By Kevin Edwards
BC Staff Writer
The Bolivar County Board of Supervisors met in perhaps their most unique meeting to date Monday at the Rosedale Courthouse.
Rather than gathering in the room usually designated for the meeting, the supervisors gathered in the building’s main courtroom to adhere to social distancing standards.
Each was seated at tables spaced out at six-foot intervals or longer.
Rather than have all department heads gathered in the room, each was brought in one-by-one to give their monthly report and provide any board orders.
It reflected the reality of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept through the state, the country and the world.
The board of supervisors has restricted most access to each courthouse; citizens must make appointments ahead of time and normal foot traffic in each building has come to a halt.
Additionally, the supervisor’s meeting itself was closed to the public.
Sheriff Kelvin Williams Sr. spoke to the board about the efforts his department is making to keep people safe.
“Hope that (citizens) don’t give personnel too hard a time about coming in the courthouse,” Williams said. “We understand a lot of people did get (the order) over the weekend so hopefully they’ll get it and slowly everybody will fall in place with that. We’ll have deputies on hand to make sure that they allow the citizens to come in and handle their business.”
Williams and another deputy stood watch outside the courtroom doors ready to direct anyone entering the building to what was available and what was not.
“We also want to advise the citizens that this is a serious matter,” Williams said. “We had several calls from this weekend where large groups were gathering having cookouts and stuff. The numbers are going up in Bolivar County. One of the locations where we had to go, there was quite a few people out there and that’s one of the areas we’ve found infected people.
“We want the citizens to know we’re trying to enforce that. We’re not trying to arrest anybody, but we have to enforce that to make sure this community and this stuff from spreading in Bolivar County doesn’t happen.”
Supervisor James McBride asked for clarity on what the sheriff was allowed to do during the state of emergency.
“In those small municipalities that don’t provide their own law enforcement, does he have the authority to go in those towns and disperse crowds where they’re gathering 10 or more, or he has to have approval from that city board before he can do that, under these circumstances,” said McBride.
“As the sheriff, we have the authority to enter any municipality whether they have law enforcement or no law enforcement,” Williams responded. “We generally let those who have law enforcement to handle their own situation but those that don’t we go in and enforce whatever ordinances that they have on hand. We will enforce those in addition to what the county ordinances are.
“For instance, one town may have a club ordinance in place, and they don’t have law enforcement. We can go in and enforce whatever ordinance they have in place. If they do have an ordinance in place, we will enforce that ordinance for them.”
Board attorney Ellis Turnage said the sheriff has the all clear to enforce the law.
“I think that the governor’s executive order covers all of that,” Turnage said. “There’s no issue there. This is an emergency, a valid health and safety requirement. Police power applies under that order. Somebody is out there having a big barbecue. Shut it down.”
Supervisor Donny Whitten explained that the sheriff is the law enforcement official with the highest authority in the county.
“I think if you research the statutes, you’ll see that the sheriff in the county is the high law,” Whitten said. “He has the authority to enforce laws wherever in that county.
Whitten told a story of being taken along by a Mississippi Highway Patrol deputy who was preparing to respond to a robbery that had taken place in Greenwood.
“Highway Patrol was everywhere, and our law was there from Bolivar County and I said what is everyone waiting on? They said we’re waiting on Sunflower County Sheriff. They said we canÕt act. He has to be there to give us permission to move forward.”
Williams said that access had been restricted to the Bolivar County Regional Correctional Facility and that entrants were being screened to keep inmates and staff healthy.
The board gave Bolivar County Road Manager James Pritchett the call to prioritize county projects over municipality requests during the crisis.
“Advise our people to keep their distance from people,” McBride said. “It’s not just you’re doing it to be offensive. It’s just safe practice right now.”
By Kevin Edwards