Headlines – 10/18/2005

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Panolian: HEADLINES – October 18, 2005

  From the 10/18/05 issue of The Panolian :                    

‘Insiders’ vie for top lawman’s post
Bright: ‘I was following orders’
By Billy Davis

Hugh Wayne "Shot" Bright is seeking the office of Panola County sheriff after a 23-year career with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

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Bright, 46, is jail administrator at the David M. Bryan Justice Complex. He was placed on leave in August, however, amid an investigation of the jail by the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) and the state attorney general’s office.

Interim Sheriff Ida Bryan later released a statement about the investigation, acknowledging Bright’s suspension and stating the department was working with MDOC to correct its classification process for state inmates working as trusties.

Bright’s entry into the current sheriff’s race was well known at the time, and his suspension has helped fuel the finger pointing and accusations that are now part of the race for that office.

The jail administrator has served as the jail’s lead employee since 1996. He started as a dispatcher/jailer in 1983.

Bright talked to The Panolian Friday morning, October 14, for the newspaper’s "Insiders" story.

Q. If you’re elected sheriff, what are your plans for law enforcement in Panola County?
A. The best that we can make it. Whatever it takes. Deputies going to work and (patrol) cars running through the county and not hanging out at the jail or the coffee shop.
     I’m going to split this county into four sections. I’m going to have two to three deputies in each section, not at all times though.
     Everybody’s kind of got the same plan because that’s what we need.
Q. What is an immediate need at the sheriff’s department?
A. The jail part is perfect. The sheriff’s department needs the attention. People just need to go to work and put the deputies in their cars and out in the county where the problems are.
Q. When some people read that they’ll say, "Of course he thinks the jail is perfect. He’s the jail administrator."
A.  We never had a problem at the jail. Go back and look at the TV (news clip) in which the interim sheriff said that I was "the best jail administrator in the state of Mississippi."
Q. Some readers might not know what you’re referring to. What was going on?
A. It was when the sheriff died and she was appointed sheriff. She came to the jail with the TV news from Memphis. Her words were, quoting, "Shot Bright is the best jail administrator in the state of Mississippi."
Q. When you’re discussing plans for the sheriff’s department with voters, are there any plans you talk about that came directly from you?
A. No, it’s just that we need to get the patrol cars rolling. Your patrol car is your office, and that’s how you need to use it.
Q. What are you telling voters about your suspension from the jail and the investigation?
A. They all know what it is.
Q. And what is that?
A. They all know it’s politics. What we were doing with inmates is nothing that started when David Bryan died. We’ve got a good county, and we don’t need to ruin it by political junk.
Q. Even though you say politics is involved, MDOC still investigated and said-
A. They never got back with me and told me what was wrong except that some of the inmates were not classified right. But that was not my decision. That was David Bryan’s decision.
     I had a boss. If it was right then, why is it wrong now? If you were in jail and (Bryan) said, "Get Billy Davis out of jail and put him to work," what could I say? Every inmate I got out I checked with him or (former Chief Deputy) James Rudd.
Q. Has MDOC ever come to the jail to address a problem before they came in August?
A. They came a couple of years ago. They did. They said to put something on the back of the inmate’s clothes that says, "MDOC."
Q. They came from…?
A. They came from Jackson, Mississippi to talk to me and James Rudd.
Q. They came from Jackson just to tell you to put that on their back?
A. No, they came in like we were doing something wrong. When they left they said, "Y’all are doing a good job. You’ve got certain inmates that need to be classified different ways."
     Like I told you, I told them, "Look, I’ve got a boss." They said, "Well, we’re just letting you know."
Q. So as far you’re concerned you were just following orders?
A. I was following orders. If Sheriff Bryan was here today, this would not be happening.
Q. Do you feel you bear some responsibility for the state inmates not being classified properly?
A. No, I do not. I was told what to do. I ran every inmate by David Bryan. I gave him a copy of every inmate I was using – their charges and everything.
Q. If you’re elected sheriff in November, why do you think the voters will have chosen you for that job?
A. Well, they’ll look at my background: the money that I have saved this county, the work that I have done in this county, the people that I have helped in this county.
Sheley: ‘Where we are…is good’
By Billy Davis

Panola Chief Deputy Craig Sheley is one of three candidates from inside the Panola County Sheriff’s Department seeking the sheriff’s office in the November 8 special election.
Sheley was named chief deputy in 2000 by the late Sheriff David Bryan.

