Headlines – 10/4/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 4, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – September 30, 2005

  From the 10/4/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

One month to go, sheriff’s candidates working trail
By Billy Davis

The special election for Panola County sheriff is a month away, and the 11 candidates seeking the office are wooing voters with a variety of tried-but-true methods, the most common tactic being old-fashioned door-to-door contact.

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Like typical local-level races, the sheriff’s candidates say they are conducting mostly out-of-pocket campaigns to pay for yard signs, door hangers and advertising.

Among the 11 candidates, suspended jail administrator Hugh Wayne "Shot" Bright seems to be leading his competitors in reaching Panola voters.

Thousands of Panola County homes were the recipient of a recent Bright pamphlet that arrived through the mail. The brochure depicted a sheriff’s badge on the cover.

Asked last week week about the apparent abundance of the materials, Bright told The Panolian he mailed out 14,000 of them over a two-day period.

Bright said he is also handing out a "couple thousand" badge key chains and has passed out 1,400 yard signs in the ubiquitous campaign sign battle.

Asked about the price tag of the brochures and key chains, Bright said he was unsure of the total cost since "friends" delivered the items to the candidate.

One friend and supporter of Bright is Malcolm Rattner, a wealthy New Yorker who also lives in Tate County and owns an airplane hangar at the Panola County Airport.

Asked about Rattner’s contribution, Bright laughed at the rumor that Rattner had made a $40,000 donation to Bright’s campaign for sheriff.

"He gave me a donation but it’s not $40,000," answered Bright.

Bright is among 11 candidates seeking the sheriff’s office. The other candidates are Noel Aldridge Jr., Steve Chancellor, Antonio Daniels, John Hardy, John Rodgers, Craig Sheley, Kelvin Taylor, Jamie Tedford, Gary Thompson and Mark Whitten.

The election date is Tuesday, November 8.

A run-off will be scheduled for the following Tuesday if none of the candidates receive 50 percent of the vote.

While the sheriff’s candidates are competing for votes, Bright has enjoyed the most exposure to voters in recent weeks after he was sent home from his job at the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

The longtime jail administrator under the late Sheriff David Bryan, Bright was sent home August 11 by interim Sheriff Ida Bryan amidst an investigation at the jail by the state Attorney General’s office and the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC).

The interim sheriff later released a statement about the investigation, explaining that state inmates were working outside the jail without undergoing a proper screening process. The sheriff’s department was assisting MDOC in correcting the problem, she also said.

Neither state agency released any information about their investigations, however, and any outcome of the investigation is unknown. Bright, meanwhile, has been campaigning ever since – now nine weeks later – on a theme that he is the victim of campaign politics.

"It worked in my favor because it was dirty politics," Bright said of the investigation. "It put me in the driver’s seat."

In addition to his direct mail materials, Bright is also spreading his message through newspaper, radio and billboard advertising.

Bright was the second sheriff’s candidate to rent a billboard ad. His ad went up recently in Batesville at the intersection of Hwy. 6 and Hwy. 51.

Sheriff’s candidate Jamie Tedford was the first candidate to utilize a billboard for the campaign. His campaign ad adorns a billboard near Hwy. 6 East and Lakewood Drive.

Bright and Thompson are running radio ads on Batesville station WBLE. Station owner J. Boyd Ingram said additional candidates are also planning to run ads in the coming days.

In The Panolian, candidates Craig Sheley, Gary Thompson, John Rodgers, Noel Aldridge, Steve Chancellor, Jamie Tedford, Mark Whitten, Antonio Daniels and Bright – nine of the 11 candidates – have submitted political announcements that publicize their campaigns.

Reached last week about his campaign, Whitten said he is mainly focusing on a door-to-door campaign to drum up support at the polls.

"I don’t have big bucks so I’m doing this on my own, which means I won’t owe anybody if I’m elected sheriff," Whitten said. "I’ve had some contributions, but 90 percent is coming from my own pocket."

Rogers said he ordered business cards and yard signs to spread the word about his campaign.

"I’m trying to go door to door, so most of the money I’m spending is on gas," said Rodgers.

Sheriff’s candidate Craig Sheley said he’s advertising his campaign through 50 8-foot-by-4-foot signs as well as yard signs. He has also ordered 6,000 so-called push cards.

"Mostly I’m talking to people and listening to what they have to say," Sheley told The Panolian.

Whether Bright or the other sheriff’s candidates spend $4 or $40,000 on their campaigns, each candidate is required by law to list their campaign contributions and expenditures with the state Secretary of State’s office.

That campaign finance form must be submitted by November 1, a spokesman for that agency said.

(This story is the first in a series of news stories leading up to the November 8 special election for Panola County sheriff. Next week: The Outsiders.)

Club serves pancakes Saturday
Local Exchange Club members will host their annual Pancake Breakfast Sat., October 8 from 7-10 a.m. at the Intermediate School Cafeteria on Atwell and College Street in Batesville.

Donations are $3 with tickets available at the door and all funds go to support prevention of child abuse.

