Headlines – 5/5/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 5, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – May 5, 2006

  From the 5/5/06 issue of The Panolian       

Supervisors hear lunacy stories, see dollar signs
By Billy Davis

A mentally ill patient’s $25,000 medical bill from Tri-Lakes Medical Center got Panola County officials talking this week about the growing financial burden on county taxpayers.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock broached the subject at the county supervisors’ "first Monday" meeting, announcing that his office had received the bill for a patient’s two-week stay.

Pitcock told supervisors he contacted the hospital and said the county wouldn’t pay the patient’s bill. CFO Ray Shoemaker told Pitcock that he would take care of the bill, the chancery clerk also said.

The chancery clerk’s office oversees lunacy cases that come before a chancery court judge, Batesville attorney Adam Pittman.

Pitcock’s mention of the hospital bill led to a 15-minute discussion among the chancery clerk, the board of supervisors and Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright about the apparent expense of mental patients who enter the county’s chancery court system.

After papers are filed on a person, the process begins with a mental evaluation by a doctor followed by a chancery court hearing. If the judge rules that treatment is needed, then the person is ordered to enter a state mental facility.

The county’s role in the court process is court filings as well as finding a short-term housing facility until an opening becomes available.

"We’ve only got two places to put them – either in jail or in the hospital," Pitcock told supervisors.

Batesville is home to a state mental health facility, located near Tri-Lakes, that houses women for long-term treatment.

Some supervisors were visibly surprised when Pitcock told them lunacy court appearances numbered about 300 in 2005 and are averaging one a day this year.

Since the number of cases keeps growing, Pitcock said, the county often has to pay court fees for each case as well as short-term housing expenses if the patient has no medical insurance.

As many as 70 percent of the families who sign lunacy papers on a family member also sign a "pauper’s oath," which states that the family is too poor to pay court costs, Pitcock said.

The court costs begin with a minimum $271.50 filing fee and increase from there, Pitcock told The Panolian after the meeting.

"I know we have some who can’t afford it, but it’s not 70 percent," Pitcock told supervisors.

Compounding the "pauper" problem is that family members often sign lunacy papers on each other during a domestic squabble, he said. Those families also often sign the pauper oath.

Bright told supervisors the sheriff’s department, which picks up people for mental evaluations, also sees the sham lunacy cases. Families often sign papers to "get somebody out of their hair," he said.

Since the once-public Tri-Lakes is now privately owned, supervisors agreed they must re-examine both the cost of housing patients with no insurance as well as locating a suitable short-term facility.

Supervisor Bubba Waldrup suggested, however, that the county contact Tri-Lakes about a per-day fee for housing mentally ill patients.

Bright told supervisors the county jail has one cell for holding a single patient but noted that it’s designed for short-term use.

"I don’t take them to the jail without a court order signed by the judge," Bright said.

To better understand the chancery court situation, board of supervisors attorney Bill McKenzie suggested that Pitcock ask Pittman to attend the supervisors’ "second Monday" meeting next week in Batesville.

A year later, litter proposal makes repeat
Ordinance would prohibit any ‘unauthorized dumps’
By Billy Davis

Panola County solid waste manager Dean Joiner said he unwittingly dropped a year-old controversial topic in the laps of county supervisors Monday when he proposed they adopt a county litter ordinance.

Joiner handed out copies of the 13-page document at the board of supervisors meeting in Sardis, explaining to the county officials that he had received the ordinance at a solid waste conference he attended recently in Natchez.

"I want y’all to look at, kind of go through it and see what you think, but I want to adopt it," Joiner told the board of supervisors.

The solid waste manager asked the board if it would respond to his proposal by the end of the month.

The ordinance Joiner received and passed along Monday is similar to one handed out to the supervisors more than a year ago by Sheriff’s Deputy Bobby Walton. He had also received a litter ordinance at a solid waste conference he attended.