Sheley is the No. 3 employee at the department, behind Interim Sheriff Ida Bryan and Under Sheriff James Rudd, making him the top insider of the department running for office.

Sheley talked to The Panolian Friday morning, October 14, for the newspaper’s "Insiders" story.

Q. Some of your opponents in the race are criticizing the sheriff’s department in several areas, especially about the response time of deputies responding to calls. How are you addressing these accusations as No. 3 at the department and its top "insider?"
A. First of all, it’s hard to respond to stuff that people are talking about in which they have no factual basis.
     The response time seems to be a whipping post, for lack of a better term, so I did some research this week. I did an average on 230 calls from last month, and the average response time was 20 minutes. That’s a long way from an hour and a half.
Q. When your opponents read that answer, they’re going to say, "Of course the deputies are getting there in 20 minutes because we’ve been complain-ing about the response time for two months."
A. I just picked a month. I can go back and pick last year in September.
Q. So you feel comfortable saying that on any given month the deputies are responding in a timely manner?
A. Yes, and that time is a little bit better than I figured. I guessed anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. But instead of telling someone 20 to 30 minutes, I want to have a factual basis on which I’m telling you that.
Q. What do you think about the idea of dividing Panola County into four patrol areas?
A. I think it’s great. It’s nothing new. Most of your larger areas that have the resources to do it, do so. It’s community policing.
Q. Why isn’t the sheriff’s department doing that now?
A. We don’t have the manpower.
     I don’t want to blame – or nobody else is trying to blame – the (county) supervisors. You’ve got to look at where the sheriff’s department has been and where it’s going. In ’96, when we were at the old jail, we had about four dispatchers/jailers. We moved out to the new site, and now we’ve got about eight or nine dispatchers and 16 or better jailers. That area has tripled if not quadrupled.
     I think, when I first started, we had five or six patrolmen. Now we’ve got 11 positions. We are growing, but you can’t do it overnight.
I agree there are changes that need to be made. When (Sheriff) David Bryan was alive, I talked to him about changes to be made and some changes were made. Some changes weren’t made. But understand that it’s not my department to change.
Q. If it does become yours to change after November, what are a couple of changes that you hope to make?
A. Well, I hope to able to increase the force.
Q. What do you think is an adequate number of deputies to have to patrol the county in patrol areas?
A. To divide this county into four sections – to put one deputy in each one with a floating supervisor – you’re looking at five people per shift. You have to have at least four shifts of five people, and that’s a minimum of 20 road deputies. That’s a minimum.
     Even at that you’ve got deputies who have vacation, who get sick, so you’re going to take people away. You’ve going to have shortfalls because of everyday occurrences.
Q. What are other plans you have to modernize the sheriff’s department?
A. I kind of look at the sheriff as quality control. I think it’s the sheriff’s responsibility to ensure the deputies are trained and equipped, and are doing what they need to do.
     I’ve already started the policy that every deputy is equipped with a tape recorder. If someone calls me and says, "That deputy was rude to me," I’m going to call that deputy and say, "I want to hear the conversation."
Q. But that’s something that’s already been done. We’re talking about changes in the future. When you look at the sheriffs’ department, do you believe it’s fine as-is except for the manpower issue?
A. I think where we are right now is good except for the manpower. Like I said, training is important. I’ve sent every deputy out there to a school this year and will continue sending them.
     A lot of those things the other candidates say they’re going to change – those things are already being done.
Q.  What are you telling voters about the investigation at the jail by the Miss. Department of Corrections and the suspension of the jail administrator, Shot Bright?
A. I tell them that it was not my decision nor did I play a role in the investigation.
Q. Or the suspension?
A. That’s what I’m saying. The suspension was not my decision.
Q. As No. 3 at the sheriff’s department, do you feel you bear some responsibility for state inmates not being classified to be trusties? 
A. I do not. When I took over as chief deputy, Sheriff Bryan said Shot was the jail administrator. The day-to-day running of the inmates and all that was Shot’s responsibility.
Q. Why do you think you’ll be elected sheriff in November?
A. Well, I hope because I get the most votes (laughs). Why do I think the people should elect me? I have the experience, the education, the qualifications – I have more than any of the other candidates.
     Sometimes you’ve got to know where you’ve been to know where you need to go. I know what we’ve got. I know the areas that need improving and have got plans to improve them, and I’m going to improve them.
Whitten: ‘There’s a morale problem’
By Billy Davis

