| Supervisors see sheriff woes, leery on spending
|By Billy Davis
Panola County’s supervisors say they’ll be glad to help the next sheriff reorganize his department but are hesitant about big spending to do so.
The need to update and improve the department – namely the need for more deputies – is the topic of choice among the sheriff’s candidates.
With the November 8 sheriff’s election less than three weeks away, candidates on the stump are debating a laundry list of ideas and plans.
Eleven full-time deputies are tasked with patrolling Panola County, though one is serving as an interim jail administrator, leaving 10 men to patrol a swath of area that’s 684 square miles.
Panola County stretches approximately 27.5 miles from north to south along Highway 51 and 26 miles from east to west along Highway 6.
"I agree there’s a need for additional law enforcement officers, but any certain number is unknown right now," said District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant. "I won’t vote for something like five deputies and five (patrol) cars."
The county’s law enforcement arm is operating with the biggest budget of any department, $2.7 million, of which about $1.2 million is designated for patrol and investigations, and about $1.5 million is budgeted for the jail.
The next-highest budget is $2.6 million for the county road department.
The board of supervisors keeps a close eye on the operation of the road department while the sheriff’s department operates independently of the supervisors’ scrutiny. The supervisors do, however, have the final word in hiring employees and approving budgets.
District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins said he has been paying close attention to the debate over manpower, knowing that the next sheriff will likely approach supervisors for help.
"The sheriff will have to explain why we’re not where we want to be as far as protecting the public, and then we’ll go from there," Perkins said.
Perkins, who serves as board president, said he is also familiar with the idea of adding a sheriff’s substation in north Panola County. The late Sheriff Bryan discussed the idea before his death, he said.
"We didn’t discuss specifics. He was just talking in general terms," Perkins said. "It concerned him that citizens were living in areas where deputies were making a lot of calls."
District 1 Supervisor James Birge, whose northeast area would benefit from a substation, said citizens would best benefit from better coverage and a faster response time.
"Personally speaking, I very seldom see a deputy. I hear a lot of complaints that people were told nobody’s coming when they ask for help," Birge said. "I don’t think we need a substation because those deputies need to be moving around, not sitting inside (the substation)."
Regarding supervisors’ helping the next sheriff, Birge said the new sheriff will hopefully come to the board with a firm understanding of the department and where he wants to take it.
"After he gets in and figures out his operation, then we can go from there," Birge said.
Perkins also acknowledged the political implications of reacting to the new sheriff’s plan for the department. The sheriff’s office will be up for re-election in two years, and so will the county supervisor seats.
The next countywide election is in 2007, beginning with party primaries in August of that year.
"I know about political pressure. I know that’s part of politics," Perkins said. "But we’ve got a job to do and the next sheriff will have to understand that."
According to Avant, any new spending at the sheriff’s department has to be weighed against county residents’ wishes to keep taxes from rising.
"We’re trying to keep taxes from going haywire," Avant said. "The people want the best of everything until it comes time to pay for it."
| NP will invest $100,000 on computers, software
NP board’s price less than previous
|By Jason C. Mattox
Following a unanimous vote during Wednesday night’s meeting of the North Panola School District Board of Trustees, the district’s technology team will be allowed to spend approximately $105,000 on new computers and software.
The vote to purchase comes approximately one month after ousted superintendent Robert Massey encouraged the trustees to purchase equipment from Training Resource Associates (TRA) at a cost of nearly $450,000.
During an in-depth presentation, technology team members explained their three-phase plan for upgrading technology in the district.
The three phases will take place from 2005-2009, according to team member Mary Grady.
Those phases are:
– Upgrade hardware in all computer labs.
– Acquire/upgrade software at all schools.
– Upgrade/transition hardware in individual schools.
"Our children are living in a technology driven society," she said. "We need to make sure we are giving them all of the tools necessary for them to succeed."
During the first phase of the program, which is expected to be completed prior to the end of the current school year, computers in labs throughout the district will be replaced and useable computers will be moved into classrooms.
"We want to make sure as many students as possible have the opportunity to use the computers," she said. "We feel like cycling any computers from the lab that can be used in a classroom setting will increase those opportunities for our students."
Technology team member Jeff Hubbard appeared before the board to continue the presentation.
"The first thing I want to say is that you requesting this study shows you have a commitment to improving the technology throughout the district," he said.
Hubbard said while the team was preparing its proposal, it was necessary to figure out what equipment and software the district already had and look for potential upgrades.
"During this study we learned that the largest classes in district schools have a total of 145 students and only 48 working computers," he said. "That means we have a need for 100 new computers."
Hubbard said the team was suggesting purchasing the computers under state contract.
"By purchasing the equipment under state contract, we will not have to go through the bid process and can have the equipment much faster," he said. "State contract does limit the purchase to $100,000, but ours will be less than that."
Hubbard explained that one advantage to purchasing under state contract was the protection the contract offered.
"We will be protected by the contract between the vendor and the state," he said. "If we had to go out for bids, we would have to come to contract terms and protection on our own."
As for software, Hubbard recommended the purchase of updates for existing Orchard software purchased by the district during the 2002-03 school year.
"You already have an investment of more than $40,000 in software that you haven’t been able to use," he said. "The software shouldn’t have been purchased at that time because our network would not support it."
Hubbard explained that the district completed the installation of a $500,000 network last year.
