Headlines – 8/18/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 18, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – August 18, 2006

  From the 8/18/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

     A two-car wreck at the intersection of Highway 6 and Eureka on Thursday brought a flurry of firefighters including (l. to r.) John Jenkins, Banks Brassell, William Johnson and Joey Bridges, with other firemen attending a victim still inside the vehicle. The victim was later transported by air ambulance. Another victim was checked at the scene.
South Panola officials happy with test results
By Rupert Howell

South Panola School District officials were happy about last year’s results of the Mississippi Curriculum testing which were just released and revealed four of the district’s six schools at level four and two at level three.

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School achievement levels are measures of a school’s proficiency with one being the lowest and five being super performing. Level three is considered successful and four is exemplary.

"I want people to know the president of this board is excited," Board President Lygunnah Bean told his fellow board members at Tuesday’s monthly board meeting.

School Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer discussed the school rankings and scores using the Achievement Level Index which indicated improvement in each of the district’s six schools.

Students’ performance from the Mississippi Curriculum test administered each spring in grades 3-8 and four subject area tests taken by high school students determine what level a school is rated.

Testing in high school subject areas is based on algebra I, biology I, English II and U. S. history. The amount of improvement can also be a factor in the rating.

Batesville Middle School gained an Achievement level four for the first time while Batesville Intermediate/Elementary and Pope School regained level four status.

Bean said, "We are going to level four or better next year."

Shaffer noted that South Panola High School was within striking distance of a four rating and told trustees, "The atmosphere significantly improved toward instruction," at that school.

The Achievement Level Index (ALI) referenced by Shaffer showed that each school had increased learning during the latest testing period compared to the previous testing period.

The ALI for the separate schools for 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 respectively were: Batesville Elementary/Intermediate, 393 and 418; Batesville Middle, 362 and 380; Pope, 435 and 476; Batesville Junior High, 343 and 365 and South Panola High, 357 and 379.

Upheaval leaves cloud over Crenshaw
By David Howell

In a special called meeting Tuesday night, Crenshaw Mayor Sylvester Reed offered no comment when confronted by several board members about alleged irregularities regarding the Atmos Energy building negotiations.

The meeting stemmed from an alleged attempt by Reed to purchase this building personally at a discounted price that had been offered to the city.

Reed, who opened the meeting, explained to the public that the meeting had been called by a couple of aldermen concerning this building.

At that point Alderman David Whitsell asked City Clerk Renee Ward to read an article that appeared in The Southern Reporter last week.

Ward then read out loud, to the public and board, the clipped article which stated that Mayor Reed apparently keep the town’s other elected officials in the dark for weeks as he negotiated with Atmos Energy officials over the utility company’s now-abandoned office facility in the town.

Whitsell then instructed Ward to read a copy of a timeline that had been provided to aldermen and Reed about the building activity.

The timeline alleges that Reed worked for weeks behind the scenes on purchasing the building which had been initially offered to the Town of Crenshaw.

And finally Ward was instructed to read portions of the Mississippi Constitution and the Mississippi Code of 1972 (see related article, bottom of page) pointing out discrepancies in the manner with which Reed had handled this situation.

"We called this meeting so you can have your say," Whitsell told Reed after the presentations.

"Did you read the paper?" Whitsell asked.

"Yes," Reed answered. "I don’t have a defense to put up at this time," the mayor said.

"Let the record show the absence of our board attorney," Reed also said.

"For some reason there seems to be allegations of all this that have no value. There is a bunch of stuff made up," Reed said.

"My attorney has advised me not to have comment," Reed continued.

With that said, Reed declared the meeting adjourned, using his hand as a gavel and made his way to the door – exiting the building.

A member of the public then stated out loud that the meeting could not be adjourned by the Mayor, but instead must be motioned, seconded and voted on by aldermen.

Alderwoman Shirley Morgan, who had also stood up to leave, motioned to adjourn the meeting. Keith Pride promptly seconded the motion following Morgan and Reed out the door.

No vote was taken on the motion, and the meeting continued with three aldermen.

Alderman Alberta Bradley then motioned for a resolution calling for Mayor Reed to resign. Whitsell promptly seconded the motion and the third remaining alderman, Milton Phipps, also voted in favor of the motion.

Alderman Whitsell followed with a motion to call the state ethics commission to investigate the affair. Bradley seconded this motion and the vote carried 2 – 0 with Phipps saying he was not going to vote on this issue.

"This is not a witch hunt," Whitsell said. "It is too many facts."

Contacted a press time Wednesday, town attorney Mary Brown of Grenada said that she was talking with the town hall officials about what had happened at the meeting. Brown said that she could not comment on the actions taken following the departure of the mayor and two aldermen until she had completed her research.

