Sardis Culverts

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 31, 2010



Culverts dropped at church trigger query by auditor

By Billy Davis and Jason C. Mattox

Investigators with the Mississippi Audit Department visited Panola County last week, looking into the placement of two county-owned culverts in Sardis and two other matters.

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Panola County road manager Lygunnah Bean confirmed the visits, on August 25 and 26.

Two 30-foot-long plastic culverts were dropped weeks ago in Sardis, near a grassy slope in front of New Rock Hill M.B. Church.

The church is located on Gin Street and drainage near the church has been an ongoing issue for Sardis city government.

It was unclear what prompted the state visit, or if anything was uncovered, since such investigations are kept secret from the public.

Sardis keeps levy

The culverts, which were never buried, have since been removed from the site because they were the wrong size for proper drainage, said Bean.

Sardis Mayor Rusty Dye echoed that explanation, saying the city’s engineer suggested one culvert instead of two.

In addition to the culverts, Bean said the county road department also hauled and dumped 13 loads of dirt, which he said came from a project at North Panola High’s football field.

Bean had told a reporter, weeks ago, that a forthcoming letter from the City of Sardis would absolve the road department by stating the work request. But the only letter produced requests a “load of dirt.”

The road manager, reached last week, attributed the hauling of the culverts to “verbal stuff” between the City of Sardis and the county road department.

Panola County Road Department is not obligated to work alongside the Sardis Street Department, since city government keeps its funds from a road tax levy. Other municipalities in Panola County transfer their levy funds to county government to enjoy help for street repairs and other projects.

Bean said the City of Sardis is supposed to buy the culverts, “but no money has exchanged hands yet,” he said. He did not say if the county would charge any labor costs for hauling the dirt and culverts.

“We are waiting to get a meeting together to buy the culverts,” Dye told The Panolian. A board vote “shouldn’t be a problem,” the mayor said, because the drainage is a lingering problem.

Mayor: public property

The flood-prone area in front of the church is public property, Dye also said.

Public work on private property is illegal and, if discovered, can prompt a state investigation.

In 2005, a state attorney general’s investigator visited Panola County on a tip that a culvert had been placed on private property in the Wildwood subdivision, located east of Batesville. That investigation took a turn when then-County Administrator David Chandler fired a road department employee who had aided the investigator with information about the culvert.

The fired employee sued in U.S. District Court, claiming civil rights violations. The ex-employee and county government eventually settled out of court.

Chief pays bill

Bean said last week that an audit investigator also had knowledge that a road department employee had illegally performed yard work for Como Police Chief Fred Boskey.

Boskey, contacted by a reporter, said the employee was cutting up a downed tree limb on East Street in Como when the police chief asked him to remove two stumps from his yard.

Boskey told The Panolian he expected to pay county government for the service and was awaiting a bill.

 After the state investigator visited last week, “I told (Boskey) we were billing him for that,” Bean said, though Boskey told The Panolian he was still awaiting a phone call.

The police chief contacted a reporter, hours later, to say he had contacted Bean and paid the bill in full.

Bean said an investigator also asked about more than 30 loads of dirt that had been hauled and dumped on an empty lot in south Sardis, near Atkins Street and Highway 51.

The road department hauled the dirt from River Road “and we needed somewhere to put it,” Bean said.

The Mississippi Audit Department visited Panola County in June 2009, when it was learned that road department employees had been hauling bridge materials to Martin Bros. Scrap Metal in Sardis and pocketing the funds.

The results of that investigation were never made public, though Bean stated publicly that the road department had implemented a policy to clear up the matter.