Headlines Cont. – 4/7/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 7, 2006

The Panolian: INSIDE STORIES – April 7, 2006


Sardis aldermen vote to re-open ball court
By Jason C. Mattox

After being closed for years, the Atkins Street basketball court in Sardis will be re-opened – for a 30-day trial period.

The board of aldermen voted unanimously at their Tuesday meeting this week to re-open the court after Alderman Mike Wilson spoke with residents in the neighborhood that is home to the court.

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"After our March meeting, I began to interview residents in close proximity of our city-maintained basketball court," Wilson said in a letter presented to fellow aldermen and Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye. "I was able to actually speak with two residents that are willing to give the re-opening of this court at least a 30-day trial.

Once the court is re-opened, Montrel Pegues and Andre’ Daniels will act as supervisors for the court.

"We don’t have a problem with opening it back up," Dye said. "But the first time we have trouble, the goals will come back down.

"This court will not be a hangout for winos and crack dealers again," he added. "And we do not want to hear any complaints about guys up there playing with their britches hanging off their rear-ends."

Alderman Joseph "JoJo" Still asked Pegues and Daniels if there would be a schedule for the court.

"If, say, a church wants to have a game or some 8-year-olds want to play a game, that will be scheduled and nobody will hassle them, right?" he said.

"We will have a posted schedule and if they have the time scheduled, it is their time and nobody else’s," Pegues responded.

Pegues asked city leaders if there was a chance an indoor court could be constructed if this project goes according to plan.

"I am in favor of having something for the children," Dye said. "I hate to see children playing basketball in the street, and I know you guys want somewhere to play when it’s raining and cold outside.

"The problem is the money," the mayor added. "There is usually grant money available for this sort of thing, but all of the grant money for 2006 will be going to those who were hit by Katrina. We will do our best to get something in 2007."

Nine Sardis houses condemned
By Jason C. Mattox

Nine pieces of property were condemned by the Sardis Mayor and Board of Aldermen during their monthly meeting Tuesday night.

Addresses of the condemned property and last known owner are:

– Nena Seiler, 103 Dunlap St.
– Vernora Barber, 323 Center St.
– State of Mississippi, 112 Claremont
– Will J. Nelson, 400 Blk. Pearl St.
– Billy B. Coyle, 217 Hwy. 51 South
– Shemeka Butler, Dean Cove
– Johnnie Hill, 411 Crump
– Lucy B. Titus, 217 Pearl St.
– Oshea Brassell, 315 Percyville St.

"I think we need to seriously consider these," Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said.

"Most of these houses have been in bad shape for quite a while."

Dye said all of the houses on the list were condemned by building inspector Robert Earl Wilkie.
"(Deputy City Clerk) Jeanie (Beard) and Mr. Robert Earl rode around and took a good long look at these houses before putting them on the list," he said.

"The best thing we can do is go ahead and condemn them," Dye added.

The mayor said once the houses are condemned the property owners will receive a letter in the mail giving them 60 days to clean off the property.

If, after that time, the houses are not taken care of, the city will tear them down and clean off the property.

Aldermen Joseph "JoJo" Still asked if the city could add the fees for the clean-up to the tax roll.

"I don’t know if that is something that has been being done, but it is certainly something we can do," Dye said. "The city shouldn’t be responsible for the costs of cleaning up a resident’s property."

McBride authored bills defending gun rights
By Billy Davis

Rep. Warner McBride saw his second attempt to dissolve the Land, Water, Timber Resource Board die a slow death in the state House this year, the second year in a row such legislation was killed in the state legislature.

That bill was one of several bills introduced by the legislator during the 90-day legislative session, which ended last week.

Other bills introduced by McBride found more favorable treatment. The controversial self-defense bill called the Castle Doctrine was so popular among legislators that McBride, who co-authored it, said he backed away and let others take the lead.

The bill allows greater leeway for homeowners to protect their property from thieves and robbers.

McBride discussed that firearms bill and other legislation with The Panolian in an interview this week.

