Headlines – 2/21/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – February 21, 2006

  From the 2/21/06 issue of The Panolian       

Triad distributes new safety video
By Billy Davis

Panola County senior citizens organization Triad is the owner of a safety video that’s now in the hands of many of its members.

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Scenarios featured in the 12-minute film include home repair and "pigeon drop" scams, and safety tips for the home, for traveling, and for shopping.

Triad members recently received CD copies of the video, and additional copies are now available at public libraries in the county, said Batesville Police Chief Gerald Legge.

The video will eventually be loaded onto the police department’s Web site, .

The 12-minute film was produced in cooperation with a video production crew from Ole Miss, which featured local faces in actor portrayals.

Locals who participated include Bill Taylor, C.C. Ellis, Mark Whitten, Courtney Selvy, Misty Jones, Legge, Mike Davis and Robbie Haley.

Haley helped secure a state grant that paid for the cost of production, which ran about $1,200, Legge said.

"We were first going to go the homemade route with video cameras, and then Robbie got the grant money," the police chief said.

Panola County Triad is operated by the Panola County Sheriff’s Department and the Batesville, Sardis and Como police departments.

Triad meets the third Thursday of each month at 2 p.m., rotating among Batesville, Como and Sardis.

For more information about Triad contact Haley at 563-6230.

’94 ice storm didn’t return, but it sure is
By Jason C. Mattox
and Billy Davis

Panola County was spared a sequel to the 1994 ice storm over the weekend, instead enduring sleet, freezing rain, and bone-chilling temperatures.

"Well, here’s what happened over the weekend: nothing," said TVEPA employee Danny Perkins, who was supervisor on call.

A single line fell in Water Valley, but no other reports of downed lines or tree damage found their way to TVEPA, Perkins said.

North of the Tallahatchie River, Entergy Mississippi activated its "Storm Plan" and began moving workers into place by Saturday, the company reported via a press release.

"We prepare for the worst and hope for the best," said Entergy Mississippi CEO Carolyn Shanks.

Entergy did not release a report following the weekend weather.

The culprit of the weekend precipitation was a cold front that charged into Panola County from the Northeast, pushing aside a wet weather system that dumped rain Friday.

Patches of ice on bridges and sidewalks were still causing problems Sunday morning, which led many churches to cancel services.

At Enid and Sardis lakes, fishermen dressed in layers of clothes more appropriate for deer season to fish for crappie.

At the Enid spillway, Batesville jeweler Dale Copeland said he brought his sons, Jim Tom and Sam, to fish since the morning service had been cancelled at Good Hope Baptist Church.

"We fished for an hour and didn’t catch a thing," Copeland said.

The South Panola School District closed its schools due to apparent icy conditions, District Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer said Monday.

Shaffer said South Panola transportation director Robert Chapman and bus shop foreman Scootie Murphree were "sliding all over the place" early Monday morning as they checked road conditions.

South Panola classes will resume Tuesday, Shaffer said.

In the North Panola School District, classes were out Monday since the district observed President’s Day, a district office spokesman said.

With the exception of a few fender benders early Monday morning, the Sardis Police Department experienced a quiet weekend, said Police Chief Mike Davis.

"We had a couple of accidents reported early this (Monday) morning," Davis said. "Those were really the biggest problems we had."

Most of the major traffic accidents occurred on Interstate 55 over the weekend, the police chief said.

"I don’t really know how many they had, but I know there were some big accidents on 55 over the weekend," he said.

Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge reported Monday that she was not alerted to any traffic fatalities but said she, too, heard of several traffic accidents on I-55.

A call to the Mississippi Highway Patrol was not returned by press time.

The Batesville Police Department reported fender benders over the weekend as well, though Monday morning officers were dispatched to a jack-knifed tractor-trailer at the I-55/Highway 6 East interchange.

SP reaches out to football coach
By Billy Davis

Students and faculty at South Panola High School are coming to the aid of one of their own whose home was heavily damaged by fire.

