Memphis Stone mining

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2011

After court’s ruling, hearing set for Memphis Stone plan

By John Howell Sr.

Batesville mayor and aldermen have set Tuesday, January 17, for a public hearing to determine whether Memphis Stone and Gravel can mine from an area inside city limits on Highway 35 South.

Setting the public hearing date brings to full circle an odyssey that began in 2008 when aldermen voted 3 to 2 to grant a variance to allow mining at the site. Among area residents who opposed the variance was Scott Harrison. Scott and his wife, Mona, appealed — in a case styled Scott and Mona Harrison vs. the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of Batesville and Memphis Stone and Gravel Company — the aldermen’s decision to Panola County Circuit Court.

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The city as a matter of policy defends its decisions when they are appealed, assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell said. However, Mitchell does not represent the city in its defense of the decision because of a conflict of interest: Mona Harrison is his sister.

The circuit court upheld the city’s decision.

The Harrisons, represented by Oxford attorney Paul Watkins, then appealed to the State Supreme Court which sent the case to the Court of Appeals in May, 2009. That court reversed the circuit court’s decision, but the city then appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court which sent the case back to the appeals court for reconsideration.

Last March, the Court of Appeals issued its decision refusing to reconsider its decision. Ben Griffith of Cleveland, representing the city, filed a petition  asking the Supreme Court to affirm the circuit court’s original ruling to allow the variance.

Instead, the Supreme Court chose to punt.

Though the Supreme Court justices agreed that the appeals court had erred in their ruling that the variance had constituted “illegal spot zoning,” it provided a definition of “undue hardship” that must now be considered in the January 17 hearing, Mitchell said. The term ”undue hardship” is frequently used in municipal zoning ordinances as a reason that a municipality can allow a variance. However, the term’s meaning had not been defined in state law until the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the Harrison case.

“So, it comes back to y’all to do a do-over,” assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell told the mayor and aldermen at their Tuesday meeting.

“It’s a very interesting turn of events being remanded back to the board,” said Alderman Eddie Nabors.

“It’s an important case,” Mitchell said.

“I want my money back,” Mayor Jerry Autrey said, referring to approximately $80,000 in legal fees paid by the city since it went to circuit court.

Griffith was hired as the attorney to represent the city because Mitchell is Mona Harrison’s brother. Scott Harrison is the brother of Alderman Stan Harrison.

In other business:
•   Aldermen also voted to place two speed bumps on Field Street following a request by Alderman Ted Stewart. Stewart said that residents of the street had repeatedly asked for the speed bumps;

•   Alderman Bill Dugger asked Deputy Police Chief Don Province for a report on speeding on Boothe Street. Dugger said he wanted a report of speeding tickets listed by location;

•   Aldermen voted to end a moratorium on regulations placed on political signs. The city officials will address the regulations at a later date;

•   Aldermen agreed to set a February hearing to correct problems with building and design standards for additions to existing structures. City officials will also address mobile home standards at a future meeting after action anticipated by the Batesville Planning Commission.