| The cross at Union Baptist Church stands tall on Union Road in Sardis as the wind gently blows before stormy weather last week. Christians around the world will celebrate Christ’s power over the cruel cross and the empty tomb beginning today, Good Friday.
| Man accused of waving gun at bus
| By Billy Davis
The Panola County Sheriff’s Department may press charges against an elderly man after he allegedly pointed a shotgun at a public school bus and refused to let it pass.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Linder Vanburn McCullar, 77, at his Lovejoy Road home Monday evening, April 10.
No shots were fired and no one was hurt in the incident, which a sheriff’s spokesman said involved McCullar and three people on the bus, the bus driver, a bus monitor, and a Batesville Intermediate School student.
Lovejoy Road is located in the Bynum Creek area in southeast Panola County and is part of the South Panola public school district.
The standoff happened after the driver, a substitute employee, turned around in McCullar’s driveway after missing a turn, said South Panola Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer.
"The bus continued down the road, and when the bus came back by the man’s house he was standing in front of them with the gun," Shaffer said, citing a report he received about the incident.
According to Panola Chief Deputy Otis Griffin, witnesses on the school bus said McCullar shouted at them and grabbed the bus’s mirror as the vehicle reversed in his driveway.
The sheriff’s department could charge McCullar with simple assault, a misdemeanor, or pursue felony charges against him depending on their investigation of the case.
"Right now there are no charges because the matter is still being investigated," sheriff’s investigator Mark Whitten said Thursday.
"We’re looking at whether he held them at gunpoint for two to three minutes, which could change the charges," the chief deputy told The Panolian earlier in the week.
| Developer pitches ‘tremendous impact’ of golfing community
| By Jason C. Mattox
A private land developer met with the Sardis Mayor and Board of Aldermen to discuss the construction of a golf community on property adjacent to state run Mallard Pointe Golf Course that would include an 18-hole championship-level course and a residential development.
Mike Ellwood of Madison, who recently purchased the property told city leaders he had high expectations for what the development would mean to the city.
"There is little question that a development of this nature will make a tremendous impact on the city of Sardis," he said.
Ellwood first spoke of the golf course and said it was being designed by Todd Jester, a former employee of Jack Nicklaus Designs, the company responsible for designing Pebble Beach and other high-profile courses around the country.
As for the funding of this project, Ellwood explained he had received a commitment from a notable lender (UPS Capital) for a loan of $7.5 million to pay for the construction of the golf course and all of its amenities.
"This money is contingent on a USDA loan guarantee," he said. "But once we get the money we can move forward with the construction. This is not a project where all phases must be built at once."
Ellwood explained the course would be operated by a non-profit organization and that all money remaining after the debt service of the loan will be put back into the area for construction of a community center or as a donation to local civic organizations.
"We want to show that we have an interest in giving the people of Sardis and its visitors a top-notch facility," he said.
The non-profit organization would be run by a seven member board comprised of members of the community.
Jester said he believed the construction of a second course, and possible third.
The third course is attached to Phases II and III of the Sardis Lake Marina Project that also includes a hotel/conference center.
"Golf is a destination game, and we really believe the two, possibly three courses will compliment each other very well," he said. "It will allow people to come into town for three to four days at a time and play several different courses rather than the same one daily."
Jester told the aldermen he understands that most people don’t believe a championship level course can be constructed for under $20 million, but that is an incorrect assumption.
"We may not have the kind of money Nicklaus had, but we do have the same mind set, and this will be a very high quality golfing facility," he said.
Jester said the golf course alone will create 20-35 jobs.
"There will be 20 full-time positions while the remaining fifteen will be seasonal hires for the summer months," he said.
"We have a group from Charlotte, N.C., that is going to be assisting my company in the construction of the residential property," he said indicating in would be operated by the non-profit board. "The one thing we really need to get the ball rolling is a letter or letters of support from the board as a whole and individual board members."
Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said he would do anything and everything he could to assist with this project.
"I really think this will be a good thing for the city and the people of the community as a whole," he said. "Even though the property is not in the city, these people will be spending money in town."
No timetable for completion of the proposed project was given. The board took no action other than agreeing to write the letters of support.
| Trial set after attorney pleads not guilty
| By Billy Davis
Local attorney and Batesville city court judge Jay Westfaul has entered a not guilty plea to a DUI-first offense charge in Oxford Municipal Court.
Westfaul’s attorney, Rhea Tannehill, entered the plea Wednesday morning on behalf of his client via a phone call to the Oxford court clerk.
Municipal Court Judge Larry Little informed The Panolian of the phone call and not guilty plea during Wednesday’s court session in Oxford.
Little was presiding over arraignment cases at Oxford City Hall, where a reporter was present to observe and report on Westfaul’s arraignment.
Westfaul’s case is set for trial on July 19.
"We plan to investigate the circumstances surrounding the (traffic) stop and subsequent police investigation of Judge Westfaul," Tannehill said via a press release. "Once the investigation is completed, we will make a determination about how to proceed further."
Westfaul acknowledged to the newspaper last week that he was arrested Saturday, April 1, by Oxford police officers on a charge of DUI-first offense and failure to use a turn signal.
Both charges are misdemeanors, but a guilty verdict could put Westfaul at the mercy of the Miss. Commission on Judicial Performance. The commission oversees judges’ actions both on and off the bench in the state.
Westfaul is a fill-in judge for Batesville Municipal Court and also hears cases for the municipalities of Courtland and Pope. He is a former youth court judge for Panola County.
Westfaul "has, and will continue to, cooperate fully with the state commission" the press release states.
| Five roads selected for
State Aid improvements
| By Billy Davis
Panola County engineer Larry Britt informed supervisors this week that he is preparing the final pages of paperwork that selects five county roads for the State Aid road improvement program projects.
Supervisors voted at their "second Monday" meeting April 10 that the roads – Curtis, Highway 310 (east of Como), Black Jack, Dummy Line, and Good Hope – would be the next to benefit from State Aid monies.
State Aid, a program of the Miss. Department of Transportation (MDOT), helps counties improve roads that connect major highways.
Britt informed supervisors late last year that the county’s list of roads in the program was nearly gone, and supervisors met twice with Britt to narrow their choices.
An original list of 15 roads had been narrowed to the five mentioned Monday, Britt noted Monday.
| In other county business:
||Supervisors agreed to list roads in their districts that are seemingly both private and public according to which county map one reads.
"I’ve got 10 roads in my district that are listed as public and private roads," District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant told the board.
The roads are part of the required county road registry, which includes a listing of public and private roads.
||Supervisors accepted bids on various road equipment, including dump trucks ($96,460) and tractors ($84,270) from Tri-State Mack and an excavator ($153,497) from bidder Thompson.
Bidder Nortrax was the sole bidder for a compactor ($137,794), a piece of blacktopping equipment, and got beat by Power Equipment on a chip spreader ($138,567).
Supervisors voted to purchase an asphalt distributor from Power Equipment ($106,504) that cost $6,604 more than a Nortrax bid ($99,900). The Nortrax equipment came with a 1,900-gallon tank versus a required 2,000-gallon tank, supervisors said.
||Supervisors took under advisement bids for engineering work at the Panola County Airport. The airport board typically examines the bids and makes a recommendation, supervisors said.
Also see for these articles:
| Supervisors, commission have sit-down
| By Billy Davis
Panola County supervisors and the county land commission they appoint departed the Sardis courthouse Monday night promising to communicate better and more often.
Following the 30-minute discussion, however, the two public bodies failed to reach a consensus on the commission’s authority as a watchdog for orderly growth and development.
Supervisors Robert Avant, Jerry Perkins and Bubba Waldrup met with the Panola County Land Development Commission after commission members concluded their monthly meeting and voted to adjourn.
