| Paper trail grew despite few votes
| Panola County pollworker Hilda Wilson shows W. C. Woodard how to use the new Diebold touch-screen voting machine Tuesday at the Blackjack Community Center. Woodard, 74, said he was voting because he didn’t want to be intimidated by the new technology. "I’ve voted in every election since I was 21," he said.
| By Billy Davis
The Democrat primary Tuesday that narrowed a list of candidates seeking Congressional seats also introduced electronic touch-screen voting machines to Panola County voters.
Voters seemed agreeable to the new technology, but the new machines are creating new headaches for pollworkers and other personnel, said Panola County Circuit Court Clerk Joe Reid.
"The printout from the election is probably 150 pages, and only four percent of our voters cast a ballot," said Reid. "One of my employees will take all day to send that (election) information down to Jackson."
Another challenge related to the amount of paperwork is viewing a precinct-by-precinct tally, a common practice used by elected officials and political novices to compare votes.
The list to look at precincts would "probably stretch across my office," Reid told The Panolian.
The introduction of new voting technology was mandated by the federal Help America Vote Act. Panola County and most counties in Mississippi chose the Diebold brand, touted by Secretary of State Eric Clark.
Reid opposed Panola County’s purchase of the Diebold product, but county supervisors voted to join the majority of the state and purchased over 100 Diebold machines.
About 772 Panola County voters turned out for the primary, a total of 4.17 percent of eligible voters, Reid told The Panolian.
Panola County voters cast a majority of their ballots for state representative Eric Fleming, who is running for a senate seat, and James K. Hurt, who is running for a U.S. House seat.
Voters statewide cast ballots for Fleming and Hickory Flat businessman Bill Bowlin. Both candidates now advance to a June 27 runoff for a chance to unseat longtime U.S. Senator Trent Lott in the November 7 general election.
In the race for the 1st Congressional District seat, Hurt fared well across the state and advances to the runoff along with Columbus attorney William Bambach.
U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker currently holds the 1st Congressional seat and is running for a seventh two-year term.
The primary Tuesday was a "trial run" for the countywide elections in the summer of 2007, Reid said.
"I think our pollworkers did the best they could but needed more training, which was not their fault," the circuit clerk said. "I think more training is what is needed."
Reid later contacted The Panolian to reiterate that poll workers "did a good job" at the polls considering the new technology they were working with.
Reid said he heard concerns from voters about the lack of privacy the machines provide since the new technology took the place of voting booths.
"I think the wings do a pretty good job," Reid said, referring to the gray flaps that flip out from the screen.
| County picks up City of Batesville garbage service after winning bid
| By John Howell Sr.
Batesville aldermen voted Thursday to enter a contract with Panola County Solid Waste for residential and related garbage pickup effective
The change to the same county-owned service which collects garbage in rural areas of Panola County will allow the city’s monthly garbage collection fee to residents to remain near its current $8.56 per month.
"Their labor is free," Mayor Jerry Autrey said. The two workers who ride the trucks and dump garbage into the trucks are state trusty inmates housed in Panola facilities. The truck driver is a county employee.
Panola County Solid Waste submitted what was by far the lowest bid to gain the city’s garbage collection business. The current contract with Allied Waste of North Mississippi expires June 30.
Panola County Solid Waste bid $8.25 per household; Allied Waste bid $12.37, up from its current charge of $7.61 per household. Other bidders were Waste Services of Mississippi, LLC of Greenwood which bid $14.88 per resident; Waste Management of Belden, which bid $14.06 per resident and Mid-South Waste Disposal, Inc. of Clarksdale, which bid $12.75 per resident.
"Unlike most bids, you’re not looking for the lowest bidder [for garbage pickup service]; if you don’t take the lowest bid, you don’t have to explain," Mitchell said.
Mayor Jerry Autrey and aldermen Rufus Manley, Teddy Morrow and Bobbie Jean Pounders reviewed the Panola County Solid Waste proposal. Alderman Bill Dugger was out of town, and Alderman James Yelton is in the veterans home in Oxford where he is recovering from a stroke.
