Headlines – 1/3/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 3, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – January 3, 2006

  From the 1/3/06 issue of The Panolian       

Post-court case, Como voters
    head back to polls
By Jason C. Mattox

Nearly three months after a circuit court judge determined the need for a special election, Como citizens will return to the polls to select their alderman-at-large.

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Polls will be open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. today. Voters will choose between unseated incumbent John Walton and challenger Dr. Forster Ruhl.

In the first meeting of the two on Tuesday, June 7, Walton bested Ruhl by eight votes, winning 250-242.

What would have been Walton’s first full term in the seat was shortened following an election challenge by Ruhl. Walton had been serving as alderman-at-large for 18 months following another special election to fill an unexpired term.

Ruhl challenged the outcome of the election and the legality of 38 absentee ballots, all of which were cast outside the municipal clerk’s office at city hall.
Following three days of trial, Tupelo Circuit Court Judge Sharon Aycock ruled there was a need for another election.

Aycock threw out all 38 of the questionable ballots based on printing errors.

"Mississippi Code clearly states the witness must sign the back of the ballot envelope," she said during the directed verdict. "These envelopes do not have a place for the witness to sign."

According to Mississippi Code, a candidate seeking election is required to file the qualifying petition at least 20 days prior to the election date. Walton failed to do so, sparking debate at a called meeting of the mayor and board of aldermen.

According to published reports, several residents were asking that Ruhl be sworn in as the alderman-at-large. Following research by board attorney Gaines Baker, it was determined that Ruhl could be named alderman-at-large, but the appointment did not happen due to lack of a quorum since only two aldermen were present for the meeting.

Aycock has reportedly clarified her ruling, stating the race would only be between Walton and Ruhl and that neither candidate was required to requalify for the special election.

"I do plan to appeal her verdict," Ruhl said. "I do not believe it is legal for her to go against the state law."

As for the pending election, Ruhl and Walton both are confident there will be a good turnout.

"People showed a lot of interest in the first election," Ruhl said. "I think they will continue to have an interest in their town and turn out to vote again."

Walton said he felt like the turnout would be good, but didn’t expect as many people to vote during this second election.

"I think we are both hoping for a good turnout," he said. "We want the people of Como to all be involved, but who knows if they will all come back to do this again."

Supervisors’ new year begins today
By Billy Davis

Following a New Year’s holiday Monday, Panola County supervisors will meet today in Sardis for their "first Monday" meeting of 2006.

When the board convenes, it will begin the new year with a newly elected board president, $3 million of unobligated money in the bank, and an ambitious plan to pave at least 50 miles of county road in the coming summer.

District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant will lead the board’s agenda, filling a position held by Supervisor Jerry Perkins in 2004 and 2005.

Supervisors voted last month to elect Avant president of the board beginning January 1, replacing a surprised Perkins with the move.

2006 is also the halfway point for supervisors’ four-year terms, giving them roughly a year and a half before county-wide elections in August, 2008.

Avant: rubbish plan
is the pits
In the coming weeks, Avant said, he hopes to lead supervisors in turning down plans for a rubbish pit in the Curtis area west of Batesville, which he represents as county supervisor.

Thanks to the county’s land development ordinance, supervisors have the final say in allowing commercial activity to operate in a residential area.

The county’s land development commission has already turned down the proposal for the rubbish pit.

District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup said he hopes the board of supervisors will work together in 2006.
"If you’re asking what I want to do in the coming year," Waldrup said, "I want to make the board more harmonious."

"I just want people to be open minded and honest, and if we talk to keep it above the table," Waldrup continued, alluding to the secretive plan that handed Avant the president’s post and gave District 3 Supervisor Mack Benson the role of vice president.

Evolution of supervisors job a ‘no-brainer’
The county road department will pave at least 50 miles of gravel roads this summer, said county road manager Lygunnah Bean.

"Our goal is 50 miles – minimum," said Bean.

Plans for 2006 summer paving comes after ambitious paving plans during previous years. In 2005, the county ended its paving in October with 44 miles of gravel roads paved and 28 miles of road resealed.

The county will likely pave its remaining major gravel roads within the next two summers, Bean said earlier this year.

Does that mean the supervisors’ roles will change in coming years?

"That’s a no-brainer," said Waldrup, whose district in the Batesville area was the first to downplay road work as a campaign issue.

"We’re charged with a job, and that job is more administrative and monetary than it once was," Waldrup said.

Asked about the work of the supervisors in 2006, Perkins said economic development is becoming a larger responsibility of the board.

"I’m getting lots of questions about economic development, a lot more than I used to," Perkins said. "We know that the (Panola) Partnership is working hard on that."

On the subject of economic development, Avant stressed that the public’s perception is that supervisors solely oversee county road work.

"We haven’t been road supervisors since 1989, but people think our duties are roads and bridges," Avant said. "We’re supposed to maintain the roads and recruit industry, and both of those improve the quality of life."

Asked if the supervisors are evolving into more of an administrative role, Perkins downplayed the idea that a future board of supervisors will operate more like a board of aldermen.

"It will never come to that as long as you’ve got 1,000 miles of road," Perkins said.

Asked about the changing role of supervisors, Avant suggested that change could come over time.

"Maybe we might be more like aldermen and city government," Avant said. "I don’t know about the (phone) calls they get, but I hear from people looking for jobs and food, wanting water to their homes, and needing housing."

