/Ag Commissioner Andy Gipson still practicing law, representing companies before a state agency

Ag Commissioner Andy Gipson still practicing law, representing companies before a state agency

Gipson is a former state legislator who was elected as agriculture and commerce commissioner in 2018. He was also reelected last year. Gipson is still employed by Jones Walker, which is one of the largest 120 law companies in the U.S. and has offices in multiple states, including Mississippi. His current position is that of special counsel. Frontier Communications, a nationwide telecommunications firm based in Connecticut that offers internet and cable service to approximately 1,800 rural customers in north Mississippi, is one of Gipson’s clients. The company filed for bankruptcy and is now asking the Mississippi Public Service Commission (Mississippi) to approve its restructuring plan. Gipson’s representation of the company has prompted many calls to Mississippi Today. Gipson, who is $90,000.00 a year as the agriculture commissioner, stated that he has had a “significant reduction in pay” due to his limited work. Gipson stated that his legal work does not conflict with his elected office. He also said that he has a limited law practice and manages his own time well to give the full credit to taxpayers as commissioner of commerce and agriculture. He said that he had cleared his state Ethics Commission law work and that he quit his post as pastor at a local church. However, he still owns a cattle and tree farm. Gipson said, “I have a history in doing multiple things at once and doing them well,” while he was visiting Starkville for state agriculture business. “… Time management and being efficient with your time are key factors. I have come a long way since my time in law practice. My firm has many attorneys that can assist me in any way I need.” Although Mississippi’s weak ethics laws don’t seem to prohibit Gipson from representing private companies before state agencies, an ethics expert stated that it could be easily questioned by the general public. John Pelissero, a Santa Clara University senior scholar in government ethics at the Makkula Center for Applied Ethics, said that it is not uncommon for a state official or local official to continue private employment even after being elected or appointed. Their private actions in this instance, as private attorneys, are at odds with the public interest. “What we have is at most the appearance of conflict of interest. This could be deemed unethical if he represents private clients before another commission. Presley stated that he respected Gipson but that his representation would have no influence on him or the commission. Presley stated, “I don’t care if their attorney was Mickey Mouse — they wouldn’t know that I would be mean to them or sweet toward them based upon their lawyer.” “I have been on Frontier’s back… I have held the (approval for restructuring) up. “I intend to hold it up until the Lord returns if it takes for us not to get an improvement plan.” Presley stated that he took a tour of Frontier’s offices after receiving complaints about Frontier’s customer service. Presley stated that Guntown had seen people leave Post-it notes asking for assistance regarding their phone service. “One had been there for so long that it had lost its value. Houlka has windows that have been removed from the office. They’ve put plywood and pressed board up, but there is no one there. Tishomingo has bird droppings at the door, and their sign is leaning on a stump. The welcome mat in Rienzi is made of moss and mold. Presley stated, “It frustrates me when Frontier acts like absentee landlords. They are just here to make money. People are constantly upset with them.” “I have spoken to tons of customers. Frontier is a problem for me because I saw what seemed to me to be abandonment of their facilities.” The Daily Journal reported that the New Houlka Board of Aldermen decided to shut off water to Frontier’s office in July after the company hadn’t paid its bills for several months. SaDeanna Hardin, a Frontier customer, said via social media that Frontier is “terrible.” I have been calling them since June, either because I don’t have a phone or because the static is so bad that I would rather not have a phone. Because it was so unstable, I stopped using the internet. “I can write you a book about the problems with Frontier.” Gipson has also represented Viasat Carrier Services in the past before the PSC. Viasat, a satellite communications provider, seeks PSC clearance in order to receive federal funds to provide internet service to rural Mississippi. Gipson requested an opinion from the state Ethics Commission regarding his continued employment at the law firm when he was first appointed to the post of agriculture by the governor in 2018. Although the Ethics Commission agreed that Gipson could, it warned that the official and the firm should continue to avoid representing clients who are likely to deal with the (agriculture state agency ….”). The opinion also cited state Law “… Elections and public office are public trusts and any attempt to gain personal gain through official conduct is a violation. Public servants must follow a conduct that will not raise suspicion with the public Ethics Commission Director Tom Hood stated that he knows of no restrictions against state elected officials having income or outside employment. Gipson stated that he continues to practice private law since his time in the Legislature. However, he always checked this with the Ethics Commission. Gipson stated that he quit being a partner in a law firm when he was first elected to the Legislature. He now has “very limited” law practice and only deals with “routine matters.” Gipson believes being a lawyer and staying current with his legal training is a benefit to him as an agriculture commissioner, as he deals directly with statutes and regulations as well as legal issues. Gipson stated that he always lists his other income sources or other work on the Statement of Economic Interest that he and other elected officials must file each year with The Ethics Commission. Gipson’s April statement listed his sources of income as an ag commissioner, as a Jones Walker lawyer, as the owner of JA Gipson Properties and Gipson Land and Cattle Co., and D’Lo Corner Grocery and Market. He also served as an officer for Ambassadors for Christ. Officials are also asked to include any “person or company the filer represented or interacted for compensation before an authority or state or local government, except the courts on any matter other that uncontested or routine. This section is only applicable if the filer was… an elected official… (or) an Executive Director of Head of a State Agency Gipson left it blank.