A dispatcher’s chair at the Batesville Police Department seems like a long way from the county sheriff’s office, but Mark Whitten hopes to top that transition by being elected Panola County sheriff in three weeks.

Whitten, 43, is an investigator at the sheriff’s department. He began his law enforcement career as a BPD dispatcher, moved to a patrolman, and later worked short stints at the Tunica and Sardis police departments.

Whitten started at the Panola sheriff’s department in 1992. He was assigned to the sheriff’s department’s then-new investigative unit in 1996.

Right now Whitten is one of three candidates running from inside the department, which he says has been split apart by the sheriff’s race.

Whitten talked to The Panolian Friday morning, October 14, for the newspaper’s "Insiders" story.

Q. From your point of view inside the sheriff’s department, what do you see as the most important need facing the department right now?
A. The complaint I’m hearing more and more as I talk to people on a daily basis is, like everybody else is saying, the main issue is response time.
Q. To make sure I understand you, you’re saying you agree with that complaint?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. In the "insiders" interview with the chief deputy, he said the average response time in September was 20 minutes. Does that conflict with what you’ve heard?
A. That conflicts with what I’ve heard. I’ve been told about deputies not even showing up at all.
Q. If that’s true, what is your plan to address that problem?
A. It goes back to proper management. You’ve got to have somebody that’s there. We’ve just got to see that these things are taken care of.
Q. You’ve said in past weeks that you have a plan to hire more deputies. What is your plan to address manpower?
A. I think we can make some budget cuts because some of the upper salaries are based on longevity. If I’m elected sheriff, I will have to hire a new jail administrator and a new chief deputy. I don’t think it’s fair that those guys make what our jail administrator is making after 23 years of service.
     I also looked into the sheriff’s salary being cut, but that salary is mandated by the state.
Q. What about the idea you’ve mentioned about deputies swapping patrol cars? Is that still a good idea?
A. Absolutely. I think it could and would save money.
Q. Some people might not know what the practice is right now. Can you describe what happens now?
A. Right now when you’re hired as a sheriff’s deputy you’re given a vehicle and allowed to take the vehicle home with you.
Q. Several of the so-called "outsiders" said last week in their story that morale is low at the sheriff’s department and people are siding with the candidates and are split over the jail investigation. From your view inside the department, is there a morale problem?
A. There’s a serious morale problem.
Q. What’s going on there as far as you’re concerned?
A. Again, in my opinion, it goes back to a lack of leadership. The ideal situation – and I point-blank asked for this – is that the three (employees) that are running, including myself, should have taken a leave of absence. That would have stopped a bunch of that. I asked for that. It did not happen.
Q. Who did you ask?
A. (Former Chief Deputy) James Rudd and (interim Sheriff) Ida Bryan.
Q. On the questionnaire you filled out for the upcoming election issue, you said curtailing illegal drugs would be a high priority for you if you’re elected. Why is that important for the next sheriff to address?
A. I’ve heard David Bryan say this a hundred times, that we used to go out and investigate a burglary and learn about dope but now you go out and investigate dope and learn about a burglary.
Q. In other words, illegal drugs are routinely tied to other crimes.
A. Right. Dope is just a problem. You hear as many complaints about dope as you hear about response time or no response at all. It’s a big problem.
Q. If you’re elected sheriff in November, why do you believe voters will have put you in office.
A. I feel like it will be because a majority of the voters believe in the same ideas that I believe in and trust that I will be a man of my word and do what I said I would do.
     I’ve made very few promises – very few – but one promise I’ll stand by is that I will do the job to the best of my ability. I’ll stand by that.
     There’s a lot of goals that I’ve set and ideas that I have that will depend on whether the (Panola County) board of supervisors will agree to some of the things I ask for, and what kind of showing we can give the citizens.
     If the citizens see a department improving, then they themselves will see that we get additional manpower by speaking up at the board meetings, just like when they see we’re not doing our job and complain.
     Beautiful weather in recent weeks has allowed farmers the opportunity to harvest full steam ahead. Cotton pickers such as those of Lamar "Boss" Johnson were in the fields between Highway 35 and Yocona Gin last week with more good weather forecast for the next few days.
     Another tropical storm in the in the Gulf of Mexico could give farmers extra incentive to hasten the harvest.
Cost to heat rising here, everywhere
By Jason C. Mattox

