Board of Supervisors

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 11, 2010

Pair of seats at Partnership eases fuss over funds

By Billy Davis

Panola County Administrator Kelley Magee was appointed Monday to the Panola Partnership Board of Directors, where she is expected to fill a newly created position to represent county government.

Panola County supervisors nominated her Monday at their meeting in Sardis.

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The Partnership Board is set to meet June 14 for its regular meeting, where it is expected to amend its by-laws to create a city seat and county seat on the nine-seat board. The board would then accept Magee’s appointment to the new position, said Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons.

Magee’s appointment would coincide with the appointment of David Karr, a longtime City of Batesville employee.

Karr is already serving on the Partnership board as an elected member, but Batesville aldermen chose to simply move him to the city’s new seat.

Magee told The Panolian she would attend the July 12 meeting of the Partnership Board after she is confirmed by its members.

The city and county appointments represent a compromise with the Partnership because the organization receives funding from county government and the City of Batesville. That funding was increased in May, when both the city and county agreed to evenly split the $140,000 salary of the Partnership CEO.

The salary agreement was made with the understanding that the Partnership would not approach the city and county in the future to fund economic projects, an agreement that public officials have said is as important to them as the two board seats.  

The Panola Partnership office is headquartered in downtown Batesville, where it serves as the Chamber of Commerce for the county. Its more visible role is championing economic development and industrial recruitment, with Simmons leading that effort.

But the Partnership’s proposal to build a new industrial park hit a roadblock earlier this year, when county supervisors balked at spending $1 million in county funds. The site is located near the county airport.

The City of Batesville and the Partnership were expected to contribute $500,000 and $250,000 respectively, The Panolian reported at the time.   

The county board also learned the Partnership was paying for the CEO’s salary from the payments to the Partnership from LS Power.

The power plant contributes approximately $300,000 annually in development payments to the Partnership and has agreed to do so through 2029.

The original payment agreement, hammered out more than a decade ago, stipulated that LS Power monies would be spent on capital improvements.

Armed with that information, some supervisors then demanded an accounting of Partnership funds, leading to a behind-the-scenes squabble that limped along through the spring.

The squabble was soothed in May, when Batesville attorney Richard “Flip” Phillips presented the county with a compromise: if supervisors increase the CEO salary, the county would not be asked in the future to fund industry-related projects.

Supervisors, after listening to Phillips’ pitch, voted unanimously to increase Partnership funding from $90,000 annually to $160,000. Behind the scenes, the Partnership had already agreed to allow the city and the county to have a seat on its board of directors, said public officials. 

A day after supervisors voted, Batesville aldermen also voted to pay for half of the CEO’s salary, with their appointment already seated on the Partnership board.

Phillips’ pitch to the city included more background. With low-wage industrial jobs moving overseas, the Partnership developed a long-term plan in 2004 to target more stable industries that included defense contractors and homeland security, among others. LS Power funds were used for that effort, including to pay the salary of the Partnership’s director, he said.

“The creation of the two new seats will help unify the city and the county and the Partnership, which all combine to help the economic development of our region,” Phillips told The Panolian this week.

Simmons said the two new seats “create an open line communication, which makes it much easier to communicate the plans and objectives of the Partnership.”

“It’s a smart move,” Simmons said, “and it helps unify us.”