Headlines – 7/1/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – July 1, 2005

  From the 7/1/05 issue of The Panolian :             

     Willie and Sadie Harrison grew this extra-large cabbage in their garden in Courtland using Triple 13 as fertilizer. The cabbage was 36 inches in circumference and grew on a row that was about 60 feet long.
Como election going to court
By Jason C. Mattox

Two defeated candidates from Como’s municipal elections have filed separate petitions in circuit court to challenge the election outcomes.

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Both mayoral candidate Judy Sumner and alderman-at-large candidate Forrester Ruhl lost by eight votes. Sumner lost to incumbent Azria Lewers in the May 17 Democratic run-off and Ruhl, an independent, lost in the June 7 general election to Democrat John Walton.

According to documents obtained from the Panola County Circuit Clerk’s office in Sardis, the two races will require a court ruling to settle.

Judy Sumner has filed a civil suit against the City of Como Democratic Executive Committee.

Hernando attorney Gerald Chatham, who is representing Sumner during the proceedings, filed a petition for judicial review in Circuit Clerk Joe Reid’s office on June 23.

Chatham indicated to The Panolian that the matter had already been presented to the Democratic Committee and an answer had been returned.

"We the Democratic Executive Committee have already declared the true results of the election," the letter said. "Any proof you might have of fraud or bribery needs to be presented before this committee. Any further actions are subject to judicial review."

The petition alleges, based on a sworn affidavit from Judy Gravatt, that Sumner had defeated Lewers by a vote count of 294 to 291 on May 17, the day of the Democratic run-off.

The next day, the Como Democratic Executive Committee met at the Como City Clerk’s office to count affidavit ballots. There were 13 affidavit ballots to be counted, plus there appeared at that time an additional eight absentee ballots that had not been previously counted, according to Gravatt’s statement.

Of the eight absentee ballots that had not been previously counted, each candidate received two votes. Of the 13 affidavit ballots that were counted on May 18, two were rejected, four went to Lewers and six went to Sumner, making the total count 302 for Sumner and 297 for Lewers. Gravatt states that another affidavit ballot was counted from a convicted felon, which gave Lewers another vote.

When the Democratic Committee met again on May 24, Gravatt said the committee re-opened and counted 12 of 19 previously rejected ballots. Lewers received all 12 of those votes, giving him a total of 310 to 302 votes for Sumner. Lewers was certified as the winner of the election at that time.

A similar affidavit from Mike Sumner, the candidate’s husband, is also included in the petition and states many of the same allegations.

Reid said that he sent a copy of the petition to the Mississippi State Supreme Court Chief Justice who will assign a circuit judge to hear the case. Reid said the assigned judge will set the date for the trial.

As for the alderman-at-large legal battle, Forrester Ruhl has secured Iuka attorney Richard Bowen to handle his case.

According to Reid, because Ruhl is challenging the outcome of the general election, there will be a jury trial.

The trial will be set, according to Reid, on August 29 at the Sardis Courthouse. This is the first of the next session of Circuit Court in the First Judicial District. Reid said the circuit court judge could change the date but the trial will likely be August 29.

In the election contest petition filed June 27, Ruhl’s attorney alleges several irregularities regarding 53 absentee ballots cast during the election.

Ruhl’s petition states that the integrity and validity of the absentee ballots were destroyed, and those ballots should have been illegal and void and not counted in the determination of the election results.
Walton was certified the winner of this election, receiving 250 votes to Ruhl’s 242 votes.

Ruhl’s petition also alleges that regular votes were accepted and counted by persons who were not bona fide residents and qualified electors of the Town of Como.

Supervisors planning precinct improvements
By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors are hoping a grant from the state will help pay for must-have improvements to some of the county’s voting precincts.

The Board of Supervisors voted this week to send a grant proposal to the Mississippi secretary of state’s office, which is overseeing improvements to polling places in counties across the state.

The total amount of grant money coming to Mississippi is still unknown by the secretary of state’s office, which is awaiting that announcement from the federal government.

The voting improvements are mandated per the federal 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which requires that polling places are accessible to handicapped voters. That directive comes from the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

The supervisors met Monday at the county courthouse in Batesville for an end-of-the-month, wrap-up meeting.

At that meeting, grant writer Dr. James Smith announced that 14 polling places in the county could benefit from the grant monies.

Smith appeared at the meeting to receive permission from the county supervisors to request state monies from the secretary of state. His request was granted by the supervisors’ actions.

The needed improvements cited by Smith ranged from paved parking at volunteer fire departments to renovation of public restrooms at the courthouses in Batesville and Sardis.

The restroom renovations would be the biggest expense, said Smith, who estimated the cost at $12,000 to $15,000 per courthouse.

