Headlines – 3/6/2007

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Panolian: HEADLINES – March 6, 2007

  From the 03/06/07 issue of The Panolian   –   

SP Technology
     Installing the GPS device that will allow these SPHS technology students to track the district’s school buses are (from left) Kathryn Sturdivant, Karlee Darby, Annah Bailey and Matt Downs. The students plan to develop routes to save fuel and cut down on pollution. See story, page A11.
Job openings coming at Extension Service
By Billy Davis

Panola County supervisors learned Monday that a pair of familiar faces are retiring from the Panola County Extension Service, and a search will begin to find their replacements.

Extension Service county director Judd Gentry informed supervisors at their "first Monday" meeting that 4-H youth agent Wayne Land has retired and nutritionist Peggy Walker will officially retire in June.

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The Extension Service is an agriculture-based agency of Mississippi State University.

Panola County pays a portion of Extension Service employees’ salaries and benefits, and Gentry said he was appearing before the board with two requests: that the salaries continue for the next hirings and a board order allowing the job advertisements.

Supervisors unanimously approved the requests. (Supervisors Robert Avant and James Birge, and road manager Lygunnah Bean were absent Monday due to a National Association of Counties convention in Washington, D.C.)

"We’ll advertise (the job openings) internally for a few weeks then externally," Gentry told supervisors.

Supervisors wanted to know the county’s contributions to the salaries, so Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock left the meeting and returned with the amounts: $948 a month for Land and $510 a month for Walker.

Gentry also asked supervisors to consider allowing the Extension Service to utilize office space that exists after North Delta Planning and Development moved into new facilities in Batesville.

"Let us check into it," replied District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins, saying the space is being sought by other parties, including Chancery Judge Vicki Cobb.

The Extension Service is housed at the Cliff Finch Office Building on Eureka Street.

Panola County Administrator David Chandler gained approval to utilize the bank borrowing plan that is used to pay for the annual summer paving program.
     "I need to borrow $800,000," he told supervisors. "We can borrow that amount if it’s five percent of our assessed valuation."
Supervisors received a preliminary agreement from the City of Batesville for the joint operation of an animal shelter.
     Board attorney Bill McKenzie stressed that the document was a "first draft" and was describing the circumstances of operating a facility.
     "It doesn’t say who’s going to do what," McKenzie said. "It just says, ‘Let’s start talking about it.’"
Drug sting nets plea in court
By Billy Davis

A defendant in circuit court, whose girlfriend caused a mistrial February 21 after intimidating potential jurors, has pleaded guilty to a drug charge stemming from a separate court case.

Circuit court documents show James "Chick" Roberson has pleaded guilty to one count of sale of crack cocaine. He entered the plea in front of Judge Andrew C. Baker.

Roberson’s address was given as 1044 Alonzo Gibson Road, Sardis.

A grand jury indicted Roberson in August, 2006, on three counts of selling illegal narcotics.
Roberson was represented by attorney William L. Maxey.

The plea agreement stipulates that Roberson understands Assistant District Attorney Robert Kelly is seeking a 10-year prison sentence and 10 years of post-release supervision, citing Roberson’s past criminal record.
Court documents show Roberson has prior felony convictions for grand larceny and selling drugs.

A sting by the Panola County Drug Task Force caught Roberson selling crack cocaine to an undercover informant.

Roberson faces separate drug selling charges stemming from a separate August indictment. The case was set to go to trial when the defendant’s girlfriend allegedly threatened potential jurors during a break in jury selection.

Mathis now 2-for-2 as Mid-South champ
By Rita Howell

Cherry Mathis of Batesville is the Mid-South Spelling Bee champion for the second year in a row.

Cherry, 13, follows her sister Meg, 15, who held the title for 2004 and 2005. They are the daughters of John and Keiko Mathis. Both girls attend school in Tallahatchie County, where their mother is a music teacher.

Both started their quests for the national championship by claiming the Tallahatchie County title and advancing to the Mid-South Bee sponsored by The Commercial Appeal. This year marks the fourth in a row in which a Mathis will take to the stage at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in May.

Forty-one champions from counties around the Mid-South participated in Saturday’s regional bee in Memphis. Panola County was represented by Amelia Lowery, a Pope School eighth grader who had won the county bee January 12.

Cherry correctly spelled "chauffeur" in the 12th round to take the Mid-South trophy and earn a trip to the national competition.

Last year Cherry, then a sixth-grader, placed 22nd among 274 spellers.

She plans to spend three hours a day preparing for this year’s national bee.

First-time candidates are state senator’s first-time opponents
By Billy Davis

Two candidates are trying to unseat state Sen. Nolan Mettetal, and they are hitting him from both sides of the political spectrum over state spending.

In recent interviews with The Panolian, Democratic candidate Mona Pittman hit Mettetal from the left, saying he has not supported the state’s funding program, Miss. Adequate Education Program (MAEP).

