Headlines – 8/29/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – August 29, 2006

  From the 8/29/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

In Panola, Katrina more than
     year-old memory
     Saying "good bye" to Hurricane Katrina victim Vernon Lavel (middle) are Suzanne Denley and Ron Denley. Lavel and Kenai, a 115-pound malamute, will be traveling back to Louisiana this week after spending a year in Batesville. The Denleys let Vernon seek refuge in their home after Katrina struck a year ago today.
By Emily Williams

One year after Katrina’s wrath, a Louisiana man and his very large dog will depart this week from their temporary home in Panola County.

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Ron and Suzanne Cooper Denley, of Turtle Creek Drive in Panola County, have offered hospitality – and their guest house – to Vernon Lavel and his 115-pound malamute, Kenai, for the past year.

Soon after the storm, Vernon and Kenai had landed in Batesville and found the facilities at South Panola Veterinary Hospital where Katrina pets were being cared for.

"I heard they had been boarding pets from Katrina, so I went to the vet’s office to see what I could do to help," said Ron Denley.

Denley was told at the vet’s office that everything was under control, and "that ?s when I asked if they knew of anyone that I could help."

"They said someone just left shortly before I got there."

That is when he saw Vernon Lavel walking Kenai, and offered assistance.

Ron and Suzanne both work for Delta Airlines and travel a lot, but wanted to help by letting Vernon stay in their guest house.

"They have taken me in like family," said Vernon.

"Especially her mother (Tina Cooper)."

"She helps take care of Kenai when we are out of town," said Ron.

"It has been a family effort to take care of Kenai," added Suzanne.

Vernon will be returning to Louisiana and living in Breaux Bridge in a house contractors have almost finished building.

Last week he described the sequence of events that brought him from his home in Chalmette, La. to Panola County a year ago.

Vernon said he and family members evacuated a day before the storm hit.

"My mother rode with my aunt because she didn’t want to ride with the dog."

Left behind was Vernon’s "prize 1977 blue Corvette Stingray," a vehicle too small to accommodate Kenai, he said.

"It was a choice, the car or the dog. I thought the car would be there when I got back," he said.

(It wasn’t.)

"I packed the dog and a few things and we just headed north and I ended up in Hattiesburg thinking that I was far enough north, but then the storm actually went over Hattiesburg," he said.

"I found a veterinary office that looked fairly new and it was getting late in the evening. They didn’t want to board him at first."

Vernon said it was hard finding a hotel room.

"So I found a dingy little motel room and the storm passed over and it demolished the motel."

He said when he went back to get his dog at the vet’s office he couldn’t find the building.

"I knew it was only a mile or two away from the motel, so I turned around and realized when I looked across the highway that the building was flat."

He said a tornado hit the building and demolished it.

Vernon said when he found the vet, the veterinarian asked, "What kind of dog do you have?"

"I said, ?the big malamute!’"

He said the dog was still there. He was still in a cage, though the roof was gone.

Leaving the vet with Kenai, he decided to get back on the highway to find a hotel room.

"I got to Batesville, and a lot of hotels were booked, but I found an opening at the Ramada."

After being "adopted" by the Denleys last fall, Vernon found himself infected with football fever.

Though he had never heard of Batesville, he did know the South Panola Tigers.

"He went to every game last year including state," said Suzanne.

"It was fun following a team that was undefeated," said Vernon.

"The people of Batesville have been very nice to me."

Supervisors approve county employee raise
By Billy Davis

Panola County government’s 125 full-time employees will receive a five-percent pay raise October 1 after supervisors agreed to the figure last week.

The county employee pay raise was just one of several budgeting decisions made by the Panola County Board of Supervisors last Thursday as the five-man board inched closer to finalizing the county’s $16 million budget.

Supervisors were scheduled to meet for a final time tonight at the Batesville courthouse, where County Administrator David Chandler will review the budget and announce the county’s 2006-2007 millage rate.

Chandler told supervisors Thursday the added cost of the pay raise will be $49,008 next year from the general fund, which excludes pay raises for the road department and solid waste department, which operate from other separate county funds.

Reached after the meeting Thursday, Chandler estimated the pay raises for road department and solid waste employees adds another $50,000 to $60,000 to the overall cost.

The coming pay raise does not boost the pay of the county supervisors, Chandler told The Panolian.

The county administrator had inserted a three-percent pay raise into the budget, but District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant pushed for a five-percent raise at an August 22 budget meeting.

County supervisors approved a three-percent raise last year.

At the Thursday meet, District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup told the newspaper that county millage which was left in place after the sale of Tri-Lakes Medical Center last year will remain in place, partly to help pay for the employee pay raise.

Last year, the county’s millage included 2.3 mills for operating the South Panola Hospital District. The district dissolved, however, when the hospital was sold into private hands.

"We had talked about possibly taking it off," Waldrup said, referring to the millage, "but we all agreed as a board that it will pay for the raise."

"We’re also using some of that (millage) for paving," added District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant.

Weekend accident claims life of Potts
By Billy Davis

Funeral services are Wednesday at 2 p.m. in Tunica for the victim of a one-vehicle wreck.

Larry D. Potts Jr., 29, of Water Valley, died Saturday when a truck he was driving on Pumping Station Road left the road and flipped, killing him.

The road is located south of Highway 315 in the Pleasant Grove area.

Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge, who responded to the scene, said the accident occurred about 4 p.m. on a curvy stretch of road.

