Headlines – 6/24/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 24, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – June 24, 2005

  From the 6/24/05 issue of The Panolian :             

Mayor’s salary slashed, appointments made
By John Howell Sr.

Batesville aldermen cut the mayor’s salary and appointed Gerald Legge police chief during what is likely the final meeting of the current city administration.

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Late in the Tuesday, June 21 meeting Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders made a motion to set the new mayor’s salary at $19,500 annually and to "look at it again at budget time."

The move appeared to catch Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger by surprise. Following a second by Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton, Dugger said, "I agree with the thought of an adjustment; I think we need to go outside and check."

"I’d just rather wait until we get more information," Dugger continued.

After little further discussion Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley said, "I call for a question," requiring Mayor Bobby Baker to submit the motion to the board of aldermen for a vote.

Pounders, Yelton, Manley and Alderman-at-Large Hudson Still voted for the salary adjustment; Dugger voted against it.

Mayor-elect Jerry Autrey attended the meeting as did Aldermen-at-Large-elect Teddy Morrow.

Yelton then made the motion to name Legge police chief, "because that is hanging out there and it’s something that needs to be decided now," he said.
"I’m going to make a recommendation that we hire him for the fulfillment of our term, that he be hired chief for the remainder of our time."

"Why would you do that?" Autrey asked.

"He’s (Legge) acting chief now, what would be the difference?" Dugger asked following Pounders’ second to Yelton’s motion.

"I’m undoubtedly not aware of some things that are going on," Dugger continued.

"Regardless of who won (the recent municipal election) or who lost, that’s gone. I think we need to do what’s right for the city and not let politics get in the way," Dugger added.

"That is the reason for the action, to take it out of politics," Yelton responded.

"Appointments you make now are effective for the remainder of your term; the new mayor and board (then) make appointments," City Attorney Colmon Mitchell said.

The vote on Yelton’s motion to appoint Legge police chief tallied the same as for the adjustment in the mayor’s pay. Dugger cast the lone "nay" vote.

The actions on the mayor’s salary and the hiring of a permanent police chief followed a unanimous vote during executive session earlier in the meeting to name Laura Herron as City Clerk. Herron replaces Judy Savage, who retires on June 30.

The new pay rate decreases the mayor’s pay by 65 percent from the current amount of $56,381 paid annually to Mayor Bobby Baker, who has also acted as the city’s public works director since former public works director Wayne Darby resigned in 1994.

Baker, who did not seek re-election after more than 30 years in office, was paid $32,000 annually as mayor in 1994 when $1,000 a month was added to his salary to compensate for the additional public works duties. The remainder has come in longevity and cost of living increases, Savage said.

News of the salary reduction brought phone calls from Autrey supporters to the newspaper on Wednesday. Autrey received 1,122 votes in the general municipal election June 3, which represented 60 percent of the votes cast.

The votes to reduce the mayor’s salary and name a police chief were not completely unexpected.

"I got wind of some stuff yesterday," Alderman-at-Large-elect Morrow said.

"People have spoken; whether it was your man or not, we just need to get on with what’s best for Batesville," Morrow said of the decision to lower the mayor-elect’s salary before he takes office.

Regarding the chief’s selection, "I’m not saying they did the wrong thing, but they should have let us get involved in it because we are the ones who will be there," Morrow said.

Alderwoman Pounders said that the $19,500 figure was based on a survey of other cities.

"This guy is starting out at more than a fair salary for a new guy in there" she said.

Pounders said that the new mayor will "most likely not" be asked to perform the duties of public works director and said that a public works director might be appointed from among current city employees.

Dugger said that there had been a "consensus on the city clerk."

"I thought the other stuff was going to come later. Boy, was I wrong," he added.

"I’m disappointed; I had really wished that we had had a work session and discussed those two items – the chief and the mayor’s salary," Dugger continued.

The actions at the June 21 meeting of the board of mayor and aldermen had city attorney Mitchell researching opinions of the state attorney general regarding the number of days during which a mayor has to veto actions of aldermen.