MAEP is a funding formula that spreads state dollars among the state’s public school districts.

On the right, meanwhile, Republican candidate Shelly Turner is running on a theme of fiscal responsibility and wise use of taxpayers’ monies.

Asked how her senate votes would differ from Mettetal, Pittman said she would consistently cast votes for bills that support public education.

"My number one vote is for education," Pittman said. "Nolan hasn’t voted to fund education. He voted against fully funding MAEP."

Reached Monday and told of Pittman’s accusation, Mettetal challenged his Democratic opponent to present any legislation that shows he voted against fully funding MAEP.

"Do you mind asking her to show you the vote where I voted against legislation that fully funded MAEP?" Mettetal responded. "It doesn’t exist."

Mettetal later contacted The Panolian to say he can show the legislation and a roll call vote that shows he voted to fully fund MAEP.

Mettetal, of Sardis, is running for his fourth term as the Senate District 10 seat. Since his first election in 1992, he has run unopposed.

The Senate seat includes parts of Panola and Tate counties.

Pittman, 39, is hoping to bump Mettetal from his District 10 seat in the August 7 party primary. A Batesville attorney, she is making her first run for public office.

Running as an unopposed Republican, Turner, 40, will face the winner of the Democratic primary in the November 6 general election. She is also making her first run for office.

Turner, of Batesville, is employed with Charleston Industries, a sign manufacturer, where she works as information technology manager and inventory control manager.

Turner said she is unready to talk specifics about her campaign but did say that she is running to take a more conservative representation to the state Senate.

"I would like to see more Republican views voiced in this area," Turner said. "I love Nolan. He’s a great person. But we need different views other than Democratic views."

Pittman, of Batesville, said she has been considering a run for the Senate seat for about three years.

According to Mettetal, as he campaigns for re-election he plans to point to his voting record and his authorship of legislation that affects banking, public education, and mental public health.

"I told people that I would be there and I’ve been there," Mettetal said. "My record speaks for itself."

Partnership CEO: zoning plan vital to reap Toyota’s benefits
By Billy Davis

(The following story is the second in a series about Panola County’s potential to benefit from the coming Toyota assembly plant near Tupelo.)

The topic of tightening Panola County’s current zoning ordinances might be a sensitive subject, but the topic has surfaced as a possible strategy for inviting more jobs and families.

In an interview last week with The Panolian, Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons suggested the need for "smart growth planning" in the county. Such a strategy would mean management of growth and development in rural Panola County.

Simmons mentioned land-use planning during discussion of the coming Toyota assembly plant near Tupelo and how Panola County could benefit from its presence in North Mississippi.

Asked what Panola County can do to attract a Toyota supplier, or even an auto plant, Simmons suggested a management plan for county growth would be a major asset.

"I know that’s not a subject that’s accepted well at times," he said, "but if we don’t start doing something to control growth, and control it in a positive manner, then we’re going to limit our possibilities and opportunities down the road."

In unincorporated Panola County, growth and development is regulated by the Panola County Board of Supervisors. Supervisors agreed in 1999 to put in place a set of land-use rules, known officially as the Land Development Standards and Regulations. The rules govern the design and development of subdivisions and mobile homes parks, commercial properties and industrial developments.

Panola County currently operates under a version of zoning that designates most of the unincorporated county as agricultural. Exceptions to that designation are commercial and industrial areas.

"In a sense we have zoning now because you have to go through a process to put – for example – a commercial business in an area zoned agricultural," said Danny Walker, who chairs the county land commission that oversees the zoning regulations.

During its tenure, the land commission has heard and voted on plans ranging from private family cemeteries and a rubbish pit to a strip club and high-end subdivisions.

According to Simmons, however, the steady growth in Panola County demands a more forward-thinking approach that plans the locales of coming businesses, industries and subdivisions, ensuring a balance for all three.

Simmons said Panola neighbors DeSoto, Tunica and Tate counties have each implemented county-wide zoning to ensure well-planned growth in the future. All three counties are partners with Panola in an alliance formed last fall to attract industries to Northwest Mississippi.

"They see the importance of doing it that way," Simmons said. "A lot of things are grandfathered in that they can’t do anything about, but any future growth will be controlled to enhance the qualify of life in those counties."

Janie Murtimer, Tate County’s economic development director, said county supervisors there approved a land-use plan in 2001. She described the benefit of land-use planning as a county-wide "road map" that "helps people know what to expect."

According to Walker, any effort to tweak the current zoning rules would require a "group effort," led by the wishes of county supervisors, to avoid political wrangling.

Reached about Simmons’ suggestion, Board of Supervisors president Robert Avant said he might support growth planning in some portions of Panola County but believes county-wide zoning is a cart-before-the-horse scenario in many parts of Panola.

"You’ve got some places that need basic infrastructure – that don’t even have drinking water or sewer systems," Avant said. "I don’t see the need for county-wide zoning until those things are taken care of first."

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