Civil rights organizations submit complaint to the Mississippi Ethics Commission
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JACKSON, Miss - Today, several civil rights organizations submitted a complaint to the Mississippi Ethics Commission, stating the Mississippi Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA) by deliberating, making decisions and conducting public business outside a properly open meeting.
The complaint, submitted by the ACLU of Mississippi, League of Women Voters of Mississippi, Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Votes, Southern Poverty Law Center, Mississippi State Conference NAACP, and Southern Echo, Inc. notes that today the Committee formally adopted a U.S. congressional map to propose to the full legislature, despite holding almost none of its substantive deliberations or discussion in public.
The complaint reads: “The Committee violated the OMA on November 19, 2021, when it reviewed the prospective U.S. congressional map after its public meeting. The Committee adjourned that meeting without entering executive session. Chairman Beckett invited members of the Committee to his office to view the U.S. congressional map that would be, and was, offered to the public, voted on and adopted by the Committee on December 15, 2021. The map viewing, and any deliberation thereof, was public business and should have occurred in an open meeting or, at least, in a properly executed executive session.”
“Transparency is key for Mississippi's communities to be effectively engaged in meaningful communication with the Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee. A redistricting process that is sufficiently accountable to voters must be open, transparent, allow public engagement and time for the public to provide feedback for any proposed redistricting plans. Legislators who stand to benefit from the status quo have every incentive to keep the citizens of Mississippi in the dark,” Arekia Bennett, executive director of Mississippi Votes said.
In addition to finding that the Committee violated the Open Meetings Act, the organizations are requesting the Ethics Commission require the Committee to comply strictly with the OMA by appointing a hearing officer to speedily direct a pre-hearing conference.
“Legislators, especially those on the Committee, work for the people and must be held accountable. The Redistricting Committee has displayed a clear failure to commit to transparency by refusing to comply with its obligations to perform its work in public. Transparency in the redistricting process is critical to ensuring a fair and equitable distribution of political representation and protecting the political power of minorities,” Christy Wheeler, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Mississippi said.
This complaint comes after a group of ten civil rights organizations, including the complainants, sent the Committee a letter on November 19, 2021, encouraging legislators to create additional opportunities for the public to engage in the redistricting process.
Additionally, on November 22, 2021, the ACLU of Mississippi sent a public records request to the Committee asking for records related to the Committee’s deliberations and decisions during the redistricting process. The letter was ignored, and the public records request was denied.
“Conversations held outside of public meetings are not merely subsidiary. These are complex and crucial details that need to be available to all. Elected officials have an obligation to ensure that the public good is not sacrificed to self-interest and political parties in the redistricting process. Without full transparency of their deliberations, the public cannot not trust that their representatives are making fair and equitable decisions,” Joshua Tom, legal director of ACLU of Mississippi said.
“In refusing to hold public meetings, the Mississippi Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee has denied Mississippi residents their right to advocate for how their community districts should be drawn. The undemocratic nature of blocking constituents interested in participating in the redistricting process is especially troubling given the long-run effects this will have on how communities are governed and resources are allocated,” said Waikinya Clanton, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mississippi State Director.