Stone County

Voters fire circuit clerk whose office is ‘a mess.’ Winner says she’ll straighten it out.

Stone County Circuit Clerk Jeffrey O’Neal lost his job Tuesday night after four years in office and repeated troubles over failing to file financial reports and court orders.

Voters elected Republican Treba Parker Davis, who served as deputy circuit clerk for four years under O’Neal’s predecessor, retired Circuit Clerk Kenny Hatten. Unofficial returns show Davis won the race with 3,483 votes to 1,653 votes for O’Neal, who ran as an independent.

She believes O’Neal’s failure to follow the law and do his job properly cost him the election.

“I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that he may be a wonderful guy but he didn’t know how to do the job,” Davis said Tuesday night. “I don’t think he tried to learn everything he needed to learn about the job and take it seriously.”

Davis said she has a lot of work ahead.

“There’s a mess in every direction you turn,” she said. “I’m just going to go in and do my best to straighten it out. And I don’t mind asking for help.

“The people of Stone County deserve a good circuit clerk’s office. It needs to be back the way it was when Kenny Hatten retired.”

O’Neal has twice been forced to appear in court for failing to follow state law in running the office.

In October, all four Circuit Court judges for Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties summoned O’Neal to the Gulfport courthouse because he had failed to file court orders involving convicted criminals, leaving the Mississippi Department of Corrections and probation offices without direction in at least 36 criminal cases.

In June, he was summoned to court for failing to file annual financial reports required by state law. Circuit clerks are fee-paid officials who cover expenses, including salaries, from the funds their offices collect.

Anita Lee is a Mississippi native who specializes in investigative, court and government reporting. She has covered South Mississippi’s biggest stories in her decades at the Sun Herald, including the Dixie Mafia, public corruption and Hurricane Katrina, a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort. Nothing upsets her more than government secrecy and seeing people suffer.
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