"I don’t see nothing wrong with the way we operate now," Birge said, responding to a question about the supervisors’ role.


Two survive tractor trailer wreck
     William Bland takes advantage of unusually warm weather and a long holiday weekend to wax his Chevrolet Corsica Monday morning on Armstrong Street in Batesville. Bland said he was enjoying the weather, but strong wind gusts posed a challenge. "I’ve lost my cap one or two times," he said.
     Daytime temperatures are predicted to remain in the 50s and 60s throughout the week. The cap-blowing weather is also predicted to continue.
New Year’s weekend ‘calm, safe’
By Billy Davis

Panola County was spared any traffic-related fatalities during a New Year’s weekend in which state troopers were roaming the roads in force.

For law enforcement purposes, the New Year’s weekend began Friday at 6 p.m. and ran through midnight Monday, said Miss. Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Scott Swanson.

"It’s not over yet, but it’s looked pretty good so far," Swanson said Monday morning.

Arrest figures and other statistics will be gathered Tuesday, he said.

A "call back" of six troopers from Panola County put additional manpower on the roads during the weekend, Swanson said.

With those troopers added, 20 state troopers are working nine-hour shifts overseeing a 10-county area during New Year’s, the spokesman said.

"By ‘call back’ we mean these were extra troopers who would normally be off work," Swanson said.

Elsewhere in Panola County, Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright described the holiday as a "good, calm, safe weekend."

Panola sheriff’s deputies worked New Year’s with typical weekend manpower, the sheriff said.

Unemployment figures improve
By Billy Davis

Panola County’s unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in November, which is close to Panola’s unemployment average over a 12-month period.

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) released the figures in late December, ranking the county at No. 52 among the state’s 82 counties.

DeSoto and Rankin counties tied for the lowest unemployment rate in November, 4.4 percent.

The state’s unemployment rate was 8.8 percent in November, down for a preliminary figure of 9.6 percent in November.

While December’s rates are still unknown, an MDES comparison from November, 2004 to November, 2005 shows an average rate of 8.8 percent for Panola County.

That means Panola County likely ended 2005 in single-digit unemployment despite kicking off the year with a rate of 11.1 percent in January.

Among the county’s neighbors, Lafayette County boasted the lowest rate, 4.7 percent, which leads most counties in north Mississippi.

Other neighboring county unemployment figures include: Tate, 7.5 percent; Quitman, 8.1 percent; Tallahatchie, 7.9 percent; and Yalobusha, 7.6 percent.

Scrap over scrap metal site headed to supreme court
By Billy Davis

The long-standing squabble over putting a planned scrap metal site near a high-end home will spill into a new year and a new courtroom.

Dr. Mike Cockrell is appealing to the Miss. State Supreme Court a decision handed down by the Panola County Circuit Court, announced scrap metal business co-owner Henry Martin.

Cockrell lost his appeal in circuit court when Circuit Judge Andrew C. Baker ruled that Martin Bros. Scrap Metal can move forward with its planned project, Martin noted.

Owners of the longtime Sardis business announced last January that they plan to construct a 30-acre site on Holston Road.

The Martin family owns 120 acres in the area and plans to develop much of the acreage for industrial use.

The Panola County Land Development Commission voted in February to allow a reclassification of the 120-acre site from agricultural to industrial. The board of supervisors later backed the commission.

"Dr. Cockrell doesn’t have anything to lose, so he’s going to the supreme court," Martin said. "We expected it to go this far, but that doesn’t make it any easier on the wallet."

The business owner said he has hired DeSoto County attorney Billy Myers to represent him before the supreme court. Sardis attorney Tommy Shuler represented the Martin family in the circuit court case.

Cockrell, a Senatobia physician, did not return repeated phone calls from the newspaper seeking comment about the appeal.

Next to the planned scrap yard, Cockrell and his wife Lisa built a 10,000-square-foot, $750,000 home that overlooks rolling pasture land.

Martin said dirt work has been performed on the site, such as a berm that helps hide the scrap metal business from the roadway.

A railroad spur should be installed in the coming weeks, he said.

"I’d say we’re about one-fourth into the project, but we won’t go much further and spend any more money until this thing is resolved," Martin said.

Scholarship founded to honor Presley
By Billy Davis

Local family members of the late U.S. Marine Cpl. Brandon Presley and officials with North Delta School this week announced the establishment of a fund that will allow the friends of the fallen Marine to contribute memorials that will be dedicated to the building of a new athletic facility at North Delta.

"Brandon made some of his best memories playing sports at North Delta," said Brandon’s grandmother, Mary Frances Woods.

Presley, a 2002 graduate of North Delta School, died Wednesday, December 14, as a result of injuries sustained in Iraq. He was on a mission with a convoy of supply trucks when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb near Presley’s truck.

Presley played football and was a member of the 2000 AAA state championship team. He also played basketball at North Delta.

The school plans to build a new facility that will serve the football, baseball and girls softball fields with a concession area, restrooms, and a pressbox-style upper observation area.

"North Delta School wants to honor the memory of this special graduate with this project," said North Delta Headmaster Herman Coats. "We will share with our current and future students the story of Brandon’s service to our country."

A special account has been established at First Security Bank. To contribute a memorial to this fund, simply make out your check to Brandon Presley Memorial Fund and send the check to North Delta School, 330 Green Wave Lane, Batesville, MS 38606.


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