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November 25, 2015

City: Avoid Woodrow Wilson if Possible Due to Water Main Break

By R.L. Nave

From the office of the Mayor Tony Yarber:

Motorists are advised of road conditions on the east bound lane of Woodrow Wilson Drive, heading toward Interstate 55. There was a break on a 36-inch water line in the area. The City's team is assessing the condition of the site continuously to keep it safe for motorists. However, if possible, motorists may want to select an alternate route.

An emergency declaration was signed to expedite the process of securing a consultant for design and construction. That process can take up to several weeks, but we’re now finalizing an agreement with an engineering firm to begin design work.

The water main has been left active because it is serving critical facilities. At the same time, city engineers are working to design the repair, which is more involved because of the location, the materials for the pipe and the laying conditions. This project requires a custom built new pipe as the break occurred on a 36-inch water line constructed in the 1960s. The repair cannot be made in house. The pipe needs to be encased, requiring engineering design and a contractor.

The City's team is assessing the condition of the site continuously to keep it safe for motorists. As soon as the design is completed, the city will receive quotes to get a contractor mobilized to make the repairs.

November 24, 2015

Blue Bell Ice Cream Coming Back to Mississippi Dec. 21

By R.L. Nave

The following delicious news release is printed here verbatim:

Brenham, Texas, November 24, 2015 – Blue Bell Ice Cream will be available in Louisiana and Jackson, Miss., and its surrounding areas beginning Dec. 21. This is the second-to-last phase in the company’s five phase market re-entry plan.

“We are excited to announce phase four and look forward to expanding our distribution area,” said Ricky Dickson, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Bell. “Our customers have shown great patience over the past several months and we cannot thank them enough.”

To begin phase four, Blue Bell will bring back 115 of its employees who were put on paid furlough earlier this year bringing the total number to approximately 1000 company-wide.

November has been busy for Blue Bell. At the beginning of the month the company entered phase two, less than two weeks later it announced phase three will begin in mid-December and its Brenham, Texas, production facility began making ice cream again on Nov. 18.

“We have made great strides over the past month,” Dickson said. “Our next big step is the phase three entry on Dec. 14. With the reopening of our Brenham plant in November, we are able to build enough inventory to enter phases three and four before the end of this year. Also, this will allow us to expand our flavor selection.”

For now Blue Bell is producing five flavors of ice cream in the half gallon and pint sizes: Buttered Pecan, Cookies ’n Cream, Dutch Chocolate, Homemade Vanilla and The Great Divide. More flavors will be added in the future. 12-pak Homemade Vanilla Cups and 12-pak Homemade Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate Cups are also available in stores.

For more information and to find out where Blue Bell is available visit

November 23, 2015

Terry Mayor Nicholson Pleads Guilty, Resigns

By R.L. Nave

From the Mississippi state Auditor Stacey Pickering:

JACKSON, Miss. –Roderick Nicholson, Mayor of Terry, pled guilty to five counts of embezzlement, and advised the court he would resign from his position as Mayor of Terry effective immediately.

From January 2011 through December 2012, the Mayor made personal credit card payments using the Town of Terry’s funds, as well as submitting false bills to be paid by the Town of Terry.

“Considering the size and limited budget of the town, this case is even more egregious,” said State Auditor Stacey Pickering. “My office has already issued a demand to the Mayor in the amount of $56,966.27, and I look forward to returning the money to the Town and justice being served in this case.”

Mayor Nicholson was arrested by Agents from the State Auditor’s Office in March for driving the Town of Terry’s vehicle to his federal job.

Circuit Court Judge William Chapman ordered Nicholson to be held in custody until sentencing December 7, 2015.

November 18, 2015

District 79 House Race Will Be Decided by Drawing Straws

By adreher

Run-offs are old-school anyway, right?

The fate of District 79's representation in the House of Representatives will be decided on Friday by drawing straws, according to Mississippi election law. Rep. Bo Eaton, D-Taylorsville, has represented the district since 1996, but in this election he pulled in the exact same number of votes as his Republican challenger, Mark Tullos.

The two candidates tied with 4,589 votes each.

In a press release, Rep. Eaton said he will not challenge the result of Friday's straws. Technically, the loser on Friday has the right to challenge the vote and appeal to the House of Representatives, which would then decide who gets to take District 79's seat when they reconvene.

