Headlines Cont. – 11/10/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 10, 2006

The Panolian: INSIDE STORIES – November 10, 2006


Como Mayor’s contest thrown out by judge
By David Howell

More than a year after the Como Municipal Election last summer, a trial set to begin last Thursday was thrown out due to a technicality.

The petition, Judy Sumner versus the Como Democratic Executive Committee and Azria Lewers, was initially filed on June 23, 2005. Sumner did not comment as to whether the judge’s ruling would be appealed.

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"In this business of making a decision, I don’t have a crystal ball," a special appointed Chancery Judge Aycock told the courtroom last Friday as she dismissed a petition filed by Judy Sumner against the Como Democratic Executive Committee and Azria Bobby Lewers. Her comment was made after she spent an hour in her chambers researching case precedent.

The dismissal was based on the second technicality that surfaced as the trial was set to begin.

In a bizarre twist of events, Judge Aycock initially dismissed the appeal Thursday morning after Cleveland attorney Ellis Turnage argued that no cash bond had been posted.

The cash bond is required, Turnage said, according to Section 23-15-927 of the Mississippi Code of 1972.

Sumner’s attorneys, Steven Pittman and Gerald Chatham failed to produce evidence that the $300 cash bond had been paid, prompting Judge Aycock to dismiss the case around 11 a.m. Thursday morning.

Shortly after Judge Aycock left the courthouse, the attorneys found the documentation in the court file and docket where they had posted the cash bond as required by law.

Chatham was able to reach the judge, who was returning to Tupelo, on her cell phone.

She decided that court would resume Friday morning at 8:30 so that Sumner’s attorney could present the evidence that the bond had been paid.

On the next Thursday, just before noon, Chatham reached Turnage, who was dining at the Windy City Grill, and told him that court was rescheduled for Friday morning.

Friday Morning
"We were caught off guard," Chatham told Judge Aycock the Friday morning when court resumed. "It had been a year and a half since we had filed the bond." The bond was paid on the date that the petition was filed.

His explanation was an attempt to explain why they did not produce evidence that the cash bond had been posted when asked by Turnage the day before. Deputy Clerk Barbara Perkins testified for Sumner’s attorneys that the bond had been posted as court resumed Friday morning.

However, Turnage then argued in court that Sumner’s attorneys failed to "provide two or more sufficient sureties conditioned to pay all costs in case the petition was dismissed."

This requirement is also defined in Section 23-15-927. Like the bond, the sureties were described as statutory requirements by the judge.

Sumner’s attorneys then argued that the $300 cash bond was sufficient, and that the two sureties were not necessary in lieu of a cash bond.

"It doesn’t get any better than cash money," Chatham told the judge. Chatham also referenced a court case decided by the Mississippi Supreme Court, Jefferson versus the Mississippi State Highway Commission, where the court ruled that the cash bond was sufficient. The circumstances of the case were similar to Sumner’s case, but it was not an election contest.

Judge Aycock then ordered a recess, which lasted an hour, while she researched cases to find precedent from other cases.

In her final ruling, Judge Aycock dismissed the petition, citing specific election contest cases.

Lewers was represented by Jackson attorney, Sanford Earl Knott of Sanford Knott and Associates.

Sumner was attempting to prove that she actually received more votes than Lewers.

Her petition filed in Circuit Court states she initially led the Como mayor’s runoff election on May 17, 2005, by a count of 294 to 291. The next day, on May 18, there were 13 affidavit ballots to be counted by the Como Democratic Executive Committee, plus there also appeared to be an additional eight absentee ballots according to Sumner’s petition.

Of the eight absentee ballots, each candidate received two votes each, making the total 296 for Sumner and 293 for Lewers.

Of the 13 affidavit ballots that were counted by the Como Democratic Executive Committee, two were rejected, four went to Lewers and six went to Sumner, making the total count 302 for Sumner and 297 for Lewers, Sumner’s petition continues.

At this time, the affidavit ballot of Stevie Bonner was disputed because he is a convicted felon. This ballot was ultimately counted, bringing the total count to 302 for Sumner and 298 for Lewers.

On May 24, Sumner’s petition continues, the Como Democratic Executive Committee met again and counted 12 of 19 absentee ballots that were rejected on May 17, 2005. Lewers received all 12 rejected ballots, giving him a total of 310 votes to Sumner’s 302. The ballots had been rejected by poll managers on the night of the runoff election and was witnessed by Jim Nelson with the Secretary of State’s office.

Sumner’s petition also alleges that, on May 24, that it was obvious that the ballot boxes had been opened and tampered with.

Sardis businessman complains of mistreatment by police officer
By Jason C. Mattox

A Sardis man voiced his concerns about a police officer during Tuesday night’s meeting of the Sardis Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Fred Davison, who operates a business on Backstreet in the city, registered a complaint over an incident reported to him by his daughter who’d been in a traffic stop.

Davison said his daughter came in saying a police officer, later identified as Brooke Mangold, had been rude to her.

"She was crying when she came in and said the police officer did her wrong," he said.

