Thursday, January 3, 2008
Elected officials noted for statewide leadership
By SUE WATSON
A number of elected local officials have contributed to state professional associations and activities over the years, something people like circuit clerk Lucy Carpenter and justice court judge Ernest Cunningham say is a thing of pride for the community.
Judge Cunningham has served as president of the Justice Court Association and recently served as a member on the 2007 Justice Court Task Force, formed to review the qualifications of judges and their election, plus training and duties of judges, compensation, jury trials and rules of procedures.
Carpenter has served as president of the Mississippi Circuit Clerks Association two successive terms, participated on a task force to recodify the 1984 election laws, served on a focus group to study the Statewide Election Management Systems and served on the constituents advisory committee to the Mississippi Judicial College Board of Governors.
All elected officials and many deputy clerks and staffers are required by state law to attend training seminars each year to stay abreast of current practices and to become certified. The positions require continuing education yearly as well as training for initial certification.
The recent report issued in December by the Justice Court Task Force, chaired by Justice Mike Randolph with the Mississippi Supreme Court, made several recommendations after holding public hearings and receiving oral and written opinions on ways to improve the justice court system.
The pubic hearings found almost unanimous support for maintaining the justice court system in its present form as the “People’s Court.”
However, strong sentiment was expressed that justice court judges should have advanced degrees, preferably a juris doctorate.
Some of the recommendations in the report included:
The task force also recommended that justice court judges be required to meet minimum competency requirements by examination before they are certified and compensated for service.
Carpenter said she served two terms in the Circuit Clerk’s Association during the Ray Mabus administration as state auditor when there was a need for improving the book-keeping system.
“I had started a book-keeping system and that’s how I came to serve two terms,” she said.
The task force that worked to recodify election laws was formed because the laws were scattered about in the Mississippi Code, she said.
The result of the task force’s work was to prepare a code section just dealing with election laws.
As a member of the statewide Election Management System focus group, Carpenter said the group was put in place to oversee changes to the system and will continue to meet monthly until the system is perfected.
Also a member of the Mississippi Judicial College’s board of governor’s constituency advisory committee, Carpenter said the group gives input into training election officials in the various aspects of government.
Others who have held leadership positions in the state associations include Fred M. Belk Jr., who served as president of the Mississippi Prosecutor’s Association; Bobby Fant, past president of the Mississippi Tax Collectors and Assessors Association; Judge Cunningham who served as president of the justice court judges association for two terms and who was northern vice-president of the Sheriff’s Association during his term as sheriff (1992-1996); the late Sam Coopwood, who served as president of the Mississippi Mayoral Association; and the late J.P. Woods, who served as president of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors.
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