Assistant Tiger football coach Mark Weaver and his wife, Donna, are seemingly starting over after fire swept through their home February 14.

The Weavers live at 52 Rico Road, located in the Mt. Olivet community.

To raise funds for the coach, a faculty vs. students basketball game is tentatively scheduled for this Friday in the school gym, said high school principal Dr. Gearl Loden.

"We’ll charge $1 admission and give all the concessions money to Coach Weaver," Loden said.
Weaver coaches the Tigers defensive ends and teaches physical science.

The housefire destroyed the second story of the Weavers’ home, said Arthur Biggers, fire chief of the Mt. Olivet Volunteer Fire Department.

"They lost everything on the top floor and suffered a lot of heat and smoke damage on the first floor," the fire chief said.

Four fire departments battled the blaze, using ladders to ascend to the second floor after fire burned through the staircase, Biggers said.

The origin seemed to be the central heating and air unit, the fire chief said.

Loden stressed that the planned Friday game is tentative because of Monday’s weather-related postponement of school but added that students and faculty are determined to help the football coach.

"If it doesn’t happen Friday, it will happen next week," Loden said. "The students really like Coach Weaver, and I think you’ll see something happen soon to help him out."

Head football coach Ricky Woods is planning the game, the principal said.

To make a donation to Coach Weaver and his family, contact the high school at 563-4756.

Singer to portray Anderson
In 1939, opera singer Marian Anderson, who was said to possess a voice that comes along once in a century, performed an open air concert from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., before a crowd of 75,000.

The Easter concert will be re-enacted on Saturday in two performances scheduled by the Como Opera Guild in the sanctuary of Como United Methodist Church. Times are 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Admission is free.

Performing the role of Anderson will be Memphis mezzo-soprano Quortina Allen-Phipps who has performed with the Como Opera Guild previously.

Following both concerts, receptions will be held at the Emily Jones Pointer Library across the street.

Morale high, department working,
     says sheriff
 No response a no-no for deputies
     Panola County Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright (right) and Chief Deputy Otis Griffin say the sheriff’s department is dedicated to protecting and serving the public. Bright was elected sheriff in November and chose Griffin as his chief deputy.
By Billy Davis

After a state investigation of jail inmates last summer sent Hugh "Shot" Bright home on administrative leave, the subject of inmates and their classification would seem to be a sore subject for the former jail administrator who’s now the county’s sheriff.

At the tail end of a 30-minute interview last Friday, however, Bright raised the subject, noting that he and other Mississippi sheriffs attended a January 19 class on inmate classification.

The all-day course was sponsored by the Miss. Department of Corrections, which partnered with the state Attorney General’s office last summer to investigate the jail and interview Bright.

"We’ve got a good relationship with the Department of Corrections," said Bright, speaking at his office.

Thus is the unique situation with Bright, now in his fourth month as sheriff: no hard feelings about the past.

That "no hard feelings" philosophy is being felt by sheriff’s deputies, who have told The Panolian in recent days that Bright appreciates their tough job and morale is seemingly sky high.

"Shot makes us feel like we’re the most important thing going at the sheriff’s department," one deputy told the newspaper last week.

In fact, sheriff’s deputies who backed former Chief Deputy Craig Sheley for sheriff – and who feared for their jobs – still have their jobs.

Two deputies who left after Sheley lost the run-off election to Bright have since returned to the department.
With those reports in mind, Bright and Chief Deputy Otis Griffin talked to The Panolian for the following interview.

To backtrack a few months, supervisors approved your request to hire two new sheriff’s deputies. With that hiring, what’s the total deputy manpower in the sheriff’s department right now?

We’ve got 14 (deputies) with one in Pope School and another deputy who works on bad check warrants. He does catch calls, but he works on warrants for the D.A.’s office.

So there are 12 deputies dedicated to patrolling the county?
Right. We want people to understand we don’t have all of them on at one time. The most we’ll have on at one time is four. The fewest would be three.

