PASCAGOULA -- Jackson County supervisors are holding a reception for Charles Britt, the man they appointed to be interim sheriff, who also is a candidate in the sheriff's race.
Some county supervisors said this week the reception is a "meet-and-greet" for people who will be dealing with Britt as interim sheriff and that it is not associated with his political campaign.
And some said the Board of Supervisors didn't plan the reception or vote to hold it. They said Merchants & Marine Bank is the host.
But M&M Bank said Monday it is not, partly because of the perception that the reception is a political event.
"By the time the county sent out the invitation, he had announced his candidacy," said Todd Trenchard with M&M Bank. "And I did not feel it appropriate that we have our name on something that said 'in support of.'"
Besides, the county was in control of the invitation list, Trenchard said.
County employees in the public relations department
designed and emailed the invitations and are handling RSVPs from "city and county elected officials, police and fire chiefs and legislators."
The reception will be Feb. 18 at the M&M Bank main office in Pascagoula.
It's not open to the public.
Three county supervisors said Monday they believed M&M Bank was in charge.
But Trenchard said M&M is just letting the county use its space. "We're not Republican or Democrat, pro or con."
In fact, he said, when the county's public relations officers sent Trenchard a draft of the invitation in January, his reaction was, "That's not what we're talking about at all."
The invitation read: "In support of Jackson County and the Jackson County Board of Supervisors, Merchants & Marine Bank cordially invites you to a reception in honor of Charles Britt, sheriff of Jackson County."
The bank requested new wording.
"We don't have a problem with it saying it's at M&M Bank, but not put on by M&M Bank," Trenchard said.
So the county public relations officer ran a new draft past the county administrator, the Board of Supervisors' attorney and a supervisor that announced simply: "You are cordially invited to a reception for Charles Britt, Jackson County sheriff."
The board's attorney, Paula Yancey, suggested a further change in the wording from "a reception for Charles Britt" to "a reception to meet Charles Britt," which is how it was sent out, not giving recipients a clue as to who was hosting it or who was responsible other than a request to RSVP to the county public relations department by email or phone.
Board President Troy Ross said Monday night the reception is not a county event. He said, "There is no funding from the county." The county "participated," he said, by compiling a list of people to invite and the use of public relations, which was "minimal."
Supervisor John McKay said he believed it was sponsored by M&M Bank and that the county's only connection is the use of the public relations department.
About the nature of the event, McKay said, "It's not a campaign kickoff at all."
"It's just we want the public to know the man we've chosen to be the sheriff for the next 10 months," he said. "I think they have a right to know who he is and what he stands for. And this is just an opportunity for people to come by and meet him and ask questions of Charles Britt, of exactly what's going on, what he plans to do and what he's done and how he plans to operate the Sheriff's Office on our behalf."
Supervisor Melton Harris said then-Board President Mike Mangum initially contacted M&M Bank with the idea of the reception, and Mangum coordinated it before Britt announced he was running for office.
"I will say I did raise the issue the perception was there that it could be viewed as a political announcement," Harris said. "But the initial idea was this as an opportunity for elected officials to meet and greet the sheriff."
Mangum said, "He's got to interact with the different departments in the cities and this is their opportunity to meet the new guy, something we typically do with appointed and newly elected folks."
Trenchard said M&M Bank also holds receptions for newly elected officials in the area.
But in this case, Britt is not an elected official and is running for office.
Supervisor Barry Cumbest said the original idea was to bring in the cities in an effort to mend fences, broken over the Narcotics Task Force issues during the Mike Byrd administration.
"Some people will perceive it as political, which I hate, because it's not," Cumbest said. "But that's not what this is all about. It's about mending fences, not doing anything politically for him. We would have done this whether he was running for office or not."