"I have dealt with her from time to time and she does not treat you like a human being," he said. "Something needs to be done."

Mayor Alvis "Rusty" Dye said he had heard a number of complaints on the officer in addition to Davison’s.

Dye assured Davison that the city would investigate the matter and see what could be done.

In other board business:
Aldermen voted to pay $30,000 to KBS Construction and Tate Construction upon partial completion of the Home Grant rebuilds. Funds will be paid out of the federal grant.
Invoices for Evans Engineering totalling $21,000 for work on Wild Dog Ditch were paid out of funds from the Natural Resources and Soil Conservation grant.
Dye was given permission to accept a $91,000 grant from USDA to be applied toward the construction of a new police station.
William, Pitts, and Beard of DeSoto County were chosen to perform the city’s 2006 audit.
Batesville aldermen request more details before approving new subdivision
By Jason C. Mattox

Batesville aldermen gave preliminary plat approval to a commercial development during their meeting Tuesday, but tabled approval on a residential development until more information is available.

Aldermen had no questions about the preliminary plat for three parcels of land in the proposed Covenant Crossing commercial development at the Highway 6 and I-55 intersection and approved the plat 3-0.

The second preliminary plat approval, presented to city leaders by Blake Mendrop of McBride Engineering, raised a few concerns.

Mendrop pointed out that developer Wade Aldridge has indicated the streets within the proposed subdivision, located across from Lakewood Place near the post office, would be private streets.

"He has indicated that the streets will not be dedicated to the city, but there are some other concerns," he said.

Among those other concerns is emergency access and the type of homes being constructed within the subdivision.

"Right now he does not know if the subdivision will be gated or not," code enforcement office administrator Pam Comer said. "The developer is still up in the air about that."

Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders said she was concerned about the streets themselves and the types of houses.

Mendrop explained that the streets would have to be built to support the weight of emergency vehicles and garbage trucks.

Pounders then asked Mendrop and Comer what kind of houses were going to be constructed in the subdivision.

"We know that the first 10 will be single-family homes," Comer said. "The remaining (16) units will be condominiums."

That answer was not enough for the concerned alderman.

"Do we have any idea what the houses will look like?" she asked.

The board needs more information before they could grant the approval, Pounders said.

"I know a lot of people have put a good bit of money in that area, and we need to know what is going on," she said. "I see a lot of things that could cause potential problems."

Restriping of Panola Ave. planned;
   more work slated on Trianon Street
By John Howell Sr.

Panola Avenue will be restriped from the downtown square to the Tallahatchie River.

Batesville aldermen approved a price quote from Riverside Traffic System, Inc. of $7,968.50 submitted by Mayor Jerry Autrey for the street’s extensive restriping. Autrey said that he sought two quotes for the striping project. J. C. Cheek Contractors had submitted a quote of $14,000 for the work, he said.

On Trianon Street, city crews will patch over two locations where ditches were recently dug to allow placement of larger culverts.

"They will redo the whole street next year," the mayor said.

"The same time they do Court Street," said Ward 4 Alderman Bobbie Jean Pounders, laughing. Pounders has made no secret of her goal of having the heavily-traveled street in her ward resurfaced.

The Tuesday, November 7 meeting of Batesville’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen barely had a quorum. Aldermen Teddy Morrow and Rufus Manley attended in addition to the mayor and Alderman Pounders. Alderman Bill Dugger was attending the funeral of his mother-in-law, Mary Opal McDowell. Alderman James Yelton suffered a stroke in December, 2005, and resides in the Oxford Veterans Affairs Home.

In public hearings, Jimmy Moore on behalf of Loden Properties requested a setback variance from 20 feet to five feet at the rear of 537-543 Highway 6 West where two buildings are planned for construction. Aldermen voted 3-0 to approve the variance.

A public hearing had also been scheduled to allow Barry Marion to request a use variance to allow a used car lot in an I-2 zone. City code enforcement officer Pam Comer told city officials that Marion withdrew his request prior to the hearing.

Assistant city attorney Colmon Mitchell told aldermen that legal work had been performed to clear the title of the property that Starbucks is buying from the city on House-Carlson Drive.

"They’re hoping to (begin construction) by the end of the year," Mitchell told city officials of the Starbucks project.

In other business:
City officials asked Blake Mendrop of McBride Engineering to determine the property line between the city’s property and the Tri-Lakes Medical Center. Alderman Pounders said the determination would assist hospital groundskeeping crews.
Aldermen voted 3-0 to extend longevity pay to David Karr and seven other city employees who had been mistakenly omitted from the pay since April 21, 2003.
The city officials agreed to invite all of the city’s department heads as well as accountant Bill Crawford to discuss overtime pay and weekend pay. The decision was precipitated by questions from gas department superintendent William Wilson who is on call for after-hours problems that arise with the city’s natural gas distribution system and who often works overtime during weekends.
City officials will also examine policies on annual leave and sick leave for Batesville 14 full-time firefighters. Fire Chief Tim Taylor requested that the leave policies be made more generous, citing policies in nearby towns. Aldermen asked the fire chief to obtain copies of policies for comparison.

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