Headlines – 9/23/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 23, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 23, 2005

  From the 9/23/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

City: fix the stink over center sink
By John Howell, Sr.

City workers were instructed by the mayor and aldermen at their Tuesday, September 20 meeting to learn the cause of sinking concrete at the Batesville Civic Center.

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Concrete caving next to the parking lot on the building’s east side has become a matter of increasing concern for city officials. Suspected causes for an apparent sinkhole allowing the concrete collapse range from a deep sewer line under the pavement to a leaking water line.

Water and Sewer Department Superintendent Rick Shirey will first conduct a pressure test to determine whether the sinkhole could be caused by a water line laid during the civic center’s construction. Determining the cause of the sinkhole will help city officials determine whether the problem has been created by civic center construction work that is still under warranty

If Shirey’s pressure test indicates no leak, city workers will dig into the sinking area in an attempt to determine the cause

Conditional use permit
granted to wrecker service

Batesville’s mayor and aldermen have granted a conditional use permit to allow a wrecker service to operate at 576 Highway 51 South.

Able Wrecker Service sought the permit to operate the wrecker service and store wrecked vehicles at the site. Joe Tidwell represented the wrecker service at the public hearing at 3 p.m. Tuesday, September 20 during the regular meeting of the Batesville mayor and aldermen.

No opposition was voiced to issuing the permit. Aldermen voted 3-0 for the permit. Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger was away from the room during the hearing and abstained from voting upon his return. Ward 3 Alderman Rufus Manley was absent from the meeting.

City workers and equipment will leave Monday, September 26 to help repair water leaks in Mississippi Gulf Coast communities damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Batesville’s mayor and aldermen authorized the loan of manpower and equipment made through the Mississippi Rural Water Association and the Mississippi Water and Pollution Control Operators Association. Wastewater treatment plant manager David Karr will be joined by up to five additional city employees, two backhoes and ancillary vehicles.

Karr said that as communities have brought their water treatment plants back into operation, they have been plagued with many leaks in transport pipes.

"They just need somebody that knows how to get these leaks fixed," Karr said. The crew is expected to return Friday.

Subdivision’s acceptance rescinded until street brought to city standard

Aldermen voted Tuesday to rescind a previous order accepting streets of the second phase of Hunter’s Trace as city streets.

The city had accepted the streets in 2002, pending signature of the subdivision developer Joe Dunlap. Dunlap never signed a document accepting the transfer. Since then, a street in the development, Oak Lake Cove, has deteriorated, McBride Engineering spokes-man Blake Mendrop told city officials.

"In other words, he needs to bring it up to city standards?" Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton asked.
"That would be my recommendation," Mendrop responded.

Aldermen voted unanimously to rescind the previous order pending the repair of the street or the receipt of a letter of credit covering the cost of repair. Mendrop was instructed to determine a cost of the street’s repair for the city.

Stop sign on Eureka
considered, deferred
A stop sign on Eureka Street where it ends at the Batesville Square might allow a smoother traffic flow within the square, street superintendent Teddy Austin told the Batesville mayor and aldermen at their Tuesday meeting.

Austin reported details for the city’s part in the repaving and rearrangement of the Downtown Square. Though no action was taken on the Eureka Street stop sign, officials said that it might be considered after the project’s completion if traffic conditions warrant.

The street superintendent discussed the purchase of pipes and grates for the square as well as the construction of concrete boxes.

In a related action, aldermen voted to pay McBride Engineering half of its fee for engineering work on the Downtown Square project. The amount of $8,372.11 represented half of the total engineering fee, which is based on 10 percent of the total project.

Forestry office without Nardozzi
     after 26 years
By Jason C. Mattox

When the Oct. 1 staff reduction takes place within the ranks of the Mississippi Forestry Commission (MFC), one particular cut will hit close to home.

The Panola County office of the MFC will lose its secretary, Angela Nardozzi, who has worked in the office on a part-time basis for 26 years.

"The impact of this is going to be quite significant," County Forester John Rhodes said. "They are cutting us to one clerical person who will be responsible for eight counties."

Rhodes said Panola County’s paperwork will go to an office in Coffeeville.

"It’s going to be hard to lose a person like Angela who has worked with me for years, and knows my handwriting," he said. "The new person, who has considerably less experience, will have to learn a lot of things about Panola County."

Rhodes said the cut is going to make things tough on the Panola County office because the MFC is "paper driven."

One reason for the "paper driven" workload stems from the federal Stewardship Program which has landowners taking on a more active role in forestry, he said.

"Last year, Angela helped more than 300 landowners develop tree planting plans through various cost share programs," Rhodes said. "Without clerical assistance, there is no way we will be able to keep up that kind of number."

About 25 landowners in DeSoto, Tate and Panola were designated Stewardship Landowners through the program. That’s the most for any region in the state. John Rhodes was named Mississippi Forest Stewardship Inspector of the Year.