Panolian: Two issues that seemed to involve a lot of your time and energy were Second Amendment issues and public education. Can you talk about your involvement in those issues during the legislative session?
McBride:  In the House of Representatives, I usually author legislation on behalf of the National Rifle Association. I’ve probably been doing that almost as long as I’ve been there.
     Back in the fall, some people from this area wanted to talk to me about some firearm-related issues. Those issues that they brought out happen to be some of the issues the National Rifle Association is working on such as the Castle Doctrine and the annexation bill.
Panolian:What firearm bills were signed into law during the session?
McBride: There are three different parts of House Bill 1141 that became law. There was the annexation issue, something about not taking firearms in case of a national emergency –
Panolian: Because of Katrina?
McBride: Right. In New Orleans they were doing that, and some legislators in Louisiana were talking about sponsoring some legislation like that.
     I remember being on the ground three days after Hurricane Katrina hit and word soon travelled to Mississippi that they were confiscating firearms in New Orleans. People became very concerned because there was no law enforcement on the ground and when it got dark, it got dark.
Panolian: What other issues were in the firearms bill?
McBride: There were some large companies that wouldn’t let their employees bring a firearm onto the premises, and actually some people got fired. There were concerns from employees here that they couldn’t take firearms to the work place. They might not feel safe or they wanted to go hunting after work or before work.
Panolian:Which firearms bills did you author?
McBride: I was the lead author on the annexation issue and not having your firearms confiscated after a natural disaster, and the employer/employee bill. I was the co-author of the Castle Doctrine bill.
Panolian:On the subject of public education, how were you involved in that process during the session?
McBride: I was on the conference committee for the Institute of Higher Learning (IHL), which meant I worked with conferees on the K-12 budget and the community college budget. That gives me an opportunity to have an overview of education in the state.
Panolian: Can you explain what a conference committee does to people who might not know?
McBride: Sure, it’s when members of the the House and Senate confer on a bill to reach a compromise.
Panolian: Many people might not see a connection with Panola County and IHL. How does IHL directly affect Panola Countians?
McBride: We increased the Ole Miss budget by $4 million. The University of Mississippi is critical to the development of our area, both education-wise and economic development-wise. I know how much it means to the Batesville/Oxford area.
Panolian: Moving down a few grades, Rep. Leonard Morris mentioned in an earlier interview about the state’s dropout rate. He mentioned the hiring of a state Department of Education official to address that.
McBride: I think anything we can do to try to help the dropout rate is very important. They obviously can’t learn if they’re not in school.
Panolian: How is that person going to address the problem? What’s your understanding of their job?
McBride: That person was asked to try to develop some type of program to deal with the program. If I remember that’s their main charge, to say, "Hey, this is what I’m recommending as a way of dealing with the dropout rate."
Panolian: Can you talk about funding for MAEP (Miss. Adequate Education Program)?
McBride: We’ve been trying to fully fund MAEP all at one time, and we finally decided this year that we weren’t going to be able to do it. Instead of fighting over trying to fully fund it every year, and not getting it done, we decided to try to phase it in, so we passed a four-year phase-in plan.
Panolian: By ‘phase in’ you mean get it fully funded over four years?
McBride: Yes, to get it fully funded in four years. Even though we increased it $123 million this year it’s still $120 million below fully funding. If we increase it an extra $40 million a year over four years it will be fully funded.  
     Let me also say that because of MAEP South Panola’s funding for 2007 means an additional $1.16 million. At North Panola, it adds about $400,000.

(Rep. Warner McBride, a Democrat, represents District 10, which includes Lafayette, Panola and Tallahatchie counties. He has served in the state legislature since 1992).

Zone change approved for sheltered workshop
By John Howell Sr.

Construction will soon begin on McBride Street to build a facility to house a sheltered workshop operated by the North Mississippi Regional Center.

Batesville aldermen on Tuesday unanimously approved a zoning change recommended by the city planning commission to give the site I-1 classification to permit light industrial work.

"We do a large number of sub-contracts with Batesville Casket Company," North Mississippi Regional Center Director Dr. Carole Haney told aldermen, describing the activity planned for the new facility.

The center director said that the work opportunity site would operate during daylight hours, normally from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Batesville developer Woody Loden donated the McBride Street lot for its construction, Haney said, and a contractor had been engaged who would begin construction as soon as the zoning change was approved. Completion is expected in October, Haney added.

Haney spoke at a mid-afternoon hearing scheduled to allow public comment on the zoning change. She was joined by several NMRC staff members and Batesville residents, who attended the meeting in support of the zoning change.

"They are a great partner in our community," said state representative Warner McBride. "They help so many people; all of us across all walks of life."

Morris: utility district important for landing big industry
By Billy Davis

A bill to raise the state sales tax on cigarettes and slash the sales tax on groceries became the hottest debate during the spring session of the Mississippi Legislature, where Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck feuded with Gov. Haley Barbour over the issue.

