Sheriff Joe Berlin’s and his brother-in-law, John Herrington, once again finds themselves in an ethical quagmire; this time dealing with Herrington’s appointed position as a Jones County Election Commissioner. John Herrington, who is the brother of Jolynn Berlin (Sheriff Berlin’s wife), was appointed election commission by the Jones County Board of Supervisors. But according to a 2017 Mississippi Ethics Commission opinion (see below), Mr. Herrington must recuse himself from presiding in any way over the November, 2023 Jones County election, or he could face a violation of Mississippi ethics’ statute and, “must pursue a course of conduct which does not raise suspicion among the public that he or she is violating the public trust, as outlined in Section 25-4-101.”
Universal Citation: MS Code § 25-4-101 (2013)
“The Legislature declares that elective and public office and employment is a public trust and any effort to realize personal gain through official conduct, other than as provided by law, or as a natural consequence of the employment or position, is a violation of that trust. Therefore, public servants shall endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that they are likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of this trust and which will not reflect unfavorably upon the state and local governments.” (emphasis added)
The 2017 Opinion addresses the question regarding a father, who was an election commissioner; who is presiding over an election involving a constable’s race in which his son was a candidate. The Mississippi Ethics Commission stated that he could not preside over the election. In the Opinion the commission answers the request,
“No. Section 25-4-105(1), Miss. Code of 1972, prohibits the election commissioner from using his or her position to obtain any monetary benefit for his or her son, and Section 25-4-101 will require the election commissioner to fully recuse himself or herself from participating in the special election for constable so long as his or her son remains a candidate,”
The Commission further clarifies in the2017 opinion that the law would also apply to the following:
- “Relative” means:
- The spouse of the public servant;
- The child of the public servant;
- The parent of the public servant;
- The sibling of the public servant; and
- The spouse of any of the relatives of the public servant specified in subparagraphs (ii) through (iv).
The opinion also states,
” That section admonishes public servants such as the election commissioner to avoid any actions which would reflect unfavorably upon county government. (emphasis added) Any involvement by an election commissioner in an election in which his or her son is a candidate on the ballot would rightfully discredit the election commission and the results of the election.”
John Herrington and Sheriff Joe berlin were reported on HPNM in February for the sheriff’s violation of the Mississippi Nepotism Statute. Berlin hired Herrington to work under him in the department. After the report of the nepotism statute violation was published here, Sheriff Berlin reportedly approached Jones County District Attorney Brad Thompson to help him wiggle out of this violation. Thompson then put Herrington under his payroll; yet Herrington still works within the four walls of the sheriff’s office. With Thompson’s cooperation, Berlin was able to technically avoid a continued violation of the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law does not seem to be intact.
You can read that original report dealing with Berlin’s nepotism statute violation by clicking here.17023 Ethics Opinion-compressed