PC Board of Supervisors

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 5, 2008

Gary Thompson

Thompson picked as board president, downplays new role

By Billy Davis

With the unexpected death of a powerful county supervisor, the five-man board, now reduced to four, was suddenly thrust into a no-man’s land suddenly void of political power.

If that situation sounds familiar, it should. The death of board president David Ross Craig in 1991 created a power vacuum, leaving fellow supervisors to compete for power and influence.

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Almost two decades later, history is repeating itself. Supervisors are swimming in uncharted political waters following the August 8 death of Supervisor Robert Avant.

Supervisor Gary Thompson has served as vice president of the board since January, but he assumed the president’s role Tuesday following a unanimous board vote.

Supervisor James Birge was elected vice president.

Following Avant’s death, the current board includes three rookies: Avant’s wife Vernice, Thompson, and Kelly Morris. Birge and Supervisor Bubba Waldrup began their second terms in January.

Despite his rookie status, Thompson, 59, said he understands the important role played by the Panola County Board of Supervisors. During the current term, he believes the most important goals are working closely with the new county administrator, aggressively pursuing industrial development, and working “harmoniously” as a board.

New administrator

At the same time Avant was hospitalized, supervisors were selecting Kelley Magee, a deputy comptroller for Lafayette County, to replace retiring administrator David Chandler.

Magee jumped into her new role almost immediately, working with Chandler to ready a new budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

“I believe you’re going to see her move the county forward,” said Thompson of Magee. Her work on the budget showed she is “well-versed” on financial matters, he said.

More industrial jobs

Supervisors have little day-to-day control over economic development, but many supervisor candidates stressed the need for more good-paying jobs during last summer’s campaign season.

In the District 3 race, Thompson cited job creation as a top priority.

The board addressed economic development in past weeks by supporting a Panola Partnership plan to build a new industrial park near the county airport.

Supervisors allocated one mill to pay for a CAP loan from the state. The loan would fund construction of the first industrial sites and a road through the property.  

Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons has told supervisors in past months that Panola County, despite the slow economy, is enjoying interest from industrial prospects.

“Sonny is doing a good job. The best thing we can do is stay behind him,” Thompson said.

Stay in harmony

Thompson said he envisions a “no personal agenda” philosophy in which board members weigh every vote on whether it benefits Panola County.

“I feel like there’s too much emphasis put on the role of the board president,” Thompson said. “You’re supposed to run an orderly meeting, but it really boils down to one-man, one-vote.”

The new board president   said last summer he would retire from his longtime employer, BellSouth, if elected to the District 3 seat. He has  done so and considers himself a full-time supervisor.

Thompson said the most-recent budget work, which concluded with a five-mill increase, was challenging for he and other supervisors.

“It didn’t go the way I wanted,” he said. “I had hoped for three mills as a maximum.”

“The budget was on my mind a lot for three weeks, but I slept good last night,” Thompson said. “I think the county is in good hands and going in the right direction.”