By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is advocating streamlining state government by reining in the 200 boards and commissions that oversee various agencies.
In his inaugural State of the State speech in January, Gov. Phil Bryant asked Hosemann, whose office maintains the state’s records, to make recommendations “on possible termination or consolidation” of boards and commissions.
A spokesman for Bryant said the issue of whether the number of boards and commissions needs to be streamlined could be presented to the Legislature at some point. Hosemann last week took his message that the boards and commissions are a fourth branch of state government answerable to no one to the state’s business community. He spoke at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob event in Jackson where the state’s business leaders hear from the political leadership.
He said while the system was set up“to be isolated from politics …We now find it isolated from the electorate” with members’ terms ranging from four to nine years and no way to remove them.
“The great majority of the members of these agencies, boards and commissions are good public servants, working only for mileage reimbursement and maybe lunch,” Hosemann said.
“But, almost none of them are elected or removable by anyone who is elected after they are appointed. Even with good board members, this system cannot perpetuate.”
Boards and commissions govern numerous state agencies, ranging from the public schools to licensing the state’s physicians to overseeing funeral directors.
Others were created to preserve the state’s history, such as the Civil War Battlefield Commission or the Holocaust Commission or the Mississippi Bicentennial Commission.
The boards also are appointed in different ways. For instance, members of the Board of Trustees for the state Institutions of Higher Learning – commonly known as the College Board – are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
The staggered terms of the College Board’s members are designed to prevent one governor from having all 12 appointments.
The members of the state Board of Education are appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court has an appointment to the Ethics Commission and county boards of supervisors make some appointments to boards.
Hosemann pointed out that a few boards appoint some of their own membership. There was a time when legislators were often appointed to these executive branch boards and commissions, but a Mississippi Supreme Court decision in the 1980s ended that practice by ruling it in violation of the state constitution’s separation of powers provision.
After Hosemann’s remarks at Hobnob where he re-introduced an issue that has basically been dormant since the governor’s State of the State speech, Mick Bullock, a spokesman for Bryant, said, “The governor and Secretary Hosemann are currently working together on making potential recommendations to the Legislature.”
Many of the boards and commissions operate on fees collected from the groups they govern. For instance, the state Board of Architecture operates on a fee on architects. The same would be true for many others, such as barbers and foresters. A handful of high profile boards, such as the College Board, receive state general fund dollars from taxes on income, retail items and from other state taxes.