Headlines – 9/30/2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 30, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 30, 2005

  From the 9/30/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

After long wait, hospital sale may come today
By Billy Davis

Top hospital bidder Dr. Bob Corkern has the funding in place to purchase the publicly-owned facility and is ready to close the deal, a Tri-Lakes spokesman said this week.

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The sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center could occur this morning at a meeting set for 10:30, parties involved in the sale said late this week.

Monday, October 3 is the scheduled closing date for the sale of Tri-Lakes. That date is also the "first Monday" meeting of the county supervisors, and the owners and buyers were scheduled to meet jointly at that county meeting to finalize the deal.

That meeting could prove unnecessary, however, since the joint meeting has been rescheduled for today.

Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins said Thursday morning that Corkern’s lender, UPS Bank, is urging the 10:30 meeting before the new fiscal year, which comes Saturday.

If all the necessary paperwork is in place, Perkins said, the Friday meeting could conclude with a final signature that closes the sale of Tri-Lakes.

"Right now nobody really knows what’s going to happen, but the sale could be done by Friday," Perkins said, attributing the fluid situation to last-minute work by attorneys for all sides.

Ray Shoemaker, chief operating officer at Tri-Lakes, made the announcement this week that Corkern has the financial backing to purchase the public-owned hospital.

The COO made the announcement at a public forum held Tuesday evening in the hospital’s cafeteria.

"The money has been funded (for the purchase)," Shoemaker said.

At the public forum, Shoemaker told a half-dozen hospital employees and two representatives of The Panolian that money for Corkern’s purchase has been committed by financier UPS Bank.

"The letter of credit is on my desk," the chief operating officer said.

Corkern, who did not attend the Tuesday forum, is presently the administrator at Tri-Lakes. He is set to pay about $22.5 million for the main hospital and another $3 million for the west campus, the former hospital site that is now a behavioral clinic.

Corkern is seeking to purchase Tri-Lakes through a non-profit company, Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group, and is working through the Jackson office of Rural Development to guarantee the UPS Bank loan.

Rural Development is a federal agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

All necessary paperwork has been signed and filed by the agency, Nick Walters, state director of Rural Development, said Wednesday.

"We’ve inked the deal," he said.

The director said Rural Development utilized a Guaranteed Community Facilities Loan to back Corkern’s purchase. The agency guarantees 90 percent of the loan, he said.

Corkern had originally sought to purchase Tri-Lakes through his for-profit company, Physicians and Surgeons, LLC. The doctor’s apparent switch in plans went unannounced until Perkins disclosed the news at the August 25 joint meeting.

Perkins had learned of the non-profit purchase from the Rural Development office in Batesville, and his surprise announcement caught most of the parties by surprise.

The owners and buyers are seemingly close to finalizing the sale, an arrival that would come after a two-year bumpy ride of political maneuvering, finger pointing, and coy business strategies.

The "bumpy ride" since January includes:

In January the Batesville board of aldermen and Panola board of supervisors began replacing the hospital’s board of trustees over accusations that they were "too close" to Corkern as he competed for the winning bid.
The owners returned a sale contract to Corkern in April with obvious changes, saying the language he inserted in his counter proposal would allow him to keep the $500,000 earnest payment should the sale fall through.
"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," board of supervisors attorney Bill McKenzie said at the time.
     The earnest money payment has been a key issue throughout the negotiations. The owners once expected a $4 million earnest payment, which Corkern later said he never promised, and both sides finally agreed to $500,000.
     Also in that sale contract, the owners complained that Corkern’s counter proposal "backs away from the medical care currently provided" at Tri-Lake. Those provisions in the contract sought by Corkern were denied.
Corkern has also requested to use the hospital’s west campus as collateral for his purchase of the main facility.

Owners balked at the proposal.
At the Tuesday public forum, a reporter asked Shoemaker why Corkern’s for-profit company is still listed with the state Secretary of State’s office as a limited liability company despite applying through Rural Development as a non-profit.

In Mississippi, corporations are required to file paperwork with the Business Services department about the status of their operation. A for-profit company must dissolve its for-profit status, for example, before declaring its non-profit status.

Responding to the question, Shoemaker said a separate non-profit company with a similar title, Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group, is also on file with Business Services in addition to Corkern’s business.

According to the state Web site, a Physicians and Surgeons Group is in fact listed as a non-profit corporation, with Shoemaker listed as its president.

