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Top newsmakers: Voters turned out public officials who displeased them

Beverly Martin, Connie Rocko and Angel Kibler-Middleton will serve on the Harrison County Board of Supervisors in 2016.
Beverly Martin, Connie Rocko and Angel Kibler-Middleton will serve on the Harrison County Board of Supervisors in 2016. Sun Herald

Voters delivered some surprises -- and firsts -- in South Mississippi in 2015, as did a few elected officials.

Below is our list of top newsmakers, in no particular order.

Harrison County's Beverly Martin and Angel Kibler-Middleton will join Connie Rockco in January on the first majority-female Board of Supervisors in Mississippi, and one of the few in the nation.

A.J. Holloway kicked off a stunning series of events when he announced in March, after a stint in alcohol rehab, that he was resigning as Biloxi mayor after 22 years in office. Andrew "FoFo" Gilich delivered the next shocker when he beat a seasoned politician, Harrison County Supervisor Windy Swetman, in the special election to replace Holloway. Swetman, first elected in 2007, capped it off after his defeat by announcing in May he was withdrawing from the upcoming supervisors' race and would return to private life.

Former Harrison County Supervisor Kim Savant received the maximum sentence of five years in prison in October after admitting he conspired to accept $37,500 in bribes from Harrison County Utility Authority contractor Sean Anthony in exchange for supporting Anthony's contracts with the Utility Authority. Anthony, who also pleaded guilty, is scheduled to be sentenced May 2 in U.S. District Court in Gulfport.

Coast restaurateur Rob Stinson branched out, opening three restaurants, from October 2014 to October 2015, to create a restaurant row on the beach in Biloxi: Baja Beach Biloxi, Beach Bums and The Reef with its popular Sky Bar. Stinson also owns Salute Restaurant, Lookout Seafood & Steaks and Kelly's Sports Pub in Gulfport.

He's been credited with setting the pace for new restaurants in that city. Stinson swears he's finished opening new restaurants and said he plans to focus on real estate this coming year, but then he backtracked: "I should probably never say never."

Barry Cumbest, president of the Board of Supervisors in Jackson County, set up public information meetings and went to Washington seeking money for a 3,000-acre twin-lake project called Lake George, primarily in George County. He revealed in October he and his family own land in the area and could benefit from the project.

Cumbest said he might abstain from any future board votes on Lake George. It is a violation of state ethics laws for a public official to use his office for financial gain.

Environmental opposition to Lake George has been mounting as groups such as the Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation add their concerns about damming a tributary to the Pascagoula River, the largest free-flowing river in the contiguous 48 states.

John McKay and Mike Mangum, two political heavyweights and longtime Jackson County supervisors, lost their seats to new faces in the wake of a county hospital system financial scandal. The Board of Supervisors said it was blindsided by the Singing River Health System crisis, but residents who worked for the hospitals didn't buy that. When told the crisis would threaten their pensions, retirees organized pickets and voters held the supervisors accountable.

Les Fillingame, mayor of Bay St. Louis, has been under fire for his management of city finances -- the handling of $300,000 in federal forfeiture money; lapsed employee life and dental insurance; turnover in the city clerk position; and 15 findings of deficiencies and noncompliance cited in the 2013-14 city audit. The fiscal troubles have resulted in ongoing state and federal probes. Most recently, the City Council approved a separate "performance and compliance review" to be conducted by the State Auditor's Office come January.

House speaker Phillip Gunn surprised many Mississippians and stirred debate when he announced in a June statement the Confederate emblem needs to be removed from Mississippi's flag. The issue is a contentious one in a state that is the last to fly the Confederate emblem on state property. Mississippians voted in 2001 to keep the flag.

Gunn's statement said: "We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us. As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag."

Troy Peterson pulled off a victory over two-term Harrison County Sheriff Melvin Brisolara, winning the Republican primary with 62 percent of the vote to Brisolara's 38 percent. Peterson, an Army veteran, has been with the department for more than 23 years. Brisolara announced in 2014 he was retiring, but then changed his mind and entered the race.

After his win, Peterson told the Sun Herald, "I will be the people's person -- approachable,"

Robert Gray, a truck driver, surprised even himself when he won the Democratic primary for governor, as The Associated Press put it. The AP said Gray didn't even vote for himself because he was busy running errands. He didn't fare so well in the general election, handily won by incumbent Republican Phil Bryant.

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