Ward 4 Alderwoman Elizabeth Thomas said she doesn’t think the same person should be able to serve as the city attorney and the municipal court judge.
Lilli Evans Bass has served as the city’s municipal court judge since 2014 and also serves as city attorney.
Thomas read from minutes where the board approved Evans Bass as city attorney, and said she did not think it was appropriate for the city to have a contract with Evans Bass for both jobs.
“You have combined the city attorney and the municipal judge in one contract,” Thomas said. “That contract was voided on April 8, 2020. When I called the city clerk’s office to ask if we were going to vote on officers and department heads, she said she had forgotten, and she thanked me for reminding her. We then voted on the attorney. The minutes say we approved an attorney. It did not say a municipal judge.
Thomas said the city shouldn’t be entering a contract with one person for two separate jobs.
“I want to make a motion that they be separated and there be one person for each job,” Thomas said. “I seriously doubt anyone knew about this double contract. I want to make a motion that they be separated, and two people be hired for these positions.”
Thomas said that during the five months she has served on the board, three individuals have appeared before the board who had been involved in cases that were heard by Evans-Bass while she was serving as municipal judge.
“It’s a conflict of interest because when the attorney gives an opinion, she’s also giving an opinion on the person she found guilty,” Thomas said.
Evans Bass said what Thomas was referring to wasn’t a contract but a resolution passed by the city. She said the city actually entered a four-year contract with her that ends in April 2022. She said she and city leaders ensured that it was acceptable for her to serve in both positions before she accepted the jobs.
“I became the municipal judge in 2014,” Evans Bass said. “When the city needed a city attorney, and I was approached about it, we spoke to the attorney general’s office. They provided an opinion that it was not a separation of powers issue and one person may serve in both positions. We also requested an official opinion from the Mississippi Ethics Commission which said that one person could serve in both positions pursuant to one contract. That’s why both positions were included in one contract.
Evans Bass said the state’s Judicial Performance Commission also review the arrangement and found nothing inappropriate.
“Someone brought this to the attention of the Mississippi Judicial Performance Commission. They have reviewed it. They set the ethical standard for all judges in Mississippi, and they also determined that one person may serve in both positions, and there is no ethical conflict of interest whatsoever as long as when there are issues when there is the judge shall recuse. Whenever there has been an issue as a judge, I have recused myself. Whenever there is an issue as the city attorney I have. There has only been one instance since all of this has been going on, we brought in someone else to handle that matter.”
Evans-Bass said state law sets the term of appointments for municipal judges at four years.
Mayor Diane Delaware said the matter has been resolved as far as she is concerned.
“It has been clarified that the judge and the attorney can be one and the same person,” Delaware said. “There is no conflict of interest, even though someone may say it over and over again.”
“Does the attorney not work at the will and pleasure of the board,” Thomas asked.
“Are you seeking to terminate of fire someone,” Delaware asked.
“I’m not saying that,” Thomas responded.
“We have a contract,” Delaware said. “What would you like to do?”
“Mayor, like I said in the last meeting, whenever it’s to certain advantages it becomes one year,” Thomas said. “When it’s to other advantages it’s four years. I still say that the municipal judge, even if she has a contract, serves at the will and pleasure of this board. We need to separate the twins.”
Thomas made a motion to separate the positions. The motion died for a lack of a second.