Avant spoke on behalf of the supervisors, delivering a 10-minute speech about the hardships of poor Panola Countians he represents whose poverty is worsened by the commission’s "one-size-fits-all" decisions.
As an example of that hardship, Avant noted the county’s requirement that a one-acre lot is the minimum acreage allowed for conventional homes and manufactured homes.
Citing health and environmental concerns, Panola County requires a one-acre lot size for new homes that use a private septic system but hooks into community water. Homes that use both a private well and a private septic system are required to sit on at least one-and-a-half acres.
Avant’s speech eventually moved into a discussion of business owners in the county – the subject that actually brought the two bodies together Monday because of conflicting opinions about the business owned by Stan Holcomb.
Holcomb’s partially paved parking lot east of Batesville at Stan’s Country Store remains a sore spot for the commission, which has wrangled with the store owner for over a year.
Holcomb applied for a special exception to operate a retail store in an area zoned agricultural, and the commission approved his application in August, 2004. Last month, supervisors unanimously approved the parking lot as-is, saying he had met the county’s requirements.
Without naming names, Avant continued his theme Monday night of unnecessary and overbearing requirements, this time relating to "mom and pop" businesses that are required by the county to pave their parking lots.
"Business owners should be able to put down whatever they like, and the customers will decide if they want to do business there," Avant said during his "business owners" speech.
Avant’s speech was followed by a speech by land commission chairman Danny Walker, who defended the commission’s mission and actions in a respectful but determined speech.
Also without naming names, Walker told supervisors that the commission has worked successfully with dozens of business owners with few misunderstandings or lingering problems – except for Holcomb.
"Nobody ever walked out with their application approved without being told what was required of them," Walker said. "Don’t think that that man, when he applied, had any misunderstanding about what was required."
Regarding Avant’s idea of backing away from the paving requirements, Walker suggested the county would be "taking a tremendous step backward" if supervisors altered that requirement.
Commission member Danny Jones reminded Avant that Holcomb’s store is located on Highway 6 – not on a small country road – in an area that is enjoying continued growth toward the Lafayette County line.
Such growth needs to be orderly and look nice, he suggested.
"I don’t see how the county is best served if our requirements depend on who it is, where they’re located, or their cash flow," Jones said.
"All areas are not like Batesville, Oxford and Senatobia," Avant replied. "I don’t believe the City of Batesville requires pavement."
(The City of Batesville does not require paved parking lots for businesses).
Midway through the Monday gathering, Supervisor Bubba Waldrup asked the commission if the paving requirement was "explicitly defined."
"Yes," the commission members responded in unison.
Supervisor Jerry Perkins, who is friends with Holcomb and works for him, had the last word on the subject as the meeting was breaking up: the supervisors will make a decision about the paving requirement and return to the commission to report it.
"We’ll come back and tell you what we decided," Perkins said.
Regarding better communication, Walker suggested that he personally e-mail an overview of each meeting’s votes and findings to the supervisors.
Communication about the commission’s monthly meetings is already making progress: County Administrator David Chandler handed an agenda of the commission’s meeting to supervisors at their meeting Monday morning.
| Fight over tobacco, grocery tax ‘not over,’ state senator says
| By Billy Davis
During the recent session of the state legislature, state Sen. Nolan Mettetal spent much of his time touting the merits of the proposed grocery tax/cigarette tax legislation.
An ally in the senate of Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, Mettetal voted with the majority of senators in two failed attempts to override Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of the proposed bill.
Although the bill died during the session, Mettetal tells The Panolian that the idea of slashing the grocery tax in half and boosting the tobacco tax from 18 cents a pack to $1 enjoys the support of most Mississippians.
"It’s not over," the senator said of the tax legislation – and the fight.
Mettetal talked to The Panolian last week about the cigarette tax/grocery tax issue and other legislation.
| Panolian: The legislative session seemed to be dominated by the grocery tax and cigarette tax issue. Is that your observation of the session?
