Headlines – 3/29/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – March 29, 2005

  From the 3/29/05 issue of The Panolian :             

Fishin’ Time
     Matthew Townsend of Hattiesburg utilized warm weather Saturday afternoon for fishing along the Sardis Reservoir outlet channel. It was not to last. Saturday night thunderstorms brought cold rain and dark clouds which entirely shrouded Sunday.
Batesville courthouse to get new heating/air
By Billy Davis

The heating and air system at the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville is overdue for a replacement, say supervisors, who made the first steps last week toward that goal.

The installation of a new heating and cooling system will likely be a bid project, but the supervisors voted 5-0 to allow Tri-Star Mechanical to design a replacement for the current system. The company is based in Batesville.

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Tri-Star owner Gene Welch appeared at the Friday, May 25 meeting of the supervisors, telling the board that the courthouse is using an old "two-pipe" design that was later abandoned.

The courthouse was built in 1968, and the heating/air unit is original.

Welch recommended the county gut the current system and install a new air handler. The chiller unit could remain, he said.

District Five Supervisor Bubba Waldrup asked if such a project would be put out for bids.

"If it’s over $10,000, it would have to be," board attorney William McKenzie replied.

If the heating and air project is put out for bids, Welch said, he would charge eight to ten percent of the cost for designing a new unit for the courthouse.

The project would require the courthouse to run on a minimal amount of heat and air while the new equipment is being installed, Welch said.

The installation of a new system would best be done in November, he said.

Reached after the supervisors’ meeting, County Administrator David Chandler said the courthouse is comfortable only after the system has had plenty of time to catch up.

In the courtroom, especially, the defendant isn’t the only one sweating.

"The courtroom is the worst," Chandler told The Panolian.

Issues basic for municipal elections
     in Pope, Courtland
By Billy Davis

A hospital’s future and funding for the new civic center may dominate political talk in Batesville, but in the towns of Pope and Courtland the topics are much more fundamental.

In Pope, Mayor Ricky Briscoe wants to help the town "get into the mainstream," meaning catch up on the basics of a functioning municipality.

"We don’t even have our own street department," noted Briscoe.

The town of Pope has 240 citizens, 2000 census figures show.

In Courtland, long-serving mayor Debbie Aven wants to find grant monies to pave more streets.

"We get help from the county on paving, and we appreciate that, but they do a cheap job," said Aven. "Over time (the paving) doesn’t hold up."

The town of Courtland has a population of 460, according to the 2000 census.

To help cut election costs, Pope and Courtland’s candidates qualify as independents and run in the general election. This year the general election falls on June 7.

Neither Aven nor the aldermen are opposed in this year’s election.

The mayor of Courtland receives $10 a month as mayor, Aven said, and the aldermen receive $8 monthly for their service to the town.

According to Briscoe, while he is unopposed in the mayor’s race, the town has seven alderman candidates seeking five seats.

In Pope, the aldermen are Edith Pratt, W.T. Rikard, Farris Green Jr. and Mike Cassert. One seat remains open after Briscoe moved to the vacated mayor’s office last month.

The Pope non-incumbent candidates are Kenneth Powell, Ricky Roebuck and John Mark Pickett.

The mayor of Pope is paid $200 a month. The aldermen receive $50 a month.

In a general election, the votes are counted in a winner-take-all tally.

"If there are six candidates for alderman, the top five who receive the most votes win," explained Cecil Pitcock, who stepped down as mayor last month due to health problems. He tapped Briscoe as his replacement.

Although the Town of Pope somehow missed the March 4 qualifying deadline, the election will still take place on June 7.

Election commissioner Mae Belle Pitcock, the former mayor’s wife, said she and the new city clerk were abiding by a deadline the town has followed for many years. That deadline was likely wrong, she said.

"We’ll be aware of that (correct date) next time," Pitcock said.

Cecil Pitcock, 85, and Mae Bell have lived at 402 Memosa Street in Pope since May 10, 1950. He served as mayor during the ?60s, and before that he served as town marshall and tax collector.