Mayor Bobby Baker said that he had not considered a veto. "If you veto (an action) and they override it, you’ve just created further division," he said.

Although the mayor does not vote in the mayor/alderman form of government, four votes are required to override a mayoral veto.

Mayor Bobby Baker has resigned effective June 30 in order to begin his state retirement in July. City officials will be sworn in during a ceremony on Friday, July 1. Vice Mayor Hudson Still will preside as Mayor Pro Tempore during the ceremony. "I will be there as a guest," Baker said. However, the new city officials cannot take official action before their first meeting on Tuesday, July 5, attorney Mitchell said.

A list with names of all full-time city employees and their positions is submitted to the board of mayor and aldermen each year for approval or disapproval, Baker said. Aldermen will have the option to approve the entire list or to disapprove it, and the mayor will have the same option with his veto power. However, the mayor will not have a "line-item" veto option, Baker added.

Autrey said that he was "disappointed by the lack of cooperation shown by the outgoing mayor and board of aldermen."

"They should have left the selection of the new police chief to the new mayor and incoming board," Autrey stated Thursday morning.

Attempts to contact aldermen Yelton and Manley for this story were unsuccessful.

Scarcity of rain has some concerned
By Billy Davis

The rain drops that have fallen in Panola County so far this year are about half what we normally receive, a National Weather Service spokesman told The Panolian this week, but you don’t have to chart figures and crunch numbers to know the county needs rain and lots of it.

Farmer/rancher Pete Pattridge is watching the skies, waiting on rain to bring relief to his cow pastures and soybean crop in north Panola County.

"Somebody told me it was this dry in 1980, but I’ve never seen pastures this dry this early in the year," said Pattridge. "You expect this in September and August, not now."

Pattridge said he’s desperate to find hay for his cattle, which are eating up the grasses he needs for cutting.

"I’m about to be in a situation where I’m going to have to sell some cows," Pattridge said.

The farmer said his soybean crop, which he’s raising without an irrigation system, has had one rain so far.

Reached Wednesday by The Panolian, National Weather Service spokesman Chris Kimble of Memphis said the Batesville area has received about 16.08 inches of rain since January, an amount that’s 15.07 inches below the county’s normal rainfall for spring and summer.

"In other words, Panola County has received 48 percent of its normal rainfall this year," Kimble said.

June rainfall has averaged about 1.79 inches in the county, he said.

Kimble used figures gathered from Batesville and Sardis Dam to chart the county’s rainfall since January.

"The spring months are usually one of the wettest times of year for the Mid-South, but the spring of 2005 has been unusually dry," Kimble said.

Brant Godbold, an area forester with the Miss. Forestry Commission, said Panola County is safe from a "burn ban," given when foliage is brown from drought.

"Our fire season is during the winter months, from November to March, when it’s dry and windy," Godbold said. "Things are pretty green right now, and we’re not at that stage."

Godbold said the Forestry Commission follows a drought index to tabulate the potential of fire. The index ranges from 0 to 800, he said.

"Everyday there’s no rain it builds up, and then it goes down when there’s rain," Godbold explained.
Right now, he said, the drought index is sitting at 376. The Commission is "really on alert" when the index number climbs to 600.

Although spring foliage is still green in the county, fire trucks are rolling out of their stations several times a week to tackle grass fires.

"It’s really starting to pick up. The calls have increased in the last couple of weeks," said Daniel Cole, a Batesville firefighter and chief of the Courtland Volunteer Fire Department.

After taking notice of the increase in grass fires, Cole said he began looking closer at the foliage, too.

"Everything is yellowing," Cole said.

Juvenile faces felony charge for bridge thievery
By Billy Davis

A 17-year-old will be tried as an adult for allegedly stealing bridge construction materials and selling them for scrap.

Panola County sheriff’s deputies arrested Edward Donahou and Nathan Daugherty, 18, Wednesday, charging both with grand larceny.

