County board members from across Mississippi gathered at the Grand Hotel in Natchez on Wednesday to collaborate and gain knowledge on leading their county Farm Bureaus.

Members from the 82 county boards debated numerous key issues affecting Mississippi and American agriculture, as well as received training from experts on best practices to effectively run their county Farm Bureaus.

Legal issues affecting county Farm Bureaus

One of the most discussed issues on management of the county Farm Bureaus revolved around legal issues. Tim Lindsay and Robin Taylor, of Ogletree Deakins LLP, presented meeting attendees with thorough information and legal scenarios regarding harassment.

Harassment claims can pertain to misconduct related to disability, age, race, sex, national origin or religion, according to Lindsay and Taylor.

“Sexual harassment is not the only type of harassment in the workplace,” Taylor said. “But it is the most prevalent. It is important to be aware of all types of harassment and the procedure an organization should take when a claim is reported.”

Many companies could avoid lawsuits if all complaints of harassment were taken seriously and investigated properly, Lindsay said. The culture surrounding harassment in the county Farm Bureau office depends on the attitude and tone set by the board members, Taylor said.

Lindsay and Taylor recommended three best practices for county Farm Bureau board members to implement when a harassment complaint is filed. The first step is to have the individual making the harassment claim write everything down in their own hand writing. The second step is to investigate.

“Interview any witnesses and write everything in your investigation down,” Taylor said. “Keep a record of everything.”

The final step should be to implement a remedy to the harassment claim. In addition to the best practices, Lindsay and Taylor strongly encourage board members to educate their employees and members on the harassment policies stated in their employee handbooks.

“Please be careful and aware when investigating harassment claims,” Federation President Mike McCormick said. “Make it a priority when you go home to find your county employee handbooks and make changes where they are needed.”

Rewards and challenges of leading your peers

Attendees of the County Board Training also had the opportunity to partake in a panel discussion on how to effectively lead their county Farm Bureaus.

J.B. Brown, of Stone County, Julie White, of Oktibbeha County, and Marty Wooldridge, of Louisiana Farm Bureau’s Caddo Parish, answered questions presented by Dr. Michael Newman, Mississippi State University’s Director of School of Human Sciences, and audience attendees.

Robert Earl McGee, President of the Lincoln County Farm Bureau, started the conversation with questions on membership recruitment.

“What are good ways to grow your county membership?” he asked. “People don’t understand that you don’t have to have Farm Bureau insurance to be a member.

All three panel members agreed the key to recruiting members falls to educating them on the mission of Farm Bureau.

“Focus on the benefits Farm Bureau members receive by joining, but share with them our mission of promoting agriculture, so they understand that insurance follows the Federation,” White said.

In addition, the panel answered questions about challenges, conflicts and education.

Other experts provided attendees with resources regarding the relationship between the Federation, county Farm Bureaus and Farm Bureau Insurance companies, parliamentary procedures and auditing practices.

McCormick feels confident the training day proved to be beneficial for leaders within the county Farm Bureaus.

“These training days are a great way to get board members from across the state together to talk about the issues affecting us all,” he said. “Giving our members the knowledge to be effective is my number one responsibility, and this is one way we do that.”