Headlines – 2/27/2007

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Panolian: HEADLINES – February 27, 2007

  From the 02/27/07 issue of The Panolian   –   

Police chief retirement becomes official Wed.
     Batesville Police Chief Gerald Legge is ending his employment with the BPD after a 26-year career. His retirement becomes official tomorrow, when a reception will be held in his honor.
By Jason C. Mattox

After serving for 26 years with the Batesville Police Department, Chief Gerald Legge is set to retire tomorrow.

Legge, 47, joined the force at age 21 after taking classes in criminal justice at Northwest Community College. He became a patrolman under then-chief Troy Carver and later served under Chief Roger Vanlandingham, whom he succeeded as chief in 2005.

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Legge served as deputy chief under Vanlandingham from 1990 to 2005.

A reception honoring Legge will be held Wednesday, February 28, from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Batesville Police Department on College Street. The public is invited.

Job-hunting in the early days, he didn’t bother to submit an application in another town, he said.

"I guess that’s because this is home. I graduated from South Panola High School, and it just seemed right to stay here and serve the community."

And it’s here that he and his wife Sareeta have raised their daughter, Lisa Beth, a senior at South Panola High School.

"When I first started as a patrolman, Batesville had more of a small town feel to it," he remembered. "Now the town has grown and is a lot busier.

"The department itself has grown exponentially since I first started too," Legge added. "We have a lot more manpower and better equipment, but that comes when a city experiences the kind of growth Batesville has over the years."

The chief said the support of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen over those years has been important to the growth of the department.

"The board has always been supportive of this department when it came to additional equipment, manpower and training," he said. "We have been very lucky because there are departments in the state that don’t have the kind of relationship with the board that our department has."

Legge has spent much of his career involved in the DARE (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) program in which police officers visit schoolchildren and make presentations to educate them about drug abuse and to encourage positive behavior and life choices.

"When Chief Carver was here, the department received a grant that called for us to do something in the schools to educate the children," he said. "I was not really sure how to do that."

Legge is now a certified DARE instructor and plans to continue working to train officers for the program.

"I have already been contacted about three training classes for DARE, and now that they know about my retirement that will probably go up," he said.

Legge said his law enforcement career was assisted greatly by both chiefs under whom he served.

"Chief Carver helped me out substantially when it came to actual patrolling and law enforcement techniques, and Chief (Roger) Vanlandingham helped me learn more about the administrative portion of the job," he said.

Legge also praised aldermen for their quick decision to name Col. Tony Jones as his successor.

"Tony is a good man and knows how the department runs," he said. "He will have a good support team around him with Don Province serving as deputy chief."

State reps back anti-abortion bill
By Billy Davis

State legislation that would tighten abortion laws, punish business owners for hiring illegal immigrants and increase the pay of poll workers has gotten "yea" votes from state Rep. Warner McBride in recent weeks.

In the House, the anti-abortion legislation is really "three bills rolled into one," McBride said.

"Basically it says there can be no abortions performed except in a case of rape or incest," McBride said.

Asked if the controversial bill is election-year politics, McBride said it’s a "possibility," but also noted that similar legislation was introduced last year but died in a conference committee.

The anti-abortion legislation is in a conference committee right now after versions of the bill passed in both the House and Senate.

Legislation curtailing abortion could wind up in state and federal courts since abortion is allowed by federal law, but McBride said the bill’s language will likely keep it from heading to a courtroom.

"The National Right to Life organization worded it, and they know how not to set it up for a lawsuit," the legislator said.

McBride said the illegal immigration bill comes after a "big push" in recent years to tackle the subject.

The bill requires employers to check with the federal Social Security Administration to verify that an immigrant has presented valid identification prior to employment.

Enforcement of the requirement was included in the bill, McBride said.

Regarding the poll worker pay, McBride said the legislation would authorize that poll workers receive $120 a day, or about $10 an hour since polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The precinct manager will receive $150 to oversee the polls and another $50 to oversee operation of the voting equipment on election day.

The current pay is no more than $75 a day, according to McBride.

The increase in pay came from the House County Affairs Committee on which McBride chairs a sub-committee.

Still more legislation supported by McBride is a "tax holiday" bill that mirrors legislation passed in other states.

The "tax holiday" is July 27 and affects only clothing purchases of items that cost less than $100 each. The bill is aimed at back-to-school shopping.

The state legislature has passed the halfway mark of its 90-day session.

McBride said today is a pass-or-die deadline for general bills and constitutional amendments that have been passed by the House or Senate and then sent to the other legislative body.

Aldermen confirm state AG looking at Sardis police dept.
By Billy Davis

A Sardis alderman has announced that the state attorney general’s office is investigating Sardis city government.

