By RUSSELL TURNER
The Greene County Board of Supervisors is considering a request to help pay legal fees incurred by a citizens’ group fighting the Town of Leakesville’s annexation efforts.
Pine Level resident Rodney Courtney, a spokesperson representing the group known as Citizens for the Betterment of Greene County, proposed the idea to county leaders on Tuesday, during the supervisors’ first official meeting of 2017. Courtney told supervisors he believed many in the county were under the impression supervisors were responsible for the annexation effort and that county leaders should try harder to respond to that and also get more active in the fight against the plan being presented by town officials.
“We of course feel that (the town’s annexation effort) is extremely excessive in what they are trying to do and the land they are trying to take in, much of it timber land, pasture land and farm land that nobody is going to build on,” Courtney told supervisors on Tuesday. “We are resisting it every way that we can.”
“I will tell you this. Many of the citizens of the county are laying this at the doorstep of the board of supervisors. I hear all the time how this who thing is caused by the board of supervisors, and the sheriff’s office, because y’all wanted annexation. “
Courtney told supervisors they had clarified their intent with him at a meeting in December, but added that the resolution filed by the Town of Leakesville as part of their court filings states very plainly the town is reacting to a request the county officials had made.
“In the very first page, in article two, (of the town’s court filing) it says very clearly that the only reason they are doing this is because you asked them,” Courtney told supervisors. “That’s what it says in a nutshell.”
“We are going to resist this, again, any way we can legally and we are going to incur costs. I am here today to ask the board to consider sharing in that cost.
Courtney said he was not sure exactly what the costs of fighting annexation were going to be, but expected them to be up to or more than $20,000. His proposal was for the county supervisors to agree to pay for 50 percent of the costs incurred by his citizens’ group, up to a cap of $10,000. Courtney added that he had researched the issue and was confident the county could “assist citizens” in an effort to fight annexation.
“We think that is in everybody’s best interest,” he said. “Obviously, there would be people in the town that would disagree with that.”
Courtney concluded his remarks by saying he and others in the group fighting the town’s proposal are not entirely against annexation. Instead, he argued, they are fighting to get the annexed area back down to what he understood supervisors had originally asked for back in September when they passed a resolution requesting town officials to begin annexation procedures to take in an area running alongside Miss. 63 out to the county-owned property on Industrial Park Road to include “all or a sufficient portion of the Greene County Industrial Park for the purpose of allowing the County to construct a new county jail.”
Supervisor G.L. Dearman said he too had heard talk on the street that supervisors were behind the annexation effort and thought it was time the board take action to “make a strong statement that we had nothing to do with this vast (annexation) that they are going out here asking for.” Dearman said the board had asked that town officials simply go out Hwy. 63 and take in an area to accommodate the proposed new jail being inside the town limits.
“They’ve expanded that to take up hundreds of acres,” he said. “It’s time this board let the public know that we had nothing to do with that kind of request for these citizens. I oppose it myself 100 percent and I will be there to help the opposition any way I can.”
Dist. Five Supervisor Harold Cook agreed with Dearman.
“I thought our letter to them was plain and simple, talking about the balloon on the stick (area supervisors asked to be annexed),” Cook said.
Dist. Two Supervisor William M. ‘Morris’ Hill said it was up the town to decide what area they wanted to try to take into the town limits.
“If the town chooses to do a comprehensive annexation, that is their choosing, not ours,” Hill said. “We made a request. If they went far beyond that ‘balloon on a stick’ to a comprehensive plan, that is there choosing. There is nothing else to say.”
Dist. Three Supervisor Jerry Mills said that while “hindsight is 20-20”, the supervisor’s should have never gotten to the point of passing a resolution supporting annexation.
“It never should have gotten that far, but it did,” Mills said. “We also requested for other facilities and other sites and they didn’t go through. We requested one simple annexation to get us legal so we could proceed with whatever of our choosing. Our hands were tied any way we turned.”
The supervisor’s September resolution asking town officials to expedite their annexations efforts was their third request of town officials related to the controversial jail issue. In July, the Board of Aldermen approved a request by the county to close a portion of Oak Street behind the courthouse complex to accommodate the proposed new facility being built on the courthouse square. In June, town officials rejected a request from supervisors to rezone county-owned property behind the Greene County Hospital after a contentious public hearing on the issue.
Outside of the June public hearing where Supervisor Dearman appeared in front of the town’s planning commission, county and town officials have not met in an official setting to discuss either the annexation or jail issues face-to-face.
Specific details for the supervisors’ plan for a new jail are far from clear. Representatives from Benchmark Construction provided town officials with a glimpse of a proposed jail and law enforcement complex on the lot with the courthouse when supervisors were asking that Oak Street be closed, but that plan appears to have been abandoned or at least shelved. But, supervisors have consistently expressed a desire to build a 60-bed jail with an adjacent law enforcement headquarters. Their original efforts to get legislative approval to move the jail out of the county seat’s incorporated limits failed. The local-private bill proposing the move was introduced by State Representative Roun McNeal (R-Leakesville) and was approved by House members. It died in the Senate chamber, due in part to objections from Leakesville officials.
Supervisors appeared ready to rekindle that effort Tuesday, but tabled the idea after Supervisor Hill expressed concerns they had not done enough groundwork to improve such a move’s chances of success a second time through the legislature.
Leakesville Mayor George Perkins declined to respond to the county officials’ latest statements, citing legal advice that it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the matter since it is now in the court system.
However, in previous statements Perkins has said that while annexation had been on the table for town officials for many years, the supervisors’ request was the catalyst that pushed town officials to act on the issue at this time.
While a majority of supervisors appear to oppose the town’s annexation plan, they did not take any official action on Tuesday addressing it. They also did not openly discuss their views on Courtney’s request, but instead, voted to table that discussion and potential vote until a future meeting. Board members will spend time in Jackson together this week at the Mississippi Association of Supervisors’ mid-winter meeting. Presently, their next official board meeting is set for Monday, Jan. 30 at 9 a.m.