Headlines – 4/21/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 21, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – April 21, 2006

  From the 4/21/06 issue of The Panolian       

City judge asks aldermen to continue work program
By Jason C. Mattox

Batesville’s municipal court judge appeared before the mayor and board of aldermen Tuesday to ask that the city continue its work release program that allows people who owe misdemeanor fines to satisfy them by performing public service if they cannot afford to pay the fine.

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Municipal court judge Bill McKenzie was accompanied by court clerk Renee Hubbard and Batesville Police officer Lannie Jones.

The board has in recent months discussed the pros and cons of the program, which requires supervisory assistance from city employees as work release participants are assigned to a variety of cleaning and maintenance type jobs on city property.

"I like have the option of the work program," McKenzie said. "There are times people aren’t working and can’t pay the fines. If we put them in jail, the city will be responsible for their medical attention and the cost of housing them in the county jail."

McKenzie said the work program works out especially well when it comes to juveniles.

"If we fine someone," he said, "the money is going to come out of his parents pocket, and the idea is not punish the parents.

"If these kids have to spend a few days during the summer or Christmas break shoveling asphalt, it helps them figure out they might not want to do it again," the judge added.

One problem with the system is sometimes there isn’t enough work to keep program enlistees busy, according to Hubbard, the court clerk.

"There just really isn’t enough for them to do," she said, "especially when it’s raining."

Mayor Jerry Autrey asked Street Department Superintendent Teddy Austin if he could use any of the "temporary" workers.

"I could always use four or five extra men," Austin said. "But the truth is I have had so much trouble out of them I really don’t want them."

Alderman-at-Large?Teddy Morrow said he believed the city’s best option would be to hire a full-time person to oversee the work release crew.

"If we were to hire someone, he could check in with the superintendents and see where they are needed," he said. "There would not be as much down time that way."

BCC director Roy Hyde asked if his facility would receive preference over other departments in the city.

"If we can use them, it keeps us from having to bring in our part-timers," he said.

Austin said he had no problem with that.

"You can have them every day of the week," he said. "I don’t want them."

Board members asked the mayor to investigate the hiring of a supervisor for the work program.

"I think if we can get it organized, it will be a big asset," Morrow said.

Another court matter brought up at the meeting was collection of fines.

Hubbard said the city is currently owed more than $700,000 in outstanding fines.

Autrey asked if it would be possible to allow someone to make partial payments.

"We just can’t do that," Hubbard said. "It will be too much trouble and you would need to hire more people."

McKenzie said the court was not in the financing business.

"We are here to handle corrections," he said. "We want to get these people straightened out so they don’t show up in court every other week.

"If they can’t come up with all the money, that’s what we have banks, finance companies and they have relatives for is to go borrow the money," McKenzie said. "We have a firm and consistent plan, and that needs to continue."

No action was taken on fine collections during the meeting.

Teacher pay raise OK’d by trustees
By Rupert Howell

School teachers in the South Panola District will receive a $500-a-year pay increase following a recommendation this week from Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer.

The local district presently supplements each teacher’s salary $500, meaning the additional amount will raise the district’s supplement to $1,000 annually following the action of the board of trustees at its April 18 meeting.

District School Board president Lygunnah Bean called for a separate vote on the proposal which passed unanimously.

Bean said the move was a good step forward and called the additional supplement a "great (teacher) recruiting tool."

"This is a good way to show everybody in the school district you know where the rubber meets the road," Bean told other board members.

Shaffer said that South Panola is behind some neighboring counties in the amount paid for teacher salaries and Tuesday’s action would make the school district more competitive in hiring and retaining quality teachers.

The increased supplement will cost approximately $200,000 per year as approximately 300 teachers would receive the additional $500.

Social Security taxes and other withholdings based on salary amounts would also increase with the additional pay.

Mississippi’s public school teachers are paid a minimum of between $30,000 and $55,250 depending on years of experience and degree. That money is paid through state appropriations while the local supplement is paid from local property taxes.

Garage owner grilled by city
By Jason C. Mattox

A Batesville business owner has been warned by the city board of aldermen to comply with city code restrictions or risk having his business shut down.

Jimmy Bishop, who owns and operates a garage at 350 Highway 51, appeared before the board at their meeting Tuesday to respond to recent citations from Code Enforcement officer John McCollum.

McCollum cited Bishop with violations including repairing vehicles outside his shop area and having too many cars on the lot.

"When this conditional use permit was granted, he was told he could have six cars on the lot and that all work on cars had to be done inside the building," McCollum said.

"When I went down there the other day to take a better look at what was going on, he had 15 to 20 cars on the parking lot," he added.

Bishop told the board some of the cars being counted in that "15 to 20" were owned by his employees.

"I have two mechanics and my partner has two," he said. "Including our cars, that would make seven right there."

