Petition falls short of names

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 9, 1999

A petition seeking a referendum for an elected school board in Natchez and Adams County has apparently fallen short of the required number of signatures, according to figures verified by the Adams County Election Commission.

Circuit Clerk Fred Ferguson said the commission verified 1,270 registered voters of the 1,516 names turned in by state Rep. Phillip West a week ago.

In order for a referendum to be placed on the ballot, a petition would have to be signed by 25 percent of the registered voters, said Mike Lanford, an attorney in the state attorney general’s office.

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A&160;total of 1,500 Adams County voters were needed for the referendum to be placed on the ballot.

But West said Thursday he has not seen the work done by the election commission and wants to review it before making any more plans.

&uot;No plans have been made at this particular point,&uot; he said.

The Natchez-Adams School Board is made up of three members appointed by the board of aldermen and two appointed by the board of supervisors. The special joint school district was created in the 1950s.

Opponents of the appointed school board say it is unfair and unconstitutional because the appointed board is able to tax county and city residents. Opponents also argue that the representation is lopsided, since city residents are able to vote for both boards which appoint members to the school board.

This is not the first time West and others have tried to get an elected school board in Adams County.

West, who begins his third year in the state Legislature next year, has introduced a bill to change the the school board from appointed to elected for the last two years.

Both times the bill has failed to get out of committee, which West blames on politics. He noted that both supervisors and aldermen have voted for an elected school board, but both also fought a lawsuit seeking an elected school board last year.

That lawsuit was eventually denied last month by federal Judge William H. Barbour.

West said he believes &uot;someone is going behind closed doors&uot; to influence state legislators to vote against an elected school board for Adams County.

Lanford said the voters have the right to request a non-binding referendum on the ballot, but how school board members are chosen would likely have to be changed with legislation.