"The first time that Orchard could be used effectively was during the spring of last year," he said. "So there is no reason to scrap that investment at this time."
Hubbard explained that costs to the district in the future would be limited to upgrading obsolete computers and purchasing continued upgrades for software.
"We all feel like this plan offers the best chance for our district technologically," he said. "It will just be important that we continue to upgrade when it is needed."
| Puppy pain brings out best
|By Rupert Howell
Animal lovers often can’t help themselves. When Melanie Upton got a call from law enforcement officials that a dog had been injured and was in the median of Interstate 55 north of the Como exit, she had to respond.
A former volunteer with the Panola County Humane Society, her name was still on a call list. When she learned that the local agency wasn’t able to respond, she took it on herself to find and help the animal.
Upton had the assistance of another former Humane Society volunteer, Crystal Letke.
They searched for the dog that night for two or three hours but to no avail.
The next morning Upton’s husband, Buddy, told his wife he would look in the area for the injured dog during his commute to Memphis.
Sure enough, he spotted the dog and called his wife. It took her and Letke two hours to locate and get the dog loaded into the vehicle. After they got it to the vehicle, it escaped to the security and warmth under Upton’s minivan.
State Trooper Terry Mills stopped and assisted with diverting traffic to the far lane as they retrieved the wounded and shy canine.
All’s well that ends well, and after a trip to the vet the black and brown pooch is recovering from a broken pelvis at Upton’s home.
Anyone looking for this animal should contact Upton at 578-6555.
| Daylight dog theft raises fight fears
| Waylon Watson pets his pitbull terrier, Beef, in his backyard in west Batesville. The pet owner chased away two dog thieves this week who fled with a pair of pitbull puppies. Pitbulls are the dog of choice in backyard dog fights, but dog fights are rare in Panola County.
|By Billy Davis
The puppy theft took only a moment, and it took some guts, too.
In a backyard and broad daylight in west Batesville, the two teenage boys climbed the dog pen Tuesday morning at 216 Hays Street. One of them climbed into the six-foot-high pen and lifted out a pair of 7-week-old pitbull puppies.
The parents were also in the pen, and when they threw a fit, Waylon Walters knew what was happening.
"Waylon couldn’t get his shoes on in time, so he chased them down the street without his shoes on," said D.J. Barlow, a neighbor and relative of the Walters family.
The thieves fled on foot along Osbirn Street, Barlow said, slipping past police despite a good description from neighbors. Neighbors said the thieves were two teenage black males, perhaps 14 or 15 years old.
The puppies and adult dogs belong to Walters and his family, who breed and sell the prized dogs, Barlow said.
Two more pitbulls were stolen from another home nearby, he said, and anyone who knows about pitbulls knows why they’re often stolen.
"Waylon knows why they took ’em, which is probably to fight," Barlow said. "That hurt him because he loves those dogs. He doesn’t believe in dog fighting."
Some people do believe in the illegal sport, however, raising the aggressive dogs to rip and tear at each other in an enclosed pen. The owners and spectators place bets on the winner.
Staging a dog fight, betting on the fight or even owning a dog with intentions to enter it in a fight are all considered felonies in Mississippi. The minimum punishment is a $1,000 fine, and a guilty party can be fined as much as $5,000 and sentenced to one to three years in state prison.
Being present at a dog fight is a felony, too, punishable by at least a $500 fine and as much as a $5,000 fine with a one-year prison sentence.
Dog fights in Panola County are a rare event, say law enforcement officers.
In Batesville, the most recent arrest for dog fighting occurred last year on James Street, where a fight had been staged, said BPD Detective Paul Shivers. Two people were arrested.
"I think folks got fed up with the way the animals were treated, so you don’t hear about it as much any more," the detective said.
In the county, a report of a dog fighting is rare, said Panola investigator Mark Whitten.
"I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I can’t remember the last time I heard of one," Whitten said. "I think the stricter laws help put a stop to it."
The Panola County Humane Society routinely gets calls about dogs, mostly about them being dumped in yards and abandoned, said Humane Society president Candy Hopper.
"If we get calls about pitbulls, it’s about them being tied to a tree in the front yard and used as a guard dog," Hopper said.
Reports of dog fights should go to law enforcement, Hopper said, since officers are better equipped to handle and cage the pitbull dogs.
| Tri-Lakes sale down to attorney paper shuffle
|By Billy Davis
The sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center is seemingly on track after its owners transferred standard paperwork to the purchaser over the past few days for his final review.
Tri-Lakes top bidder Dr. Bob Corkern and his attorneys are now looking over the documents, and next they will submit their own paperwork in the coming days, hospital consultant J.C. Burns said Thursday morning.
The buyers are quiet right now as they review the documents, Burns added, leaving the owners in limbo as they await the final paper shuffle.
"I assume when they’re ready to go, they’ll send the documents," he said.
Much of the back-and-forth paperwork pertains to the 64 line items that must be verified before the hospital sale can be completed, Burns said.
"The lawyer has to certify each item," Burns said. "He can’t, for example, take my word that the hospital is located on a public street."
The consultant said Batesville attorneys Colmon Mitchell and Bill McKenzie were working hurriedly this week to submit the final documents to Corkern’s attorneys.
Mitchell is assistant city attorney for the City of Batesville. McKenzie represents Panola County and works for the board of supervisors.
After attorneys for the buyer finish their review, Mitchell and McKenzie will then review documents submitted by Corkern, Burns said.