After almost three months and a pair of unusual opinions by the state Attorney General's Office, Hancock County will stick with a controversial arrangement for inmate health care at its jail.
The Board of Supervisors in March on its second attempt approved Sheriff Ricky Adam's request to transfer Casey Favre from a part-time role on the county narcotics force to a full-time job as director of health services at the jail.
That appointment then was put on hold to allow supervisors' attorney Gary Yarborough time to get an opinion from the Attorney General's Office. The appointment, the supervisors' motion said, was contingent on an opinion that said it was proper.
In the meantime, Favre started working at the jail, and Quality Correction Health Care Inc., the company that had been contracted to provide jail care, "walked out," Adam told supervisors.
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In that April 27 opinion, the Attorney General's Office said "it is the Board of Supervisors that has the authority to contract for the provision of medical services to prisoners at the county jail."
That seemed to say the sheriff could not hire Favre, who is county administrator Eddie Favre's nephew and Bay St. Louis Mayor Mike Favre's son.
But when Yarborough wrote back on May 10 to ask more questions, the Attorney General's Office responded by nullifying the original opinion and saying it would not issue another opinion because the supervisors were not making it on behalf of the sheriff.
"The purpose of an official opinion is to provide advice to a requestor on a matter of law which is related to the requestor's office," wrote Special Assistant Attorney General Avery Mounger Lee. "Official opinions are not issued to advise one public officer about another's duties and responsibilities."
Board President Blaine LaFontaine said the county had been looking for clarity but wound up with no guidance whatsoever.
"Additionally, official opinions of the attorney general ... can neither validate nor invalidate past action," Lee wrote. "Both requests regard past actions in so much as the individuals referenced in your letters were already hired by the Board of Supervisors prior to your submission of either opinion request. Therefore, we must decline to respond to your May 10th letter with an official opinion of this office and hereby withdraw the opinion issued to you dated April 27, 2018."
LaFontaine said Adam had contended that once the board set his budget, it had no control over whom he hired or fired. So, with no opinion to tell it to do otherwise, the board on Monday allowed Favre's hiring to stand "in hopes of moving on."
But in Mississippi, nurse practitioners such as Favre must have a "collaborating physician" loosely overseeing their work. So the county contracted Dr. James Crittendon of Bay St. Louis as its medical director and collaborating physician for $1,500 a month ($18,000 a year) in addition to Favre's $115,000 a year salary. If the cost of inmate health care exceeds the $385,000 budget, the excess will be paid for with money raised through gambling taxes. Adam's plan includes the hiring of full-time medical services coordinator Christina Herman and a full-time registered nurse, Theresa Thurman.
And the county won't be able to use Favre to provide a free clinic for its employees, because the law bars the county from having such a clinic because it no longer has a community hospital, LaFontaine said. The county leased its hospital, Hancock Medical Center, to Oschner Health System last year for 25 years.
One resident asked the county why Favre was keeping his $115,000 salary since the scope of the job had been reduced.
"That employee clinic won't be an option for the next 24 years," said LaFontaine. "There is going to be a Coffee with the Supervisors in two weeks, so I'm sure there will be some questions."
The question of nepotism seems more settled.
"The Ethics Commission has stated that this employment does not violate Mississippi's Ethics statutes as the nephew is not defined as a relative under Mississippi Code Section 25-4-105," Lee wrote.