"Pope is my home, and there’s no other home like it," Pitcock said.

Like other tiny towns, state tax revenues trickle into Pope and Courtland. Pope received $20,246 from sales tax in 2004, state figures show. Courtland received $13,909 last year.

The City of Batesville, by comparison, received about $3.3 million. Como received $119,409 in 2004.

Still, the monies are enough for Courtland to employ a part-time police chief and a part-time officer.

Pope employs a part-time officer as well.

In Courtland, drug dealing plagued the area in recent years, Aven said, but the county sheriff’s department helped the city clean up the problem.

"I want to give credit where it’s due. The county (sheriff’s department) took care of that," Aven said. "I’m not saying there aren’t still drugs here, but it’s a lot better than it was."

Aven, 45, has served six terms as Courtland mayor, famously the state’s youngest female mayor when she first won office in 1981. She was 21.

In addition to Aven, the Town of Courtland is served by aldermen Topper Olson, Chris Olson, Gerald Aven Jr., Mary Catherine Baglan and Michael Roberts Sr.

Courtland is so small – and so hurting for willing officials to serve, Aven said – that most of the town officials are related. Gerald Aven is the mayor’s husband. Topper and Chris are father and son respectively, and Aven’s sister-in-law, Carolyn Roberts, is the town clerk.

"Mary Catherine is the only one not related to somebody else," the mayor said.

No Dumping
     Panola Deputy Sheriff William "Hammerhead" Hannah was headed to the rubbish landfill with a load of debris collected from Bethlehem Road last week. (See related commentary on page 4A.)
Record attendance expected
     for ‘Steak and Steak’
First Lady and editor featured at fund-raiser
By Rita Howell

Mississippi’s First Lady Marsha Barbour will be the speaker at the Batesville Boys & Girls Club Steak and Steak Dinner Thursday at 7 p.m. at the new Batesville National Guard Readiness Center on Keating Road. Como native Otis Sanford, managing editor of The Commercial Appeal, will serve as master of ceremonies.

The event is a fund-raiser to help finance the programs of the local organization which offers after-school activities for children.

The organization relies on this fund-raiser to secure about 25 percent of its operating budget, according to Catie Ashburn, marketing and resource development director for the local Boys & Girls Club. So far, 600 people have bought tickets.

"It’s the biggest crowd we’ve ever had," Ashburn said. "It’s very exciting."

On average, about 140 children, ages 6-18, converge on the Boys & Girls Club on Martinez St. on weekdays after school, according to Ashburn. Five paid staff members and a number of volunteers manage a program that includes homework time, arts and crafts, computer activities, and sports and recreation. About 500 children are actually enrolled in the club, but they don’t all come every day, Ashburn said.

The name "Steak and Steak" came from the national organization’s "Burger and Steak" event, which allowed sponsors to enjoy a hamburger while sitting at a table with Boys & Girls Club members who were served steak.

Ashburn reported that the local group gets a good deal on the steaks and can serve them to both adults and children.

Immediately preceding the dinner there will be a reception and silent auction at 6 p.m.

The speakers
Emcee Otis Sanford has served as managing editor of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis since 2002. He began his writing career in the seventh grade as a sports reporter for the North Panola High School paper. He attended Northwest Community College where he edited the school’s award-winning weekly newspaper, the Ranger Rocket. Sanford received a B.A. degree in journalism from the University of Mississippi in 1975.

He has worked for The Clarion-Ledger, the Pittsburgh Press, the Detroit Free Press, and has been at The Commercial Appeal since 1994.

Sanford was named Alumnus of the Year at Northwest Community College in 1999, and in 2000 he was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame.

On April 6 he will receive the Silver Em award from the University of Mississippi Department of Journalism for his outstanding contributions as a journalist.

Sanford and his wife Elaine have four children.

Marsha Dickson Barbour grew up in Monroeville, Alabama. In 1965, her family moved to Canton, Mississippi, where she graduated from Canton High School. She majored in marketing at the University of Mississippi and received her bachelor of business administration degree in December of 1970.