Eaton's press release said: "Whatever the outcome of the procedure, I will abide by the result and not challenge the election. I hope my opponent will agree to do the same thing."

The District 79 race straws will be drawn on Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the governor's office conference room in the Sillers Building when the governor and the secretary of state return from Israel.

November 16, 2015

Saints Fire Rob Ryan After Dismal Defeat

By toddstauffer

The Times-Picayune in New Orleans is reporting that Rob Ryan, defense coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, has been fired after a particularly embarrassing 47-14 loss to Washington on Sunday.

November 16, 2015

Bryant: Allowing Syrian Refugees in U.S. is 'Extremely Dangerous'

By adreher

Gov. Phil Bryant joined 15 other governors in pledging to refuse Syrian refugees should they be sent to Mississippi, following the terrorist attacks in Paris over the weekend that left 129 people dead and hundreds wounded in France.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has pledged to accept about 10,000 Syrian refugees and argued Monday that the United States needs to allow them because many are fleeing terrorism, and that they would undergo rigorous security checks before being admitted to the U.S.

"We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves. That’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety. And ensure our own security. We can and must do both," Obama said today at the G20 summit.

Mainly Republican governors from 16 states (including neighboring states Louisiana and Alabama) are responding to heightened concerns that terrorists might use the refugees as cover to sneak across borders after authorities said a Syrian passport was found near one of the attackers on Friday, according to an AP report. The Paris prosecutors' office says fingerprints from the attacker match those of someone who passed through Greece in October.

Bryant said in a statement that he is working with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security to determine the "current status" of any Syrian refugees that could be coming to Mississippi in the future.

Lavinia Limon, president and CEO of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigration, told the Associated Press that under the Refugee Act of 1980 governors cannot legally block refugees. Each state has a refugee coordinator, a post created as part of that law and funded by the federal government. The refugee coordinator helps with resettlement efforts and directs federal funding for refugees in each state, Limon told the AP.

Gov. Phil Bryant's statement is below:

"I’m currently working with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and Mississippi Office of Homeland Security to determine the current status of any Syrian refugees that may be brought to our state in the near future. I will do everything humanly possible to stop any plans from the Obama administration to put Syrian refugees in Mississippi. The policy of bringing these individuals into the country is not only misguided, it is extremely dangerous. I’ll be notifying President Obama of my decision today to resist this potential action."

November 13, 2015

Study: Mississippi Has Highest Percentage of "At-Risk" Hospitals in U.S.

By adreher

A new study found that Mississippi has the highest percentage of at-risk hospitals, mainly rural facilities that are caught in the crunch of rising healthcare costs and less reimbursements while serving at-risk populations that need the care.

Researchers from the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, Mississippi State and the University of Memphis identified 31 hospitals (33 percent) of hospitals in Mississippi as "at-risk," and using the State Auditor's report and their own research, focused on solutions and the impact of the closure of the nine most at-risk hospitals. The report states that if those nine hospitals close, around 2,600 jobs would be lost along with $8.6 million in state and local tax revenue. If Medicaid were expanded in the state, the hospitals could compensate for some of the Medicaid Disproportionate Share payments that allow the facilities to offer services to uninsured patients. The State Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health has so far offered assistance to the rural hospitals and has grants available to help facilities implement financial recovery programs.

The 9 hospitals most at-risk for closure:

  • Covington County Hospital

  • Highland Community Hospital

  • Holmes County Hospital & Clinics

  • Tippah County Hospital

  • Hardy Wilson Memorial Hospital

  • Montfort Jones Memorial Hospital

  • Natchez Regional Medical Center

  • Noxubee County General

  • Tallahatchie County General Hospital

November 12, 2015

Will Farish Street Have a New Developer Soon?

By Todd Stauffer

The Mississippi Business Journal is reporting that Farish Street in downtown Jackson may soon have a new developer with plans to move forward with an entertainment district.

November 12, 2015

Mississippi Earns D- on State Integrity Investigation

By adreher

Mississippi has earned a D- grade on the Center for Public Integrity's 2015 investigation of state government transparency and accountability issues. The state's overall rank nationally is 33rd out of 50 states.

After this year's election, it should come as no surprise that Mississippi was ranked last in the campaign-finance category.

As early as the primary elections, disputes over personal campaign-finance spending raged. For example, Stacey Pickering, the state's auditor, used campaign-finance money to buy an RV and a garage door. He said at the time that the FBI was not investigating, despite reports to the contrary.

