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Board President Bobby Bolton accused of pushing woman who was upset over lack of access to public meetings, records
Bolton adamantly disputes charge, says he was trying to defuse a bad situation
By RUSSELL TURNER
An initial court appearance has been set for the president of the Perry County Board of Supervisors, who is facing charges of assault after a woman who was upset about access to public records and meetings accused him of pushing her out of a public building.
Roxanna Whatley, a resident of the Janice community, filed charges against supervisor Bobbie Bolton with the New Augusta Police Department last Thursday morning after she says Bolton shoved her out a door of the supervisors’ annex adjacent to the Perry County Courthouse. Whatley said she was at the supervisors’ office to get copies of minutes from a previous meeting of the county leaders and to attend the board’s meeting that morning. However, Whatley said she was told she could not attend the public meeting since she was not on the meeting agenda and because supervisors were limiting the number of people in the meeting room to 10 due to concerns over Covid-19.
“I basically just wanted to get the minutes,” Whatley told WDAM-TV. “I went in there a couple of weeks ago, asked for the minutes that were 14 weeks behind and they said they were not ready. And then I went back today to ask for the minutes again and to go into the board meeting to see what was going on with those minutes and they still were not ready.”
“They said that I could not come into the Board meeting, which is against my constitutional right and my civil right and my civil liberties,” Whatley said. “All I wanted to do is adhere to what was going on with the community’s money, with the county’s money of Perry County.”
A video of the interaction between Whatley, county employee Sheryl Bradley and Bolton was shared on James Whatley’s Facebook page last Thursday. It was taken down, but then reposted as part of a link to a report by WDAM-TV. James Whatley is Roxanna Whatley’s husband and was with her at the supervisors’ office on Thursday.
Bolton denies the charges and said he was actually hoping to diffuse the situation when the incident occurred.
“I did not assault her,” Bolton told The Dispatch Friday morning.
Bolton said when he walked through the door into the foyer of supervisors’ office he asked Whatley to leave “because it was causing a big disturbance”. Bolton said Whatley had become engaged in a heated discussion with an office employee and his intent was to get Whatley outside of the building so he could hopefully calm her down and “talk to her about the situation.”
Bolton said when he walked toward Whatley he asked her to leave and attempted to reach past Whatley and push open the door. At that point, he said, he tripped on a rug and fell forward slightly, and made contact with her phone.
“I would not have pushed her for nothing in the world,” Bolton said. “I have been knowing her husband since he was a young boy. His father and I were best of friends in law enforcement.”
“There is no way I would have shoved her. I wouldn’t have shoved anybody. I was trying to get her to get out of the building before some bigger altercation took place.”
Bolton is a former sheriff’s deputy who served on the Perry County force for six years. When asked why he did not let Sheriff Mitch Nobles handle the situation, Bolton said the sheriff was trying to calm a county employee who had been arguing with Whatley and that he felt he could deescalate the situation by getting Whatley to step outside and talking to her.
Thursday’s dust-up was the second altercation between Whatley and county employees in a matter of days. Whatley says she was treated rudely and asked to leave the supervisors’ office last Tuesday after she went there to get copies of an April board meeting she had previously requested. Whatley told The Dispatch she had video of that interaction as well, showing county employees berating and even cursing her. No video like that had been made available to The Dispatch at the time of this report.
Employees in the county office dispute Whatley’s version of the Tuesday encounter and say she was the instigator and aggressor in that situation.
Mississippi’s Public Records Act is meant to ensure residents have access to public records in the possession of governmental entities in the state. According to the law, minutes from regular and special called meetings of the board of supervisors are supposed to be available to the public no later than 30 days after the meeting. Draft minutes, those not yet approved by the board, are to be available to the public no more than 14 days after a request for them is made.
Whatley told The Dispatch she had requested a copy of the minutes from the April meeting several weeks ago, but has not yet received them. Copies of board minutes are maintained and available for review in the county chancery clerk’s office. On the day of the altercation that led to charges against Bolton, the minutes from the board’s Mar. 25, 2020, meeting were the latest available in the minute book. This past Wednesday, Chancery Clerk Larry Wilson confirmed that the minutes from all of the supervisors’ meetings through June 25 had been delivered to his office and were in the process of being recorded and filed in the minute book.
Board of Supervisors’ attorney Paul Walley acknowledged that the county had been delinquent recently in filing of the minutes, but said county officials were in no way attempting to deny Whatley her rights to them. According to Walley and clerks in the supervisors’ office, Walley had been provided with copies of the minutes she requested, along with the minutes of all other meetings through the month of June, on July 22, the day before the incident with Bolton.
Walley also denied that county residents were being banned from Thursday’s meeting. He said board members had voted to follow the advice of health officials and Gov. Tate Reeve’s office regarding gatherings and had set a limit of 10 people in the meeting room at any given time. He said residents and visitors who had business with the board and had requested time on the agenda were afforded an opportunity to address county officials at the meeting.
Supervisors did welcome other visitors to address the board at Thursday’s meeting. However, after each visitor had made their presentations to the board and exited the meeting, Bolton counted the people in the room and asked county officials to step out of the room when the number would have exceeded 10 when the next visitor(s) arrived. The county engineer, chancery clerk and sheriff were among those asked to step out of the meeting room in those cases. Dispatch Editor Russell Turner and a reporter from WDAM-TV were in the room until after the meeting was adjourned.
At the beginning of the meeting Bolton advised fellow board members that the Whatleys were at the facility and wished to address the board. One of the supervisors asked if the couple was on the agenda and was told “no” by Purchasing Clerk Angela Penton, who was recording the actions of the board for the meeting’s minutes. Penton told supervisors that Roxanna Whatley had made a statement during the ruckus at the office on the previous Tuesday that she wanted to be on the agenda, but never followed up with an official request. The board’s policy for meetings dictates that anyone wishing to address the board must make a request to be on the agenda and provide their name and the reason for their meeting with supervisors. Thursday’s meeting agenda had multiple visitors listed at 15 minute intervals beginning at 9:15 a.m.
A few minutes into the meeting voices could be heard arguing at the main entrance of the facility. Bolton stopped the meeting and walked out of the room. Moments later the exchange with Whatley occurred.
According to an incident report obtained by The Dispatch from officials with the New Augusta Police Department, Whatley said she was trying to get an explanation from Sheryl Bradley, who works in the supervisors’ office, as to why she had not been put on the agenda as she had requested. She said she was recording the exchange with her cell phone to protect her interests when Bradley “became irate and got up from behind her desk and charged out of the office door like she was coming out to the lobby area.”
On the video, Whatley can be heard saying “is she coming to assault me?” as Supervisor Bolton opened the door and entered the area where she was standing.
The police department incident report also states that Whatley told police she had undergone shoulder surgery earlier this summer and when Bolton allegedly pushed her out the door her left shoulder was “slammed into the glass door and was hurting her now.”
Formal charges of simple assault were filed against Bolton by the New Augusta Police Department Friday morning. He turned himself into authorities and was quickly released on his own recognizance. He is set to appear in New Augusta Municipal Court at 10 a.m. on Sept. 14.
Whatley may face charges in the matter as well as Bradley signed a sworn affidavit with Perry County Justice Court accusing her of disorderly conduct / interference with business customers. According to a copy of that affidavit obtained by The Dispatch, Bradley accuses Whatley of willfully and unlawfully interfering with the daily business of the board of supervisors’ office by “starting arguments over business documents in which normal business had to stop to get this argument under control.”
The status of that affidavit was unclear at press time Thursday.