonathan Head that the department will be conducting hydrant testing on March 27.
Before adjourning, the Board entered into executive session to discuss personnel issues in the Public Works Department and pending litigation.
The next Board meeting will be held on March 21 at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

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About Julia Arenstam

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