Early estimates from national news outlets had heating costs jumping anywhere from 30-50 percent over last year’s costs. Local energy providers want to assure customers that increases should not be that large.

According to Entergy’s Customer Service Manager George Cossar, his company’s increase will not top 11 percent over 2004.

"We are having to put in a rate adjustment due to the rising cost of natural gas, but should not top 11 percent more than the bill was in 2004," he said.

Cossar said that means if an average bill during the winter months of 2004 was $100, it could run $111 per month in 2005.

That increase will occur on the October billing cycle, Cossar said.

"One of the reasons we have been able to keep the costs at this level is because we get 38 percent of our power supply from nuclear energy," he said. "The remaining 62 percent comes from natural gas, oil generation or energy we purchase from a wholesaler.

"Make no mistake about it, the majority of that 62 percent comes from natural gas," Cossar added.

At Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association (TVEPA), office manager Clint Bolton said their customers can expect a seven percent increase in their energy bills beginning with the October billing cycle.

"The increase is due partly to the increased oil and coal prices," Bolton said.

Bolton said the rate increase should last at least one year before any changes are made.

"Normally when TVEPA changes the rate, the new rate will stay in effect for a one year period," he said. "This increase is the first one we have had since October 2003."

The seven percent increase would mean a bill of $80 will now be $85.60 per month.

As for natural gas customers of the City of Batesville, the city could not estimate what its increase might be during the winter months.

"We are trying to get our gas buyer to attend the next city board meeting (today), but we won’t know what the increase will be until we hear from them," City Clerk Laura Herron said.

Those who heat their homes with propane can look for a possible increase of 20 percent according to one supplier while another hopes the costs will go down.

According to Mark Graeber of Graeber Brothers, a maximum increase would be 20 percent more than the present cost of $1.85 per gallon.

"That price will go up," he said. "The price we offer depends on several factors, including the cost of crude oil."

Graeber said the most his company charged for propane during the winter months of 2004 was $1.75 per gallon.

"The best thing people can do is make sure they keep a good supply," he said. "They also need to do whatever they can to conserve energy."

Rick Briscoe of Sayle Oil Company said, at this time, they are not expecting a price increase over the present $1.89 per gallon.

"We honestly never know," he said. "We live and die by the cost of crude oil."

Briscoe said the last increase the company experienced was a 30 cents per gallon increase in August 2005.

"We had been at $1.59 per gallon since last winter," he said. "We saw a 30 cents per gallon rise in cost per gallon due to the hurricane."

Briscoe said there should be no shortage of propane during the winter months this year.

"Nationwide, there is a good supply of propane," he said. "We are hopeful the cost per gallon will go down soon.

"The truth about it is, people can’t afford to pay these high heating bills," he said.