"There is constantly paperwork that needs to be submitted to the state or to the federal government," he said. "Not to mention the impact this loss will have on the landowners."

Rhodes said with the loss of Nardozzi, there will be times when no one is in the office.

"If all of the foresters are out in the field, there will be nobody in an office to meet and greet the landowners when they come in to ask questions," he said.

Rhodes said the cut in staffing has also caused a drop in morale for himself, forest rangers Jeremy Moore, Edward Rowland and Stevie Little.

"This cut is directly opposed to what the commission said they wanted," he said. "They said they wanted more face time with the forester and the land owner, but without someone to keep appointments, how is that going to happen?

"Of course all of us in the office were surprised by this but we are on the low-end of the totem pole and virtually powerless," he said.

Court TV airs Smith trial
By Billy Davis

A Panola County murder trial will air today on Court TV, a spokesman for the cable network has confirmed.

The four-day murder trial of Demetrius Smith will air Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. E.S.T., spokesman Andie Silvers said Thursday.

A three-man film crew taped the August trial in Batesville where a circuit jury convicted Smith, 27, of raping and kidnapping Ole Miss student Carnesha Nelson, 19, at her Oxford apartment, later drowning her in Sardis Lake.

Nelson’s body was discovered by fishermen near Engineer’s Point, her hands bound with a cell phone cord.

Smith is from Quitman County. His sentencing is scheduled for Thursday, September 29, in Batesville in front of Circuit Judge Ann Lamar of Oxford.

District Attorney John Champion of Hernando prosecuted the case against Smith. He was aided by Assistant District Attorney Rhonda Amis of Batesville and Lafayette County District Attorney Ben Creekmore.

Champion did not seek the death penalty against Smith but could still seek a life sentence without parole.

Smith was represented by public defender Clay Vanderburg.

The jury verdict came after four and a half days of testimony that included Nelson’s father and college friends, FBI experts, and Smith himself.

Local faces included Panola sheriff’s investigator Mark Whitten, who testified about the ransacked bedroom in which Nelson was assaulted.

During his testimony, Whitten held up a battered window screen that investigators discovered had been ripped off the window, presumably as Nelson tried to escape from Smith.

The trial airing will likely show Smith on the witness stand and under cross-examination by Champion.

The district attorney seemed to take advantage of the defendant’s prideful self image, leading Smith to eventually boast that women find him irresistible and a "stud."

The state provided more than 50 exhibits during the trial including the window screen, a knife found in Smith’s car, and a CD case that belonged to Nelson but was also found in Smith’s car.

The Smith murder trial was originally set to air earlier this week but was bumped for a Massachusetts trial.

"Court TV anchors and guests will provide in-depth analysis of the trial," Silvers said.

Help available through FSA
The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has just announced that Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) participants may be allowed to remove trees that were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina without penalty.

The Panola County FSA Office will work with affected CRP participants and the local foresters to determine the amount of salvage appropriate for each area.

Kimbal Billingsley, county executive director for the Panola County FSA Office requests affected CRP participants to contact the Panola County FSA Office for more information.

Zip Lane Work
     Bobby Moore (second from right), assistant street superintendent for the City of Batesville, guides the work of a backhoe that’s digging up the median in a "zip lane" on the Downtown Square. The city crew was pulling up the median as part of the city’s plan to close the lanes. Also pictured are city employees (left to right) Street Superintendent Teddy Austin and street department employees Tory Carr and William Langston. Shelton Hawkins was operating the machinery.
School board hears goals to improve
By Rupert Howell

After asking principals if they held the same high expectations for all students, Dr. Carlock Broome stated, "Every student can learn, but there are As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Fs."

The question and response came as school board members and principals devoted most of September’s meeting to reporting on and discussing ways to better assist students’ with learning and falling test scores.

In his first year as South Panola’s Superintendent, Dr. Keith Shaffer has promised "data driven" decisions to address problem areas.

Six principals from the various schools in South Panola District make monthly reports to the elected school board members. They told of changes being made, including replacing and rearranging teachers in deficient areas.

Principals also related goals and figures that would raise their schools rating by a minimum one level for the current school year.

Concerning Dr. Broome’s question of whether the same high expectations are held for all students, South Panola High School Principal Dr. Gearl Loden explained that some students entering the ninth grade read on a third grade level making it impossible to hold all students to the same level.

That statement brought about a discussion of "vertical alignment," having similar but progressive goals and objectives between schools. That alignment would allow that a student advancing to the next level or school would have met a common set of requirements.

Vertical alignment has become an issue between Batesville Junior High and South Panola High School according to Junior High School Principal Darrell Tucker.

He said his staff and the high school staff had discussed vertical alignment for the first time since the three years that he had been at that school.

Shaffer said that the Barksdale Program, a privately funded program used to help lower grades better learn to read, had helped align Batesville Elementary and Intermediate Schools.

"We need to bring in the (Batesville) Middle School and Pope School," Shaffer said.