The pair made more than $2,000 from the sale of the scrap before they were caught, said Chief Deputy Craig Sheley.

"This is a felony, and Donahou will be considered an adult," Sheley said.

Donahou’s address is 34 Krotzer Road near Sardis. Daugherty’s address is listed as 16 Oak Grove Road near Sardis.

Sheley said the bridge was under construction on Edwards Road, located near Sardis.

The chief deputy would not say where Donahou and Daugherty allegedly took the materials to sell or how they were caught.

Martin Bros. Scrap Metal in Sardis is the only such business in the area.



Loden named new SP High School principal
Gearl, Monica and Trey Loden
By Rupert Howell

Hubert Gearl Loden, Ph.D., is the new principal for South Panola High School following Tuesday night’s meeting of the school district’s board of trustees.

Loden, 35, is currently serving as executive director of human resources for Meridian Schools while his wife, Monica, teaches Allied Health in Lauderdale County Schools. They have one son, Trey, 4.

Incoming South Panola School Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer, who recommended Loden, said Wednesday that Loden is the "complete package" and comes with the right educational credentials.

Shaffer said, "He knows the importance of co-curricular activities as well as knowing the importance of accreditation standards and school improvement.

Shaffer noted that Loden’s recommendation for employment came from a field of eight serious applicants whose credentials met or exceeded minimum requirements for the high school principal’s job.

"I don’t know how to convey the enthusiasm Monica and I have for Batesville," Loden said and then added, "If I didn’t believe it (South Panola) was a good school system, we wouldn’t be coming. I’ve got a child who will be entering school soon."

Loden was actually one of the finalists who applied and was interviewed for the South Panola Superintendent’s position before Dr. Shaffer was chosen for that job.

Loden said Wednesday that he had made four or five visits to Batesville and each time found the people he met in restaurants friendly and proud of their school system.

"The people from the community are the reason we’re coming," he said.

Loden attended Itawamba Community College and Delta State University, earning his undergraduate degree in social science education. He received a master’s and Ph.D. in education leadership at The University of Mississippi.

He has taught social studies at Noxapater, Kosciusko and psychology at Tupelo while serving also as coach at all three locations. He was an assistant principal in Oxford Public Schools and principal of K-2 at Houston Public Schools until beginning his current job in Meridian. He also serves as adjunct professor for Mississippi State University in Meridian.

Loden will assume his new duties July 1, replacing current principal Del Phillips who resigned to take a principal’s position in Missouri.

Lunsford Scholarship
Family and friends of Sgt. Audrey Daron Lunsford, a Panola County native who was killed in action in Iraq May 23, are seeking support for a scholarship fund established in his memory with the Northwest Mississippi Community College Foundation.

Lunsford, who had attended Northwest, was a member of the Sardis Police Department before his deployment to Iraq with the 155th Brigade Combat Team, comprised of Mississippi National Guardsmen and others from Vermont and Arkansas.

Once fully endowed, the scholarship will be awarded to children of military personnel. Anyone wishing to contribute to this scholarship fund may send donations to: NWCC Foundation, P.O. Box 7015, 4975 Highway 51 North, Senatobia, MS 38668.

Caldwell gets no parole
By Billy Davis

After criss-crossing three counties in a 1980 crime spree that resulted in a death sentence, convicted murderer Bobby Caldwell is still in prison after he was denied parole last week.

The Mississippi Parole Board announced its decision via a June 15 letter after interviewing Caldwell, now 49, in a May 25 hearing.

Caldwell is a prisoner at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where he will continue serving a life sentence until his next parole hearing in March, 2008.

Caldwell was originally sent to Parchman prison in 1975 for armed robbery. In 1980, he was a 24-year-old state parolee on work release when he shot and killed Elizabeth Faulkner during a robbery at her bait shop.

Elizabeth Faulkner and her husband R.L. "Bob" Faulkner owned Pat’s Bait Shop, located on Hwy. 315 near Sardis Dam. The store is now known as The Dam Store.