Walton tries to nab illegal dumpers as the county’s solid waste enforcement officer and hoped the ordinance would help him catch and prosecute guilty parties.

Walton handed out a 10-page proposal to supervisors at a March meeting last year, but they never acted on the proposal after discussing it for about 10 minutes during a later meeting in April.

If passed in complete form by supervisors, Walton’s proposal would have affected private property by fining landowners who dot their property with junk cars, old appliances and other large items. The ordinance would declare such property an "unauthorized dump."

Smaller trash items are covered elsewhere in the ordinance and would also be forbidden on private property if the ordinance had passed as-is.

Passing the ordinance would have affected hundreds of junky yards – and hence private landowners – in the county, where residents enjoy freedom from code enforcement regulations that govern municipalities like Batesville and Sardis.

At the supervisors meeting Monday, board attorney Bill McKenzie was the first to note that Joiner’s proposal was similar to the one handed out last year by Walton.

During discussion of the county’s illegal dumps and litter-strewn roads, McKenzie zeroed in on Walton’s detective-like tactic of finding people’s names in their garbage in order nab them, which Joiner suggested would help catch and prosecute the dumpers.

McKenzie suggested, however, that the garbage bag-examining tactic would not hold up in court.

"It’s got to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt," said the attorney, who serves as municipal court judge for the City of Batesville. "To find somebody’s garbage laying in a ditch probably does not prove that he put it there. It means that his garbage is in a ditch."

Reached after the meeting, Joiner said he didn’t realize supervisors had been handed a similar ordinance by Walton until McKenzie made note of it.
"I knew Bobby had talked to (the supervisors), but I didn’t know he gave them the same thing," Joiner said.

The solid waste manager said he did not hear any feedback from supervisors after the Monday meeting.

"I know the ordinance might need some tweaking to adjust to Panola County because every situation is different," Joiner said. "I just see it as a positive way to help with our county’s litter problem."

During the meeting Monday, Joiner told supervisors that Bolivar and Lafayette counties are "looking" at the ordinance he had handed out. Wayne County had adopted it and was using it, he said.

District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant added that a similar ordinance had also been adopted in Lauderdale County.

Como Post Office
     Smoothing concrete Wednesday to create wheelchair access to the new post office building nearing completion on Como’s Main Street are Darrnell Burton and John Butts. The post office has operated in a temporary facility since a fire in 2002. Postmaster Steve Cannon said he hoped to open in the new location next week.
Sardis mayor: ‘good chance’ for new PD
By Jason C. Mattox

The City of Sardis is hoping to build a new police department with grant funds but its location is still to be determined, Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye explained during the board of aldermen’s meeting Tuesday night.

Dye told aldermen about a meeting he had with Rep. Leonard Morris and other state officials in April to discuss potential funding for the new building.

"When we originally started talking about building a new PD, we were looking at a building that would have cost close to $600,000," he said. "But we are going to scale that back."

Dye said he was made aware of a $250,000 small municipalities grant that would pay for the construction of the building. The city would be responsible for $12,500.

"People I have talked to seem to think there is a good chance the city will get the grant," he said. "And if we can build a new PD at a cost of $12,500 to the city, we definitely need to do it."

The biggest change being made to the plans for the building is the removal of the municipal courtroom.

"I know it would be easier on everyone to just have city court at the police department, but I think we will be better off financially if we take that out and scale the building back to about 3,000 square feet," Dye said.

Municipal Court is presently held in the board room at City Hall.

The mayor said the city was in dire need of a new home for its police department.

"That old building is really too small for everyone," he said. "The building is not as safe as it could be somewhere else, plus, the building needs a lot of repairs."

The existing PD was constructed in the early 1960s and has 1,000 square feet of space.

Aldermen voted unanimously to allow Dye to sign and submit the grant application.

"This could be a really good thing for the people of the city and especially our policemen," Dye said.

