Headlines – 6/7/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 7, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – June 7, 2005

  From the 6/7/05 issue of The Panolian :             

     Susie Lunsford is presented an American flag at the funeral of her son, Daron Lunsford, who died May 23 in Iraq. Services were held June 2 in Batesville, where residents lined the streets and held flags to show respect for the fallen soldier.
Tri-Lakes’ plight inches closer to sale
By Billy Davis

Despite reservations from its owners, Tri-Lakes Medical Center is inching closer to new ownership after county officials last week signed off on a final purchase and sale agreement.

The closing date for the sale is scheduled for 90 days from the Friday meeting, which falls on September 2.

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The Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen and the Panola County Board of Supervisors met Friday at 2 p.m. at the county courthouse in Batesville, where they learned that Dr. Bob Corkern had handed over a $500,000 cashier’s check toward the hospital purchase.

The down payment was made as earnest money, a requirement demanded by the owners but deferred repeatedly by Corkern until Friday.

Corkern made the highest bid for Tri-Lakes, $25 million. He also has promised $3 million for the hospital’s west campus, a behavioral clinic.

The issue of the earnest money payment was "probably the biggest issue" of the contract negotiations, board of supervisors attorney Bill McKenzie told the gathering of public officials.

"Dr. Corkern wanted the opportunity to get his money back, but if you can get your money back you don’t have anything at risk," McKenzie said.

The city and county officials voted Friday for the money to be held by the county’s chancery clerk office.

The contract allows for Corkern to get his earnest money back only if something is discovered to be wrong with the site, McKenzie told the two boards.

Another issue resolved in negotiations is Corkern’s payment for "tail coverage," an insurance policy that would absolve the owners from litigation after the hospital is sold.

After first refusing the owners’ request for tail coverage, Corkern agreed to either purchase the coverage or make payments annually into an escrow account.

Still another issue raised at the meeting – and still unresolved – is whether Corkern has the funds to purchase the hospital and can maintain healthcare for the community.

Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins voiced skepticism at the ongoing negotiations with Corkern, telling both boards that Corkern has failed to show credibility so far.

"We’ve dealt with all kinds of people who said he had the money," Perkins said. "I’ve been to meetings where five bankers said they were going to loan him the money, and he never got a dime.

"I drove back from Jackson one time because there was supposed to be a letter of credit in (County Administrator) David Chandler’s office," Perkins said. "Before I got 40 miles out of Jackson they said they picked up the letter of credit because it was the wrong one."

Responding minutes later to Perkins’ comments, Mayor Bobby Baker said he, too, has questions about the sale but is grateful for the historic day after three years of work.

"I’m asked everyday, ‘Have you sold the hospital?’ We may not have sold it today, Jerry Perkins," Baker said. "But we are following the steps that I think we’ve got to follow."

Hospital consultant J.C. Burns also responded to Perkins’ statement, saying Corkern’s backers will ensure that the hospital is operated well.

"Remember that a lot of people are going to have to be satisfied with what happens (at the hospital)," Burns said.

"They’re going to want performance," Burns continued. "How do you get performance? You operate the business and operate as a business, and you take care of business."

Savings found in county phone bills
By Billy Davis

Panola County government stands to save about $1,800 a month on its phone system thanks to an audit performed in recent months, supervisors learned Monday morning.

Appearing at the supervisors’ "first Monday" meeting, Telecom Audit Group representative Carl Overton showed the supervisors a summary of his company’s audit, which revealed savings of $1,802 a month.

That savings totals $20,915.88 a year.

The company has already received a payment of $5,900 from Access Integrated for an improper surcharge that cost the county $494 a month.

Among the other catches, Overton said, were unnecessary charges on E-911 as well as federal taxes.

The county is exempt from both of those charges, he said.

The removal of the federal tax will save the county $70.80 a year, a printed summary shows. The E-911 change will save the county $22.80 a year.

Some numbers were disconnected due to non-use, the printed summary showed, and other numbers were switched to a cost-saving telecommunications program called Centrex.

