Headlines – 1/9/2007

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Panolian: HEADLINES – January 9, 2007

  From the 01/09/07 issue of The Panolian   –   

Toyota overlooks Panola in search for new plant
     Edgar Sculark, a sales associate at Pride Hyundai in Batesville, reads the warranty guide on a Toyota Camry Friday. Japanese automaker Toyota hopes to surpass GM this year in vehicle production and is looking for a site to build its seventh U.S. manufacturing plant. A site near Como was not considered.
By Billy Davis

Japanese automaker Toyota is eyeing several sites in the South for its eighth U.S. assembly plant, but the list of finalists does not include a so-called megasite in north Panola County.

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News of Toyota’s intentions surfaced last week when The Wall Street Journal quoted anonymous sources who said the finalists are Tennessee, Arkansas and North Carolina.

Toyota may make its announcement this month, the Journal said.

The Commercial Appeal newspaper picked up the Journal’s story and published its own story January 5. In the Appeal story, an anonymous source told the newspaper that Chattanooga, Tenn. and Marion, Ark. are the top choices.

Two other sites in Tennessee are mentioned as contenders by The Commercial Appeal as well as a 1,700-acre site at Tupelo known as Wellspring. Unmentioned in either story is another 1,700-acre site, this one located south of Como next to Interstate 55.

Partnership was ‘very surprised’
Like the Marion site, the Como site was a finalist in 2003 when Toyota announced it was searching for a site to construct a new automotive plant, its seventh in the U.S. The automaker eventually chose San Antonio, Texas.

"Personally, I’m very surprised that we’re not being considered," said Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons, when reached last Friday.

Simmons said he had caught wind of Toyota’s plans in mid-December.

Panola Partnership operates as a chamber of commerce for the community and also serves as an industrial recruiter.

During the past year, the Partnership joined with Entergy Mississippi to make the Como site a certified megasite, meaning it meets certain criteria that prospective industries would inquire about, such as available infrastructure for public utilities and transportation.

Panola Partnership and Entergy also split the cost of a $40,000 labor study that concluded workers are available from Panola County and surrounding communities to supply labor for an automotive assembly plant.

The Panolian reported the site certification and labor study in November in a story that quoted Simmons suggesting the Como site was likely one of two finalists for Toyota’s seventh assembly plant. John Turner, director of economic development for Entergy Mississippi, seconded Simmons’ opinion in the November story.

Como still in the game
Striking a more upbeat tone, Simmons also noted, however, that Japanese automakers Nissan and Honda, and German automakers Volkswagen and Audi, will be searching the South in coming months and years for new territory.

"At some point Nissan has got to expand," Simmon said, suggesting that Panola County is an obvious mid-point between its assembly plants in Smyrna, Tenn. and Canton, Miss.

A story published last week at , a financial news Web site, reported that Toyota and Honda plan to open assembly plants in North America in 2008, action needed in order to keep up with growing demand for Japanese vehicles.

Honda’s plants in North America are "operating at full capacity," the Bloomberg.com story stated, quoting the president of Honda, Takeo Fukui.

The Bloomberg story states that Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has said he wants to purchase an automotive plant in the United States instead of building another one from the ground up.

"Ghosn plans to review GM and Ford plants that are slated to close to see if they are suitable for Nissan’s needs," the story states. Both Ford and GM have announced massive lay-offs and several factory closings in recent years due to a declining market share.

As Japanese and American automakers enter 2007, Toyota has announced plans to surpass automotive giant GM in vehicle production by year’s end by building 9.42 million cars and trucks.

Police arrest three for ‘drive-by’ slaying
By Jason C. Mattox

The Batesville Police Department has made three arrests following a drive-by shooting that occurred Saturday, January 6, and a fourth suspect is still being sought.

The shooting resulted in the death of 23-year-old Delrica Turner and a minor injury to Jerome Ellis, 28.

"Turner was shot one time," Lt. Col. Tony Jones said. "The bullet went through his left arm and into the chest cavity."

Ellis was grazed in the leg but declined treatment for the injury, according to Det. George Williford.

Eric Smith, 18, Percy Roberson, 24, and Henry Patterson Jr., 17, were arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault. A bond hearing is pending.

The incident took place at 109 Everett St. at 12:27 a.m.

"We do know that this incident stemmed from an earlier altercation in the evening," Police Chief Gerald Legge said. "We want people to know this wasn’t just some random act of violence."

Williford said no further details are available.

"We are still in the early stages of the investigation," he said. "We are still trying to piece together the puzzle."

Jones said the department is looking for any information that could help them solve the case.

"We have interviewed numerous people who were at or near the scene at the time of the shooting, but if there is anyone who might know some other details, we would appreciate them sharing that information," he said. The police department can be contacted at 563-5653.

"This incident was unfortunate and our sympathy goes out the family of the victim," Legge added.

Turner was the son of Robbie Phillips of Courtland and Katie Turner of Batesville. His residence is listed as 106 Jackson St. He was a member of Antioch M.B. Church.

Funeral services will be held at Springhill Asa M.B. Church on Friday. (See page A2 for complete obituary information.)

