By Emily Le Coz
TUPELO – Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said Tuesday his office cannot request rural water association bylaws, but Northern District Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said he can.
Both men cited state law to support their positions in the brewing battle over who has access to these documents.
The battle began last month when Presley ordered the 218 water associations in his district to produce copies of their bylaws so his office could verify compliance with state requirements.
Mayfield then issued a memorandum to those associations claiming Presley had no authority to do so, which prompted many associations to ignore the commissioner’s request.
In his memorandum, Mayfield said it’s the Secretary of State’s job ensure bylaws met state standards. He also said associations needn’t file bylaws with the Secretary of State unless specifically asked to do so.
But Hosemann told the Daily Journal in a statement that “there is nothing in th(e) statues which gives us the power to request bylaws.”
He was referring to the record-keeping portion of the Mississippi Nonprofit Corporation Act, which says nonprofit members and their attorneys can access records. Because most rural water associations are private, nonprofits, members are their paying utility customers.
He also said his office shouldn’t be the repository for bylaws filed by private or nonprofit corporations, unless they are charities, which rural water associations are not.
Presley, though, cited code section 77-33-5, which gives the Mississippi Public Service Commission jurisdiction over the “intrastate business and property of public utilities,” including rural water associations.
“Bylaws are part of business,” Presley said. “I don’t know how much more business you can get than that.”
Presley said he’s giving associations until Friday to send him their bylaws before he issues subpoenas for them. After that, he said, he’ll take them to court.