A Summit town councilman who was recently elected to the Legislature wants to serve in both offices, but it’s unclear whether state law will allow that.
Daryl Porter Jr., in his second term on the council, takes the oath of office Jan. 7 as the new state representative for House District 98, which covers parts of Pike and Walthall counties.
Asked about his future on the town council Tuesday night, Porter said he is seeking guidance from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office on whether he can serve in both offices.
Board attorney Wayne Dowdy said he discussed the matter with Porter and presented the findings of a 2017 Attorney General’s opinion concerning dual offices in special charter municipalities like Summit.
“I have conferred with the councilman on what my interpretation on my discussion with the Attorney General’s office are,” Dowdy said.
Porter replied, “What the Attorney General has opined is that it is a conflict or it would be a conflict of interest for one to serve as a state legislator as well as a board (member) when that person ... is having executive and legislative powers. However, there are other state representatives as well as state senators that are still currently serving in their municipal roles.”
Porter is seeking a new opinion from the AG’s office to determine whether the previous one applies specifically to Summit’s charter.
“Once I receive correspondence back from the Attorney General’s office, then I will make an announcement to the board,” Porter said.
Dr. Tom Carey pressed Porter on the issue as a followup to his earlier questioning of Porter’s plans for his council seat. Carey said he didn’t think it would be right for someone to serve on both the council and in the Legislature.
“I don’t want us to get in to where we’re having one person asking for money and saying, ‘OK, I’m up here. I’ll give you money,’ ” Carey said.
This isn’t the first time the legality of a local official serving in dual offices has been questioned. The man Porter is replacing in the Legislature, David Myers, was at the center of a drawn-out legal battle over his simultaneous service in the House and on the McComb city board.
A court ruling determined Myers’ dual service violated the separation of powers doctrine, which prevents someone from serving in more than one branch of government, and forced the longtime selectman to vacate his city office.
McComb’s special charter features a so-called strong-board, weak-mayor governmental structure — the mayor has no vote except in the case of a tie and no veto power. So Myers had a quasi-executive role as a city selectman and a legislative role as a state lawmaker, a court ruled.
However, Summit’s governmental structure is different from McComb’s. Summit has four nonpartisan council members who all serve at large and a stronger mayor with veto power. McComb has a six-member board with five ward-specific seats and one at-large seat. McComb’s board has more power than Summit’s.
Regardless of whether the AG’s office finds enough differences in Summit’s charter to clear the way for Porter to serve in both offices, Carey said he felt uncomfortable with an elected official doing so.
“I don’t want this to be like they were in McComb or like they were in Vicksburg,” Carey said.
“We’re not McComb. We’re Summit,” Councilman Joe Lewis said.
Carey said Porter should have been more transparent about his intentions to keep both offices.
“Personally, I wish you would have said this two or three months ago or as soon as you got elected,” he said.
“Two or three months ago I didn’t know I would win the House of Representatives seat,” said Porter, who won the office in the August Democratic primary.
Porter said if a new AG’s opinion determines that it would be improper for him to serve in both offices, he will notify the mayor to schedule a special election.