A discussion during Monday's Sunflower County Board of Supervisors' meeting will hopefully help everyone keep in step with the required protocols for using the courthouse facility and grounds in the future.
District 1 Supervisor Glenn Donald raised the issue apparently due to a recent gathering that did not follow what he said was proper procedures.
“I brought this up because anytime we have a liability our insurance requires that there be a board order when you use the steps of Sunflower County or any property of Sunflower County," he said.
Donald was presumably referencing a recent “Black Lives Matter” rally conducted by citizen Charles Modley.
Modley refuted Donald's statement and said the courthouse steps are public property and should not require authorization from the county supervisors in order to be used.
Donald emphasized that there is a policy in Sunflower County that needs to be adhered to.
“All I'm saying is, for liability purposes of Sunflower County Courthouse, you were supposed to have permission,” Donald said.
Donald stressed that he simply wanted to make sure that there was a board order in place that stipulated permission to use the courthouse had been granted for liability purposes.
Board President Riley Rice said, “Well, the sheriff gave them permission to have it."
Attorney Johnny McWilliams said that was not the proper protocol.
Rice explained that the sheriff told him that if it was inside, it requires board approval, but not outside.
Sheriff James Haywood offered clarification.
“Number one, I was told that was a rally and I know at boards prior to this, the statement was made that anybody could come up and have something on the courthouse steps without permission.”
He mentioned political candidates who have announced their candidacy out there as an example.
Haywood continued, “But let's get this clear for once and for all. Everybody's saying that the sheriff... the sheriff was there to provide security and the fact is that I provide security for the courthouse so I was there. But I haven't given anybody permission ever to hold anything anywhere out there on those steps.”
McWilliams then submitted his opinion.
“The courthouse is public property, so you're going to have first amendment concerns, but before you get to that,” he said, “the Board of Supervisors controls the assignment of space in the courthouse or on the courthouse grounds. The sheriff has responsibility for security for any kind of controlled event where someone is going to be, not just marching and carrying a sign exercising their first amendment rights.”
Then mentioning a prior request to use the courthouse steps for an event, he said requests should be approved by the members of the board and added, “The Board of Supervisors should never grant permission for something like that without conferring with the sheriff to see what's needed.”
He again emphasized that in his opinion the supervisors control the assignment of space in the courthouse and that includes the courthouse and special events on the courthouse steps.
He cited a hypothetical incident where one group could be conducting an event and an opposing group shows up.
Modley expressed his apparent disagreement and said based on his research the courthouse belongs to the people and the supervisors can't control who uses it.
He expressed that he was within his rights to hold the rally there.
“So, I don't know where all of this is coming from,” Modley said.
He said the courthouse belongs to the citizens of Sunflower County and then gave several examples of buildings that he said belonged to the people including the state capitol where he said people can gather without acquiring prior permission.
Evidently addressing the lawmakers, Modley then said, “If it had been an election year, everybody would have been out there.”
Donald said the supervisors are responsible for everything that goes on in the courthouse.
And he attempted to clarify that none of the county leaders were opposed to the reason behind Modley's protest march.
“First of all, I didn't know nothing about it until I saw it in the paper the next week,” Donald said. “Nobody never told me. I would have been glad to march, nobody told me. Dr. McIntosh didn't know about it; I called her, and she said the only thing she knew somebody told her they were out there setting up on the courthouse steps.”
He added, “We never denied nobody from using it. It's just that protocol says that it has to go through the Board of Supervisors.”