By Billy Davis
Panola County supervisors on Monday said they intend to ask Rolando Foods CEO Roland Butler how he spent $1.4 million he borrowed by using a Crenshaw plant as collateral.
When the calendar flips to August, three years will have passed since Panola County government gave the plant to Butler in exchange for a promise of hundreds of assembly line jobs.
Butler said at the time he needed the plant as collateral in order to fund start-up operations.
No jobs have materialized, and Butler has given numerous reasons for the delayed opening: a snowstorm, equipment delays, plant renovations, a bad water well, the bad economy, and, most recently in the past year, a lack of acceptable workers in Crenshaw.
Because Butler was given the plant as collateral, the contract between Butler and the county allows for supervisors to see itemized expenses, supervisors said Monday.
“We owe it to the people of Panola County to find out what we can find out,” Supervisor Kelly Morris said during discussion.
County Administrator Kelley Magee also informed supervisors that Butler has five years from the contract signing date to reach 80 percent of the workforce agreed to in the contract.
If Butler fails to meet that goal, “it’s my understanding that the plant would revert back to the county,” she said.
Magee also disclosed Monday that Panola County government had been mistakenly paying property insurance on the building and acreage even after the property had been transferred to Butler.
Reached after the meeting, Magee said she had discovered the error and has requested repayment from Whitten Insurance. She said she did not know the exact amount that had been paid.
The county was carrying a $1.5 million insurance policy on the property, Magee also said.
Also after the meeting, Panola Chancery Clerk Jim Pitcock acknowledged to a reporter that he had approached board president Gary Thompson about demanding answers from Butler.
The chancery clerk said he had shared with Thompson the contract stipulation that allows supervisors to demand an accounting of Butler’s expenditures.
“It’s the citizens’ business that we gave away county property and received nothing from it,” Pitcock told The Panolian.
In the board meeting, Pitcock told supervisors that “my head would be on a chopping block” if he had been given county-owned property but failed to abide by his promise.
“I believe we should ask what his intentions are,” Thompson replied. “We should ask what did he use the money for.”
Supervisors voted unanimously for board attorney Bill McKenzie to contact Butler via letter and ask him to appear at a supervisors’ meeting.
The Panolian has reported that Butler took out a Deed of Trust in for the $1.4 million from “Dill Ski Aspen, LLC,” according to county records, in August 2007.
The $1.4 million was supposed to be paid back in six months’ time, county records show.
He also took out a second Deed of Trust for $26,000 from a Maryland-based firm in May 2007.
Late county Supervisor Robert Avant had urged his colleagues to swap the property for Butler’s promise of jobs.
Avant’s widow, Vernice Avant, voted along with board members Monday to demand answers from Butler.
“I know (Butler) has had setbacks. His partners have changed,” she said. “And it has to do with the economy, too. There are some Fortune 500 companies that have closed their doors.”