Headlines – 8/12/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 12, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – August 12, 2005

  From the 8/12/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

School day No. 1: lots of ‘fluidity’
By Billy Davis

When Jeff and Amy Burton departed Batesville Elementary School Wednesday morning, they left behind a three-foot-tall piece of their hearts.

"She’s our one and only baby and this is the first step to not having her by my side," Amy said, holding back a river of sad momma tears.

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Her "one and only baby" is daughter Makalya, 5, who was seated quietly at a table doodling as mom and dad stepped into the hallway to leave.

Makalya Burton is one of about 4,700 South Panola students who started their school year this week.

About 1,863 students are attending schools in the North Panola public school district, where school began August 8, and about 400 students are registered at North Delta School, the private school located west of Batesville. School started there today.

South Panola district office employee Mitzi Hardy said the first day of school was "hectic" but manageable. The most common problem was student registration, she said.

Some parents are new to the district and don’t know how to register their children, Hardy said, but other parents "didn’t pay attention" and are trying to catch up on the requirements.

At Batesville Elementary, parents were assigned a number as they waited a turn to sort out their child’s classroom assignments, proof of immunization shots, 911 addresses, and other concerns.

First-year South Panola Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer visited the Batesville schools during the morning and planned to visit Pope School in the afternoon.

Discussing the hectic first day of school, Shaffer jokingly said he preferred the term "fluidity under control" over "chaos."

"I passed through the elementary building and heard children calling out the alphabet," Shaffer said. "We’re rocking and rolling. We’re teaching school."

The Burtons said they moved to Batesville from an even smaller town in Indiana when Jeff Burton was transferred to a job at the Crown Cork and Seal plant in Batesville.

Makalya and her parents visited the elementary school and the youngster’s teacher at the Monday night open house, one of 447 families to do so.

"We couldn’t believe it when we saw 15 kindergarten classes. We had two classes where we moved from," Amy said.

When Makalya finishes her first week of kindergarten today, her parents hope she has made new friends and overcome some of her shyness.

"Makalya already knows her ABCs, but we hope she can become a little more socialized," said Jeff. "Since we just moved here, she doesn’t have any friends yet."

The BES open house was the biggest ever thanks to the families that participated, said teacher Frances Ashcraft. She said 650 children are enrolled at the school.

Panola Partnership hires new CEO
Simmons comes from state MDA
H. W. "Sonny" Simmons has been selected by the Panola Partnership Board of Directors to serve as CEO of that organization according to a news release from Panola Partnership.

A native of Kosciusko who was raised in Winona, Simmons comes to Panola Partnership with an extensive background in business, economic and community development according to interim Panola Partnership CEO and Director Leonard Morris.

The newly named CEO replaces former CEO Blair Jernigan, who recently resigned to take a position of chief operating officer of the Delta Regional Authority based in Clarksdale.

Simmons has owned and managed two jewelry stores and served as alderman and mayor for the City of Winona, Morris stated.

He comes to Panola County from the Mississippi Development Authority, where he has been employed since September, 2001, as a senior business consultant in the Business and Trade Division.

In that position he performed work on major national and international projects and reported directly to the director of the Mississippi Development Authority and the governor.

Simmons was appointed by the TVA Chairman, Glenn McCullough, to serve on the TVA Crescent Initiative Steering Committee to advise and recommend strategies and industrial development in the TVA service area.

Simmons has been honored as "Rotarian of the Year," and served as president of the Winona’s Lions Club and finance chairman for Moore Memorial United Methodist Church.

He has four children and ten grandchildren and enjoys playing golf, hunting and fishing.

Several candidates were interviewed for the position according to the release.

Panola Partnership serves as a marketing agency and economic development catalyst for Panola County and is the county’s "Chamber of Commerce."

Batesville will keep Forestry office after agency says ‘timber’ to others
By Jason C. Mattox

A planned reduction in staffing and offices by the Mississippi Forestry Commission will make Batesville one of 12 area management offices.

"Under the present reorganization plan, Batesville will be the headquarters for management of offices in the northwest part of the state," agency spokesman Kent Grizzard said.

When the cuts take place, 48 positions will be eliminated across the state. The date for the reduction to be in effect is Oct. 1.

According to published reports, those positions include personnel posts, clerical support staff, foresters, an accountant, an information systems staffer and others primarily in administrative and support positions.

"Due to the sensitive nature of the matter and the employees affected, we have chosen not to release offices, names or positions that will be eliminated," Grizzard said.

The spokesmen stressed there will be no jobs eliminated for people directly involved in fighting fires. Forest rangers and technicians in the field also are not affected.

MFC is charged by law to suppress wildfires occurring on approximately 18.6 million acres of timbered and uncultivatable lands.

State law mandates that the MFC "Take such action and provide and maintain such organized means as may seem necessary and expedient to prevent, control, and extinguish forest fires, including the enforcement of any and all laws pertaining to the protection of forests and woodlands.’"

The main reason for the cut is a lack of funding, Grizzard indicated.

"We requested $19.8 million for our general fund and only $16.4 million was appropriated," he said. "It is our job to run the agency as efficiently as possible to stay within that budget."

The reduction in staff of 48 employees will save the commission $1.4 million, Grizzard said. The remaining dollars will be saved by not filling 39 positions left vacant in recent months due to resignations and retirements.

"In all we will have 87 vacancies," he said.

The other previously mentioned cost-cutting maneuver will reduce the number of forestry offices from 75 down to 12 in the near future.
"We are looking to move away from the county management people have become so familiar with," he said. "Our intention is to make the management more area based."