The aldermen questioned Autrey, who had held discussions with County Administrator David Chandler about the county’s bid.
Panola County Solid Waste is prepared to distribute 2,300 of its residential garbage cans in Batesville to implement the service, Autrey said. They will place dumpsters at the same rubbish collection sites as the current provider, he said.
There are fuel price increase clauses in Panola’s bid and no gas surcharge, the mayor added.
"I think we should do business with the county," Alderman Pounders said.
In response to a question from the mayor about security considerations with the inmates working in the city, Police Chief Gerald Legge said, "That’s the only thing I concerned about, but they pick up in the county."
Legge said that he was aware of no problems which had arisen from inmates picking up garbage in the county.
City officials instructed Mitchell to compose a contract for presentation to the county. Panola County Solid Waste will pick up most garbage in Batesville on Fridays, Autrey said. Outlying parts of the city may have collection on days that coincide with current routes now serving nearby county residents.
Panola County Solid Waste was formed in 1999 to handle residential garbage pickup in the county. It also serves the municipalities of Como and Crenshaw.
"We’re not in a profit and loss situation," Panola County Administrator David Chandler said, "and we don’t have the transportation costs" that the other bidders face.
Chandler also negotiated a long-term landfill rate which has been locked in for the next four years, he said.
"We can do it and do it a lot cheaper," he said.
| Jury was ’60/40′ in hung trial
| By Billy Davis
A defendant accused of slashing a woman eight times with a box cutter during a fistfight walked out of court Tuesday after a circuit court jury could not agree on a verdict.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour before informing Judge Andrew C. Baker they would not be able to reach a verdict in the state’s case against Kenyata Smith.
Reached after the trial, Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly said the judge presiding over a mistrial decides whether to schedule a retrial of the defendant.
Smith stood accused of aggravated assault after fighting Ratasha Poole at the North Park apartments in Batesville on August 25, 2005.
During court testimony, Poole stood in front of jurors and showed her scars. At least one juror, seated in the front row, winced at the injuries.
"I was cut three times on the face, two times on the neck and four times on my shoulders," Poole testified.
Poole, who repeatedly said she was unarmed, suggested that Smith may have hidden the blade in her fist while the two women exchanged blows.
Court testimony showed that the fight in the parking lot occurred in plain view of children, including Poole’s own child and three children belonging to Smith.
Smith’s attorney, Brennan Horan, poked holes in Poole’s credibility, pressing her on the witness stand about a statement to police that contradicted her court testimony.
Poole’s statement suggested, for example, that Smith threw the first punch, but on the witness stand Tuesday Poole said she hit first.
"Are you telling the truth today?" Horan eventually asked Poole during his cross-examination of the victim.
A juror who believed Smith was guilty was "half-sick" after the jury of six men and six women was unable to agree on a verdict.
The juror, who asked to remain anonymous, credited the defense attorney for focusing the jury’s attention on Poole’s credibility, such as who started it and who threw the first punch, instead of whether Smith acted in self-defense against Poole.
The split was about "60/40" in favor of a guilty verdict, the juror said.
"I told them the witnesses were all lying but whether they were or weren’t did matter," the juror said. "The only question was whether (Smith) used excessive force, which is what the judge told us to decide."
The juror reportedly held up a photo of Poole’s slashed throat, asking fellow jurors if they would find Smith guilty of murder if she had killed Poole.
"When I did that, they didn’t have anything to say," the juror said. "But by that point nobody was going to budge."
| Job hunt starts Thurs. at BCC
| By John Howell Sr.
Governor’s Job Fair Network Director Joe Buckner expects at least 60 employers at next Thursday’s North Northwest Mississippi Area Job Fair.
Buckner told job fair planners that as many as 3,000 job seekers could turn out for the event at the Batesville Civic Center June 15.
"I think it has a lot to do with your strategic location and your support here," the job fair network director said.