Bishop said the garage has been forced to turn away business to keep the number of vehicles down.

"My biggest thing is working on the cars outside," he said. "We have changed batteries and water pumps, and a little other work outside."

Code Enforcement office administrator Pam Comer explained to the aldermen and Bishop that the conditional use permit did not allow any work on cars outside the building, whether it was a water pump or changing tires.

Another issue that came to light during the meeting was that Bishop was buying and selling cars from the business? without a license.

"Sure, I’ve been buying and selling a few cars," he said.

Comer suggested to Bishop and the board that he ask for another conditional use permit that would up the number of cars allowed on the lot.

Bishop and Comer left the meeting to fill out the necessary paperwork at the Code Enforcement Office, but Comer returned less than a half-hour later.

"He didn’t want to file for the new permit when he found out it was going to cost him $100, " she told the board, "and he probably still wouldn’t be allowed to work on cars outside of the building."

At that point, McCollum was instructed by the city officials to keep a close watch on the building and if he is outside his allowances, the permit will be pulled.

Mayor’s Yard
     The rose garden of Jerry and Mary Lou Autrey earned them the Batesville Garden Club’s Yard of the Month sign for the month of April. Mayor and Mrs. Autrey live at 504 Broad Street.
No charges filed yet in bus block
By Billy Davis

The Panola County Sheriff’s Department has not filed charges yet against an elderly man who allegedly pointed a shotgun at a school bus.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Linder Vanburn McCullar, 77, at his Lovejoy Road home April 10, responding to a report that he threatened a South Panola bus occupied by the driver, a bus monitor and a student.

Sheriff’s investigators have now interviewed the bus’s occupants and McCullar, but no charges have been filed, investigator Mark Whitten said Thursday.

"All I can say is it’s still under investigation," the Whitten said.

Asked why no charges have been filed more than week after the incident, Whitten said he had no comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

The county jail dockets shows deputies originally charged McCullar with simple assault, but Chief Deputy Otis Griffin said last week that more serious charges could be coming if McCullar was armed and blocked the school bus from moving.

McCullar has not hired an attorney, Whitten said.

Murder suspect’s attorney requests new date for trial
By Billy Davis

Attorneys for murder suspect Johnny Green have filed papers asking for the murder trial, scheduled for earlier this week, to be postponed.

The trial, set to begin Tuesday, charges Green with the murder last summer of Ricky Taylor Jr. on Old Panola Road. A grand jury indicted Green last October for Taylor’s murder.

The Panola County circuit clerk’s office in Sardis received a Motion of Continuance from Grenada defense attorney Kevin Horan this week.

In the court filing, Horan cited "certain evidence" still in the hands of the Mississippi Crime Laboratory, suggesting that test results are pending even as the trial date has arrived.

A source familiar with the pending murder trail said the evidence cited by Horan is a ballistics report of the weapon allegedly used in the killing.

"There is a possibility that the testing of that certain evidence will not even be completed before trial date," Horan wrote in his filing. "Even if the testing is complete before trial date, that will not give Defendant adequate time to prepare for the fair trial to which he is entitled."

Horan could not be reached by press time regarding the court filing.

District Attorney John Champion and Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly are out of town this week at a prosecutors’ conference, a spokesman with the district attorney’s office said.

If Horan’s filing is granted by Circuit Court Judge Andrew C. Baker, it will be the second delay in the trial. Last month, the trial was moved to its April 25 date after high-profile defense attorney Anthony Farese withdrew from Green’s case.

One walks away, one still critical, after I-55 wreck
By Billy Davis

Two children are still hospitalized, one in critical condition, following a one-vehicle interstate wreck.

A family of four was driving north from Louisiana to Arkansas, and only one the four was able to walk away from the wreck, said Miss. Highway Patrol trooper Dennis Darby.

The wreck occurred about a half-mile south of the Sardis exit in the northbound lane, where the family’s Hyundai Elantra left the road and flipped, Darby said.

"The driver and a 9-year-old were taken to Tri-Lakes and then airlifted to Memphis, and a 7-year-old was airlifted from the scene," the trooper said.

Both the 9-year-old and 7-year-old, who is in critical condition, are in Lebonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Darby said.

"The wreck threw at least one passenger out, which could be the 7-year-old," Darby said. "The front passenger was able to walk away."

The driver, Nicolette Payne, was released Wednesday.

Darby did not know the family relationships among the driver and three passengers.

Darby said the cause of the accident is still under investigation. The weather was clear and dry, he said.

While not citing cell phone use as the cause, Darby said troopers are seeing an increased number of wrecks due to drivers who are distracted by talking on their cell phones.

"Most drivers aren’t admitting to it, but we see it more and more as a contributing factor," he said.

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