This is the change expected to have the greatest impact on the Panola County Forestry Office.

As the agency makes an effort to reduce its number of offices, an area office will be responsible for five to seven counties rather than one.

Other area offices will be in Oxford, Tupelo, Gulfport, Pearl and Starkville.

"The commission will maintain a presence in every county we presently serve," he said. "Just because we don’t have an office doesn’t mean we will not be involved in every county."

Rep. Warner McBride said he has spoken with the Forestry Commission about the changes and expects Panola County might be unchanged.

"It remains to be seen just how much of an effect this will have on Panola County," he said. "But this is an area office responsible for eight counties."

Panola County’s office, located at 105 Turner Street employs five and is transitioning to an area office for DeSoto, Tate, Yalobusha, Coahoma, Tallahatchie, Tunica and Quitman counties.

Panola County’s employees are area forester John Rhodes, clerical office support staffer Angela Nardozzi, and forest rangers Jeremy Moore, Edward Rowland and Stevie Little.

"With all of the projects this office has going on, we don’t want to see any changes," McBride said. "I am working with them now to make sure we don’t lose any of our personnel."

Readiness Drill
     Cub Scout Nick Hudson endures "decontamination" at the hands of hazmat-suited Batesville firemen during an emergency drill staged Tuesday afternoon at Trussell Park. The scenario involved a chemical mishap and gave local fire department and law enforcement personnel the opportunity to try out Panola County’s new emergency response trailer and equipment, purchased with $50,000 in Homeland Security funds.
Sheriff’s department readies for ‘justification’ of drug task force
By Billy Davis
and John Howell Sr.

While the future of the Panola County’s Drug Task Force is uncertain, a closer look at its operation and budget is certainly taking shape.

County Administrator David Chandler said this week he will recommend a reorganization of the four-agent task force to the Panola County Board of Supervisors in coming days.

The task force is seeking about $75,000 from the county for the new fiscal year, Chandler said, up from $41,000 budgeted for this year.

Panola County supervisors will begin budget meetings on Friday, August 25 to plan for the 2005-2006 fiscal year, which begins October 1.

According to figures provided by the Panola County Sheriff’s Department, the task force is seeking $76,572 from the county and the City of Batesville for 2005-2006. That combined figure is $152,054.

Figures also show the task force expects about $165,192, or 52 percent of its 2005-2006 budget, will come from grant funds that help pay for everything from salaries and insurance to postage and office supplies.

Chandler said, however, that such grants are "slowing down" and putting a strain on the county budget.

The loss of the $474 million federal Byrne grants has law enforcement agencies across the state scrambling for funds. Those grants are increasingly being diverted into Homeland Security, according to published reports.

Combining expected grant funds and budget requests, the task force’s requested budget is $318,337.

The drug task force is operated by a commander, Jason Chrestman, who oversees three agents and an office administrator.

Asked if he will recommend keeping the task force, Chandler said he "believes in the need" for a task force but wants it to be restructured.

"I’m not against the task force, but there’s got to be some changes made," Chandler said.

Scrutiny of the drug task force first surfaced last week when City of Batesville officials questioned the effectiveness of the task force at their August 5 budget meeting.

Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders suggested the city wasn’t "getting a lot out of the task force anymore," and Alderman James Yelton said the city’s "getting word" that the task force is "kind of sitting on their fannies anyway."

In an interview Wednesday, interim Sheriff Ida Bryan said that over half of the cases scheduled for trial in the next term of court are drug cases based on investigations by task force members.

When Panola County Circuit Court begins next week in the Second Judicial District, 10 of 15 cases set for the first week and nine of 16 cases set for the second week are drug cases, she said.

During the August 5 budget meeting, Alderman Bill Dugger suggested postponing any action until the county sheriff’s election in November, which will allow the new sheriff a role in planning the future of the task force.

The county task force began 14 years ago as the Tate-Panola County Drug Task Force, a joint venture of both counties and the municipalities of Batesville and Senatobia.

Tate County and Senatobia eventually pulled out, leaving Panola County and the City of Batesville to solely fund the task force.

With two partners gone, the late Sheriff David Bryan and now-retired Batesville Police Chief Roger Vanlandingham oversaw the agency as a two-member control board.

The task force is now overseen by Police Chief Gerald Legge and Bryan’s widow, Ida Bryan, who is serving as interim sheriff until the special election.

According to Chandler, the task force eventually drifted into the control of the Panola County Sheriff’s Department after the departure of Tate County’s representatives.

"It’s not a county department. It’s not part of the sheriff’s department," Chandler said. "It wasn’t set up as a Panola County deal."

In a Wednesday interview, Bryan and Chief Deputy Craig Sheley said task force funding is part of the sheriff’s department budget and will be included when the department makes its budget request.

Bryan said that she has asked Sheley to present information about task force activity to the county supervisors.

"He’s the chief deputy, and I have asked him to get all of that information and present it for me," she said.

Sheley said the department will produce facts and figures that justify the task force’s mission and budget.

"It’s going to be a justification of the task force," Sheley said. "We feel like we don’t have to defend anything."

The chief deputy said that the task force has qualified for federal/state matching fund Byrne grants for 14 years.

"This is not just a block grant," Sheley said. "They evaluate you all during the year," to monitor how the the money is spent and the evidence is handled, he added.

"There have been other multi-jurisdictional task forces that have been cut in the middle of a year," Sheley said. "We have been in good standing in this for 14 years."

Figures show the task force logged 49 convictions the first six months of the current fiscal year according to sheriff’s department figures.





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