Headlines – 2/2/2007

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2007

The Panolian: HEADLINES – February 2, 2007

  From the 02/02/07 issue of The Panolian   –   

Wins stack up for Panolian artists at newspaper contest
     Josephine Barlow (right front) helps friend Margie Pearson learn to navigate the Internet while Batesville head librarian Barbara Evans describes the World Wide Web to a class of seniors Tuesday morning at the Batesville Public Library. Evans said the beginners computer class is drawing a faithful crowd and will be full through the spring.
Opponents aplenty in supervisor races
By Billy Davis

The number of candidates who have qualified to run in county races continues to grow, with the list of supervisors candidates in Districts 3 and 4 leading the pack with seven names each.

In District 4, candidate Charles Downs had added his name to a list that includes incumbent
Jerry Perkins and challengers Calvin Land,
Patricia Tramel, Howard Brower, Buddy Holland and Jarrell Mills.

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Land has qualified to run as a Republican and will face the primary winner in the November 7 general election.

In District 3, where Supervisor Mack Benson is not running for re-election, the candidates so far are Brad McCulley, Melvin Traywick, Tommy Austin, Donnie Shaw, Gary Thompson and Mike Darby. Harold "Hal" Herron jumped into the race this week, too, bringing the number of candidates to seven.

"We’ve got some very qualified people running for supervisor ? especially if they vote or me," quipped Circuit Clerk Joe Reid, who has also drawn an opponent, Margaret Pope.

Also this week, Batesville police officer Jamie Tedford qualified to run against incumbent Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright. Tedford lost to Bright in the 2005 Democratic Primary and vowed then to run again for the office.

In District 5, Supervisor Bubba Waldrup has drawn a second opponent, independent candidate Paul Pfeiffer, who will face the District 5 primary winner in the November 7 general election. Michael Towles has also qualified to run in the Democratic Primary.

In other county races, District 1 Constable Cleve Gale will face a challenge from Eric "Buck" Harris while District 1 Justice Court Judge James Appleton will face Everett Hill.

Panola County public officials who have qualified by February 2 but have yet not drawn opponents are:
– Chancery Court Clerk Jim Pitcock,
– County Tax Assessor/Collector David Garner,
– District 2 Constable Raye Hawkins,
– County Coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge,
– County Attorney C. Gaines Baker,
– District 1 Supervisor James Birge,
– District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, and
– District 2 Justice Court Judge
      Willie E. "Bill" Joiner.

Six qualify for District 11 race
By Billy Davis

A slate of six candidates has met the 10-day qualifying deadline to run for the District 11 House seat.

The state Secretary of State’s office released the names shortly after the qualification deadline came Tuesday at 5 p.m. The candidates are (in alphabetical order):

  • Kay Buckley-Houston, 42, of Batesville
  • Michael Cathey, of Senatobia
  • Joe C. Gardner, 62, of Batesville
  • Myrt B. Price, 51, of Sardis
  • Steve Richardson, 48, of Senatobia
  • Teresa Wallace, 59, of Como

The six candidates are vying for the seat following the January 12 death of Rep. Leonard Morris of Batesville. The winning candidate will serve out the remaining months of the four-year term.

Gov. Haley Barbour set the special election date for Tuesday, February 13, leaving candidates only a few days to reach voters in a district that stretches across parts of Panola and Tate counties.

In Panola County, House District 11 stretches from the Curtis and Crowder communities in the southwest and midwest to northeast Panola County, including all of Como and communities east of its city limits and north of Sardis Lake. The district line skirts the western portion of Batesville to connect the southwest and northeast boundaries.

The boundary line of District 11 seemingly meanders through communities and neighborhoods in Panola County, said Panola Circuit Clerk Joe Reid, who advises Panola voters to contact the circuit clerk’s office if they have questions about voting eligibility.

The circuit clerk noted, for example, that District 11 includes the Courtland community but not the city limits of Courtland itself. In Batesville, Eureka Street voters who live south of Highway 6 West vote for Morris.

"On the east side of Eureka Street they vote in District 10," Reid said.

The circuit clerk’s office in Batesville can be reached at 563-6210.

In Sardis, the number is 487-2073.

A runoff election will be held February 27 if no candidate receives a majority of the votes February 13.

Following the February special election, the District 11 seat will again be up for grabs in an August 7 party primary. The general election is November 7.

The circuit clerk’s office is also readying for absentee voting, which begins February 10.

"We’ll be open for absentee voting from 8 a.m. until noon on the 10th and (February) 17th," Reid said for those who wish to vote on Saturday.

Report: Mississippi sites on Toyota’s table again
By Billy Davis

A Mississippi daily newspaper has reported that Japanese automaker Toyota is changing its plans for choosing a new assembly plant site by now including a site in Mississippi.

The Tupelo newspaper, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, reported January 26 that Toyota is reevaluating its plans that originally included sites in Marion, Ark. and Chattanooga, Tenn. for its eighth assembly plant.

So-called megasites in Mississippi include the Wellspring project located west of Tupelo and sites near Meridian, Columbus and Como.

The site near Como, located on 1,700 acres near Interstate 55, was a finalist for a Toyota plant in 2002.

The Como site has since improved its marketing potential thanks to a partnership between Entergy Mississippi and Panola Partnership.

Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons said he had no comment about the newspaper report other than to note that he is working with Entergy officials to create a marketing campaign for the Como site.

CEO: plant’s delays coming to end soon
By Billy Davis

"God is blessing this project, and we know we’re going to succeed," Rolando Foods chairman and CEO Roland Butler told The Panolian this week.

Any future success of Rolando Foods is slow going, however, since the Maryland-based food company has yet to begin operating at its new home, a plant site in Crenshaw.

According to Butler, the delivery of food production equipment is the cause of the months-long delay.
Despite the delays, Butler said he believes the production equipment will be delivered by February 15, a "target date" the CEO said was agreed to by himself and supervisors.

Employment interviews will begin on site in "a week or so," Butler said, then training for new hirings will begin.

Rolando manufactures food products such as juices, baby formula and milk. Butler appeared with some of his products in late July when he told Panola County supervisors that the company would go "full blast" toward an October opening date.

The Panola County Board of Supervisors voted in July to give Rolando the former Dana plant, which was then county-owned property, to lure Rolando to Panola County.

Dana was Crenshaw’s only industrial employer. After it closed, District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant, who represents Crenshaw, convinced his colleagues to gamble with the property turnover in order to bring a new industry to the town.

Butler has said in past months that the food plant would employ as many as 300 people when its production peaked in two to three years. At his appearance in July, the CEO said the company would begin hiring truck drivers and plant workers by October.

To date, however, Butler is employing only a skeleton crew at the facility that is charged with renovating the plant. The hirings include Avant’s son, Robert Avant Jr.

Butler said he hired a contractor, Cecil Coward, to oversee renovation of the facility. The cost of renovation has reached $200,000 so far, he said.

Butler said he is not personally involved in a subdivision development on Fire Tower Road, which is headed by Coward, called Crenshaw Heights.

Butler conceded Thursday in a phone interview that the Crenshaw plant is behind its scheduled opening date. He placed blame on the delay of equipment from the manufacturer.

The July closing on the property transfer, which Butler needed for bank collateral, delayed placing an order for the new equipment, the CEO said.

Still other problems hampering equipment delivery included an ice storm and the holiday season, he said.

"We anticipated closing two to three months earlier, so all of these other orders came ahead of us," Butler said. "We’ve got a schedule, but the manufacturer has got a schedule."

Asked why Rolando expected an October opening date with machinery that had to be built and delivered, Butler’s explanation was that the company had a small "window of opportunity" to purchase the equipment.

"If we had closed the deal out earlier in the summer than we thought, say April or May, it made a difference in placing your order," Butler said.

Asked what company is manufacturing the equipment, Butler said naming the company is against protocol due to standard trade secrets.

"If you call Maxwell House or Folgers, they don’t give you that information," the CEO said.

County officials who were reached this week by The Panolian repeatedly referred to assurances made by Butler about bringing the food company to Crenshaw, but said they knew few details beyond that.

"All I know is that their finances are complete and we’re waiting to hear from (Butler) about when the equipment will be here," said County Administrator David Chandler.

According to Avant, who conceded that his son is working at the plant, he believes Rolando will begin operations when the equipment arrives.

"It took a long time to get the stainless steel equipment made. That’s what they told me," said Avant.

Reached by this newspaper, Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons said he was told this week by Butler that the equipment will be shipped to Crenshaw "in the next week or so."

Simmons also said Butler has assured him that contracts with clients are in hand despite the delays.

"He assures me that they have adequate orders in hand and contracts are actually signed," Simmons said. "I have not seen them personally, but he assures me they have adequate contracts signed for the product they’ll be manufacturing."

"We have some contracts, but I’ve already talked to them and told them the problems we have," said Butler. "They understand that because people know, when you bring a new line on, there’s going to be delays."

Both Avant and Chandler said that the agreement between the county and Butler stipulates that the Dana property reverts back to the county if the food company fails to begin production at the Crenshaw site.

"That’s my understanding," agreed Simmons.

Both Avant and Chandler also stated that Butler asked for and received a 90-day deadline extension from supervisors, either during a November or December board meeting.

A search of the board minutes did not show any action in November of December regarding Rolando, however.

Air Force still mum on crash
By Billy Davis

An investigation of the January 18 crash of a T-38C training aircraft in west Panola County is still under way, and when it’s completed any final report will not be made public.

A one-page press release sent January 25 from Columbus Air Force Base confirmed that an investigation is still ongoing and is expected to continue "for the next 30 to 60 days."

The press release also disclosed the names of the two pilots, Major Bill Lester and 2nd Lt. Todd Campbell, and stated that both were examined by medical authorities and have since returned to duty.

The crash occurred about 1:30 p.m. when the aircraft came down in a farmer’s field near Curtis Road, near the Quitman County line. The pilots safely ejected and parachuted about two miles away near Sorrells Road.

The Curtis area is used by the U.S. Air Force for its training missions.

Hours after the crash, various media outlets claimed a flock of geese brought down the aircraft, citing sources familiar with the incident.

The U.S. Air Force never confirmed what caused the crash, however, and the press release noted that the results of the investigation will remain known only by military officials.

"The final report of the safety investigation is not for pubic release," the press release stated, because "safety investigations are conducted solely for mishap prevention."


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