By RUSSELL TURNER
Plans to expand the municipal limits of the Town of Leakesville are on hold after a group of residents made an 11th hour appeal in Greene County Chancery Court last week, claiming the process wasn’t fair.
Special Judge James D. Bell, of Ridgeland issued an order Jan. 10 approving a compromise agreement between town officials and a citizens’ group that had opposed their annexation plans. In his order, Judge Bell said the town officials had met the legal burden of showing the proposed annexation. The final decree detailing the annexation area and the new boundaries of the town was set to go into effect Tuesday, but the group of 10 residents filed a notice of appeal asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to intervene.
Christine Holloway, who lives in part of the proposed annexation area near Leakesville Elementary School, is one of the 10 petitioners challenging the town’s plan to expand its boundaries. She said there were several reasons they were against the plan, including the fact that it appears African American residents like herself and the other nine involved in the appeal, were being unfairly targeted. She said a lopsided percentage of the area slated for annexation is owned or occupied by African Americans, while other areas removed from the proposed area by the settlement agreement are white.
“We don’t want the higher taxes any more than those who were cut out,” Holloway told the Herald. “We just don’t think it is fair for us to be taken into this when others are excluded.”
The nine residents joining the appeal with Holloway are Voncile Holmes, Ollie Mae Clay, Jimmy Washington, Crystal Collins, Pinchey Woullard, Jimetra Holloway, Briggett Peters, Marcia Taylor, Latiana Jones, Glenda Thomas and Jacques Smith. Attempts by the Herald to get comments from the others were not successful.
Town officials said they were disappointed with the appeal, but remain committed to the project.
“While the Town is certainly disappointed by the appeal which was filed by a few individuals, we are committed to seeing the annexation process through to the end,” Mayor George Perkins said in a written statement. “We are confident that the Mississippi Supreme Court will review the trial court’s decision and the evidence and testimony at trial and will ultimately affirm the Chancellor’s Final Decree approving the Town’s annexation of this area.”
“Most importantly, the Town is disappointed by the temporary delay in bringing this critical portion of the community into the Town’s corporate limits. The Town remains committed to extending the full spectrum of needed municipal services to these areas, and we continue to look forward to the day when this portion of the community will be formally included as a part of the Town of Leakesville.”
Local attorney Chris Dobbins drafted the notice of appeal for the group, but said Monday he is not representing the residents as legal counsel during the appeal process. Dobbins said he drafted the document in an effort to make sure their rights to an appeal were protected and that they met the deadline. Holloway said it is her understanding the group will be receiving assistance from lawyers associated with the NAACP, but did not have any details beyond that.
In Nov. 2016, Leakesville officials outlined a proposed annexation area that would have roughly quadrupled the town’s size. However, a group of citizens banded together to hire legal help to fight the annexation effort and late last year reached a settlement with town officials that drastically reduced the expansion area. However, not all of the residents involved with the group were happy with the settlement and six of them continued their fight and appeared in court on Nov. 6-7 to express their opposition. Those residents were not represented by legal counsel at the trial, but Judge Bell allowed them to sit in the juror box and actively participate in the proceedings and actively question and cross-examine witnesses called by the town’s attorneys.
The notice of appeal filed on Friday is the first step in the process. The Supreme Court will issue a scheduling order setting deadlines for filings in the case.
By RUSSELL TURNER