Melissa Meek-Phelps leaves door open to swearing in option

Published 5:48 pm Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Will she stay, or will she go?

Political observers in Panola County are asking this question as the end of the current term of office for the county’s elected officials draws close, and candidates elected in November prepare for this week’s swearing in ceremony.

Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps, elected by a landslide to a fourth term last month, surprised all of Panola County two weeks ago with the announcement that she would not be taking an oath of office for the new term set to begin Jan. 2.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

This set off a flurry of conversation about whom the supervisors will appoint, and when they would make that decision. 

Board attorney Gaines Baker said the supervisors would presumably declare the Circuit Clerk’s position vacant at their first meeting of the year on Jan. 2 and proceed with setting guidelines for choosing someone to fill the office until a special election could be held as part of the 2024 election cycle.

But, not so fast.

Meek-Phelps said Tuesday that her office is operating as normal, including preparing the Batesville Courthouse for the Thursday, Dec. 28, swearing in ceremony for all officials elected, or re-elected, in the recent voting.

Asked if she intends to take the oath for the office to which she was overwhelmingly elected, she said, “At the moment I don’t believe so, but I could change my mind.”

She acknowledged that her announcement to the Board of Supervisors is not binding and her election has been certified by the Election Commission and received in the Secretary of State’s office.

Meek-Phelps could ostensibly stop all discussion of who would replace her by having a judge administer the oath of office anytime before her term officially expires at 12:00 a.m. on Jan. 2.

The swearing in ceremony is an event held largely for the candidates and their family and supporters and is not assigned a specific time by state law. Officials are only required to take the oath before their term begins.

Fred Ira Butts will be sworn as the new supervisor for District 1 and Christopher Gulledge will take the oath as the incoming coroner. The others will be officials that were re-elected to their current posts.

Should Meek-Phelps not change her mind and be sworn before Jan. 2, the supervisors are expected to declare her office vacant on the first business day of the new year, being Tuesday, Jan. 2, this year.