Industrial prospect makes pitch for Dana building
By Billy Davis

An industrial prospect interested in moving its operation to the former Dana plant in Crenshaw also wants ownership of the facility for collateral.

District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant announced the request from Rolando Foods, Inc. at the supervisors’ "first Monday" meeting this week in Sardis.

Supervisors took no action on the request but noted the obvious risk in handing over the Dana facility, which is currently owned by the county.

Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons is scheduled to meet with supervisors next week to discuss Rolando, Avant said.

The food company wants to relocate from its Maryland location, bringing 150 jobs to the area, Avant said.

Avant, who represents the Crenshaw area, said unemployment there is as high as "25 to 30 percent."

The town of Crenshaw is partially located in the northwest corner of Panola County, where it straddles the county line with Quitman County.

Rolando made the request formal via a letter that was passed out to supervisors. The letter states the company’s plan to borrow funds but stresses the need for collateral to do so to gain a letter of credit.

In other county business:
Supervisors chose District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup to serve on a three-man committee that will interview candidates for an assistant road manager position.
     County road manager Lygunnah Bean and County Administrator David Chandler are the other members.
     Waldrup agreed to serve after being asked by District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins.
County road manager Lygunnah Bean informed supervisors that the county probably owes compensation after road department workers scooped away a landowner’s dirt while working near private property on Hudson Road.
     The county had received an easement from the landowner to widen the road but went beyond the easement, Bean acknowledged, adding that much less dirt was taken than was reported by family member Preston Gleeton.
     Preston Gleeton reported the incident to supervisors in April and demanded $5,000 for the dirt and $2,000 for damages.
     Bean told supervisors Monday, however, that a land deed shows another family member, James Gleeton, actually owns the land where the damage occurred.
     Bean said he would return with a suggested amount of compensation.
Bean informed supervisors that the road department will no longer provide gravel for bus parking spaces on private property. The county will, however, continue to provide bus turnarounds, he said.
     The state audit department has ruled that the parking spaces are not bus turnarounds, said Bean, meaning the county is not allowed to put public gravel on those properties.
     Bean, who serves as president of the South Panola school board, said the South Panola district currently has 172 school bus turnarounds, including 72 for school bus drivers.
Supervisors voted to allow county coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge to attend a state coroners convention in Vicksburg.
Supervisors voted to allow the hiring of a jailer, Michael Hardin, at a salary of $1,730 a month to fill an empty slot. Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright made the request.
City of Sardis signs off on legal fee pay
By Jason C. Mattox

City leaders were asked what to do about SpringFest tents in the coming weeks by Street Department Superintendent Teddy Austin.

"I know a lot of the clubs use tents downtown for SpringFest," he said. "But what are we going to do about them this year?"

Austin asked the question because of the recent resurfacing of the Downtown Square.

"We have always done it, but it is going to mess up our nice new asphalt," he said.

Ward 4 Alderwoman Bobbie Jean Pounders said the persons responsible for the tents would either have to repair the damage from tent spikes or the city will be responsible.

"They are going to have to put the spikes in the ground to hold the tents up," she said. "They are supposed to fix it, but if they don’t the city will have to do it."

In other board business:
The bid of Graham Roofing for the replacement of the roof on City Hall was discussed but remained under advisement. The matter will be addressed at the board’s next meeting on May 16.
Bids for the resurfacing of seven tennis courts in the city were opened and taken under advisement. A total bid of $26,200 was received from Barton Sports Construction of Memphis. A total bid of $32,383 was received from Cal/Mar Construction Company from Jackson.
Gas Department Superintendent William Wilson was given permission to attend a Public Awareness Training Class in Oxford with expenses paid by the city.
Members of the Batesville Police Department were given permission to work as personal security for David Bailey during a gun show in Southaven. Officers will not be in uniform.


Copyright 2005-2006 by The Panolian, Inc..  All rights reserved
Copyright 2001-2004 by Batesville Newspapers, LLC.  All rights reserved
Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission  is prohibited.