The Business Services listing of Hospital Group includes Shoemaker and additional officers yet doesn’t include Corkern ? the apparent hospital purchaser ? among its owners and officers.
Reached Wednesday morning, Shoemaker said Corkern is not listed as an officer in the non-profit corporation due to conflict of interest rules.

"(Dr. Corkern) will be the manager selected by the not-for-profit, which means he doesn’t have to be an officer," Shoemaker said. "In fact, he can’t be both. He’s elected to purchase the hospital for the not-for-profit."

Shoemaker said the additional officers’ names, meanwhile, are listed incorrectly in the paperwork and are not set to be co-owners of Tri-Lakes.

Additional officers and directors of the non-profit Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group are Vice President Baxter Swearengen, secretary Mary Hoskas and treasurer Nanetta Shoemaker. Mark Schiff is listed as incorporator of the corporation.

All parties but Schiff, who is from Wisconsin, are listed as Batesville residents.

"The only officer in there (the corporation) right now is me," Shoemaker said. "The others are not supposed to be included.

"There is just some paperwork that probably needs to be caught up, not from our stand point but by the secretary of state’s office," the COO said.

In paperwork filed with Rural Development, only Shoemaker and Missy Hutto, a Corkern partner, are listed as officers of Physicians and Surgeons Hospital Group, meaning Shoemaker and Hutto will be the new owners of Tri-Lakes.

Industry looking at Sardis Air Kontrol building
By Jason C. Mattox

Sardis is still in the running as a possible location for a wire manufacturing industry seeking a home in North Mississippi.

While Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye is hesitant to release many details about the prospect, he did say the industry could offer as many as 30 skilled-labor positions that would be housed in the old Air Kontrol Building on Highway 51.

Dye said the number of jobs could grow due to the size of the relatively new facility.

The company, Dye said, would train employees in the skilled labor positions that could pay as much as $20 per hour.

A site visit is planned for Monday, the mayor said.

"When they first contacted us about the building, all we knew was they were looking for 30,000 to 40,000 square feet," he said. "This building is at the top of that scale and they might be able to open two lines instead of one."

The building was built for Air Kontrol, a manufacturer of air filters, in 2000 and the company closed its doors later the same year, leaving the city to pay back a loan from the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA).

The closing of the Sardis facility left approximately 30 people unemployed.

Dye said the city presently pays MDA $5,700 per month, or $68,400 per year for the building.
"They were only in the building for a few months when Air Kontrol went under," he said. "Since then, the city has been responsible for the costs."

"The city has informed the potential tenant that we would be willing to sell or lease the facility," he said.

Dye said the company wants to have a new home selected in October. Horn Lake is also thought to be on the industry’s short list of potential new locations.

"We are hopeful that they will leave the site visit on Monday with a positive feeling about what Sardis and its people can offer," he said.

Sardis Lake Clean-Up
     South Panola backup quarterback Karreem Carr sweeps around the Moss Point defense as they come at him Tuesday night on Moss Point’s field. South Panola defeated Moss Point 20-7 in the final non-conference game of the season. The Tigers will be back on the road to Horn Lake tonight to start the district season at 7 p.m. For complete sports coverage, see section C.
NP superintendent placed on leave amid investigation
By John Howell Sr.

North Panola School District trustees are scheduled to meet again at 11 a.m. today after they placed district superintendent Robert Massey on administrative leave Monday during an executive session at a school board meeting.

The school district’s attorney, Alix Sanders Sr. of Greenwood, said that Massey had been placed on administrative leave to allow trustees time "to conduct an investigation."

Sanders said that school parents and patrons "can expect a quick resolution. …within a week to ten days" of the investigation followed by a public announcement of what trustees learned during the process.

The Monday, September 26, meeting was scheduled the prior week at the September 19 meeting, ostensibly to give trustees time to study an ambitious plan to purchase over 150 computers with Classworks software for North Panola District schools.

During an interview by phone Tuesday, Sanders said that there was concern over the purchase of computer hardware and software in the district as well as "personnel matters."

At the September 19 meeting, Massey had introduced to trustees the proposal to purchase the $446,000 worth of computers and software through a lease-purchase agreement paid through federal-state program funds. Trustees voted to defer the lease-purchase decision for a week to give them time to study the proposal and repayment of the lease purchase.

During discussion following Massey’s September 19 proposal, school board president Cecil Dowden expressed reservation about relying on federal-state program funds. Massey responded by quoting an unnamed official with the Mississippi Department of Education who had assured him that federal-state program funds were among the most reliable coming to the school. Trustee Mack Taylor said that he favored placing the computers and software into two North Panola district schools before making a purchase for the entire district.