Carnival, gun show, Better than Ezra on calendar at civic center
By Jason C. Mattox

A carnival this week and a concert by a nationally known pop band are on the calendar for the Batesville Civic Center. Though Civic Center director Roy Hyde is awaiting a signed contract, both Ticketmaster and band Web sites confirm a concert by Better than Ezra, along with Memphis band Ingram Hill, in Batesville on Thursday, Nov. 17.

This week’s carnival, operated by by PBJ Happee Day Shows, begins today and runs through Sunday, Oct. 23. From Tuesday to Friday, the hours for the carnival will be 4 – 11 p.m. Saturday, the carnival will operate from noon to 11 p.m., and on Sunday the hours will be from noon until 9 p.m.

A portion of the proceeds from the carnival will benefit the Panola Playhouse.

Also on the schedule for the Batesville Civic Center is a Tri-Lakes Gun and Knife Show October 29-30. Doors will open at 9 a.m. both days.

     Billy Russell drove the shuttle for visitors who came to the 16th annual Antique Engine and Tractor Show sponsored by the Sardis Chamber of Commerce and the City of Sardis.
Russell ferried the visitors from their parking places to the shaded grounds in the Sardis Industrial Park.
44 miles of roads paved this summer
By Billy Davis

Panola County’s road department has paved 44 and a half miles of county roads this year and sealed 28 more as part of the yearly summer ritual.
The total cost to taxpayers was $1.2 million, county figures show, or about $19,500 per mile paved and $7,300 per mile resealed.

A total of 35 roads were paved and 11 were resealed, a list of the road department work shows.
The most paving performed this summer was in District 4, where 15.20 miles were paved, followed by District 2 (10.97 miles), District 3 (9.35 miles) and District 1 (9.02 miles)

In District 5, which lies mostly within the Batesville city limits, 15.22 miles of road were resealed.

Districts 2 and 4 have the largest number of roads and thus enjoyed the most paving, said District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins.

"We naturally have the most gravel roads," Perkins said.

Supervisor Robert Avant is elected to represent District 2, which covers northwest Panola County. He is vice president of the board of supervisors while Perkins serves as president.

The roads that enjoyed the most paving this summer were (per district) Oak View (District 1), McKinney (District 2), Gin and Brown (District 3), and Crouch (District 4).

The latest summer paving work is part of an aggressive plan to shrink the number of major gravel roads in unincorporated Panola County.

Despite the heavy paving schedule, the county road department is performing a slow but steady flip-flop as it takes on a larger maintenance role to take care of the newly paved roads.

"We are seeing our role change as more and more roads are paved," said county road manager Lygunnah Bean.

After the latest paving, the total number of gravel roads in Panola County is now 163.9 miles, the road manager estimated.

As part of the flip-flop to concentrate on maintenance, Bean said the road department sold two of its costly road graders this summer and dropped its gravel truck fleet from 14 to 10. The manpower in the road department has also dropped from 45 to 38 employees, he said.

The road department is also experimenting to stretch the paving dollars, the road manager said.

"We’re experimenting with not putting down prime, which acts as a base for the road," Bean said. "Lots of counties don’t use it, and it would save $3,500 a mile if we don’t either."
The change to maintenance work will mean more resealing, a layering of small and large white rocks over an existing paved road.

"I ain’t got but 20 miles that still have to be paved, but I’ve got a lot more that need to be resealed," said District 3 Supervisor Mack Benson.

The cost to pave a gravel road, however, is two and a half times the cost to reseal a paved road.

In addition to District 5 roads, paved roads that were resealed this summer are Central Academy (south), Mt. Olivet, Barnacre, Chapel Town and Parkplace.

About 30 miles of gravel roads are left to pave in District 1, which is located in northeast Panola County, said Supervisor James Birge.

"We’re already working toward next year," he said.

According to Perkins, he believes all of the county’s major gravel roads will be paved within two years.

"I’ve got 55 to 58 miles in District 4 that need to be paved, and Robert has about 50," Perkins said.



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