According to Ward 3 Alderman Mike Wilson, he was interviewed twice in February by investigators regarding the Sardis Police Department. The investigators belong to the attorney general’s Division of Public Integrity, he said.

Wilson declined to cite specific details about the investigation, saying only that it involved "serious procedural problems" at the SPD.

The attorney general’s office typically does not comment publicly on ongoing investigations.

"It’s our policy neither to deny nor confirm an investigation is ongoing," a spokesman told The Panolian.

Reached last week by The Panolian and told of Wilson’s statement, Sardis Alderman-at-Large Roy Scallorn also confirmed an investigation is under way.

Scallorn said that he, too, was interviewed twice by an attorney general’s office investigator.

In fact, Wilson told The Southern Reporter last week that an investigator has talked to each of the city’s aldermen.

Asked why he chose to make the investigation public, Wilson said he came forward after being asked by the public and The Southern Reporter about reports of an investigation.

"I was asked questions about it, and the public has a right to know – though not necessarily in detail – what’s going on," Wilson told The Panolian.

"I want everybody to rest assured that any problem that arises from this investigation will be addressed immediately," said Wilson, "and in fact some of the problems discussed have already been corrected."

Police Chief Mike Davis recently announced plans to take a deputy position with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department.

The Sardis Board of Mayor and Aldermen had scheduled a meeting Monday to discuss filling the vacancy. The board immediately went into executive session to discuss "a personnel matter." A Panolian reporter was asked to leave the meeting, but department heads remained in the session.

Runoff today in District 11
By Billy Davis

Panola and Tate county voters will go to the polls today to elect their representative in House District 11.

Today’s election is a runoff between Dr. Joe Gardner of Batesville and Teresa Wallace of Como.

Gardner led Wallace and three other candidates in a February 13 special election called by Gov. Haley Barbour.

The District 11 seat was left vacant in January with the death of state Rep. Leonard Morris of Batesville. He had held the seat since 1993.

The winner of today’s race will complete Morris’ four-year term, which expires this year, and the seat is also up for grabs in the coming August primary and the November general election.

Charity Ball King & Queen
     Taking to the dance floor at Saturday night’s Junior Auxiliary Charity Ball were Queen Billie Breedlove and King Tom Womble, honored by the organization for their community service. The charity ball is held annually to raise funds for the Junior Auxiliary’s projects in the Batesville community.
Qualifying ends Thurs.
By Billy Davis

The deadline to qualify to run in county and state elections has finally come since qualifying began January 2.

The deadline is Thursday, March 1, at 5 p.m.

To run in a county election, qualifying papers must be returned to the circuit clerk’s office in Batesville or Sardis by the Thursday deadline.

To date, more than 15 candidates have qualified to run against incumbents. The supervisors’ races in Districts 3 and 4 boast the longest list of candidates.

Candidates must qualify in Jackson at the state secretary of state’s office to seek a state office, such as state representative and state senator.

For more information about qualifying, contact the circuit clerk’s office at 563-6210 in Batesville or 487-2073 in Sardis.

BPD: weekend crime included home break-in
By Billy Davis

A Batesville couple returned home Monday morning to find two televisions and an air conditioning unit stolen from their home.

The burglary apparently occurred over the weekend when someone gained entry through a rear window of the home, said Batesville Police Major Don Province.

The break-in occurred at 211 Vance Street.

Province said the break-in and vandalism at Trussell Park were the only criminal acts reported to the police department over the weekend.

"The burglary was reported to us at 10:07 a.m. Monday morning," Province said.

At Trussell Park, a concession stand door showed signs that someone had tried to gain entry. Elsewhere at the park, the grounds were torn up by a vehicle.

Regarding the vandalism, Province asked residents to be vigilant about watching for such activities at the park.

Bill increases years for PERS benefit
By Billy Davis

State Sen. Nolan Mettetal has voted for a bill that tinkers with the state’s retirement system, but he wants state retirees to know that the legislation, if passed, will not affect their retirement.

On his seat on the Senate Finance Committee, Mettetal voted in favor of a bill that would increase from four years to eight years the minimum years to be vested into the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).

The proposed change would affect state employees who enroll in the program on and after July 1, 2007.

Mettetal said the change was necessary to help ensure the financial viability of PERS into the future.

"The accrued liability of the system had increased for years," said Mettetal, saying the allowance of a partial lump-sum option had "hit the system real hard."

"It’s just a matter of attempting to improve our state employees’ retirement system," said the state senator. "We’re very protective of it, and a lot of people depend on it."

Mettetal said legislators have undergone a "hot debate" in recent weeks regarding anti-abortion legislation that has passed in the House and Senate.

"It’s something that we should be looking at again this week," Mettetal predicted.

"I supported it," said Mettetal of the legislation. "Mississippians feel real strongly about protecting life."


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