By JACK WEATHERLY
The Mississippi Supreme Court has overturned a decision in 2006 by Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary that sealed a contract with BellSouth Telecommunications and the state for landline and Internet services and sent it back to the lower court.
At issue is whether the Legislature in 2015 made the contract subject to the state’s Open Records Act.
At stake is whether competition for those services, now solely offered by BellSouth, should be allowed.
An article in the Clarion-Ledger quoting an anonymous source put the value of the contract at about $30 million.
Singletary issued a protective order sealing the contract in 2006, a year after BellSouth was awarded the agreement.
Cellular South, doing business as C Spire, appealed the decision in 2015 so that it might compete for the business.
The Legislature in 2015 amended the Public Records Act, which, C Spire argued, meant that the details of the agreement should be opened to the public.
The Supreme Court agreed 8-1 on March 2, in an opinion written by Associate Justice Josiah D. Coleman. Associate Justice James D. Maxwell II wrote a dissenting opinion.
Coleman wrote that “ostensibly, BellSouth’s contention that retroactive application of the amendments affects some right to keep the materials from [disclosure] has some allure, but the Legislature’s clear pronouncement that the right of the public to have access to public documents quickly cuts through it.
“Retroactivity of the amendments [to the Public Records Act] is a nonissue and does not apply to, protect or maintain the 2006 protective order.”