The September 19 meeting ended with an executive session to allow trustees to consider a matter of potential litigation stemming from a school bus accident, Sanders said.

Assistant superintendent Glendora Dugger will perform the duties of superintendent during the leave period, Sanders said.

"Everything seems to be working out," Dugger said Wednesday.

Smith gets life term, no parole, in Nelson murder
By David Howell
and Billy Davis

Circuit Court Judge Ann Lamar has sentenced convicted murderer and kidnapper Demetrius Smith to life in prison without parole for the gruesome killing of Ole Miss student Carnesha Nelson.

Lamar sentenced Smith, 27, during a brief hearing Thursday morning at the Yalobusha County Courthouse in Water Valley.

By law, Smith’s sentence was an automatic life term without parole since District Attorney John Champion did not seek the death penalty.

A Panola County circuit jury found Smith guilty last month of kidnapping and drowning Carnesha Nelson, 20.

Nelson was an Ole Miss student from Moss Point. She was taken from her Oxford apartment on Thursday, May 27, 2004. Her body was found two days later in upper Sardis Lake.

Before Smith was sentenced, public defender Clay Vanderburg requested a new trial for his client based on two issues.

Vanderburg told Lamar that a knife ? removed by investigators from a car occupied by Smith when he was arrested ? was not relevant to the crime and may have prejudiced the jury.

"The knife was introduced into the state’s case over our objection," Vanderburg said.

"We had asked for a new trial," Vanderburg said Thursday during the hearing. "We objected to the relevancy of the knife."

Vanderburg also asked Lamar to consider a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) for the kidnapping conviction. A JNOV is the reversal of a jury’s verdict by a judge when the judge believes that there were insufficient facts on which to base the jury’s verdict, or that the verdict did not correctly apply the law.

"There was no proof that she was kidnapped," Vanderburg argued.

In response, Champion said the previous decision to allow the knife to be entered into testimony was appropriate.

As to the kidnapping charge Champion said there was evidence to support the charge.

"The state submitted evidence that there were strips of tape found in the bed with his fingerprints," Champion said Thursday.

"There was other evidence of an extensive struggle," Champion continued.

The district attorney also said that Panola County investigator Mark Whitten saw that Nelson’s hands were bound when her body was found in Sardis Lake, an obvious sign that she was kidnapped.

Judge Lamar quickly rejected the two arguments.

"The court has reviewed the defendant’s motions for a new trial, and JNOV," Lamar said after hearing attorney’s arguments.

She explained that each of these issues had been raised during the course of the trial and the court made rulings during the course of the trials.

"The court does not find this knife more prejudicial that appropriate," Lamar said.

As to the kidnapping conviction, Judge Lamar said the evidence of kidnapping was abundant.

During the sentencing, Champion gave a brief testimony about the impact of the devastating crime on Nelson’s family.

"I have dealt with a lot of victims," Champion said. "I am not sure that I have ever seen anyone who was devastated as Mr. Nelson in the loss of his daughter."

Nelson was not at the sentencing hearing, reportedly because his home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina and he is moving to Atlanta.

"Mr. Nelson told me that you bring her into the world, raise her, have hope and ambitions for her, and then someone like Demetrius Smith comes along and takes it all away," Champion said in final comments before the sentencing.

Pepsi employee hurt in attempted robbery at bank depository
By Jason C. Mattox

A Batesville Pepsi employee is in stable condition at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis (The Med) after being shot in the hand during an attempted robbery Tuesday.

According to Maj. Don Province of the Batesville Police Department, James Garner, a sales representative for Pepsi, was making a company bank deposit in the night depository at First Security Bank in the early hours of Tuesday morning when he was approached by two black male suspects, one brandishing a weapon.

"The suspects pulled up to Garner at First Security Bank’s main branch at the corner of Highway 6 and Eureka Street, driving an ?80-’90 model GMC car," Province said.

He said Garner was shot in the hand by one of the suspects before they left the scene with no money from the attempted robbery.

Rather than call an ambulance to the scene for treatment, Province said the victim drove himself to the BPD on College Street to report the crime.

Officers called the ambulance. Garner was taken to Tri-Lakes Medical Center where he was transported to The Med in Memphis.

"The victim has received two surgeries, but he is in stable condition," Det. Capt. Paul Shivers said.

"We are still doing everything we can to find out just who is responsible for this shooting," he said.

Anyone with any information is urged to contact Shivers at 563-5653.

A reward is being offered to anyone with information that could lead to an arrest and conviction of the suspects.



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