Bill to allow recall of elected city leaders passes committee, tabled on House floor

Rep. Shanda Yates
Rep. Shanda Yates(State of Mississippi)
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 3:37 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A bill that could give citizens the ability to recall elected municipal leaders has cleared a House committee but has yet to be taken up for a vote.

On Wednesday, H.B. 370 was tabled, subject to call, following an intense debate on the House floor.

“So, it’s still on the House calendar and we can bring it back up any time before February 9,” said Rep. Shanda Yates, the bill’s author. “But there’s been no vote on the floor.”

The bill would amend state statute to give citizens the ability to petition the governor to remove municipal elected leaders, which they currently cannot do under Mississippi code.

Yates, who represents Northeast Jackson, says the bill was not written to target any specific individual, but was drawn up after hearing from several of her constituents.

“I had constituents over the summer reach out to me and ask me if there was anything that would allow the recall of a mayor, [and] I looked into it,” she said. “I found there... are provisions in the Constitution or in [state] statute that allow for the impeachment or removal or recall in some form or fashion for every type of elected official [in the state], except for municipal.”

Under the measure, 30 percent of voters would have to sign a petition for removal and submit it to the governor for consideration. The governor would then form a three-member judicial review panel to determine whether the official should be removed for “willful failure or refusal to perform the duties of the office.” If the judges determine that’s the case, a special election is called.

If a majority of voters approved the removal, the governor would declare the position vacant, appoint an interim, and call a special election to fill the seat.

Several lawmakers were concerned that the bill was designed to target a specific elected leader, specifically Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.

“Why would you amend current law to add municipal people, unless it’s just a witch hunt?” asked Rep. John Hines. “Are y’all after somebody?”

Yates said the bill was not designed to target any elected leader, but to bring more accountability to municipal positions.

“I could have written the bill so that it was limited to recall officials in municipalities with more than 100,000 citizens,” she told 3 On Your Side. “That obviously would have been Jackson... I didn’t write it that way.”

Rep. Robert Johnson said the bill was about the mayor, saying it would give Jackson’s minority white population the ability to petition the governor to have him removed from office.

“There’s no point in us pretending we don’t know that just about everybody in this city who’s white would sign a petition to get rid of that mayor,” he said. “This is about the African American mayor of Jackson, who is taking on the governor of this state, and we’re going to let the governor appoint a three-judge panel and come in here and have a 30-percent minority of the population sign a petition to see if [he needs] to go.”

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“This is not casting any dispersion on what your intention is,” Johnson added, speaking to Yates. “I just want to make sure we understand the facts as they exist.”

He also questioned why the bill was being introduced this year, as the city is set to receive nearly $800 million in federal funding to address its infrastructure needs.

The vast majority of that funding, though, will never come to city coffers. Of the $600 million approved as part of an omnibus spending bill, for instance, $450 million would be awarded to the city through the state’s Drinking Water Revolving Fund Loan Program. Other funds would fall under the control of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the city’s third-party water manager.

For her part, Yates is unsure whether the petitioners could even get 30 percent of voters to sign on, citing past election turnout. Just 17.28 percent of Jackson voters turned out in the 2021 election, according to the city’s website.

Rep. Ed Blackmon, meanwhile, said leaders are already held accountable by standing for election every four years. “The voters determine whether or not you should either be elected or returned as elected,” he said. “That’s the way it usually works in Mississippi.”

Yates told Blackmon that was part of it, “but municipal officials currently are the only group of elected officials that are not subject to some form of recall or impeachment within that four-year window after they’ve been elected.”

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba was unavailable for comment for this story.

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