Published 12:00 am Friday, May 2, 2008

As May deadline looms, another promise made of Rolando jobs 

By Billy Davis

Depending on whom you talk to, Panola supervisors told Roland Butler that his Crenshaw food company must be up and running by today… or by next week… or sometime this month.

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According to Butler, meanwhile, the long-delayed opening of Rolando Curtis Foods is now only weeks away.

Urged by Supervisor Kelly Morris, the Panola County Board of Supervisors agreed in March to give Butler a 60-day deadline to have Rolando operating or face action by the county.

At the March 10 supervisors meeting, supervisors Gary Thompson and Morris reported that they met and spoke with Butler during a county business trip to Washington, D.C. Butler assured the pair of supervisors that the plant would be operational in 60 days, Morris told his colleagues.  

What is uncertain, however, is what deadline supervisors agreed to at their Second District meeting in Batesville. According to Morris, the deadline is set for May 5, which will come next Monday when supervisors meet for their First District meeting in Sardis.

Reached this week by phone, Butler said job interviews and a newspaper employment ad are only weeks away. The WIN Job Center is assisting him, he also said.

“We’re finally about to open,” he told The Panolian, suggesting a mid-May date for finally producing a product.

Asked about adhering to the promise made to Thompson and Morris, Butler said the looming deadline wasn’t important now “since they know we’re opening now,” referring to supervisors.

Butler has now held the property deed for a year and 10 months after a board order signed on July 31, 2006 handed over the cavernous building and about 10 acres of property.

In exchange for providing jobs, Butler said he needed the building as collateral. A deed of trust obtained by The Panolian shows he used the property to take out a $1.4 million loan on May 31, 2007.

The board order signed by Avant included a “schedule of employment,” which Butler never signed, that shows a required number of hirings by benchmark dates such as 90, 120 and 270 days.

With 22 months behind him, Butler should have hired at least 150 employees by now according to the schedule.

Asked this week about the agreed-to deadline, Morris recalled that the 60-day deadline would fall on March 5, since he and Thompson spoke with Butler on or about March 5.

Following the March 10 meeting, The Panolian reported that supervisors agreed to a deadline of May 1.

A search of board minutes from March 10 by the newspaper failed to show any recording of the board’s decision.

According to Supervisor Bubba Waldrup, the board agreed to a date during the “first of May.” He then recalled the May 5 date, since it will fall on the day of the First District board meeting in Sardis.

According to Avant, the board set a deadline of “sometime in May.”

What is also uncertain is what recourse Panola County government would have if supervisors follow through on their 60-day deadline. The previous board of supervisors handed over the property with an explicit warning from their board attorney: there is no contract clause that would return the property to the county if Butler fails to deliver his repeated promise of jobs.

Except for Avant, supervisors Morris and Waldrup said they were unaware that Butler has failed to pay Panola County property taxes on the unopened plant and is incurring a penalty each month.

A search of tax records this week shows that Butler owes Panola County $17,921.58 in past-due property taxes.

“He is aware that he owes taxes. He understands that,” Avant said of Butler.

Asked about the past-due property taxes, Butler said the late taxes are “just part of business” and said the taxes will be paid this month.

Avant also volunteered that the “lights are on” at Rolando after being cut off.

The Panolian has tried in the past year to confirm reports that Entergy temporarily cut its service to Rolando due to unpaid bills. A spokesman for Entergy refused to comment about Rolando’s bill.

 The Panolian reported in February that a New York bank filed a civil suit against Maryland-based Rolando Curtis Foods for its failure to repay $82,508 of a loan for an equipment lease. A federal judge in Maryland rendered a default judgment against Rolando in May 2006.

Butler acknowledged in the story that the bank loan had not been repaid but said the matter did not pertain to the Mississippi plant due to jurisdiction.