Bob Bryant letter

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 25, 2011

Reader questions practice of providing transportation for supervisors

Back when I was a youngster growing up in Panola county practically everyone referred to them as the “Road Supervisors.” That was because most residents saw their primary role as the care and improvement of county roads and bridges in each of their respective beats.

In those days gravel was the standard of the day and each road supervisor oversaw the care, repair, and improvement of all the roads in his beat on pretty much a daily basis. That was one reason they each had a county pickup in which to ride their roads.

As times and things changed most gravel roads became white-rocked or black-topped to the delight of most people.

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Panola County in the mid 1980s went from the beat system to the unit system of county government. One change that brought about is now the combined county road department has a road manager, four assistant road managers, an office manager, and one or two shop foremen to oversee the road crews and mechanics that tend to the county roads and equipment. Primary care and maintenance of county roads now rests with this group who are provided county pickups and gas cards.

However, supervisors still have a county-issued pickup plus gas and/or are paid mileage reimbursement for using their personal vehicle when on county business. Neither having a county vehicle or reimbursement is required by law. It is simply a matter of choice left up to each county.

Is this an age-old practice that has outlived its time? Something that once was practical, but now has become a perk paid for by the taxpayers? Especially in the economic times we live in.

Of course then, as now, those five elected officials’ responsibilities entailed much more than just roads. Their job description touches almost every aspect in which Panola county operates and how our tax dollars are spent.

Some people are quick to say, “Heck, the job of being Supervisor isn’t anything but a high-paid, part-time job that requires two meetings a month.”

I disagree.

In recent years I’ve attended numerous board meetings and I’ll be the first to say there’s more to the job than most realize. Is it a 40-hour-a-week, 52-weeks-a-year job? No.

Is it a lot of responsibility and headaches? Yes.

If you disagree I urge you to attend several meetings and see first-hand instead of assuming.

State law currently sets the gross salary for each Panola  supervisor at $40,400 annually. They are also covered by county insurance at no cost to them and they participate in the state retirement system. Someone working on a farm as general labor or in a store at a full-time, 40-hour-a-week job paying $10 per hour grosses just barely over $20,000 a year. Many have little or no insurance or retirement. Even fewer are furnished travel and gas.

There is nothing in Mississippi statutes that requires county supervisors to be furnished a vehicle or mileage reimbursement. It is left up to each county as to what, if any, transportation is provided.

 This very issue has been addressed in a 2007 Mississippi Attorney General’s opinion issued to Lowndes County. The pertinent language is quoted here:

 “…QUESTION … if a board member chooses to use a county-owned vehicle to conduct county business and a vehicle is available, can a majority of the board members prohibit such action and force them to use their own personal vehicle?’

“RESPONSE …’Yes. The Board of Supervisors as a whole, by majority vote, determines whether vehicles may be assigned or otherwise made available to individual supervisors.’ … ‘Provision of a vehicle to individual supervisors is discretionary with the Board.’

“CONCLUSION … ‘In sum, all policy regarding use of county vehicles by individual county officers and employees, including individual supervisors, is determined by the Board of Supervisors as a whole, as determined by majority vote.’ “ …  (AG Opinion No. 2007-00539)

 This opinion goes on to state that the matter of reimbursement for use of their personal vehicle on county business is also at the board’s discretion.

 All this takes me back to the question asked earlier. Has the practice of providing personal vehicles or reimbursement for supervisors outlived its time?

 I like to ride too. I just can’t afford to do much of it. But then I don’t have a “free” pickup, “free” gas, or unlimited mileage reimbursement.

When in twelve months the value of just one supervisor’s use of a county vehicle and gasoline equals over $20,000 in addition to his annual salary– well, when is enough too much?  What if the other four did accordingly? You do the math.

 If you’d like to share your opinion on this subject with one or more of our Supervisors they can be reached thru the County Administrators office @ 563-6200.

/s/Bob Bryant