Following Toni Johnson’s removal, Hinds supervisors plan to fill election commission vacancy next week

Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 7:32 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Hinds County Board President Vern Gavin said supervisors will consider appointing someone to serve the remainder of former District 2 election commissioner Toni Johnson’s term as early as next week.

Johnson accepted a plea deal in a sprawling embezzlement case Monday, pleading guilty to two counts of embezzlement and one count of making false representations to defraud the government.

Mississippi law states that elected officials are removed from office when convicted of a felony.

Until someone is appointed, the election commission will have to deal with new rules and fewer people to do the work of the state’s largest county.

“These are not our positions. These are the people’s positions. And I don’t take that lightly. So whatever needs to be done, we will get done,” said election commission chair Shirley Varnado.

Those responsibilities will also mean more requirements when it comes to the county’s procurement process, according to Hinds County administrator Kenny Wayne Jones.

“We had to go back, look at the processes that we had in play that made it a little too easy for corruption to creep in. We’re working with the auditor’s office,” Jones said. “You know, anybody can make a mistake. She wasn’t the first one, [and] won’t be the last.”

Jones said some of the vulnerability came from a lack of regulations on private grants, but that has now been addressed.

The embezzlement case against Johnson, triggered in part from a 3 On Your Side investigation last year, showed she gave out hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to people and companies that weren’t qualified to do the work during her time as election commission chair.

The money, which came from the non-profit Center for Tech and Civic Life, was intended to make Hinds County elections safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elections for Hinds County districts 2 and 4 take place this year, beginning with the primary in August.

The qualifying deadline is just three weeks away.

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