OXFORD – North Mississippi Rural Legal Services (NMRLS) employees in Tupelo had expected their jobs to be moved or cut at Saturday’s board meeting, but Brian Neely’s last-minute proposal may instead move jobs to the Tupelo office.
Expecting severe funding cuts next year, a committee of board members had recommended immediately closing the Tupelo office and planning for the closing of the Clarksdale office if the cuts indeed materialized. Under that plan, paralegals would be laid off and the call center and administrative law units closed.
“Primarily, we could put two attorneys in four branch offices, where right now we’ve got one attorney in five offices,” said NMRLS Executive Director Ben Thomas Cole II. “We need more boots on the ground.”
Several other proposals had been made, from more seminars about residents’ rights to more aggressively seeking fees as part of settlements or verdicts. Walter Stanfield, a paralegal in the Tupelo office, suggested a 10- or 20-percent salary cut.
“We ought to make that sacrifice if we say we care about the people we serve,” he said.
Neely, a Tupelo attorney, surprised the board by asking to share another proposal. He’d had to wait until after the latest Tupelo Furniture Market wrapped up to discuss with owner V.M. Cleveland about getting office space in one of the Market buildings.
Neely said moving to the Furniture Market from Oxford would save 80 percent on rent while providing better facilities and easier access. By moving most operations from Oxford and using gained efficiencies to cut secretarial positions, he projected savings virtually equal to the expected cuts.
Neely finished by presenting Cole with what he said were signed leases from the Tupelo Furniture Market, ready for the board’s approval.
Cole said moving headquarters from Oxford to Tupelo would burden staff members, some of whom live as far as Holly Springs and Byhalia, and negatively impact partnerships with the University of Mississippi School of Law.
The board voted 8-3 to table the original proposal until the budget committee could review Neely’s written proposal. The full board is expected to vote again Oct. 1.
Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau