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City, county battle over inmates again

City again delays redistricting decision

Cannon claims Southern Echo “not involved, period”, yet Wilson is on Southern Echo board of directors

At their May 8 meeting the West Point Board of Selectmen held a public hearing on a Community Development Block Grant application, put off a decision on redistricting, heard a complaint from a citizen about issues with the electrical department and once again found themselves at loggerheads with the county over inmate housing.

Public hearing
The city is asking for $300,000 to address drainage issues. The city will put up $150,000 in cash and in-kind services as a match.
Each year the state is given money from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year the state received $23 million, explained Patsy Patterson of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District.
“The area affected by the grant must be at least 51 percent low to moderate income,” Patterson explained. “The area that was affected by the recent flooding is in a low to moderate income area, and so it will qualify.”
Water and sewer projects tend to get the most consideration, Patterson said.
“We’re looking at the area from Half Mile Street to around the Housing Authority,” said Mayor Scott Ross. “That was the best project we could come up with giving the likelihood of funding.”
“If you don’t use all the money you get for this project, will you be able to use what’s left in another area?” asked Jimmy Davidson.
“No,” Patterson said. “The grant award is based on the number of low to moderate income residents in the area.”
“This project will cover a broad swathe of land through the city,” Ross said.
The grant application was unanimously approved.

Redistricting
For the third time, the selectmen delayed a decision on how to handle redistricting.
In March Ward 2 Selectman Homer Cannon asked that the board consider a proposal by Southern Echo in addition to proposals by the Stennis Institute at Mississippi State University and the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District. The matter was tabled to allow the board to collect more information.
In April the matter was tabled again due to confusion over Southern Echo’s involvement. The mayor and City Attorney Orlando Richmond had expressed concern over statements made on Southern Echo’s web page that they “work to empower the African-American community through…effective community organizing.” The waters were further clouded when the proposal was submitted not by Southern Echo but by Atlanta-based attorney Jerry Wilson. Cannon insisted that it would be Wilson, not Southern Echo, who would do the work. The decision was tabled both to allow Richmond to research the matter further and to allow the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District to submit a written proposal. [The GTPDD had given the city a verbal proposal, but not a written one. – Brian Jones] The matter came up again Tuesday, and again was tabled due to confusion over Wilson’s relationship to Southern Echo.
At the beginning of the discussion Cannon claimed that Wilson had been “misrepresented” throughout the process.
“It’s not Southern Echo that will do the work,” Cannon said. “It’s Jerry Wilson’s law firm. Southern Echo is not involved in this, period. Southern Echo was just someone who recommends…we need to clarify that tonight. Southern Echo has nothing to do with Mr. Wilson’s office. Mr. Richmond was supposed to call Mr. Wilson and clarify all this. I talked to Mr. Wilson yesterday, and he feels that his firm has been misrepresented in this and mischaracterized, and I do also. I feel I played a part in that. This is not Southern Echo.
“Mr. Wilson and his firm are more than willing to come up here and answer any questions this board or this city has,” Cannon said. “Let’s clarify that Southern Echo does not play a part in this.”
[According to Southern Echo’s web site, Mr. Wilson was named to their board of directors on April 22, 2011 and serves as treasurer for the organization. As such I find it a bit much that Mr. Cannon insists that Southern Echo “is not involved in this, period.” – Brian Jones] “Mr. Wilson was referred to the city by Southern Echo,” Ross said.
“There are probably about 20 other recommendations for him from other cities and counties and selectmen who recommended him,” Cannon said.
Ross urged the board to make a decision.
“I’m afraid you’re going to run out of time,” Ross said. “Once the consultant is hired, they have to meet with each of you. They have to hold public hearings to get input from the public. The board has to approve a plan, then that plan has to be submitted to the Justice Department, and they have a minimum of 60 days to consider the plan. If you start adding up this time period…qualifications for city elections begin in January, and primaries are a year from this month. I hope that you’ll take that into consideration.
“You have a recommendation from the city attorney that we go with the GTPDD,” Ross said. “It was emailed to us this afternoon.”
“With all due respect to the city attorney,” Cannon said, “I don’t think that it does the Wilson law firm any justice that [Richmond] did not contact him directly.”
“I agree with Selectman Cannon,” said Ward 3 Selectman Charles Collins. “[Richmond] should have touched base with Mr. Wilson.”
“What’s the deadline, Mr. Mayor?” asked Ward 1 Selectman Rod Bobo.
Before Ross could answer, Cannon interrupted.
“I propose that we get all this clarified,” Cannon said, “and make sure that we don’t have any issues or reservations. Why don’t we get [Wilson] to come before us.”
“I can’t answer Mr. Bobo’s question about the timing,” Ross said. “I don’t know what the answer is. It depends on…once you’ve hired the consultant, how quickly can they do the work and how quickly can they make a decision. Then it has to go to the Justice Department, and there’s no telling how long they’ll take.”
“This is taking too long,” said Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman. “We’re going to have to have the election twice if we’re not careful.”
Cannon made a motion to hire Wilson, and was seconded by Collins.
“I hate to restate this, but I’ve told you before that the Sothern Echo group causes me a lot of heartburn,” Ross said. “They are clearly the ones who got Mr. Wilson involved. If you recall, the first time this issue came up there was a motion made to hire Southern Echo. You decided to defer for another month, and the next month we got a proposal from a lawyer that nobody knows. You have a recommendation from the city attorney that you retain the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District.”
“At the last meeting he said he thought [Wilson] was above board after looking at what was before him,” Cannon said.
“Why hire a firm out of Georgia when we have a firm here who can clearly do the work?” Ross asked. “In fact they just finished doing the redistricting for the board of supervisors.”
“We’re not going to solve anything with this back and forth, Mr. Mayor,” said Pittman. He then made a substitute motion that the GTPDD be hired. His motion was seconded by Ward 5 Selectman Keith McBrayer, but it failed 3-2 with Bobo, Cannon and Collins voting no.
Collins charged that Richmond did not property research the matter.
“The attorney was asked to contact [Wilson] to get the information we need to make the decision we need,” Collins said. “He’s been here the past two months just like we have. Let us make the decision. This is not a legal decision. What he needs to do is contact [Wilson].”
“My recollection is that you asked the city attorney to review the whole situation,” Ross said. “I think he’s done that. I don’t know that he has to call all these people to form an opinion, and he’s not here to refute what you said.” After more back and forth, Cannon eventually withdrew his motion. Collins made a motion that Richmond be directed to call Wilson and talk to him, and he was seconded by Cannon. His motion passed. [I’m not sure what the vote was due to the noise in the council chamber, only that it passed. – Brian Jones]

