By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said his office has identified 204 boards or commissions comprised of more than 1,600 members who oversee various state agencies and quasi-state agencies.
The second-term Republican secretary of state said he is turning that information and various other nuggets about the state’s boards and commissions over to Gov. Phil Bryant. In his inaugural address in January 2012, the Republican Bryant asked Hosemann to research boards and commissions with an eye toward merging or eliminating some of them.
“We’re a research arm for the governor on this particular issue,” said Hosemann, whose office is responsible for overseeing much of the state’s publications and documentation. “…Clearly any structural changes (regarding the boards and commissions) would come from the governor’s office.”
Hosemann said Bryant’s service as lieutenant governor, auditor and legislator over a long career in state government makes him uniquely qualified to tackle what the secretary of state said is a complex and difficult issue.
Bryant spokesman Mick Bullock said he stood by a statement he made earlier this year that “Gov. Bryant continues to work with Secretary Hosemann and plans to make recommended changes in the 2014 legislative session.”
Hosemann, who tries to list all the boards and commissions in the Blue Book, which is published every four years to provide the latest information on state and local government and statistical data on the state, said the structure of boards and commissions varies greatly.
Often how the personalities in the Legislature and the administration were getting along at the time played a major role in how the boards and commissions were set up. Hosemann said in some instances the governor has all the appointments to the boards while in others the appointments are split among various other officeholders.
There are major boards like the Board of Trustees of state Institutions of Higher Learning or the Board of Health and there are boards that oversee specific professions, such as the Board of Barber Examiners. The College Board and Board of Education, for instance, are highly dependent on general state revenue to operate while boards that oversee individual professions, such as the Barber Examiners Board, operate off fees and fines on barbers.
Mike McBunch, a Tupelo barber in his fourth term on the board, said the issue of merging the boards overseeing the barbers and cosmetologists has been discussed in the past and has been done in some states. He said Minnesota recently reversed legislation that merged the two groups.
He said while it is important for the two groups to work together, McBunch said there are differences that make the two boards necessary. He said barbers would be “stifled” if the two boards were merged since they are outnumbered roughly 4 to 1.
He said both groups are self-sufficient.
“Plus, we pump money into the treasury and help people. What more could you ask for?” asked McBunch, who is past president of the state and national barber boards.
Jerry Keith of Tishomingo County is chair of another type of board that Hosemann has researched. Keith chairs the Tombigbee River Water Management Board that aids local governments with drainage, conservation and water control issues in the 11-county region in Northeast Mississippi.
Each county has two members on the overseeing Board – one appointed by the governor and one by the board of supervisors. Keith, a retired heavy equipment operator and mechanic, said he originally was appointed to the board by Gov. Haley Barbour in 2004.
The water management agency operates on local taxes in the 11 participating counties and on some federal funds.
“Anytime supervisors or a land owner have a problem with water issues, they can go to us,” he said.
Hosemann said he believes it is important to learn whether boards and commissions are delivering efficient, timely services to their constituents. He said he believes accountability is key.
“If the right governance structure is in place, a lot of the other things take care of themselves,” he said.
Hosemann said the boards and commissions have exploded since the mid-1980s when then-Attorney General Bill Allain prevailed in a lawsuit that prevented legislators from serving on governing boards because of the state constitution’s separation of powers.
In most cases, the boards meet quarterly or even less. Some major boards, such as the Board of Education and Board of Health, often meet every month.
In most cases, members receive $40 per meeting, plus expenses, such as mileage.