In other police business:
A tip from the Panola County Sheriff’s Department helped officers find and arrest James Fillayaw, 42, of Oakland and Shannon E. Looney, 31, of Water Valley for possession of precursors on January 5. Fillayaw has also been charged with felon in possession of a firearm. Both remain in custody at the Panola County Jail.
Shona Turner, 25, and James Scott IV, 23, were both charged with domestic violence after officers were called to the Timber Ridge Apartments on Tubbs Road. The two were fighting in a car in the parking lot.
The Batesville Police Department is looking for information leading to an arrest for the burglary of a residence on Boothe Street. During the break-in, suspects cut up furniture, poured vinegar on the floors and put dead fish in the bed.
     Household items were taken from the residence.
According to Jones, the burglary took place between Dec. 16-28 while the homeowners were out of town.
A fifth vandal believed to have participated in wrecking Christmas decorations on the lawns of several Batesville homes in late December turned himself in January 4. Nathaniel Abernathy, 18, was charged with two counts of malicious mischief and was released on an appearance bond.
     He and four other teens charged in vandalism of Christmas decorations will appear before Judge Bill Joiner in Justice Court on February 13.
     "The case was transferred to Justice Court after Batesville Municipal Court Judge William McKenzie recused himself from the case," Jones said. "Both he and (Judge Jay) Westfaul have handled legal matters for some of the parents."
In February, food at BCC goes to the Dawg
By Jason C. Mattox

The Batesville Civic Center will have a new concessions operator beginning in February.

A proposal from the Dawg House was the only one received for the operation of concessions at the facility.

"I have spoken with the owner at great lengths about the position," BCC director Roy Hyde told the mayor and aldermen during their meeting last Tuesday. "She is very excited and I believe they will do a good job for us."

The contract between The Dawg House and the City of Batesville is for two years. The new vendor will replace Boston Culinary Group in February.

"Boston Culinary has done a great job for us, but they decided not to submit a proposal to continue," Hyde said.

In other board business:
Hallmark Ford was awarded the bid for a half-ton truck for the street department with a low bid of $15,616.15
The $10,000 bid for Covenant Bank for the electronic message center at the Batesville Civic Center was accepted.
Waste Water superintendent David Karr was given permission to use Homeland Security funds to purchase a Kawasaki Mule.
Batesville Firefighter L. Lee Garner was given permission to attend the Ground Leadership Course at the Mississippi Fire Academy Jan. 29- Feb 2, with expenses paid by the city.
Fire Prevention Officer Rip Copeland was given permission to attend Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Training in Jackson Jan. 18-21, with expenses paid by the city.
Morris’ condition improving
By Billy Davis

State Rep. Leonard Morris has improved slightly following complications during surgery last week.
Morris’ condition has improved from critical to serious, said Mac Gordon, spokesman for the state House of Representatives.

Gordon was quoted in an Associated Press story that was datelined Monday at noon. Morris is in the surgical intensive care unit at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Family friend Lygunnah Bean said Morris has undergone a "tremendous change for the positive" over the weekend.

"Leonard has got a breathing tube so he’s unable to talk, but he’s communicating with his family by writing notes," Bean told The Panolian Monday.

Morris, 59, is a Batesville Realtor who represents parts of Tate and Panola counties in the state legislature. He was undergoing surgery Thursday to remove a kidney on which doctors had found a tumor.

Crenshaw sees better finances but residents still have questions
By John Howell Sr.

Crenshaw town officials heard an improved financial report at their monthly meeting held Wednesday, January 3.

Lygunnah Bean and Adrianna Griffin told the mayor and aldermen that Crenshaw’s accounts from fiscal years 2005 and 2006 have been reconciled and that work will begin next week on fiscal 2007 data.

Bean, Griffin and David Chandler have worked with Crenshaw town government as consultants to improve its fiscal records and accounting. Bean recommended the use of assigned account numbers with a goal to prepare a "compilation audit" allowed for small municipalities.

"We want Crenshaw to be a rising star of small towns," Bean said. He told town officials they should adopt an accounts payable voucher system to track expenditures.

"By February, we should have a copy for the mayor and each board member of the past month," Bean said.

Bean also told the town officials they need to take steps to annex areas adjacent to the municipal limits which already receive town water and sewer service. These include two residential areas and the land on which the recently opened Rolando Foods sits, he said.

The Wednesday night meeting lasted more than two hours and was attended by a dozen or more citizens, some of who came to voice complaints about services, bills or policies, and some of whom came to watch operation of their local government.

Three aldermen overrode the recommendation of Mayor Sylvester Reed to select Michael Purdy as the town’s certified water operator. Aldermen Alberta Bradley, David Whitsell and Milton Phipps voted for Bradley’s motion to hire Purdy. Mayor Reed had recommended Water Management of Boyle, a firm that he said had more experience than Purdy.

Aldermen Shirley Morgan and Keith Pride voted against Purdy.

? Mayor Reed announced that the town’s long-dormant backhoe had been placed back in service by the Panola County shop.