The widower still lives in Panola County, but his relatives now live in DeSoto County.

Elizabeth Faulkner’s daughter, Pam Gross, said she and nine other family members traveled to Parchman on May 24, the day before Caldwell’s hearing, to plead with the parole board that Caldwell remain in prison.

The Faulkner family met with four parole board members in the prison’s administrative building, Gross said.

After a question-and-answer session with the parole board, one family member was asked to address the board. The family chose Gross.

"I told them that man took our mother’s life away and the state still wants to offer him the opportunity to go back to the community where my dad lives," Gross said. "Plus, I pointed out that he was out on work release when he took her life."

Another victim of Caldwell’s crime spree, Gary Tippit, also addressed the parole board days before Caldwell’s appearance. Weeks before the killing of Faulkner, Caldwell robbed Tippit at his country store in Oakland.

Tippit now works at Wal-Mart in Batesville and is a justice court judge in Yalobusha County, where he lives with his wife, Joy.

Caldwell had stolen the gun used to kill Faulkner and threaten Tippit after burglarizing Bland’s Store in Marks days before his robbery at Tippit’s.

The remaining incident during Caldwell’s crime spree occurred at Rex’s Package Store in Batesville, where the suspect fled mid-robbery when a nearby merchant, Carl Irwin, got off five shots at him with a pistol.

Caldwell was eventually charged with the attempted armed robbery at the package store.

Prior to Caldwell’s parole hearing on May 25, parole board members received a letter from Panola County Sheriff David Bryan in March. He contacted the board and asked that Caldwell be denied parole.

Bryan, who passed away in May from colon cancer, worked from home in the months before his death.

"Even when he was sick, Sheriff Bryan was taking care of business," said Robbie Haley, the late sheriff’s administrative assistant.

Stories from The Panolian in October and November of 1980 credit former Chief Deputy James Rudd with tying Caldwell to the string of crimes.

Hours after Faulkner’s murder, then-Sheriff’s Deputy Rudd and Deputy J.C. Sexton arrested Caldwell at his father’s home in Curtis.

The evidence gathered against Caldwell included:

Two bullets taken from his car that matched Irwin’s pistol
A glove found on him at the time of his arrest matched a glove found at the scene of Faulkner’s murder
His car was seen in the vicinity of Rex’s around the time of the robbery
The pistol Caldwell used in Faulkner’s murder, the attempted armed robbery and the robbery was traced back to the burglary at Bland’s.

Caldwell was also identified in three different lineups after his arrest.

Rudd declined to discuss the investigation and arrest of Caldwell.

The ensuing circuit trial was moved to DeSoto County, where a jury there convicted Caldwell of capital murder in the death of Faulkner, armed robbery at Tippit’s Grocery, and the attempted armed robbery at Rex’s.

Caldwell was set to be executed for Faulkner’s murder on December 21, 1983, but the United States Supreme Court reversed the execution, agreeing with defense attorneys that District Attorney Bobby Williams used inappropriate language in his closing arguments to the DeSoto jury.

Williams told the jury not to let Faulkner’s "blood be on your hands," her daughter-in-law, Judy Faulkner, told The Panolian last month when the parole hearing was announced.

"I didn’t have a problem with that," Faulkner said. "I thought (Williams) did an excellent job."

While Gross said the state parole board failed to inform her family about the hearing, she said the board respected family members once it learned of their desire to be involved.

"The parole board was very kind, very helpful. They wanted to be very fair about the entire thing," Gross said.

Parole Board chairman Glenn Hamilton did not return phone calls made this week about the outcome of Caldwell’s parole hearing.

     Rebekah Ruth Bailey, 11-month-old daughter of Brad and Jenny Bailey of Batesville, brought in the first cotton bloom of the year to the Panolian office on Wednesday. Rebekah’s dad had planted Stoneville 5242 variety seed on April 17 in a field south of Lambert.


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