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 The Mississippi Widlife Federation issued the following statement.

The Mississippi Wildlife Federation (“MWF”) filed suit seeking damages and  injunctive  relief  against  multiple  individuals  and  entities  for  unconstitutional  retaliation against MWF for exercising its First Amendment right to political speech. The suit, which outlines a  conspiracy  to  achieve  the  unconstitutional  takeover  of  MWF’s  annual  trademarked  Wildlife Extravaganza, and the denial of MWF’s access to public lands – paid for with
taxpayer funding – for scheduled events, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Monetary and injunctive relief is being sought against: Sam Polles (individually and for injunctive relief  in  his  official  capacity  as  Executive  Director  of  the  Mississippi  Department  of  Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks), Andy Gipson (individually and for injunctive relief in his official capacity as Executive  Director/Chairman  of  the  Mississippi  State  Fair  Commission),  Steve  Hutton  (former Executive Director of the State Fair Commission), Don Brazil, Jack Fisher, and the Foundation for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries, & Parks.

For 33 years, MWF has held its Extravaganza annually at the Mississippi Trade Mart during the first weekend of August as the unofficial kick-off to hunting season. The Extravaganza has been one of the organization’s largest sources of funding since MWF’s inception.  However, based on its  past  stance  in  opposition  to  the  Yazoo  Pumps  Project  in  the  midst  of  2019’s  catastrophic flooding in the Mississippi Delta and the mistaken perception that MWF denied a booth to the #FinishthePumps  coalition,  its  long-standing  lease  for  the  Trade  Mart  was  taken  away
and measures were put in place by state officials to ensure the MWF would not be able to hold its Extravaganza or other signature events again.

As outlined in the 44-page Complaint and accompanying documents obtained by public records  requests, Defendants, through a series of secret meetings and calls held almost immediately after the 2019 Extravaganza, met and conspired to, and in fact, terminated MWF’s valid lease for the Trade  Mart;  awarded  the  lease  to  Defendant  Foundation,  a  private  organization  that  directly supports the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, under a new sham policy for facility rental with plans to host a competing wildlife and outdoor event that would piggyback and capitalize on the Federation’s longstanding show; added language to state lease agreements that would prevent the Federation from hosting a similar show; pulled funding, support, and donations to MWF; and denied  MWF  access  to  state-run  and  taxpayer  funded  properties  for  conducting  its  signature events.  In addition, the Defendants conspired to contract with Extravaganza vendors to interfere with MWF’s business relationships, entice the vendors to join the Foundation’s new event, and damage MWF’s reputation. The complaint seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.

The   MWF’s   stance   on   the   Yazoo   Pumps   Project,   as   well   as   its   position   on   any   other environmental,  conservation  and  regulatory  flood  control  issues,  is  constitutionally  protected free speech. Any attempt by government officials and co-conspirators to interfere with, prohibit and take over MWF’s private enterprise in retaliation for MWF’s stance on such matters of public concern  is  a  violation  of  MWF’s  First  Amendment  rights  and  an  unlawful  interference  with contractual and business relationships.

“It is unfortunate that we have had to resort to litigation to address this situation,” says Ashlee Ellis Smith, MWF CEO.  “But, individuals should not be able to abuse the governmental authority they have been given to punish private organizations, nor should they be able to prevent those organizations from exercising their First Amendment rights, especially when those individuals are motivated by politics and monetary gain. We are bringing this suit in the hopes that it will prevent the same or similar behavior toward ours and other private entities going forward.”

 

The Mississippi Wildlife Federation was established in 1946 by a small group of sportsmen who  believed that citizens could influence how our lands, wildlife, coasts, and rivers are managed. Today, the MWF is the largest network of conservationists in the state. We are comprised of individuals, businesses, and organizations committed to natural resource conservation, environmental quality, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation in Mississippi. We are a
citizen’s organization, not a state or federal agency. MWF’s mission is to conserve Mississippi’s natural resources and protect our wildlife legacy.

 

MageeNews.com is an online news source covering Simpson and surrounding counties as well as the State of Mississippi.

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