NP school board has ‘long discussion’ on Massey
     Visitors to the North Panola School District’s Board of Trustees meeting Friday, September 30 were squeezed into the district office board room for the preliminary part of the meeting, then ushered outside for a lengthy executive session. Board members are believed to have discussed the suspension of district superintendent Robert Massey. Attorney Neysha Sanders (foreground) and her father, Alix Sanders, are attorneys for the board.
By John Howell Sr.

North Panola school trustees met in executive session for over an hour Friday, most likely to discuss the suspension of district superintendent Robert Massey.

"They had a long discussion, but no action was taken," school board attorney Alix Sanders Sr. said, following the meeting. Another meeting has been set for Saturday.

The September 30 meeting had been expected to deal with the suspension of district superintendent Robert Massey. Massey was placed on administrative leave as a result of board action on September 26.

Friday’s meeting attracted about a dozen parents and school patrons to the superintendent’s office on Highway 51 North. As trustees conducted several routine items on the agenda, more chairs and more space was found for several new arrivals.

The consent agenda included approval of the district’s 2005-06 Vocational Corrective Action Plan and approval of a proposal that St. Francis Hospital and Behavioral Health Centers provide mental health services at no charge to students in the district.

"They are not going to do anything that will put parents in a financial bind?" board of trustees president Cecil Dowden asked.

"They will get approval from the parents?" Dowden added.

Acting superintendent Glendora Dugger answered no and yes, respectively, to the school board president’s questions.

Trustees then approved the recommendation that Kevin Farmer be hired as a computer discovery teacher, pending certification, at $31,185 annually. They also accepted the resignation of Clara Eunice Herron as a special education teacher at North Panola High School.

Following approval of the consent agenda items, trustees voted to close the session to allow them to meet in closed session to determine whether an executive session was justified. All of the spectators for whom seating had been arranged then filed outside the office building. Attorney Sanders walked outside a few minutes later to announce that the board had indeed voted to meet in executive session. The session lasted for over an hour.

Tri-Lakes sale closer after meeting
By Billy Davis

Although a miscued wire transfer threatened to hamper its progress, the sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center to Dr. Bob Corkern is almost complete following a crucial meeting last week.

Corkern, the hospital administrator, has secured a $27.3 million loan from UPS Bank to purchase the public-owned hospital and its west campus, parties involved in the sale announced at a Friday morning meeting.

Present at the meeting were Corkern and Tri-Lakes Chief Financial Officer Ray Shoemaker, attorneys representing Corkern and Shoemaker, representatives of UPS Bank, the owners of the facility, the Batesville Board of Aldermen and the Panola County Board of Supervisors, and attorneys for both boards.

In a moment that represented six months of negotiations, hospital sale consultant J.C. Burns held up a copy of the so-called commitment letter from UPS that verified Corkern had secured a loan for his purchase.

Burns also displayed a letter from Rural Development, the agency for the federal United States Department of Agriculture, which is guaranteeing 90 percent of the loan.

"The little pieces that make up this puzzle are coming together at the same time," Burns told the crowd.

The next step in the process, Burns said, is to wade through an enormous amount of paperwork to ink the deal.

Owen Lalor, a Jackson attorney representing Corkern, told the two boards that attorneys for all sides would need about 30 days to complete the sale but would work for a 15-day goal in mind.

The two public boards decided to increase the amount of time until closing to 60 days, however, on the recommendation of Robert Avant, vice president of the board of supervisors.

"I recommend we make it 45 to 60 days because you’re dealing with the USDA," Avant said. "I don’t want to say 15 days or 30 days and then have to come back to extend the time some more."
The two public boards voted unanimously on closing the sale in 60 days.

Yet another issue was the wire transfer of loan funds, a task that was set to be done on Friday by way of an escrow account at Lalor’s Jackson law firm, Adams and Reese, LLP.

By mid-morning on Monday, however, board of supervisors attorney Bill McKenzie had yet to receive a routine verification of the wire transfer.

Late in the day on Monday, hospital sale consultant J.C. Burns confirmed that the loan amount had finally been wired to the escrow account.
Before that phone call, Board of Supervisors President Jerry Perkins said Monday afternoon that he heard from a UPS representative regarding a mix-up in the wire transfer.

"I was told that only half of the funds, $13.7 million, was sent because some employees thought there was someone else who was loaning the second half," Perkins said. "I was told the second half is on its way."

Perkins has been a critic of Corkern’s business dealings since the doctor won the bid and negotiations began earlier this year, and word of the supposed mistake came after Perkins solely pressed Corkern and his attorneys Friday to re-verify that the funds for the hospital purchase were in place and ready to go.

"I don’t understand why the city and the county can’t hold the check," Perkins said Friday, referring to the wire transfer.

After Friday’s meeting – and before Monday’s news of the wire transfer – Perkins said he "was feeling good" about the sale after seeing the letter of commitment from a financier.

"We haven’t seen the wire transfer yet but we did get the letter of commitment," Perkins said. "I’ve been asking for that for a year."


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