Advocacy organizations played important roles in the campaign-finance game too--especially in DeSoto County where four Republican legislators were ousted for their anti-charter school views when Empower Mississippi, a pro-charter organization, funded their opponents' successful campaigns.

The only regulations in place in Mississippi state law limit corporate donations to candidates or political parties. Individuals, lobbyists, political initiatives or political action committees are not limited in their spending on candidates or campaigns, an important factor in the Initiative 42 public-school funding campaign and the "Vote No" anti-42 campaign this last election. Dark money--donations made through or by organizations with no transparency about motivation or primary sourcing--influenced both sides of the Initiative 42 debate.

Mississippi also received failing grades in the following categories: public information access, electoral oversight, executive accountability and judicial accountability.

The report stated that Mississippi could rise from its last-place rank if legislators would examine and update campaign-finance laws in the state.

November 10, 2015

Mayor Yarber, Public Works to Hold Public Meeting to Address Water Bill Concerns

By MayaLMiller

This is a full, verbatim statement from the City of Jackson:

Mayor Tony T. Yarber, Director of Public Works Kishia Powell and other representatives will hold a public meeting to address water billing concerns on Monday, Nov. 16, at Smith Robertson Museum at 6:30 p.m.

The City of Jackson recently implemented Phase One of its new Customer Care & Billing System (CC&B). The system went live across the City on September 1. The system is currently in the verification process, which allows the city to ensure account accuracy and that all of the new system’s capabilities are fully functional. During this phase, water bills are estimated based on an average of actual consumption from prior billing periods.

As the City of Jackson proceeds with the CC&B, representatives are addressing, and when necessary, correcting issues that arise during the Phase One implementation. Residents may call 601-960-2000 if they have questions about their bills. Residents are encouraged to attend the public meeting on Nov. 16 for more information about the new billing system.

Key benefits of the new CC&B include increased efficiency of meter reading and water billing, eventual elimination of the need for estimated bills, and a reduced need for personnel to enter property. The system will also be able to track usage patterns, allowing the city to potentially detect leaks on a property through abnormal usage patterns.

November 5, 2015

Mississippi Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Divorce Legal

By adreher

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled Lauren Czekala-Chatham's divorce legal in concurrence with the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage in June. Czekala-Chatham filed for divorce from her estranged wife in 2013 in Mississippi, and has been waiting for an order from the Mississippi Supreme Court since July when both the state and Czekala-Chatham's lawyer filed entry motions for judgment in the case following the Obergefell decision.

After a four-month silence, the Mississippi Supreme Court has finally ruled, but not without pontificating. Five of the Mississippi Supreme Court justices signed the order in support of granting Czekala-Chatham a divorce. Chief Justice William Waller and Justices Michael Randolph, Ann Lamar, Randy Pierce and David Chandler ordered a short entry of judgment in Czekala-Chatham's favor, reversing the previous DeSoto County Court ruling that said Czekala-Chatham could not get a divorce. Justice Pierce wrote a separate statement in support of the court's order.

Four justices objected to the order, however. Justices Jess Dickinson, Josiah Coleman and Leslie King, however, in three separate written statements, objected to the order, and Justice James Kitchens joined Justice King's statement. The 36-page order and statements are available here.

Czekala-Chatham released the following statement after the court's ruling:

"I'm happy this battle has been won. But the war on discrimination is still on going. I continue to struggle with the negative consequences that being in the public's eye has caused. I will soon be divorce (sic) from my former spouse. And realize there are still road blocks when testing discrimination laws. So much still needs to be addressed. This fight has damaged my life in ways I can't recovered (sic) from. Searching for employment for 18 months has put a mental and a financial strain on me. Any potential employer can google my name and I'm dropped as a potential candidate. You can win the battle but the war on discrimination is very much real."

November 4, 2015

Initiative 42 Campaign Responds to Defeat

By adreher

Below is the verbatim press release from 42 For Better Schools sent out today.

To the Supporters of Initiative 42 and All Proponents of Public Education:

As another school day began this morning, the 500,000 candidates for whom we fought in the campaign for Initiative 42 took their seats in classrooms across Mississippi. The majority of those candidates were probably unaware that they'd just lost a battle for full funding of their public schools. Likewise, they probably did not know that their campaign was just beginning.

