Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Glenn Hamilton will take a temporary leave of absence from his elected position due to health reasons, his attorney announced Friday.
A statement Columbus-based attorney Rod Ray issued said Hamilton’s ongoing “complications of uncontrolled diabetes,” coupled with recent felony and misdemeanor charges, forced the second-term circuit clerk to make the decision.
“Recently, however, allegations of wrongdoing involving his private life have further complicated matters, but will eventually be dealt with through our legal system,” the release reads. “As has always been the case, Glenn wishes to deal with these matters in a manner which is best for the citizens of Oktibbeha County. Therefore, because he has a capable and experienced staff … he has reached the decision to take a temporary leave of absence from his normal presence in the circuit clerk’s office.”
Hamilton will continue to be available to deal with matters as the need arises, the release reads, and can be reached by his staff at any time.
It is unknown when the leave will begin or how long he will be out of office.
Clay County deputies arrested Hamilton, 60, and Rufus Edward Lewis, 59, in June near the Monroe County border on charges of misdemeanor trespassing, misdemeanor possession of Native American artifacts and felony possession of methamphetamine.
Hamilton allegedly had methamphetamine on his person, Clay County Sheriff Eddie Scott said, while a container of the drug was allegedly found on the ground near Lewis. He is due to appear in Thursday.
Validity of leave in question
In the last year, at least one elected Oktibbeha County official took off a significant amount of time for health reasons, County Administrator Emily Garrard said. Garrard would not release the name of that official due to concerns of violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
“My office was fully aware of the situation and circumstances then, and it qualified under the Family Medical Leave Act. At this point, there’s been no contact between my office and (Hamilton). I am not aware of his request,” Garrard said.
While the Family Medical Leave Act allows for unpaid, health-related absences, state law prohibits elected officials from simply walking away from their duties while in office.
The Mississippi Constitution states “no person elected or appointed to any office … shall hold such office or employment without personally devoting his time to the performance of the duties thereof.”
A 2010 Mississippi Attorney General’s opinion also states “there is no provision in state law for county elected officials to take a ‘leave of absence,’ even though there is a provision for state elected officials to remove themselves from the state for a period of a month or longer during a year, although they would be subject to a pro rata deduction in their salary.”
That opinion was written for the Amite County Board of Supervisors’ attorney when he inquired if the sheriff could take a leave of absence and if the board could refuse to pay his salary.
At the time, Sheriff Tim Perkins indicated he would spend six to eight weeks working as a consultant in Alaska, the opinion states.
Scott would not comment on the exact amount of the drug confiscated at the time of Hamilton’s arrest. The evidence was sent to the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics for testing, he said.
State law allows for both felony and misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine charges, depending on the amount discovered.
Simple possession of less than .1 gram — a trace amount or residue — is a misdemeanor, while larger amounts yield felony charges.
The severity of the artifacts charge could depend on the contents of what was confiscated, Scott said. Evidence the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries collected was also sent out of the county for processing, he said.
“It is my understanding that if there are bones associated with the artifacts, they could be facing felony charges. If it’s wooden trinkets or something like that, it would be a misdemeanor,” Scott said. “We’re waiting to get the results certified.”
If felony charges move forward, District Attorney Scott Colom said his office would recuse from the case and seek a special prosecutor from the AG’s office. The three District 16 Circuit Court judges could also recuse since Hamilton’s office works closely with both the DA’s office and the judges.
State law allows for the removal of elected officials if they are convicted of a felony.
Shortly after Hamilton’s arrest, Matt Nappe launched a petition on Change.org asking Gov. Phil Bryant to remove the circuit clerk from office. It had 15 supporters as of Friday.
“As he is facing several felony charges, it is my belief that he has a conflict of interest and should be removed from his position,” the petition reads.
Contact information for Nappe was not immediately available.
Mississippi Code Annotated section 25-5-7 allows the governor to consider removing an elected, countywide official if a petition is signed by 30 percent of the qualified voter base. Petitions to remove supervisors, justice court judges and constables — those who represent specific districts within a county — must be signed by 51 percent of the voter base from which the official serves.
Such a petition must contain a 200-words-or-less statement outlining why an official should be removed from office.
Hamilton was first elected circuit clerk in 2012 and won re-election last year. He previously served as a state senator from 1996 to 2004 and was appointed chairman for the Mississippi State Parole Board by former Gov. Haley Barbour in 2004. He served in that post until 2008.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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