The Panola County Sheriff’s Department responded to the wreck, but any information about the accident was not made available by press time Monday.

Potts is the son of Larry Potts of Pope and Dottie Carlisle of Tunica. He worked as a technician for Tri-Lakes Refrigeration in Water Valley.

Funeral services will be held at Nowell Funeral Home. Burial will be at Cold Springs Cemetery.

Patrols next step after light ‘take back’ meet
By Billy Davis

Batesville Police Chief Gerald Legge announced Saturday that police officers will make more patrols through the Patton Lane area as part of a community-wide effort to "take back" the area and ensure public safety.

Legge announced his intentions during a second "take it back" meeting, which was held Saturday morning at the Patton Lane Community Center.

Rev. Robert Govan, who organized the meeting, announced plans Saturday to walk the streets at night to observe the goings-on in the community.

Govan also announced plans for a third meeting in late September.

Other than Legge’s announcement and Govan’s planned walk, however, participants made little progress Saturday toward attacking the problems in and around Patton Lane Park.

Neighbors say the park and the surrounding area are known for drug selling, gambling and beer drinking, creating a dangerous environment that prevents children from enjoying the park.

The community center, which formerly served as the Patton Lane Band Hall, is located between the park and public housing apartments.

During a lengthy comment period Saturday, participants spoke mostly about parental responsibility and the need to be role models for children.

Govan told Saturday’s participants, who numbered about 20, that they should talk to people they know whose actions hurt the community.

"Take it back" participant Le Anne Cannon told Govan and others that the community had become "too relaxed" over time and was seeing the effects.

"We’re living in a new day and a new era," Cannon said.

"These meetings are good, but there’s no action behind them," Cannon added.

"I have presented a plan of action," replied Melvin Tucker, who had said earlier in the meeting that providing more job opportunities would curb the community’s troubles.

"Jobs are not on my agenda," Govan had responded to the Tucker’s comment. "What we’re talking about is protecting the community."

According to the police chief, the Patton Lane area will likely see more patrols in coming weeks and months as the police department fills up some patrol spots that were vacant.

Legge said a pay raise for officers approved by city officials last year has helped fill vacancies in the department.

Sheriff pleads ‘no more’ after budget gets trimmed
By Billy Davis

The purchase of a drug dog and new firearms, and a second hiring to supervise roadside trash pickup, are among the budget priorities of Panola County Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright.

At a meeting last Thursday, supervisors removed Bright’s request for a deputy, trimmed a $50,000 request for vehicles back to $25,000, and grilled Bright about $8,500 budgeted for purchasing firearms.

After reviewing the sheriff’s budget for about 15 minutes, supervisors agreed that Bright should be present to hear their discussion and answer questions about the budget. Chandler then phoned Bright and asked him to come to the meeting.

Twenty minutes later, Bright arrived, announcing that he had a blowout while driving his truck to the meeting.

"I had to get somebody to pick me up," he told supervisors.

Before Bright arrived, supervisors added $5,000 a year to the sheriff’s state-mandated salary of $72,000 and discussed other budget priorities.

Supervisors could have boosted the sheriff’s salary by $10,000 at their discretion, but District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant suggested the $5,000 increase as a compromise between choosing the $10,000 sum or refusing to boost the sheriff’s salary at all.

District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup off-handedly suggested giving Bright a five-percent increase, the pay raise proposed for all county employees beginning October 1.

Waldrup, Avant and District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins grilled Bright about the $8,500 budgeted for firearm purchases, asking why that amount is thousands of dollars higher than last year’s budgeted amount.

Bright replied that he wants to phase out shotguns and replace them with Ruger Mini-14s, a compact but powerful assault rifle that shoots a .223 caliber round.

"I plan to give all my men one," Bright said. The weapons could be used "in case of some type of riot," he added.

Next year, Bright said, he will likely request a similar budget amount in order to phase out deputies’ sidearms and replace them with "revolvers."

Waldrup suggested to Bright that he "standardize" the deputies’ sidearms before purchasing the rifles, telling the sheriff that most law enforcement agencies are using a Glock .40 caliber automatic.

"Which would you rather have?" Avant asked.

"I’d like to get the rifles," Bright replied.

Bright told supervisors the Mini-14 rifles cost between $350 to $400 each, leading Perkins to perform some quick mathematics: 14 rifles purchased at $350 each for 14 deputies totals only $4,900.

"That still leaves you with more money than you had last year," Perkins said.

Supervisors informed Bright that they had cut out one vehicle request and turned down his request for a new deputy, but kept the $8,000 he requested for purchasing a drug dog.

"About that deputy, they said they gave you three already," Chandler told the sheriff, referring to Bright’s hirings shortly after he was elected sheriff.
The sheriff told supervisors he was grateful they allowed him to start a second county cleanup crew. He will pay for a second supervisor from a fund that pays hourly employees, he said.

One crew of jail trustees is already at work in the county, and a second crew that’s funded by a state grant picks up trash along county highways.

"Y’all don’t cut me no more," Bright told the supervisors with a chuckle.

"I’m trying to keep them off of you," replied Supervisor Mac Benson.

The sheriff’s department budget and the road department budget together account for about $5 million of Panola County government’s $16 million budget, Chandler said last week.

Supervisors are slated to approve the budget today at 4 p.m. in a final budget meeting at the Batesville courthouse.


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