Editor’s Note: State Senator DeBar was hired as the George County Schools’ attorney in the July 21 school board meeting. This story was written once the district fulfilled a public records request for the legal agreement on August 1. After publication, the district notified WKRG that DeBar has terminated the agreement for legal services. The school board will consider hiring a new attorney in its August 2 meeting.
GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – The George County School District has a new attorney going into the school year, one that ethics experts say could raise questions.
Dennis DeBar, Jr. was hired during a special session school board meeting on July 21. DeBar has represented all of George, Greene and Wayne counties in the state senate since 2016.
His contract with the school board, obtained by WKRG through a records request Monday, allocates a retainer fee of $1,500 per month for the 2022-2023 school year. The stated duties are to attend one school board meeting per month and belong to the Mississippi School Boards Association’s Council of School Board Attorneys.
Any other legal services above 10 hours per month will be billed at $200 per hour barring any alternative payment arrangement. DeBar told WKRG his work will mostly pertain to drafting legal documents and representing the board in any lawsuits and legal matters.
“There are other legislators that are school board attorneys and so forth. We just keep that separate,” DeBar said.
He currently serves as the chair of the Senate Education Committee. The committee championed teacher pay raises earlier this year. Education funding per Mississippi student still ranks the 47th lowest in the country as the legislature has underfunded K-12 school districts by $3.3 billion over the last 14 years.
The contract specifically states DeBar will not be paid with the 53% of the district’s budget that comes from state funding, clearing him of a potential violation of state ethics law but not from other questions.
“Even if he doesn’t have a contract that’s funded by state dollars, he will be involved in reviewing documents for or advising on contracts that are funded with that,” said Kedric Payne, vice president of Campaign Legal Center and former deputy chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Taking the position in George County could also raise questions from the two other county school districts DeBar represents in the senate, Payne said.
“In a situation where the lawmaker’s representing one school district, it could create questions by voters, if they perceive that the other districts are disfavored in some way. So you’re always going to have that potential for questions,” Payne said.
Both DeBar and superintendent Wade Whitney said they are not at all concerned with any potential conflict of interest or ethical concern the hiring could raise.
“We interviewed a couple of very quality candidates but it’s absolutely no doubt that Senator DeBar was the right candidate,” Whitney said. “No reservations. They’re two different things. His political arena and his attorney arena for our school district, they don’t cross over. We’re very excited he’s our guy.”
Filings with the state ethics commission dating back to 2011 show DeBar received at least $1,000 each year from:
- George County Board of Supervisors (2012-2019)
- George County School District (2017)
- Greene County Board of Supervisors (2011-2021)
- Town of Leakesville (2011-2014)