Sardis tax hike may be forthcoming
By Jason C. Mattox

Sardis city officials voted to increase ad valorem taxes Tuesday afternoon, determining to reverse a tax cut voted in by an earlier board.

"We lowered our taxes years ago, and we have got to do something to get the millage rate back where it should be," Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said.
The city’s current millage rate is 32.9 mills. The new rate will be 36.19.

The tax increase will generate $31,000 in revenue for the city.

Alderman-at-Large Roy Scallorn made the motion to raise taxes and after a brief pause Ward 1 Joseph "JoJo" Still said, "I’m going to let one of these new guys bit the bullet on this one."

Still eventually seconded the motion after hesitation from Ward 2 Alderman Rufus Smith and Ward 4 Alderman Rivers McArthur failed to offer a second.

"I caught a lot when we went up on the water rates last year," McArthur said.

After the second, aldermen voted 4-0 to increase the millage rate. Ward 3 Alderman Mike Wilson was absent.

City Clerk Odessa Johnson had suggested a tax increase, water rate increase or tourism tax as possible sources of increased revenue for the financially strapped town.

Johnson noted that a tourism tax could levy an additional three percent sales tax on prepared foods.

"Presently, we only get 18 percent on the seven percent sales tax," she said. "With this increase, we would get the full three percent increase."

City Attorney Tommy Shuler advised the board that it would take local and private legislation to approve a tourism tax.

"You won’t be able to get the increase approved until the legislature is in session in January," he said. "So, it might not be something that can help you out a lot this year, but it will in future budgets."

The board will meet to discuss the budget again next Tuesday at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

Panola County still under burn ban
By Billy Davis

Panola County’s burn ban is still in effect, and sheriff’s deputies are "helping" violators remember the rule.

Panola County supervisors agreed to the ban August 7, but firefighters across the county are responding to grassfires nearly every day that are started by careless and clueless Panolians.

"People are still burning despite the ban, and most of them are claiming ignorance," deputy civil defense director Daniel Cole told The Panolian this week.

Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright said violating the burn ban is a misdemeanor, and the sheriff’s department will help enforce the no-burn rule.

"Our deputies are out riding the roads looking for smoke," Bright said.

Asked if deputies are issuing warnings, Bright said the warnings have already been made via the newspaper.

"If anybody’s burning, they’re going to get a ticket wrote," he said.

The misdemeanor penalty is a minimum $100 fine with a maximum penalty of $500.

City loses lawsuit, will appeal verdict
By Billy Davis

Attorneys for the City of Batesville filed a motion in U. S. District Court Thursday seeking to reverse an Oxford jury’s decision late Monday that the City violated state bid laws in denying work to contractor Robert Shepard.

The federal jury agreed that Batesville contractor Robert Shepard is owed $45,000 from the City of Batesville for work that was passed on to other construction companies.

The eight-person jury listened to four days of testimony in which Shepard’s attorneys built a case that alleged their client was illegally kept out of projects even though he was the lowest bidder on many of the jobs.

The $45,000 covers profits that Shepard would have made.

Shepard filed suit against the City of Batesville and four construction companies in November, 2004, alleging his low bids were overlooked by street department superintendents in favor of his higher-priced competitors.

The trial was held in Courtroom 3 East at the federal courthouse in Oxford. Judge Glen H. Davidson presided over the trial.

Shepard was represented by lead attorney Jim W. Waide and attorney Brent McBride, both of Tupelo.

The City of Batesville was represented by Daniel J. Griffith and Benjamin E. Griffith of Cleveland, and assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell.

The lawsuits against Brocato Construction, W and W Contractors, Rebel Construction Company, and Evans Sand and Gravel were thrown out of court as the trial proceedings began.

The suit against the City of Batesville had continued for nearly two years with more than 100 court filings.

According to Shepard, the jury agreed that the City of Batesville violated his 14th Amendment Rights as well as Mississippi’s bid laws.

Witnesses for the City of Batesville alleged, however, that Shepard was difficult to reach when needed and was sometimes a no-show when he was reached, leaving them no choice but to call the next-lowest bidder to perform a job.

Those who testified for the City of Batesville included department superintendents Teddy Austin, Ricky Shirey and William Wilson, purchasing agent Mark Shields, and former Batesville Mayor Bobby Baker.

"We had a lot going on and were being pushed to get it done," Baker told The Panolian following the verdict. "The record shows that Mr. Shepard was called some 13 times, and sometimes he came and sometimes he didn’t."

"The City of Batesville had introduced records claiming that it could not reach Mr. Shepard to perform the work," according to a statement released by Shepard’s attorney, Jim Waide following the trial.

"However, both Mr. Shepard and his wife testified that he was always available but never called."

