By Adam Armour | Itawamba County Times
Mantachie’s mayor has vetoed a split vote by the town’s board of aldermen to terminate the employment of the town’s clerk, but the move may not hold up under scrutiny.
During last week’s regular meeting of the Mantachie Board of Aldermen, Mayor Jeff Butler informed the board he was exercising the executive power of veto to nix a 3/2 vote in favor of firing town clerk Tanya Rayburn for “misconduct.” Immediately following the vote, the mayor stood and presented each alderman with an envelope containing his reasons for shooting down the vote.
“I think this is detrimental to the town of Mantachie,” Butler told the board as he made his way around the table. “I have to work closely with the town clerk. There’s so much knowledge this person has to have; so much schooling this person has to have. You are the legislative branch; I am the executive branch. I have to deal with this person multiple times daily, so it has to be someone I can trust. I think this is going a little overboard.”
Board attorney Greg Keenum told Butler he would accept the veto for the time being and report back to the aldermen on the legality of it. Butler asserted that information presented to him by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office shows that the veto is legal under the Mantachie town charter.
“I will report back to the aldermen what the next step can legally be,” Keenum said. “I’ll be glad to talk to the aldermen and inform them of what their legal rights are.”
Rayburn, who has been the town’s clerk since 2006, was placed on administrative leave with pay by the board on Sept. 6.
According to allegations entered into the official minutes of the Mantachie Board of Aldermen, Rayburn stands accused of several wrongdoings, including:
• Allegedly helping issue an unwarranted payment of more than $7,000 to former Mantachie Chief of Police Terry Jones
• Allegedly assisting in concealing said payment by failing to document the payment in the draft of the municipal minutes submitted to the Mantachie Board of Aldermen and
• Of writing or causing issuance of a letter allegedly written by alderman Timmy “Red” Spradlin falsely claiming he ordered police chief Richard Erickson to work out a pay schedule for one of the town’s former police officers.
The allegations were the subject of a hearing conducted on Sept. 27 at which time independent counsel found Rayburn guilty of the allegations.
During the most recent meeting, Alderman Spradlin made the initial motion to accept the Sept. 27 findings of an independent investigation and hearing regarding the “misconduct” of town clerk Rayburn. The motion was seconded by Alderman Mike Horton and backed by Alderman Wayne Guin. Aldermen Tim Jones and Matt Fennell voted against the motion, stating that the punishment was too severe.
“I’d like to say that I don’t think Tanya did anything deliberately,” Fennell told the board. “Everybody makes mistakes. I don’t think she’s done anything to merit termination.”
Jones echoed the sentiment.
“Tanya made some mistakes; I agree with that,” Jones said. “I don’t think it warrants a death sentence. We live under a country of laws, and not everybody gets a death sentence for something they’ve committed. We all make mistakes … I totally disagree with this decision.”
Those voting in favor of Rayburn’s dismissal claimed it wasn’t an oversight or error that led to the termination, but deceit.
“The mistake was made; I understand that. The problem I have was that she tried to hide it,” Guin said. “It never was put on the docket; it never was put in the minutes; it was kept from us completely.”
“I was never under the opinion that it was hidden from us intentionally,” Jones responded. “I just don’t believe that.”
“It was an oversight on both our parts,” the mayor said. “We just forgot about it. I’ll admit it. It was a mistake.”
Butler’s move to veto was a bold and unusual one — so much so that several aldermen openly questioned whether or not the mayor had the legal right to do so. According to Butler, the town has a code charter, which allows the mayor to “veto the termination of a municipal officer or employee.” The mayor presented the board with several copies of this statement, taken from Mississippi law, and said he could bring Rayburn back to work immediately.
But it wasn’t the state’s laws that were in question, rather exactly what kind of charter the town of Mantachie originally adopted. Without consulting the town charter, which apparently has yet to be located within state records, no one’s really certain.
If what the mayor asserts is true, the board would have to have a 4/1 vote in favor of terminating Rayburn in order to cancel out the veto. Currently, her status is in limbo until a charter can be found and an official decision made.
Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting his blog at itawamba360.com.