The 90-day fight ended with too-few votes in the state Senate to override Barbour’s veto – and a promise from Tuck that the issue is still alive.

Perhaps forgotten by some is the original author of the cigarette tax bill, Rep. Leonard Morris of Batesville. He proposed a $1-a-pack tax during a special session in 2005, suggesting the new funds be diverted into the state’s Medicaid program.

During the most recent session, which ended last week, Morris heard more opinions from Panola Countians about the grocery/cigarette tax than any other issue, he told The Panolian.

Morris spoke to the newspaper about that issue and others this week.

The Panolian: Maybe a good place to start this interview is the impact of legislation this session on Panola County, namely the local/private legislation that allows for a utility district to be operated here.
     When that bill was mentioned in this newspaper, it was stuck in a Senate committee. Did the bill make it out of committee and become law?
Morris: It did. Bills that are local and private usually take place toward the end of the session. We wanted to get the legislation out prior to any deadlines and get it out, and get it voted on.
Panolian: Can you explain the importance of the legislation? Why is the utility district important to us?
Morris: In putting together a jigsaw puzzle you always have to have one important cog in the wheel. I think this was an important cog in the wheel for industrial recruitment in Panola County.
Panolian: How does it help industrial recruitment?
Morris: Industries that would possibly be looking at sites in Panola County would want to know whether utilities are available and how they could get there, to the site. We’re told by industrial recruiters in the private sector and also from the state that this is something you need to do to market these sites in Panola County.
Panolian: What issue during the session caused you to hear the most comments from Panola Countians?
Morris: Probably on the tobacco tax and grocery tax. That was the one I got the most calls about. The other was about radar.
Panolian: You’re talking about the bill to allow radar on county roads?
Morris: Right.
Panolian: How did you vote on that issue?
It didn’t make it out of committee. It started in the Senate and when it went to the House it died in the House Transportation Committee.
Panolian: Was there a bill that came up for a vote that you didn’t support and therefore voted against?
Morris: This one was a tough one. Rep. Cecil Brown of Hinds County, chairman of the education committee, brought forth an idea, the phasing in of (funding for) MAEP (Miss. Adequate Education Program). Being on the education committee, I told him I wouldn’t fight it on the floor.
Panolian: Phasing it in instead of fully funding it?
Morris: Yes. We’ve only fully funded MAEP one time.
Panolian: During an election year.
Morris: Yes. That’s right.
Panolian: Can you explain MAEP to people who might not know?
Morris: It funds the operations of the (public) schools – not something like teachers’ salaries. It’s a very complicated formula.
Panolian: How did you vote?
Morris: After listening to the debate, I voted against phasing it in during the first time around.
     I don’t know if you watch (public television show) "Quorum," but I’ve been on it twice. When I was on there with Sen. Hob Bryan, he said that when we passed MAEP, we made a commitment then to fully fund it and now we’re coming back to phase it in.
     Sen. Bryan said, "You’re undoing what you committed to do," which was perfectly right.
Panolian: Is there any other issue that’s important to the state that the legislature took up this session?
Morris: As a member of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council, one of my board members faxed me something about Mississippi. I thought this was an alarming factor: out of 100 ninth grade students in Mississippi, 58 will graduate, 37 immediately enter college, 23 are still enrolled their sophomore year, and 13 graduate.
Panolian: It sounds like you’re talking about the state’s high school dropout rate?
Morris: That’s right.
Panolian: Which is at 40 percent?
Morris: Right. About 40 percent.
Panolian: How is the legislature addressing that issue?
Morris: This is the first time we’ve done something to address the dropout rate. If you look across the state, some are doing extremely well – Copiah County has a very low dropout rate. What we did was create a position – some say another layer of bureaucracy, but that’s not the intent of it – in the state Department of Education to address the dropout rate.
Panolian: Why isn’t that a legitimate complaint about bureaucracy? Can’t the superintendent at South Panola just call the superintendent in Copiah County and say, "What are y’all doing that’s working?"
Morris: We don’t have anybody in the state Department of Education to come to South Panola and tell them, "Here’s a coordinated effort, and here’s what other schools are doing," to help them develop a plan… Right now you can’t call the state Department of Education and find out the dropout rate and what it’s looking like all across this state.

(Rep. Leonard Morris, a Democrat, represents District 11, which includes Panola and Tate counties. He has served in the state legislature since 1993).



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