"The jury determined that Mr. Shepard was the lowest and best bidder on track hoe work and dirt and gravel work, but the work was unlawfully given to" other contractors, Waide’s statement continued.

Shepard said he took exception to Daniel Griffith’s description of the lawsuit against Brocato and the other companies as an allegation of "bribery" involving the parties involved.

Griffith mentioned "bribery" when noting to The Panolian last week that Davidson had tossed out the suits Shepard had made against his competitors.

"I never said bribe," Shepard told The Panolian. "I filed conspiracy charges."

Shepard added that he is "still looking at" continuing legal action against Brocato, W and W, Rebel and Evans.

The city’s "Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and New Trial or Remittitur in the Alternative" filed yesterday seeks reversal of the jury’s decision from three avenues. In its request for a "judgment as a matter of law" the motion "asks the judge to go ahead and do what he should have done based on the evidence and dismiss the complaint," Mitchell said.

The city’s request for a new trial includes language that states: "The verdict and damage award of the jury was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence," and that "Shepard’s opinions as to lost profits have no value and created confusion with the jury."

In the third alternative, requesting the court "grant Remittitur as to the award of lost profits by the jury" the city asks the court reduce "Shepard’s lost profits to one dollar."

(John Howell contributed to this story).

Request for mini-storage shelved
     until Sept. meet
By Billy Davis

Requests for a car wash/mini-storage on Mallard Point Road and a family cemetery on Pope-Water Valley Road kept members of the Panola County Land Development Commission busy during a lengthy meeting Monday night.

Land commission members deferred action on both the car wash and the cemetery until September, agreeing that more time was needed to study the locations before a vote is cast.

Land owner Jeff Irwin is seeking to build a car wash, a mini-storage and a boat storage facility on a 14-acre lot located at 1890 Mallard Point Road.

Irwin’s request is for a special exception for commercial activity in an area zoned as an agricultural district.

During a public hearing, four neighbors who live near the proposed site voiced concern over the car wash, saying it would increase illegal drug activity that is already in the area.

"That land is located in a dangerous curve where several people have been killed," said Blackjack resident Hilda Wilson, who told commission members the car wash "will give us nothing but litter and drugs."

Blackjack resident Lisa Dettor suggested that a second mini-storage business is not needed in the area.

"If you over-saturate the area, it will be run down and not used," she said.

Still another neighbor said her home endures low water pressure from the Hotophia water association, wondering aloud how the car wash would affect the infrastructure.

Irwin told commission members he lived in the area, too, and would not knowingly build and operate a business that is a nuisance to neighbors.

"I’m concerned about safety, too," he told the commission.

Irwin told commission members he was unaware of drug activity in the area, a statement that brought surprised chuckles from his opposition.

Regarding the curve, the land owner told the commission he is working with an engineering firm about the site and the best location for the several ventures he is planning.

During discussion of Irwin’s request, commission member Sledge Taylor said he was wary of creating a "hodge podge" of commercial property intermingled with residential property.

Commission member Danny Jones made a motion, which found a unanimous vote, that the commission postpone any action until the site and a site plan from Irwin can be viewed before a decision is made in September.

In other commission business, commission members agreed to visit the site of a proposed cemetery at 1338 Pope-Water Valley Road.

Land commission chairman Danny Walker suggested the on-site visit after hearing from neighbors who oppose the request by land owner Patricia Nash.

District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, who was observing the meeting, told commission members that any vote by them regarding a private family cemetery was unnecessary.

"You don’t need authority to bury family members on your own private land," Avant told the commission. "There’s no law against it."

After Avant left the meeting, however, commission members agreed to proceed with their plans to visit the site.

"I just don’t think the City of Batesville would allow me to bury a body in my front yard," remarked attorney Colmon Mitchell, who serves as counsel for the commission.

A public hearing for a family cemetery was also scheduled for Mrs. James Hal Moore, who is seeking a special exception for a two-acre plot.

The commission postponed any action after Moore did not show up for the hearing.

In other commission business:
Raymond Belk was approved for a special exception to construct a barbecue cooking business on 2.3 acres located at 831 Yocona Gin Road.
Belk said the cooking business is part of an Alabama-based barbecue franchise, Whitt’s, that he is bringing to Batesville in coming months.
Pending some tweaking to a subdivision plat, the commission approved an application from Ted Stewart to reclassify 27 acres from agricultural to residential (R-1) at 1456 Hadorn Road.
Stewart said the location will include a subdivision of so-called "self-help" housing, a home ownership program of the USDA.
Stewart agreed to change the subdivision plat, which listed the lot sizes as 80′ x 100′, to the minimum lot size of 12,000 square feet.
The subdivision property borders Batesville’s city limits, and Stewart said the homes will receive utility services from the city.



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