Batesville attorney tapped to fill Circuit Clerk post

Published 3:35 pm Monday, January 8, 2024

Batesville attorney Kirk Willingham was appointed Monday to fill the vacated Circuit Clerk’s post until November when Panola County voters will choose a new clerk in a special election that will coincide with the 2024 general election.

Willingham was appointed by a 3-2 vote of the Board of Supervisors, with Cole Flint, John Thomas, and Chad Weaver voting for, and Earl Burdette and Fred Butts voting against.

“I am humbled and honored by the confidence the board of supervisors has shown by entrusting this task to me,” Willingham said, following his selection at a regular meeting of the board at the Batesville Courthouse.

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“I am taking on this interim position for the sole purpose of serving the citizens of Panola County and to maintain the integrity and stability of the clerk’s office until the November election when the votes will choose their next clerk,” he said. “I will not qualify to run and will not seek election.”

The supervisors voted last week to declare the Circuit Clerk’s post vacant after three-term clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps followed through with her December announcement that she would not take the oath of office for a fourth term, despite winning by a landslide in the November 2023 election for county-wide offices.

In her letter to the supervisors advising of her intention to step away from the post to which she had been elected, Meek-Phelps said drama and controversy on social media platforms had become a distraction for Panola County, spurring her decision.

When the deadline to take an oath for the 2023-27 term passed, supervisors opened the position up for resumes, due in the Chancery Clerk’s office by noon on Friday, Jan. 5.

The supervisors received nine resumes and narrowed those to four at a meeting last Friday. On Monday, the board held interviews with each of the finalists, choosing Willingham at the end.

The other applicants who interviewed were Michael Price, a Sardis businessman and alderman; Chantryce Morris, an investigator with the Sheriff’s Office; and George Williford, the deputy Chief of Police in Batesville.

Willingham is a Batesville native, and a 1980 graduate of West Panola High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Mississippi State University in 1984, and a law degree from Ole Miss in 1989.

He worked in Memphis and Holly Springs for about 10 years before returning to Batesville in 1999 to practice law. His law office is located on Court St., directly across the street from the Batesville Courthouse.

Willingham said Monday he will put most of his legal work on hold for 10 months while he fills the interim position. 

He was expected to take the oath of office Monday afternoon and begin working immediately. The office staff will not change at this time.

“I, along with the deputy clerks, will see to treat every person who has business with the office in an equal, fair, and respectful manner,” he said.