Mettetal: There’s no question about it that it meant so much. Our citizens had a deep personal feeling about it. When you’ve got 80 percent of the people who think we should increase the cigarette tax and 60 or 70 percent who think we should decrease the tax on groceries, then it was the most dominating issue, period.
|Panolian: The basic consensus seems to be that it’s a shame the poorest state in the country has the highest tax on groceries and the one of the lowest taxes on cigarettes.
Mettetal: It’s obvious that it’s an unfair tax…Put the two together and look at being one of only 16 or 17 states with this sales tax on groceries – and then being the highest in the nation. And then here we are sitting at next to last – next to lowest – in the nation with a tax on cigarettes.
|Panolian: With that said, Gov. Barbour opposed the grocery/cigarette tax legislation. Was there any argument he made about opposing that legislation that you can agree makes a credible argument?
Mettetal: I suppose that everyone has their reason for doing things, but I have to disagree with him on this issue. It’s obvious what’s right – very obvious.
|Panolian: During the session you told The Panolian of frequent communication with constituents on issues, the cigarette/grocery tax being the most discussed. Do you think technology is playing a part in citizens knowing more about what’s going on in Jackson?
Mettetal: If you count up the number of messages in a week’s time – e-mails, phone calls, correspondence by mail – it’s clearly evident that technology is playing an enormous role.
The use of computers – personally I don’t have any earthly idea where they find these things, but they find them if they’re interested in an issue. I talked to a nurse who looked up pay raises on her computer. She knows more about the issue than I do.
| Panolian: What’s another issue that you felt played an important part of the legislative session?
Mettetal: The issue of the budget, the appropriations process, is certainly one of the most important issues of the entire session. Even though it didn’t dominate in any way, it’s just the fact that we were able to replace some funds where they were badly needed.
| Panolian: And one important part of the budget process was pay raises for state employees.
Mettetal: …We were finally able to pay some of the state workers. They haven’t been treated fairly. A lot of other people haven’t been treated fairly, but we’ve done the best we could.
| Panolian: In Panola County, government jobs -municipalities, public schools, the county and state – are the second largest employer here. Did you hear from a lot of state employees who have struggled over the last few years without a raise?
Mettetal: For the most part my constituents have been very kind – and I mean that. From the lowest skilled job to the higher paying jobs the fact is that we had fallen behind in some particular professions, and we knew that.
In healthcare, our mental health facilities and health departments, we can’t keep nurses. They go to the private sector and get more money.
| Panolian: Is there a bill that came up for a vote that you opposed and voted against?
Mettetal: Not only did it come up for a vote, it came up in a situation where I killed it. There’s no telling how many bills I kill every year.
| Panolian: Meaning you kill them in committee?
Mettetal: Meaning in committee and some of them in conference.
| Panolian: What was a bill that you opposed and killed?
Mettetal: One was this security protection bill in which individuals could protect themselves from identity theft, which the attorney general (Jim Hood) supported and said would do all of these wonderful things.
| Panolian: Why did you kill it?
Mettetal: To begin with, I don’t think it prevents identity theft. Had it been passed, these individuals who could put a freeze on their credit…then they go to get a quote on insurance but can’t get insurance, they can’t change insurance policies, they can’t get credit. It was very complex, but we went ahead and changed it up to use a Texas law, and before I could even bring it out in committee it was dead…
We would have been the only state in the South with this law. If it had passed we would have had the same bill used in California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey and Nevada. Here I saw that in California, where they implemented their law in 2003, a state of 35,893,000 people – 35 million – they had 4,000 people to use it. In Texas, out of a population of 22,500,000 folks, 133 had used it. Now you break that down to a population in Mississippi of 2.8 million.
(Sen. Nolan Mettetal represents District 10, which includes
Panola and Tate counties. He has served in the state legislature since 1996).