Marsha and Haley Barbour were married in December of 1971 in Canton. Afterwards, they moved to Yazoo City, Haley’s hometown, and raised two sons – Sterling (30) and Reeves (25).
As First Lady, Mrs. Barbour is especially active in early childhood development issues and tourism. Regular visits to read to the students at elementary schools around the state are a priority on her schedule.

Mrs. Barbour has served as honorary chairman of numerous charitable events and causes including women’s initiatives and the arts. She is on the board of directors of the USA International Ballet Competition held every four years in Jackson and she is a member of Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, an initiative of First Spouses.

Mrs. Barbour received the First Lady Youth Leadership Award presented by Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) in December of 2004.

Leisure time is spent playing golf and enjoying other outdoor recreation.

Mettetal defending education stance as House, Senate battle over budget
By Billy Davis

The fight between the state House and Senate over budget priorities, especially funding for public education, has put Sen. Nolan Mettetal in the middle of a conflict at home.

At a county supervisors meeting held last Friday, Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins seemed to fire a warning shot at Mettetal when he applauded the county’s House delegation but wondered about the senator’s support for public education.

"Warner’s working hard for us… Leonard’s working hard for us," Perkins said, referring to Rep. Warner McBride of Courtland and Rep. Leonard Morris of Batesville.

After hearing a report from Supervisor Robert Avant, who recently spoke to Mettetal, Perkins summarized the senator’s position: "Senator Mettetal is still not decided."

Perkins purposely aimed his comments for publication in this newspaper, saying the county’s school districts face a $2.7 million deficit if funding from the state falls through.

South Panola could be forced to look for $1.92 million, Perkins said, and North Panola would have to make up about $815,000 in lost funds.

"They would be expecting the local people to make that up," said Perkins, formerly a South Panola School District trustee.

Reached on the Senate floor in Jackson, Mettetal said funding for public education is his "number one priority" despite the tight budget.

"I don’t know of any senator who won’t vote for education," Mettetal said. "Just because the Senate hasn’t voted to raise taxes doesn’t mean we don’t support public education."

Mettetal, who lives in Sardis, was alluding to the ongoing battle between the House and Senate, where disagreements over tax raises and spending cuts have yet to be resolved.

While the state faces a $500 million deficit, the Democrat-controlled House has proposed a 50-cent cigarette hike and increased fees to make up the difference.

The Republican-led Senate, meanwhile, supports cutting services. Mettetal and a handful of his colleagues also support the tobacco tax hike, but Gov. Haley Barbour has vowed to veto any tax raise that reaches his desk.

A House bill that funded education, and included the new service fees and tobacco hike, later died in the Senate, The Clarion-Ledger newspaper reported over the weekend.

The Senate’s version of the funding bill is $200 million less than what was requested by the state Department of Education, the newspaper also noted.

The state legislature, which is set to adjourn its 90-day session April 3, is inching closer to a special session.

Mettetal acknowledged that’s he’s heard from Panola County educators about funding public education. His answer to them, he said, is that he "fully intends to provide funds for public education."

Told of the rumblings coming from the supervisors meeting, Mettetal dismissed Perkins’ words as political talk.

"Everybody knows where I stand on funding for public education. My position hasn’t changed," he said.

Jury dismissed after murder trials delayed
By Billy Davis

It seems the extra amount of jury summonses – and miscellaneous excuses – weren’t needed after all.

Potential jurors from an extra-large pool were dismissed Monday morning after a pair of murder trials were continued until a later date and defendants in other cases on the docket pleaded guilty.

With two murder trials on the court calendar, the Panola County Circuit Clerk’s office sent out 225 jury summonses earlier this month, about 50 more than usual.

The defendants in the murder trials are David McLarty, charged with murdering Kenny Belvin, and Demetrius Smith, who is charged with murdering Ole Miss student Carnesha Nelson. The trials have been continued but no court date has been set.


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