Rolando Loan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Opinions split over Rolando plant loan

By Billy Davis

If Panola County government is asked to help Roland Butler obtain a state loan for his Crenshaw plant, Panola supervisors are split over whether they would support the request.

Only one supervisor would support such a request while two said they would strongly oppose it. A third supervisor is undecided while a fifth said he is “leaning against it.”

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The Panolian reported last week that Rolando Curtis Foods president Roland Butler is seeking a loan from the Miss. Development Authority, the state’s economic development agency.

State Rep. Joe Gardner acknowledged he is helping Butler and said he has met with MDA staff about Butler’s application. 

If Panola County decides to help Rolando, it would contact MDA to make a formal request. No contact has been made, an MDA spokesman said last week.

Supervisor Vernice Avant, when polled last week, stood out as the lone “yea” vote.

“I would support it because he’s put so much money into it,” she said of Butler. “I want to get some folks working.”

Avant’s support mirrors that of her late husband Robert, who had convinced the county board to give Butler an empty dilapidated building in Crenshaw in exchange for several hundred assembly line jobs.

The building housed the former Plumley rubber plant, which was the little town’s sole industry before it shut its doors.

On his deathbed, Mr. Avant had made Butler promise to open Rolando in job-starved Crenshaw, according to Butler.

“I anticipate – worst case scenario – in the next couple of weeks having everything taken care of so we’ll open up,” Butler said last October, two months after Avant’s death.

But supervisors have heard such promises before, and the county is presently demanding that Butler show how he spent a $1.4 million loan he obtained by using the factory and land as collateral. 

“I’m tired of messing with him. He has lied to us,” said Supervisor Bubba Waldrup, who answered “no” when polled by a reporter.

Among the five-person board, only Waldrup and James Birge were in office when Butler was given the Plumley plant and the adjoining acreage. 

Waldrup and Birge were also present when Butler, now three years ago, wooed them with his description of a factory producing bottled water, rice and other products.

“I don’t want to give him any more money – period,” said Waldrup.

Birge, when polled, said he was undecided about the prospect of approving a loan. MDA would have to show proof that Butler is eligible for the loan, he said.

Waldrup’s blunt reply was among two “no” votes. The second “no” came from board president Gary Thompson.

“I’m not taking his word for nothing,” Thompson said of Butler. Any loan that’s given to Butler will not obligate the county, he said.

“Unless the county’s not responsible in any shape or form, it’s a no vote,” Thompson said.

“I’m leaning against it,” said Supervisor Kelly Morris. “He has lied to us and hasn’t done what he said.”

Both Thompson and Morris, on a county-sponsored trip to Washington, D.C., had met with Butler while in the nation’s capital. Butler assured them the plant would open within 90 days.

Morris recalled that trip occurred in March 2008 – 17 months ago.