Citizen complaint
Rosemary Hardin, who lives on Illinois Street, complained that she had suffered damage to electronic devices and appliances following power surges caused by faulty city equipment.
Water and Electric Superintendent Dwight Prisock explained that a connection on a transformer had become faulty, resulting in high voltage being fed back into three homes.
Ross asked that more investigation be done before a decision was made to reimburse Hardin for damages.

Interlocal jail agreement
Last year the city of West Point and Clay County argued for months over a contract to house city inmates in the county jail. The primary disagreement revolved around the rate per day the city was charged to house inmates; the county wanted to charge $35 per day, which is the same rate it charges other jurisdictions, but the city refused to pay, offering $30 instead. The disagreement became so protracted that the county stopped letting inmate work crews work on city projects, and the city began housing their inmates in Chickasaw County. However, the matter was eventually settled with the city paying $30 per day, with the rate prorated for the amount of time that the inmates actually spend in jail.
While this saved the city a great deal of money, it also took away a great deal of money from the county. As a result, the Board of Supervisors has cancelled the current inmate housing contract and is offering a new agreement. Among other things, the county is now asking the city to help pay part of the jailer’s salaries, in addition to a per inmate fee.
The contract was structured so that either party could cancel the contract with 15 days notice; the county has put the city on notice, and the contract will expire as of May 10.
“Under the contract that you approved a few months ago the payments that we were making to the county went down substantially,” Ross said. “They all of a sudden have a big hole in their budget because they’re used to paying for the jail on the back of the city. The board of supervisors didn’t budget any money at all to house county prisoners, as far as I can tell, because they were charging all the costs to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, West Point, Starkville and Oktibbeha County. That was a sweetheart deal for the county, but a terrible deal for us.”
Ross pointed out that the city’s deal with Chickasaw County is still open, and prisoners can be sent there if need be.
“I think this is a political decision,” Ross said. “You guys need to get out and talk to the supervisors.”
The board took no action.

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