The next step in the process, Overton said, is for the county to supply an employee who can be trained by Telecom to monitor the phone charges in the future.

"You need one person designated for that job, someone in purchasing or accounts payable," Overton told the supervisors. "You won’t need us anymore if we do it right."

Answering that suggestion, County Administrator David Chandler said he will find an employee suited for that job.

In other county business:
Longtime wildlife control officer Jackey Fox announced to supervisors that his federal job has been eliminated due to budget cuts.
     Known for his beaver control work, Fox said his last day performing that work is July 1. His job will be completely phased out October 1.
     "I found out Friday that seven positions are being cut, and I’m one of the seven," Fox told the board.
     With the position gone, the county can hire beaver control help from the next closest county, Calhoun, at $25 an hour and 44 cents a mile, Fox said.
     "Will you be available to us after October 1?" asked District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant.
     "I can’t say anything about that until after October 1," Fox replied.
Supervisors voted 3-0 to participate in a Jackson State University study on improving drivers’ safety on rural roads.
     (District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup was attending his mother’s funeral. District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins was out of town).
     The funding to participate costs $2,500, said JSU representative Ivory Williams.
     Panola is among four counties involved in the study. The others are Lee and Jones, and one county that has yet to be determined.
Supervisors approved 3-0 the "sale" of three surplus Ford F-150 trucks to the Crenshaw and Como fire departments.
     The transfer is legal if the vehicles are worth no more than $100, board attorney Bill McKenzie explained.
     The county sold the trucks for $2 each.
McBride Engineering representative Warner McBride said the county has worked out its disagreement with W&W Construction over the company’s contract work on Ballentine Road.
     The county will improve the residents’ driveways, McBride said, and W&W will fix the intersection at Old Panola Road and do some pipe work.
     Nolan West of W&W has been feuding with the county, saying he’s due payment for work, while the county has said the job was incomplete.
     Residents on the road, meanwhile, have said the work damaged their driveways and access to a pasture.
Supervisors unanimously approved hiring for several departments: a full-time dispatcher and a full-time jailer at the request of jail administrator Hugh "Shot" Bright; a part-time hire for county tax assessor David Garner; and a full-time paving crew member and a full-time truck driver for the road department.
McKenzie announced that the proper paperwork has been finalized for Evas, which is building on a two-acre site at the county airport.
     Evas builds high-tech safety equipment for airplane cockpits.
Road manager Lygunnah Bean announced that the county raked in $1.15 million from its sale of road equipment at a Philadelphia auction. The money will help pay off road equipment debts, Bean said.
     "We had expected $900,000 but the equipment oversold," Bean told supervisors. "The county did real well."
Accident investigation takes giant leap
     with new technology
By John Howell Sr.

During the first five months of 2005, law enforcement officers in Mississippi who investigate traffic accidents have been adopting a newly created uniform accident report.

"ReportBeam" moves the state from outdated paper reports to a custom-designed, electronic report that becomes one of the most advanced accident analysis tools in the nation, according to Master Sergeant Brady McMillen of Batesville, director of Accident Reconstruction for the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

"In 2000, we were going over accident scenes with a tape measure and a pencil," McMillen said. With equipment and software purchased through federal grants, "we now go out and digitally record" accident scenes and then reconstruct accidents with computer assisted diagramming and full animation," he said.

McMillen chaired a study group which, during 2003 and 2004, steered ReportBeam into creation. Since then he has helped teach other officers the system.

MHP accident reconstructionists learned the new reporting system last year and then taught other MHP officers and Jackson Police Department officers in February. During April, McMillen used facilities in Northwest Mississippi Community College to teach officers from municipalities and sheriff’s departments.

"I haven’t heard anything negative; it looks better and gives immediate statistics," McMillen said.

Like its predecessor, the ReportBeam accident report begins on paper – a four-page form completed by the officer investigating the accident. Much of the similarity ends there. As soon as the investigating officer can access a computer, the information is transferred from paper into ReportBeam. The investigating officers receives a password.

"The creator of the report is the only one who can change anything in the report," McMillen said of the software’s security.