Unlike a traditional political campaign, Tuesday night saw no winners. Certainly not the supporters of the constitutional amendment to force the Legislature to abide by its own 1997 school funding law. And most definitely not the opponents of Initiative 42, at least not from the perspective of the half a million students -- those candidates -- whose educational environments remain exactly the same today as they did yesterday.

Of the approximately 640,000 Mississippi voters who cast ballots on Tuesday -- one of the lowest turnouts in state history -- only about 25,000 more people voted against the amendment than voted for it. So no matter who claims "victory," our Legislature must now heed the call to do more to improve our public schools. Either that, or simply ignore the wishes of more than 300,000 of their citizens.

With power comes tremendous responsibility, and those who control the legislative process have a larger duty to serve all the people, not just those who agree with their political ideology. As the saying goes, character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you.

As we reflect on Tuesday's results, the 42 For Better Schools Campaign offers no excuses and assigns no blame for not reaching the numbers required to adopt the constitutional amendment. Did the Legislature's alternative measure create the confusion they wanted to defeat 42? Of course it did. Would 42 have passed if the vote had been a straight-up yes or no decision without the alternative? Most likely.

So many factors play into any political campaign and this one had more than most. It was an uphill climb from the start, but that was the point -- to start the process to guarantee adequate and full funding for our students and their public schools. And so the battle continues.

The volatility and rancor on both sides of this issue over the past few months only underscores its importance and the need to continue working to make a difference. While this battle wages, we hope that somewhere in the wings lies the opportunity for cooperation from both sides.

We are all Mississippians. And our candidates will always be our children.

Jonathan Compretta Michael Rejebian Co-Managers, 42 For Better Schools

November 3, 2015

State Office Election Campaign Finance Reports

By adreher

Candidates running for state office filed their final pre-election campaign finance reports on Oct. 27. Click a candidate's name to view the full report.


Phil Bryant (Republican)

Amount spent this election: $2.74 million

Amount still on-hand: $1.38 million

Robert Gray (Democrat)

Amount spent on this election: $3,100

Amount still on-hand: $1,700

Lieutenant Governor

Tate Reeves (Republican)

Amount spent on this election: $640,000

Amount still on-hand: $3.6 million

Tim Johnson (Democrat)

Amount spent this election: $213,000

Amount still on-hand: $15,900

Secretary of State

Delbert Hosemann (Republican)

Amount spent this election: $321,000

Amount still on-hand: $1.2 million

Charles Graham (Democrat)

Amount spent this election: $8,500

Amount still on-hand: $150

Attorney General

Jim Hood (Democrat)

Amount spent this election: $1.26 million

Amount still on-hand: $350,000

Mike Hurst (Republican)

Amount spent this election: $861,000

Amount still on-hand: $86,000

State Auditor

Stacey Pickering (Republican)

Amount spent this election: $302,000

Amount still on-hand: $49,000

Jocelyn “Joce” Pritchett (Democrat)

Amount spent this election: $158,000

Amount still on-hand: $4,000


Lynn Fitch (Republican)

Amount spent this election: $395,000

Amount still on-hand: $5,700

Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce

Cindy Hyde-Smith (Republican)

Amount spent this election: $111,000

Amount still on-hand: $162,000

Addie Lee Green (Democrat)

Amount spent this election: $765

Amount still on-hand: $5,700

*Numbers rounded for clarity, incumbents listed first; numbers taken from October 27, 2015 Campaign Finance Report Filings with the Secretary of State's office.

November 2, 2015

Robert Gray's Mom: I Always Wanted Him to Run for Gov.

By R.L. Nave

Judie Gray Livingston, the woman who didn't even know her eldest child was running for statewide office before August, said she always thought he'd make a good governor.

"It was always my desire that he would run for governor," Livingston told the Jackson Free Press. "I think that's every mother's (desire)."

Livingston joined her son and daughter, Angela Gray (who is also her big brother's campaign manager), at a prayer vigil for Democratic candidates this afternoon at Smith Park.

Gray, 56, unexpectedly won the Democratic primary in August to become the party's nominee.

Meanwhile, across town, Republicans held a cook-off and rally today at the Ag Museum to promote their slate of statewide candidates.

Judie Gray said she prayed for the passage of the school funding Initiative 42 as well as for salary increases for teachers and state employees as well as infrastructure upgrades.

"This is a positive thing he's done. There's nothing negative," she told me. "He's all about the people of Mississippi wanting to improve."

