Light Gavel

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mayor gavels lightly at second sitting

By John Howell Sr.

Though Como Mayor Judy Sumner had three gavels — a tiny, medium, and a jumbo — at her fingertips at Tuesday night’s city board meeting, the gathering’s decorum only required the use of the smallest and that only once, when she called the meeting to order.

In her first meeting last month after a battle through the state court system that finally ruled Sumner and not Azria “Bobby” Lewers had been elected in May, 2005, the new mayor had been forced to rap a spoon on a water glass to rein in an exchange between an elected official and spectators.

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Sumner and town officials — Aldermen Bill Mitchell, Everette Hill and Clark Gregory, attorney Parker Still and municipal clerk Scott Rhines — plowed through July’s business including a ranging discussion of utilities and law enforcement, plus cleanup of overgrown properties. Aldermen-at-Large Forster Ruhl and Alderman Ruby Higgenbotham did not attend.


Though the Panola County Department of Solid Waste bills the town for pickup of 472 residential trash containers in Como town limits, the town only bills 383 customers, Sumner told aldermen.

The mayor said that she and Rhines had found a discrepancy between the county’s charge and the city’s billing which results in the Como overpaying the county $726 each month. Sumner has requested an actual can count from the solid waste department to help determine the reason for the discrepancy.

The mayor also reported that 28 senior citizens’ apartments are each charged a $10 monthly fee for water regardless of the amount used and the whole complex is charged only $5 for a sewer fee. Some of the apartments have washing machines and a laundromat is also housed in the complex, Sumner said. The apartments’ management company has been contacted, Sumner said.

“All they need to do is go out there and put in a big meter,” said Police Chief Cleve Gale, who also formerly served as head of the town’s maintenance department.

Instead, town officials agreed to read the existing meters and charge by usage. Sumner said that she had contacted the apartments’ management company.

In other utility matters:

•Summer reported interest from two additional companies interested in purchasing the town’s natural gas distribution system and one company interested in leasing the system.

In May, Mississippi Natural Inc. had offered the town $186,500 for its natural gas system. Elected officials are considering whether the sale might help alleviate the cash shortage the town faces. Last month during her first meeting, aldermen at Sumner’s request agreed to postpone a sale decision for 60 days to allow Sumner time to become familiar with the issue.

•Aldermen voted to replace a failed sewer pump at Coleman and Sycamore Street. The $2,600 purchase was deemed an emergency.

Sumner said she had learned that a state grant that would otherwise be available for emergency sewer repairs could not be used because the town had not successfully closed out a 2005 sewer grant. Still said that he had taken necessary steps to comply with the 2005 grant requirements which should be complete by mid-month.

Aldermen postponed purchase of a second sewer pump. An existing pump serving McGehee Subdivision is inadequate during heavy rains, town officials said. Its replacement would cost $5,600.

Law enforcement

“We have had three gentlemen who have volunteered to be night marshals for $1 per year,” Sumner told aldermen.

The “out-of-town volunteers” provide their own equipment, and insurance and would indemnify the town against liability, she said.

“We do need some help as far as police protection is concerned,” she said.

Police Chief Gale’s report appeared to substantiate the need. Gale said that on Sunday night, June 29, about 40 people were involved in a fight and the following night about 60 people gathered to fight.

“It’s mostly females,” between ages 14 and 40, Gale said, responding to questions from aldermen and citizens who attended the meeting.

“We’ve got four officers right now, we’ve really got some problems,” Gale added.

The incidents grew “allegedly out in the county from a party over the weekend; they brought it to town,” the police chief continued.

Four deputies quickly joined the chief and Como police to quell the Monday night incident. In the Sunday night fight, deputies had arrived about an hour after they were summoned, he said.

Gale introduced a former Como policeman who is again seeking the job. Larry Wright told town officials and citizens that he is a certified officer who worked there from 1994 to 1998 and also with the Sardis Police Department.

No action was taken on Wright’s bid for employment, but Sumner said that the police department will be short another officer who faces a pending medical leave.

Cleanup hearings

Property owners with overgrown lots will receive a notice to appear at a public hearing on July 18. The hearing will determine whether the overgrown lots are a “menace to public health and safety,” Attorney Still said.

Aldermen approved the mayor’s list of overgrown properties which need mowing.

Douglas Gordon asked if the mayor’s list included junk and waste that has accumulated around businesses.

Sumner said that her list only included lots with grass that needs cutting.

“I am personally going to contact each business and ask them if they will clean their area,” she said.