Mike Espy is back as attorney for the Board of Supervisors and a proposed contract would pay him $250 per hour or $100 more per hour than his predecessor.

Espy, a Democrat candidate to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, was appointed 3-2 on Monday to a position he held for four years before being ousted by a new board four years ago.

Republican Gerald Steen of District 3 sided with two Democrats to oust attorney Katie Bryant Snell, the daughter of outgoing Gov. Phil Bryant.

Snell received $140 per hour for legal work. Espy is set to make $250.

Snell also had a provision in her contract that stated that once she made $150,000, her hourly rate would drop to $100 per hour. That cap is absent in Espy’s contract.

The board declined to vote to approve the contract during the first meeting of the new year. Board President Gerald Steen agreed to table the motion after District 1 Supervisor Sheila Jones asked for time to read through it.

In a subsequent vote, the board elected to start a 45-day transition period in which Snell will receive $200 per hour for legal work.

Espy, a Yazoo native who lost his 2018 bid for U.S. Senate against Cindy Hyde-Smith, previously served as the board’s attorney from June 2012 to January 2016, when the board voted to replace him with Snell.

His contract during that time was $195 an hour, $55 an hour less than the proposed contract.

In 2015, Espy billed Madison County approximately $380,000 for legal work. 

He served for two months as general counsel for Canton Municipal Utilities in the winter of 2016 amid turmoil on the CMU board before launching his campaign for U.S. Senate against Hyde-Smith, who defeated him by capturing 54 percent of the vote in the 2018 special election to replace former Sen. Thad Cochran.

Espy has already announced his intentions to mount a second campaign against Smith in 2020.

District 2 Supervisor Trey Baxter initially made a motion at the start of business Monday to reappoint Snell as board attorney. 

District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin then made a substitute motion to appoint Espy. That passed with a 3-2 margin, with Baxter and District 1 Supervisor Sheila Jones voting against the motion.

District 3 Supervisor Gerald Steen said he felt compelled to defend his decision following the vote.

“This was not a decision made on political of philosophical grounds,” Steen said. “It’s not about politics. It’s a policy decision based on (Espy’s) experience serving as board attorney.

“At the end of the day, that is what really counts — can he provide solid legal advice to the board? And the answer is yes.”

Steen’s comments did little to dissuade his fellow Republicans from voicing their opposition to his decision.

On Facebook, Madison County residents voiced their disapproval of Espy’s hire on a number of pages and posts.

George Haynes said it was “Good Old Boys Politics,” and said Espy was just “another Steen puppet” doing this for monetary gain.

Others used one-word responses such as “Terrible!” or “What?????” to describe the hire. 

“Madison County, Republican strong hold, gives lucrative job to the opponent of the sitting Republican US Senator,” Andy Divine wrote. “Doesn’t sound like being good Republicans at all.”

District 1 Supervisor Sheila Jones said Espy’s appointment is going to make it extremely difficult for the county to get federal money to fund the Reunion Interchange project, which requires over $100 million to build. 

Following Espy’s hire, Hyde-Smith released a statement, saying, “As a result of this new development, we have to believe Mr. Espy will devote his full time and efforts to his new role as Board Attorney and has not decided to be a candidate for the United States Senate in 2020. We wish him well.”

The Espy campaign did not respond to Hyde-Smith’s comment, but on Tuesday evening announced Espy would formally file paperwork to run on Thursday.