How are the deputies assigned to patrol the county? What are their instructions when they hit the road?

They get in the car at home and go 10-8. Their job then is to start patrolling, to answer calls, to check different areas. If you listen to your scanner, you’ll hear them calling in as they check different areas. They’re letting people know they’re in these areas. That’s their routine.
We try to get to every area of the county. On a daily basis we try to get to Crenshaw, Cole’s Point, Crowder. With three men it’s hard to cover the entire county.

Are they assigned to a certain section of the county?

Not yet.

So their job is to drive from one corner (of the county) to the other?

They’ll split up. They’ll let each other know what section of the county they’re in. They won’t cover each other’s tracks unless they get a call.

(To Griffin) Can you describe your role as the chief deputy? What is your job description?

My job description is to work close in hand with the sheriff, to be his support, and then it filters off to the deputies out on the road. My job is to make sure that they’re working, to make sure they’re doing the things that they need to do, and also help build a good working rapport for the whole department.

You mentioned the morale of the department. Describe morale within the department right now.

I think the morale is very high. I think people want to come to work. At one point in time it had almost gotten to a point where I didn’t even want to come to work. Not only did I not want to come to work, I didn’t want to come out here. The atmosphere was so harsh because I didn’t feel "a part of."
     Now, I feel like I’m "a part of." And I want every deputy – everybody that’s out here – to feel like they’re a part of the sheriff’s department.
     You can get a lot more productivity out of a person when you feel like you’re a part of something rather than being an outsider.

Still on that subject of morale, a deputy who was skeptical about you being sheriff told The Panolian earlier this week that his new boss is doing a great job so far. What are you doing to make that deputy brag about you?

I treat them like humans. They’re not kids. They’re grown men.
I want to add something to that. Shot is not the one who feels like he knows it all. He’ll listen. You’ve got to have somebody who’ll listen, and people now know that you can go to Shot and Shot is going to listen. He doesn’t have an answer for everything, and it’s not either his way or no way. That’s not the way it is with Shot.
I learn something every day. I don’t know everything. Back when I was administrator over the jail, I learned to listen to my employees. I don’t know everything. I’m not Jesus Christ. I want to be real close to Him and know everything that He knows, but I don’t know everything.

Now that you’re the sheriff, can you sort of "put your arms around" the county’s illegal drug problem? How bad is it?

The problem is bad, but it’s no worse than it was.

"Worse than it was" when?

Five years ago. Three years ago. I can promise you that our drug task force -they are working because we are working with them. Now, I could have told you two years ago that they weren’t working.
I would stretch it even more to say that a little over a year ago it wasn’t much going on. But they’re working now.

The families out there in places like Sardis Lake Estates and the Courtland area – are they seeing results?

People who live there in Sardis Lake Estates call me every day and say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you because we very seldom saw a deputy out here. We thought we lived in another county."

Do you think they feel the same way about the drug problem?

They do. They do. When Otis and I hear about a drug problem, we don’t just say, "Well, we know about it." We go to the drug task force and report it, and see if they know anything about what’s going on. We look into it.

What would you say to Panolians about the new sheriff watching out for their safety and the safety of their families?

We’re doing what we can with the employees that we have. We want them to feel safe, and we want them to feel free to call us anytime. Their big problem is a problem to us, too.

There were obvious problems in the past with response time to calls – and sometimes responding at all – to calls. How is the department responding to this problem?

If a deputy does not respond – if he’s given that call and doesn’t respond – then he faces us. He has a write-up that goes in his file. We’re not going to tolerate it…It better not happen.

Although you weren’t experienced in law enforcement when you were elected, you obviously brought experience as a jail administrator. How has that helped you train the new jail administrator, Bobby Meek?

Bobby does not make a move without asking me.

Looking ahead to the next fiscal year, what will you ask supervisors to fund and taxpayers to pay for? What do you need in the near future?
Two more deputies and possibly an investigator.



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