The parking areas at the fire departments would need to be about 1,800 square feet, Smith also said.

District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins told Smith and the other supervisors that a secretary of state official assured him that the county’s grant proposal won’t be rejected if it’s higher than those from other counties.

"What I questioned him about was whether they had a set figure in mind about what each county was going to get, and we turned in something three times higher than that," Perkins said.

The supervisors’ vote on Monday came after they moved some polling places and combined others at their "second Monday" meeting. They took that action in anticipation of the coming improvements.

Batesville ready for Fourth, fireworks
     The Fourth of July means big sales for area fireworks distributors. One of those, Jerry Lawler Fireworks, located on Highway 6 was preparing for the weekend rush Thursday morning. Susan Elliott (left) and Christian Amberson were the employees responsible for re-stocking the large tent.
By Jason C. Mattox

The City of Batesville is prepared for the Independence Day holiday and all of the fireworks that go with it.

Federal and state law mandates that only class C or "common" fireworks are permitted for use in the city limits of a municipality.

Items classified as common fireworks include firecrackers, bottle rockets, poppers, sparklers and roman candles.

"The people selling these fireworks know what they are and are not allowed to sell," Code Enforcement Officer Pam Comer said.

According to the city’s fireworks ordinance, no fireworks can be sold before June 15 or after July 5.
The ordinance also prohibits the sale of any fireworks to children under the age of 12.

"From what I understand, it is allowed to shoot off fireworks in the city," Comer said, "as long as they are common fireworks."

The only exception to that ordinance is discharging fireworks within 600 feet of a church, hospital or school.

"It is also unlawful for a person to shoot fireworks within 75 feet of a place where fireworks are stored," Comer said.

The city ordinance also mandates that the "class C" fireworks be labeled as such.

According to Police Chief Gerald Legge, the Batesville Police Department responded to nine firework complaints from June 15, 2004 to January 15, 2005.

"Considering that time frame includes both the July 4th and New Year’s holidays, that really isn’t a lot of complaints," he said.

Legge said usually when the BPD receives a complaint, an officer will discuss the matter with the offender and it usually stops.

"Most of the time once people are aware of a complaint, they will stop shooting fireworks," he said. "We really don’t have that many problems with them in the city."

City leaders take oath today
Mississippi Supreme Court Justice George C. Carlson will swear in Batesville’s new administration at City Hall today starting at 10 a.m.
Assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell will serve as Master of Ceremonies.

Batesville officials to be sworn in are Mayor Jerry Autrey, Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow, Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger, Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Manley, Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton and Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie T. Pounders.

Sheriff’s department receives confiscated currency
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Sheriff’s Department will receive $3,062 from a split of seized drug funds after the conviction of a Mexican supplier.

The department is among 10 law enforcement agencies receiving forfeiture checks after the conviction of Adolfo Tello of DeSoto County, the U.S. Department of Justice announced earlier this week.

A team of local, state and federal law enforcement officers arrested the drug dealer in April 2003, also searching his Nesbit home where they seized $76,680 in cash and three firearms.

Special Agent Jamie Tedford of Batesville was part of that raid and others like it in DeSoto County, he told The Panolian this week.

"Tello and his family were all involved in the drug distribution. A lot of other people were taken down besides him," Tedford said.

Tello headed a marijuana trafficking operation throughout North Mississippi from 1999 to 2003, federal court documents show.

In May 2003, the drug dealer pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to importing more than 100 kilograms of marijuana into the country.

Tedford is a Batesville police officer assigned to the Panola County Drug Task Force. In that capacity, he also represents the county for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The Southaven Police Department received the bulk of the seized funds, $30,628, while Panola and two other agencies, the Lafayette County Narcotics Unit and the North Mississippi Narcotics Unit, each received $3,062 from the raid.

The other agencies that received funds were: Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics ($7,657), Mississippi Dept. of Public Safety/Highway Patrol ($7,657.10), Bartlett (Tenn.) Police Department ($1,531.42), Hudson Oaks Police Department, Hudson Oaks, Texas, ($1,531.42), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ($1,1531.42), and the Mississippi National Guard Counterdrug Program ($1,531.42).

Stolen car recovered in Sardis
By Jason C. Mattox

The Sardis Police Department is looking for the person or persons responsible for an auto theft during the late hours of Thursday, June 23.

According to Police Chief Sonny Stepp, the department received a call from Ward 1 Alderman Joseph "JoJo" Still reporting a ’94 Honda stolen from his home on Butler Street.

The vehicle was discovered Friday night parked behind 510 Magnolia St.

"We received a call that a car was parked behind an unoccupied house on Magnolia Street and responded," Stepp said. "When we arrived, the keys were still in the ignition."

Stepp said the department does not have any suspects.





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