The Ethics Commission adjourned its meeting today without taking a final vote on a decision regarding whether the Mississippi House of Representatives is subject to the Open Meetings Act. They will meet again next Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 10:00 a.m. We will share the link to attend virtually when it is available.
Commission members Ben Stone, Stephen Burrow, Erin Lane, Sean Milner, and Samuel Kelly argued that the House should not be found in violation of the Act because the law does not specifically name the full Mississippi Legislature in its definition of a public body.
These Commissioners want us to believe that the Legislature intended to exempt itself, but the Legislature told us otherwise in the Legislative declaration in the Open Meetings Act. As noted in today’s meeting by Commissioner Maxwell Luter (who argued that the House is subject to the Open Meetings Act), the first lines of the Act state…
It being essential to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government and to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner, and that citizens be advised of and be aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the State of Mississippi that the formation and determination of public policy is public business and shall be conducted at open meetings except as otherwise provided herein.
Nowhere in the Act is an exception made for the Mississippi Legislature.
Commission members acknowledged repeatedly that the State Constitution demands that all legislative meetings be held in public – which would make the House Caucus meetings in question a violation of the Constitution. They opined that, if this matter is to be considered, it should be handled in the courts, saying that the Ethics Commission is limited to decisions on statutory, not constitutional, matters. In fact, Commission Chair Ben Stone asked that verbiage to that effect be added to the Order of Dismissal, which the Commission will consider next Wednesday. That order would also find that the House is not subject to the Open Meetings Act.
See more details and the initial Commission vote.
The chair referenced several times the many emails and messages the Commission has received this week. Also noted was the unusually high attendance in the virtual meeting. Thank you! Your participation matters. If you have not yet had an opportunity to share your thoughts with the Commission, it isn’t too late.
You can email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or send a letter to:
660 North State Street
Jackson, MS 39202
Commission members are:
Ben Stone, Chair, Gulfport
Sean Milner, Vice Chair, Clinton
Ron Crowe, Secretary, Brandon
Robert Waites, Brandon
Stephen Burrow, Pascagoula
Maxwell Luter, Tylertown
Erin Lane, Ridgeland
Samuel Kelly, Madison
Thank you to the many, many of you who have emailed the Commission to express outrage at the majority’s opinion. The people of Mississippi rely on the Ethics Commission to protect us from unethical behavior on the part of public officials. A quorum of the House of Representatives meeting behind closed doors to decide legislative matters in secret is clearly unethical, unconstitutional, and a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Stay tuned – We promise to keep you in the loop as this issue continues to unfold.