The school district is presently rated at level three on a one to five rating system with five being exemplary. Pope is presently rated four and the other schools are rated three. Batesville Intermediate School was rated level four during the previous year’s rating which also reflects Batesville Elementary School’s instruction.

Superintendent Shaffer provided numbers and charts that indicated how a considerable increase in ranking could be obtained by moving one student per class from scoring a basic knowledge of requirements to a proficient knowledge of those requirements.

"We’re tightening the screws," he said.

Rescheduled SP vs. Moss Point
     a ‘morale booster’
By Rupert Howell

Explaining the decision to reschedule the Moss Point football game to Tuesday, Sept. 27 at 6:30 p.m., South Panola School Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer told his board of trustees, "It’s a morale booster for them. They want to play."

Moss Point is located in a coastal community and suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Shaffer explained that Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Ricky Woods agreed to play the perennial rival on a Tuesday and is taking only a enough players to fit into the 40-seat travel bus.

The game will begin earlier than usual at 6:30 p.m. so that team members and others attending can get home sooner.

Shaffer estimated a 3 a.m. return from the game and said that arrangements would be made for those students who needed to attend.

"I think it’s the right thing to do," school board member Dr. Carlock said of the makeup game adding, ". . . as long as they don’t beat us."

Poyner seeks retrial following guilty verdict
By Billy Davis

A Pope man convicted of statutory rape and fondling has replaced his defense attorney with a legal team that includes a former district attorney.

John Poynor Sr. has dropped attorney Jay Westfaul as his attorney, court documents show, and hired former district attorney Bobby Williams.

Poynor, 61, was set to be sentenced September 9 after a circuit court jury found him guilty last month of sexually assaulting the daughter of an ex-girlfriend. The jury also convicted Poynor of fondling a second daughter during a four-wheeler ride last winter.

The statutory rape charge carries a minimum 30-year sentence. The fondling charge carries a minimum two-year sentence.

A second statutory rape charge, made by a third daughter, was tossed out during the trial due to conflicting testimony by the girl.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly prosecuted the case against Poynor during the three-day trial.

Poynor hired Williams on September 8, the day before the sentencing, court documents show.

A new sentencing date for Poynor is set for Tuesday, October 4. He is currently out of jail on a sentencing bond.

In addition to hiring Williams, Poynor has kept Charleston lawyer Alison Kelly, who served as co-counsel with Westfaul but didn’t participate in the cross-examination of witnesses.

Kelly confirmed Williams’ hiring this week, adding that his daughter, lawyer Paige Williams, is working with her father on the case.

Reached at home on Tuesday, Poynor said he had no comment about his hiring of new attorneys.

Court documents filed in circuit court show attorneys for Poynor will ask Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker to overturn the jury verdict or rule for a new trial at the sentencing hearing.

The motion filed by Kelly is called a Judgement Not Withstanding the Verdict (JNOV), a standard motion filed as part of a verdict appeal. It asks a judge to overrule the jury verdict or, barring that action, rule for a new trial.

Kelly acknowledged, however, that a judge rarely rules in favor of either motion.

According to the JNOV motion, the defense may argue that Baker should have let Westfaul introduce witnesses who would have testified that the mother had concocted the accusations.

A private investigator hired by Westfaul had interviewed more than 10 witnesses, each one prepared to testify that the mother had told them she was seeking money from Poynor. That testimony was the bedrock of Westfaul’s case and Poynor’s defense.

During the trial, the closest Westfaul got was the mother’s admittance that she planned to file a civil suit against Poynor and had consulted several Panola County attorneys.

Poynor testified that the mother borrowed money from him for a car payment the same morning a Panola County investigator confronted him about the charges made against him.

The defense may also argue that a jury member had a "sour business relationship" with Poynor and did not disclose that conflict before the trial, court papers show.

The business deal related to a garnishment of wages Poynor had once sought from the juror’s employee.

The court papers filed by the defense also cast doubt on Westfaul, stating that his performance as Poynor’s defense attorney was "constitutionally ineffective."

Immediately after the verdict was read, Westfaul announced plans for an appeal, later stating that he would appeal the jury verdict to the state Supreme Court.

The defense attorneys have also filed a Motion for Probation to the court, seeking leniency for their client should Baker not overturn the verdict or order a new trial.

Service today for Upchurch
By Billy Davis

Funeral services are today for a Batesville woman who was killed in a one-vehicle accident this week.
Bettie Jean Upchurch was killed Wednesday morning, September 21, after her SUV hydroplaned on Hwy. 315 near the intersection with Hwy. 6 East.
Upchurch worked as an executive secretary at First Security Bank in Batesville. She was 59.

Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge said witnesses saw Upchurch lose control on the rain-slicked roadway. The vehicle then hit a tree and rolled over, she said.

Troopers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol responded to the wreck, but a spokesman for the agency did not return phone calls by press time on Thursday.

Visitation for Upchurch was Thursday evening at Wells Funeral Home. The funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. at First United Methodist Church in Batesville.



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