"We thank Panola County for assisting us with that," the mayor said.

The backhoe, Crenshaw’s single piece of heavy equipment, had been out of service since March and had been sent to an equipment dealer in Clarksdale and the Quitman County shop before it was sent to the Panola County shop where repairs were successful.

? Alderman Bradley questioned for the second consecutive month the reason for the town’s high cellular service bill of $429.

Mayor Reed replied that the expense was related to "calls dealing with the emergency we had." The emergency involved November failures of pumps at the town’s sewer lift station.

? Aldermen voted to tear down a dilapidated structure on property owned by Gerald R. Hall. The decision culminated months of efforts by a group of Crenshaw citizens who are concerned about blighted property and overgrown lots in the town.

Town attorney Mary Brown that she had completed appropriate legal steps to declare the property a health and safety hazard.

Later, when questions from citizens were accepted by the mayor, Bob Bryant asked about four more dilapidated structures for which motion for demolition had also been made in earlier meetings.

Mayor Reed answers citizens’ questions at the following month’s meeting.

On Wednesday night, shortly after the opening of the meeting, Mayor Reed provided responses to two questions posed near the end of the December mayor and aldermen meeting.

In regard to a question about how many structures were located on the lot where the Cummings residence is located, the mayor said: "To my knowledge it is only one."

Responding to a December question about why the town did not advertise for a certified water operator, the mayor said he "felt it wasn’t necessary; we had several who were interested."

Two Crenshaw firemen who took the opportunity of the open lectern to ask questions at Wednesday night’s meeting vented frustration.

Allen Massey said that the fire department had given equipment requisitions to the mayor for equipment purchases. "How come we haven’t gotten it signed and gotten it back yet?" Massey asked.

Fire fighter Billy Casey told town officials about a "rough morning" on Christmas Day when fire fighters responded to a medical call "trying to help save one young man’s life. We kept going and kept going and all I’m saying is that if we don’t have the money we need we won’t be able to help the city."

The meeting ended with a personnel hearing after which aldermen voted to uphold their December decision to terminate Robert Keeney as a police officer.

County gets request to match state grant
By Billy Davis

Panola supervisors waded through fire department issues at Monday’s first county meeting in Batesville in 2007.

To kick off the meeting, supervisors heard a request from the Mt. Olivet Fire Department to help purchase a truck through a state grant.

Mt. Olivet Fire Chief Arthur Biggers asked supervisors to match "up to" $35,000 to match $35,000 the fire department can pay toward a 2,000-gallon tanker truck.

The state’s program will match up to $75,000 toward the purchase of a fire truck, the fire chief said.

Supervisors tabled the request until County Administrator David Chandler returns with a report on fund availability.

"You’ve got the $35,000 right now?" asked District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, who serves as president of the board.

"Yes, sir," Biggers replied.

If supervisors approve the grant, Mt. Olivet would be the seventh department in Panola County to benefit from the state’s Rural Fire Truck Acquisition Program.

"Right now nobody has asked for that money," Daniel Cole, deputy director of Panola County Emergency Management, told The Panolian when contacted after the meeting.

Cole said past fire departments that have benefitted are Batesville, Como, Crenshaw, Sardis, Sardis Lower Lake and Courtland. Most of the departments received matching grant money from the county, he said.

Biggers told supervisors that Mt. Olivet has found a new pumper truck that is ready to be put into service.

The fire chief reminded the board that the area served by the Mt. Olivet Fire District enjoys the lowest fire rating in the county, a Class 8.

Also on the agenda was Curtis resident June Alford, who delivered a petition that asked supervisors to remove the commissioners who oversee the Curtis-Locke Station Volunteer Fire Department.

Alford’s son, Phillip Alford read the petition aloud, which cited the need for commissioners with "good, moral character" to oversee the department.

When June Alford sought to address her grievances, Avant stopped her twice and asked for "peace."

"Today’s a new day," Avant said, attributing the petition to a "personality conflict" that should be resolved.

The board president said he and District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup will meet with Curtis residents to resolve the problem.

Later in the meeting, supervisors voted unanimously for a resolution that allows supervisors to revoke a fire department’s rebate money if it fails to send in monthly fire reports to the state within 30 days.

Cole and Director Son Hudson asked supervisors to draft the resolution, citing "two or three" volunteer departments that are failing to keep their paperwork up to date.

"We’ve received verbal reprimands from the state, but now they’re putting it in writing," Cole told supervisors.

The monthly paperwork, which is sent to the state fire commission, reports each fire department’s "runs," or fire calls in which it responds to. That information is used to acquire grant monies, Cole told supervisors.

"How long does it take? Thirty minutes?" asked Waldrup.

"It takes 10 to 15 minutes," replied Cole.

Cole and Hudson suggested a 60-day deadline for the fire departments to catch up on paperwork, but Avant suggested the 30-day deadline.

In other fire department news, Cole announced to supervisors that the Cole’s Point Volunteer Fire Department had recently received a Class 9 fire rating by the state fire commission.

"They should be pretty proud of that," Cole said. "It saves homeowners about $250 to $300 a year."


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