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Hancock County Plan to Build Large Annex Outside Bay St. Louis Could be Improper Effort to Relocate County Seat.

By Keith Burton - GulfCoastNews.com       10/4/06

A plan by the Hancock County Board of Supervisors to build an annex outside of Bay St. Louis and move the bulk of the County's administration to the new site would likely run afoul of the Mississippi Constitution over moving the official County Seat.

The county's courthouse is in downtown Bay St. Louis, but the facility was heavily damaged by Katrina. Recent news media reports say supervisors are considering moving  many of the county's administrative offices to a new building to be constructed outside of Bay St. Louis north of Interstate 10 and are calling the facility an "annex" even though it will be twice a large as the current courthouse and house most county offices.

But Chancery Clerk Tim Kellar, speaking in behalf of Hancock County, tells GCN, Oct 4, that the plan to build the "annex" is only in the earliest stages.

"This is all long range planning," Kellar said. "There are numerous issues that have yet to be addressed. For example, what to do with the state offices here. We are still in a fact-finding process."

"We have no plan at this time to move the County Seat," Kellar said. "We don' t even have a location for the annex that is being discussed."

When GCN asked Kellar if the media reports earlier issued are in error regarding moving the bulk of county's operations into the new proposed building, Kellar said. "That is just their opinion, but I am not saying they are inaccurate."

Kellar insists that the County's immediate plans include renovating the existing courthouse, where some additional structure might be added. But Kellar added that the existing courthouse would have the same services available as what is being planned for the bigger "annex."

At the minimum, this would add to the costs of running the county with duplicate offices. But of greater concern, such a move could be seen as relocating the County Seat, which would violate state law.

The Mississippi Constitution requires any relocation of a county's seat of government to be voted by county residents and approved by at least 2/3 of the voters.

In Article 14, Section 259, the Mississippi Constitution states: "No county seat shall be removed unless such removal be authorized by two-thirds of the electors of the county voting therefor; but when the proposed removal shall be toward the center of the county, it may be made when a majority of the electors participating in the election shall vote therefor."

GCN contacted the State Attorney General's Office to get their opinion on what the law says regarding moving the County Seat.

Other opinions provided by the AG show that an annex can be constructed within the same city of the County Seat, but any effort to create a center of government outside of the existing County Seat would have to first be decided by the county's voters.

Mayors in both Bay St. Louis and Waveland oppose the plan.

What is clear is that long range planning by the Hancock County Board of Supervisors is underway regarding the future of the county's administrative offices. If their plan is to build outside of Bay St. Louis, millions of dollars that could help the city recover from building expenditures, and the future traffic around the courthouse, will be spent elsewhere, and may even be improper.

If the county succeeds in building their "annex" outside of Bay St. Louis without a proper vote, and that such a move would lend credence to moving the County Seat, Hancock County citizens can successfully sue the county to prevent the move and calling the issue to a countywide vote.

As the county's supervisors are not focused on actually planning for a bigger facility within Bay St. Louis, it is clear that the current efforts by the supervisors could open the door to move the County Seat sometime later, despite the current denial.

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