Pass Christian School Board of Trustees Candidate Halle Ricketts answering questions from the city board of aldermen about qualifications on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (Calvin Ishee/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)

by Calvin Ishee

With the resignation of Pass Christian School Board of Trustees Member Scott Naugle, the City formally advertised for candidates to fill the remaining unexpired term of March 2022.  An advertisement was run in The Gazebo Gazette on Friday, October 23 and 30th. Resumes/Applications were due on Nov. 4, 2020 at 12 noon, interviews were scheduled for Nov. 10, 2020 at 6:00pm and Board of Alderman (BOA) recommendations were due to the City Clerk by 12 noon on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. They were to be opened and the candidate with the majority of First Choice selections would be placed on the November 17, 2020 board meeting. Sounds like a solid and simple plan, right? However, as iconic ESPN commentator and former college football coach Lee Corso would say, “not so fast my friend”.
What ensued was a comedy of errors fraught with mistakes, misunderstandings and down right faux pas. Tuesday November 10th, the City held a special meeting where they conducted interviews with the only two candidates that met the candidate deadline. They included Pass Christian resident Halle Ricketts and Harrison County resident Craig Necaise that resided in the school district. Both candidates provided resumes to the aldermen and were given unlimited time to introduce themselves and tell the board why they should be selected for this key position.
Craig Necaise said currently, he is the Patrol Captain for the Harrison County Sheriff’s Office and heralded that he’s from The Pass, grew up in The Pass, graduated from The Pass and started his law enforcement career in The Pass.
Additionally, Captain Necaise stated that no one currently on the Pass Christian School Board of Trustees has any children attending school within the Pass Christian School District. Furthermore, he stressed the need to have parents with kids attending school in the district represented on the board.  Subsequently, Necaise lauded his previous involvement with school activities and stated that he could bring a lot of resources to the Board of Trustees.
Halle Ricketts commented that he is currently a semi-retired professional social worker, counselor and highlighted his prestigious career accomplishments that included a vast array of teaching experience along with school specific social work experience. Ricketts touted his background with troubled youth and the need for improvements in the Pass Christian School District.
Finally, Ricketts noted that the current climate has people, parents, students, teachers and school administrators overwhelmed. He stressed the need to find comfort for these folks during these extremely trying times.
The only question that came up was from Pass Christian Ward 3 Alderman Anthony Hall. Hall inquired, “with no disrespect for either candidate, I thought you had to be a resident of Pass Christian to be eligible to represent Pass Christian on the PC School Board?”
It was revealed that although Necaise lived in the school district, he did not live within the City limits. Pass Christian City Attorney Malcom Jones cited state law that only requires that the candidate live within the school district and not just the city limits. Ward 2 Alderwoman Charlot commented that she didn’t think that it was right and the City should look into it.
However based on state law, Necaise was allowed to remain a viable candidate for the School Board. As you will soon see, this was just error number one.
Error number two arrived when three of the five alderman failed to meet the noon deadline for submitting their First Choice candidate to the city clerk.
As previously outlined, they were due at noon on Thursday, November 12th. According to a City Official, inputs were only received by the deadline from Ward 1 Alderman Buddy Clarke and Ward 3 Alderman Anthony Hall.  Inputs were not received from Ward 2 Alderwoman Regina Charlot, Ward 4 Alderman Victor Pickich and At Large Alderman Kenny Torgeson. With only two submissions, there was one input for Halle Ricketts and one input for Craig Necaise.

Pass Christian School Board of Trustees Candidate Craig Necaise answering questions from the city board of aldermen about qualifications on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020. (Calvin Ishee/The Gazebo Gazette via AP)

Perhaps the third error involves the “pre-input” from BOA members where they rank their candidates and then the candidate with the most first choice inputs, ends up being the recommendation. Confused, don’t feel like you’re alone. So in essence, the BOA has a “pre-vote” that’s not considered a vote but simply a recommendation to themselves, from themselves.
Later on November 12th, The Gazebo Gazette learned that after the input deadline, Ward 2 Alderwoman Regina Charlot, Ward 4 Alderman Victor Pickich and At Large Alderman Kenny Torgeson submitted their candidate rankings. This resulted in the Board recommending Craig Necaise to themselves by a 3-2 margin. Historically the Board of Alderman accepts their own recommendation whereby Necaise would’ve been appointed to the school board.
This is where the “not so fast my friend” saying comes in. At Tuesday’s Board of Alderman meeting, on the agenda was the formal appointment of Necaise to the School Board. When the agenda item came up, Alderman Hall asked the Board of Alderman to go into Executive Session to discuss the matter.  In a closed door meeting that took about 30-45 minutes, included a visit from Necaise as well as “loud voices” occasionally erupting from behind the closed door meeting, City Attorney Malcolm Jones announced an unexpected decision from the Board. Jones stated that “based on the encouragement from several board members”, he conducted a deeper dive into school board member requirements.
After all was said and done, Alderman Hall commented, “This was not about Mr. Necaise, he is well qualified for the job, it was about the city giving up one of their seats to someone that lives in the county”
Although Jones’ initial legal opinion found that Necaise was eligible to be on the School Board; even though he didn’t currently live in the City Limits, newly discovered case law stipulated otherwise.
Under Mississippi Code Annotated Section 37-7-203, the law limits the number of non municipal members (non-city residents) of the school board at two. Therefore, since Necaise resides in the County and not the City, he was deemed ineligible for appointment to the Pass Christian School Board of Trustees.
Based on the new information provided by Jones, the Board of Alderman voted 5-0 to appoint Halle Ricketts to the Pass Christian School Board. The appointment was effective immediately.