Billy Davis’ column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Pre-election road worked swayed too few in Four

In last month’s Democratic runoff, voters in Panola County’s District 4 chose the challenger, Kelly Morris, over the incumbent, Jerry Perkins.

Morris now advances to the November 6 general election to face Republican Calvin Land and independent Richard Hubbard.

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Despite alloting a lot of money on pre-election road work in his district, Perkins is going home after serving two terms as a Panola County supervisor.

Panola County road department figures show a staggering $406,235 was spent in District 4 over the summer, where 14.07 miles of constituents either enjoyed a newly paved road or a resurfaced one prior to the August 7 election.

The reason those expenditures surfaced is that the supervisors’ haste for pre-election paving required far more than the $800,000 they budgeted for the road work. When the $800,000 was gone, the road department budget took a lick, too, and the damage done by summer’s end totaled $1,381,225.

For those without a calculator, that’s $581,225 over budget. Supervisors last week were forced to replace those funds if they wanted to keep the road department functioning.

That $1.3 million does not include money that was spent on loads of gravel for gravel roads and for driveways used for “school bus turnarounds,” and for driveway culverts.

Just imagine the dollars in manpower, materials and fuel that added up as road department employees worked during the hot dry summer to haul and spread gravel, haul and install culverts, and generally spruce up our road sides, as the Democratic primary inched closer.

The jumpstart in road work happens every four years, and it is done for one purpose: to provide constituents with a nice, smooth road as they travel to the voting booth.  

In District 4, however, where half of the budgeted money and one-third of the $1.3 million was spent, that pre-election effort didn’t pay off.

Political junkies take note.

Several supervisor candidates have suggested that the role of a Panola County supervisor has evolved beyond overseeing roads and bridges to include support for quality-of-life issues such as economic development and job creation, public libraries and public schools, and fire and law enforcement protection.

Responding to that suggestion, Perkins and some other supervisors have insisted that roads and bridges still dominate the voting booth and therefore remain the focus of their attention. Perkins’ first-place finish in the crowded August 7 primary seemed to show that voters may still be swayed by a paved road or fresh gravel. But his eventual loss in the runoff, when he lost every voting precinct to his opponent, seemed to prove otherwise.

Think about it. An incumbent supervisor throws himself into a re-election fight supplied with an army of road equipment and financed with a bottomless budget. Yet he still loses. That loss should be a lesson for the man who wins his seat: Panola Countians want good roads and safe bridges, but they care about much more than that.