| By Billy Davis
An otherwise quiet and quick meeting of the Panola County Land Development Commission touched on a subject that has become a growing frustration for the volunteer board.
Commission members were adjourning their monthly gathering Monday evening in Sardis when table talk once again turned to store owner Stan Holcombe and his parking lot.
In particular, commission members grumbled that he seems to be enjoying political cover from District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins, who works at the store, and also from County Administrator David Chandler.
Last month, the commission voted unanimously to allow county permit clerk Diane Stewart to sign an affidavit against Holcombe and pursue a fine against him in justice court.
The county land-use standards require business owners to pave their parking lots in order to receive a permit to operate in the county. In recent years, businesses such as the First Security Bank branch in Pope and Myron Hall’s plumbing service near Batesville have paved their lots.
After a year-and-a-half battle with the commission, Holcombe has since paved a small portion directly in front of the store, which is roughly one-fifth of the total area to be paved.
The tussle with Holcombe is a first for the commission and is testing its ability to oversee growth and development in non-municipal Panola County.
The discussion Monday began with Chandler as the topic. Chandler had complained to Stewart that he was never informed of the commission’s planned court action against Holcombe. That was an unusual move, commission members said, since Chandler never involves himself in the commission’s decisions.
Informed of that topic, commission member Danny Jones pointedly complained of political influence, wondering aloud if the commission would "lose a couple of members" if the commission’s work is manipulated by political maneuvering.
"This is the first time politics has gotten involved in the commission," added Jones, who is one of several original members of the commission.
According to Chandler, his complaint last month was with Stewart, not the commission. He called Stewart to his office and told her he should have been informed of the affidavit and her planned trip to justice court.
"I don’t get the minutes from the meeting until two weeks later. I’d like to know if anything controversial is going on before I read it in the newspaper," Chandler said.
While acknowledging that the county has no system by which Stewart informs Chandler of the commission’s monthly actions, Chandler said Stewart should use "common sense" to decide which commission votes are controversial.
Stewart, who is a county employee, is present at the land commission’s monthly meetings, where she acts on board action to contact parties who have business before the commission.
At the January meeting, the commission asked Stewart to pursue an affidavit against Holcombe, later putting its request to a formal vote.
"I don’t want Diane to be seen as the heavy in this," said Jones, who made the motion to take the matter to justice court.
Still gathered at their meeting table, commission members also noted that Perkins is a frequent sight at Holcombe’s business, suggesting a business arrangement with the store owner.
Perkins’ association with Holcombe and his store has surfaced at past commission meetings, though mostly through side conversations.
"He opens the store for (Holcombe) every Saturday morning," commission member Donna Traywick told her colleagues.
Informed Tuesday of the commission’s complaints, Perkins said he does work at the store at least twice a week, and defended his work there and his association with Holcombe.
Perkins said the topic of Holcombe’s unpaved parking lot "comes up" but Holcombe "doesn’t seem to expect me to do something for him personally."
Perkins said Holcombe "has every intention" of paving his lot, but he must first remove several dead trees lining the highway so the work won’t damage the newly paved lot.
"He has to get TVEPA to take them down, and TVEPA has to get a permit from MDOT to do the work," Perkins said.
More than a dozen towering pine trees line the highway right-of-way in front of Stan’s Country Store.
TVEPA general manager Brad Robison said Thursday morning that a crew was in the process of cutting three dead pine trees near the store.
"The trees aren’t on our right-of-way, but they could still fall on our lines," Robison said. "So they’re being cut as I speak."
Regarding Holcombe’s request, Robison said the store owner had "nonchalantly" asked a TVEPA employee for the trees to be cut.
Last month, Holcombe told The Panolian that he postponed the commission’s request because he plans to return to the board to request a slaughter house on the property.
"Otherwise I’d have to put out two red signs and that would cost $100 each time," Holcombe said.
The signs announce a landowner’s request for a variance and announce the date of a public hearing.
Perkins said he and Holcombe have been friends "for years and years."
"I don’t understand why they’re upset with me because I’ve got a good friend I help out," Perkins said. "It’s really none of their business who my friends are."
Still another issue regarding Holcombe is the language of the land-use standards and its requirements.
Land commission attorney Colmon Mitchell told the board Monday that the language needs to be tightened in order to hold up in court.
"I don’t know why we’re still quibbling over the driveway," said commission member Sledge Taylor. "If it’s not done, it’s not done."
District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant attended the commission’s Monday meeting, saying he came to see the commission at work.
Avant had left before the discussion turned to Holcombe and politics.