Mississippi AG issues opinion on OCH petition, referendum

OCH Regional Medical Center (photo: courtesy)
Staff Writer

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s office on Tuesday released an opinion regarding efforts to determine the future of OCH Regional Medical Center.

Hood’s office said the petition calling for a referendum to allow a vote on the future of OCH would be invalid until the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors adopts a resolution detailing its intentions moving forward. The petition itself is still valid, but must get the necessary number of signatures before being filed with the Board for consideration and vetting. If those benchmarks are cleared, then further action - like a referendum - can be taken.

Questions were posed to Hood’s office in the form of a letter penned by Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer.

The AG’s office said in a response that the Board must adopt a resolution describing its intention to sell or lease OCH before a petition can be filed seeking a referendum. Hood’s opinion then stated a binding referendum on the matter must be based on a petition filed on or before the date proposed in the resolution.

OCH Administrator and CEO Richard Hilton echoed the validity of the petition in a statement to the SDN on Tuesday, saying that it should be clear that petition efforts by Frank Davis to get a minimum of 1,500 signatures will not have statutory legal standing until the Board has voted to sell or lease the hospital and complete the process for request for proposal (RFP) consideration and establishing a final date for deciding who will buy or lease the hospital.

“This means that the Board of Supervisors will establish the window of opportunity when the minimum 1,500 validated signatures can be presented for a referendum call,” Hilton said.

Davis told the SDN on Tuesday that they are still in the process of collecting signatures and will not submit them to Election Deputy Clerk Sheryl Elmore until the Board instructs them to do so.

“We are doing what they tell us to do and we aren’t going to do it until (the Board) tells us to go ahead and give them to Mrs. Elmore,” Davis said.

Trainer told the SDN on Tuesday that he read and forwarded the AG’s opinion to the other members of the Board and their legal team at Butler Snow - the firm hired earlier this month to provide counsel during this process.

“The response we got answered multiple questions,” Trainer said. “What we will do is look at that and decide which way we are going to go.”

Before being filed, the petition must be signed by 1,500 qualified voters.

Trainer said he believes things are moving in the right direction, but there will still be certain challenges ahead.

“Right now, we need to look at it from a positive perspective … not what we are going to lose but what we could gain, and at this point it would be improper to force anyone to make a decision,” he said.

A prerequisite public hearing has already been held on the matter, but the Board has yet to adopt a resolution.