By Billy Davis
Panola County employees who run for public office should take a leave of absence to do so, Board of Supervisors president Gary Thompson suggested this week.
The board president said he plans to ask other supervisors to back that stipulation in the upcoming sheriff’s race and apply it to other county races in the future.
Thompson said a second suggestion, still to be discussed, is to appoint an interim sheriff who pledges not to run in the coming sheriff’s race.
Thompson and the county board are presently seeking an interim sheriff following the September 27 death of Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright.
That decision could come as soon as Monday, October 12, at the board’s Second District meeting.
“An appointment could be made Monday, but it’s undecided as of right now,” Supervisor Kelly Morris said Thursday.
Supervisors said they have been inundated with names of potential appointments. Most of those names are retired law enforcement officers, according to Thompson.
The board president, during an interview, also mentioned one potential name – his own – and said he will not seek the sheriff’s office.
“The people elected me to the job I’ve got now,” said Thompson, who has run for sheriff in the past.
“I had my opportunity and that’s in the past,” he said.
Supervisors are eyeing an interim replacement with the knowledge that campaigning for sheriff, from inside and outside the sheriff’s department, will soon follow. The special election falls in November 2010.
The current four-year term ends in 2011, which means the incumbent sheriff, if he does seek re-election, would continue campaigning once in office.
The upcoming election cycle follows a similar pattern in which Bright was elected sheriff in 2005 in a special election to fill the unexpired term of David Bryan. Bright was then re-elected in 2007 to a full term.
“There was a lot of upheaval during the last special election,” Thompson said. “And I feel like the people in the county don’t want to go through that again.”
Bright turns down
Supervisors’ search for a replacement narrowed by one Wednesday, when Mary Nell Bright told Thompson she will not seek appointment to her late husband’s seat.
Supervisors had been awaiting a decision from Mrs. Bright since last week, when her husband was laid to rest.
Appointment of a public official’s widow is a longstanding tradition, especially in Southern politics, until an election is held.
Batesville attorney Andy Yelton, who is overseeing the late sheriff’s estate, told The Panolian Wednesday of Mrs. Bright’s decision.
“She said she would only do the job if she could give it 100 percent and she knows she’s not qualified to do that,” Yelton explained.
“She has not endorsed anyone,” Yelton added. “She said she’s going to leave that decision up to the Board of Supervisors.”
‘Get away’ from
Thompson, speaking about the “widow” tradition, said he will also encourage the board to abandon that policy in the future.
“I’m personally against it,” Thompson said. “That’s something we need to get away from,” he said.
The tradition has seen a lot of use in recent months. Supervisor Vernice Avant was appointed to the District 2 seat held by her husband, Robert Avant, and is now campaigning for a full term.
The Board of Supervisors most recently appointed Emily Appleton justice court judge following the death of her husband, James Appleton.
Lobbying crowd not
a ‘bad situation’
Before Mrs. Bright had turned down the seat, supervisors were being urged this week to appoint Chief Deputy Griffin interim sheriff.
Sheriff Bright had appointed Griffin chief deputy, making him second in command at the department.
A vocal crowd of supporters lobbied for Griffin’s appointment at supervisors’ October 4 meeting, where Thompson explained at the time that Bright was undecided about the appointment.
Some supervisors have since grumbled that the public push amounted to arm-twisting by Griffin, since he did not tell the entire board he is seeking the interim appointment.
“I felt like it was a push to intimidate the board to appoint Otis, and I told him so. I was highly disappointed,” said Thompson.
“Gary is not the only one unhappy,” said Morris. “That situation was uncalled for.”
“I don’t think it was a bad situation,” Griffin told The Panolian. “It’s an open forum. Whoever wants to show up can show up.”
He likened the lobbying on his behalf to Eureka residents who lobbied against a gravel mining operation in their community.
“There were so many of them against the gravel pit they had to move the meeting to the courtroom,” he said.
The chief deputy went on to explain that he allowed sheriff’s employees to attend, after they requested to do so, but said he did not orchestrate the gathering of citizens, who numbered about 35.
Griffin also told The Panolian he is undecided about campaigning for sheriff.
“First things first, and that’s to keep stability in the department,” he said. “That’s the question to ask once everything is back on course.”