Bucker reviewed plans for the job fair during a brief meeting Thursday. Booths will be set up in the civic center Wednesday afternoon. Employers will set up in booths early Thursday and doors will open to applicants at 9 a.m.
A hospitality room will be open to employers who will also be served a catered lunch.
The Panola Partnership Ambassadors will serve as hosts and hostesses.
"If you know anybody looking for a job, the place to be on June 15 is the Batesville Civic Center," Buckner said during a recent planning meeting.
Buckner said that employers who want to participate can sign up as late as the day before by contacting Buckner at (601) 321-6154 or Batesville WIN Job Center Office Manager Cindy Martin at 563-563-7318.
"We’ve got a lot of Batesville employers here; I’m really impressed," Buckner said.
Joining the list of employers who have reserved booth space to interview prospective applicants are Ace Training Centers, AMDATE, Coca Cola Enterprises, Experience Works, Inc., Insituform Technologies, MDHS Personnel, Miss. Dept. of Corrections, Pride Auto Sales/Pride Hyundai and the South Delta Planning and Development District’s Small Business Center.
A partial list of other employers who have reserved space at the Job Fair also includes Ablest Staffing Services, ACI Building Systems, Advanced Distributor Products, AFLAC, Avon Industries representatives, Avon Independent Sales, Batesville Casket Company, Batesville Tooling and Design, BellSouth, Beverly Healthcare of Batesville, Carlisle Corporation, Cracker Barrel, Gardner Institute, High Tech Institute, Holland Employment, Manpower, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp., Minact, Inc. – Batesville Job Corps Center, Miss. Army National Guard, Miss. Highway Safety Patrol, Miss. Dept. of Employment Security, Miss. Department of Health, North Miss. State Hospital, Northwest Miss. Community College, Primamerica, RFT Management Inc. – Taco Bell, Schwans Home Service, Inc., SEACOR Marine, Steelmatic Wire USA, Inc., The University of Mississippi, Tower Loan, Tri-Lakes Medical Center, Union National Life Insurance Co. and Woodmen of the World.
| City votes to cut off second cutoff notice for late bills
| By John Howell Sr.
Effective August 1, City of Batesville utility customers who don’t pay their bills will no longer receive two notices after their initial bill.
Aldermen voted 4-0 at the Tuesday, June 6 meeting of the board of mayor and aldermen to end the extra notices. After August 1, all dates including the cutoff date for nonpayment will be printed on the utility bill mailed to customers.
Currently, a late notice with a cutoff warning is mailed to customers who do not pay after they receive their initial utility bill. Finally, prior to actual cutoff, workers from the Batesville Water and Sewer Department each month place door hangers at addresses with unpaid utility bills, department superintendent Ricky Shirey said. When the workers are delivering the cutoff notices to commercial customers they must obtain a signature on the notice, he added.
"I just think we’re spending way too much time and too much fuel to get these out," Shirey said.
"I don’t know of any other agency that has a three-tier notice," alderman Rufus Manley said.
Discussion prior to the vote weighed whether to do away with one of the late notices while retaining the other. The policy adopted by Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association, which condensed its multiple late notice information on the customer’s initial statement, was cited as model.
TVEPA spokesman Margaret Russell said that the electric utility started printing its cutoff dates on electricity bills in July, 2001, also as a cost saving measure.
"Most everybody … is going to come to you and tell you if they’ve got a problem, I never turned anybody down," said Shirey, referring to utility customers who can’t pay bills and who come to the city hall to make arrangements for later payments.
"We’ll work with people," Mayor Jerry Autrey said.
Shirey also recommended increases in connection fees and tap fees as well as a charge for road bores to open passages for utility lines under roadways.
"How long have these present rates been in effect ?" Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow asked.
"At least 10 years," Shirey replied. "Right now we don’t even charge for a road bore," he added.
The mayor and aldermen asked Shirey to return in two weeks with his recommendations and comparisons to other cities.
City engineer Blake Mendrop of McBride Engineering said that he was making a study of water and sewer rates in other municipalities and that he would also have his recommendations for the mayor and aldermen in two weeks.