Once completed, the report is reviewed by a supervisor who may ask the investigating officer for additional information, he said.

"It has a real short learning curve," McMillen added.

Aids vehicle, roadway design
McMillen believes that the report will streamline the flow of valuable information about road design, vehicle construction and occupant safety. He has seen such data improve seat belt and air bag design.

"It all progressed simply off accident data," he said.

"The program has a built-in analysis and statistical tool that uses data that is being collected as a result of reporting the collision," McMillen added.

At an accident scene, the investigating officer fills out a four-page report with information that will be transferred to ReportBeam as soon as he or she has access to a computer. "The on-screen is identical to the hard copy now," McMillen said.

"Over 3,000 business rules have been built in the report to keep officers from missing something," the trooper added.

Built-in features allow the investigating officer to include such diverse information as whether female accident victims are pregnant to whether a deer was involved. Once the information has been entered, ReportBeam’s software allows the investigator to reconstruct the accident with realistic animation.

"Black Box" analysis
ReportBeam also allows analysis of data gathered from the diagnostic modules – the so-called "black box" – of supported vehicles. The module includes the sensor that triggers air bag inflation, McMillen added. Supported vehicles presently include General Motors products, select Ford vehicles, the H2 Hummer and Isuzu products.

From those modules, accident reconstructionists can retrieve five-second "snapshots" that precede vehicle crashes and reveal brake and throttle activity, engine and vehicle speed, and other information that is "just a tool" to help unravel the mystery of why crashes occur, the accident reconstructionist said.

On-board computers
By late June, the Batesville MHP district is expected to follow the Jackson district with installation of on-board computers for troopers’ automobiles, McMillen said. The district’s selection is not meritorious, he lamented, but based on the 10-county district in northwest Mississippi having the second highest fatality record in the state.

The on-board computers, development of ReportBeam software and many other tools that the state’s accident reconstructionists find so useful come through federal grants that McMillen, in an ironic twist, would prefer the district not to be eligible for.

The money is available for the grants, he explained, because the Mississippi legislature repeatedly fails to enact an "open container" law that prohibits open containers of alcoholic beverages in moving vehicles.

Failure to enact the legislation means that the Mississippi Department of Transportation must forego millions in federal highway funds that they would otherwise have available. That money is then redistributed into other programs, including those that fund grants that fund equipment and manpower for highway safety enforcement, he said.

McMillen will speak on ReportBeam’s development and implementation at the National Traffic Records Forum sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration July 31-Aug 4.

The conference will include representatives from all the Federal agencies that deal with traffic safety and/or road design as well as international organizations that deal with traffic safety and data collection from automobile collisions.

General election under way
     to elect municipal officials
By Billy Davis
and Jason Mattox

Voters in Batesville and Sardis will choose a mayor and aldermen in today’s general election.

In Batesville, voters will choose a new mayor of the city for the first time in three decades and a new alderman-at-large for the first time in two decades.
Batesville mayoral candidates include Democrat Jerry Autrey, Republican Dr. Richard Corson and independent Gary Kornegay.

Alderman-at-large candidates are Ed Allen, a Republican, and Democrat Teddy Morrow.

Additional Batesville races include:

– Ward 1
Democratic incumbent Bill Dugger and
   challenger Republican Danny Jones

–  Ward 4
Democratic incumbent Bobbie Jean Pounders and
   challenger Republican Michael Harbour.

In Sardis, voters will decide who they want as their next mayor. The choices are Democrat Alvis L. "Rusty" Dye, who defeated Lula Palmer and Johnny Green in the party primary, and independent Ernest L. "Lit" Scruggs, the former mayor.

Sardis residents will also choose their alderman-at-large between Democrat Roy Scallorn, who edged out incumbent John Reed, or independent Donald Russell.

Also in Sardis, voters will determine the Ward 1 alderman. Incumbent Joseph "JoJo" Still will face Republican challenger Boots Still in that contest.

In Como, the only contested race on today’s ballot will be for the alderman-at-large seat. Democratic candidate John H. Walton faces independent opponent Dr. Forrester Ruhl in that contest.

All polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.




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