November 2, 2015

Report: Fewer Mississippians Have Health Insurance Now Than in 2014

By adreher

The number of Mississippians without health insurance has grown over the past year. Over 16 percent of Mississippians don't have health insurance in all but six counties, according to data from Enroll America and Civis Analytics. This number supersedes 2014 numbers and can be seen visually on the New York Times' Upshot blog.

Mississippi's Republican leadership has opted to not expand Medicaid, and Medicaid enrollment numbers have leveled out in 2015, and are on the decline according to the state division's report. In July, 737,854 Mississippians were enrolled in Medicaid; now, 730,354 Mississippians are enrolled.

The Upshot reported that the decision to not expand Medicaid in states with large numbers of uninsured constituents puts people in the "Medicaid gap," since they are unable to qualify for Affordable Care Act services due to their low incomes. Medicaid expansion will likely be reconsidered in the 2016 Legislative session.

October 28, 2015

Mill Street Gets $3 Million Surprise from MDOT's Dick Hall

By R.L. Nave

Dick Hall, the Central District commissioner to the Mississippi Transportation Commission, had a little surprise for Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber today.

Well, not exactly little.

It was a $3 million check for Mill Street reconstruction. Hall grew up in Fondren and said he wanted Mill, which runs from downtown northward to Fondren, to be restored to its heyday.

The presentation came at the end of a press conference to announce at $16.5 million federal DOT grant to Jackson for a North State Street project, from Sheppard Road to Hartfield Street. The project will also include a portion of West County Line Road in the Tougaloo community.

Yarber said both the North State Street and Mill Street projects are part of the 1-percent sales tax master plan, which he said would free up funds for other projects in the plan.

The fund currently contains approximately $21 million; Yarber said his administration expects to recommend a project manager to the city council in the next few weeks.

October 27, 2015

U.S. Department of Transportation Awards Jackson $16.5M TIGER Grant

By MayaLMiller

The following is a verbatim statement from the City of Jackson:

The City of Jackson has been awarded a $16.5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The federal award will help fund the city’s “Greening the Gateways” project that will integrate environmentally sustainable multimodal transportation improvements within Jackson.

“I would like to thank the Department of Public Works team for designing this plan and aggressively pursuing the TIGER grant. This project will serve as a catalyst for revitalization activities in the city. It also supports the city’s continued work toward addressing decades-old infrastructure needs,” said Mayor Tony T. Yarber. “The Administration is appreciative of the support given by Mississippi’s congressional delegation, specifically the technical assistance on the application from the offices of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and U.S. Rep Bennie Thompson.”

TIGER grants fund capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure and are awarded on a competitive basis to projects that will have a significant impact on the nation, a region or metropolitan area. In Jackson, the improvements will be made along the “Gateway” corridor segments of North State Street and West County Line Road. The project will convert roads and make them complete streets. It also will manage drainage and mitigate sanitary sewer overflows along both streets and provide greater access to Tougaloo College.

“The ‘Greening the Gateways’ project is an integral part of the Infrastructure Master Plan, a 20-year blueprint for a comprehensive overhaul of the Capital City’s aged infrastructure system,” said Department of Public Works Director Kishia Powell. “The Gateways project will create ladders of opportunity that will bolster economic growth and stability by providing accessible and efficient connections between residences, schools, parks, public transportations, offices, retail and recreational destinations.”

October 26, 2015

Four Mississippi High Schools Awarded Career Education Grant

By adreher

Mississippi is one of three states selected to receive the Toyota USA Foundation Grant for career education. The $1.5 million grant will be shared amongst students in Mississippi, New York and Kentucky. The grant will span over a three-year project that focuses on increasing student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and manufacturing careers. Four Mississippi high schools will receive the grant funding.

The grant focuses on preparing high school students for careers and improving graduation rates simultaneously. The project uses an online, Web-based program to train freshman and sophomore high school students in STEM and manufacturing skills that can help students obtain certificates at the end of the program.

In a press release from the Mississippi Department of Education, state superintendent Dr. Carey Wright said, "One of the Mississippi Board of Education’s goals is ensuring every student graduates high school and is ready for college and a career, and this program fits perfectly into that goal. We greatly appreciate Toyota USA Foundation’s commitment to providing career and educational opportunities to our students."

The following Mississippi schools have been selected for the Toyota grant project:

  • Saltillio High School in the Lee County School District
  • New Albany High School in the New Albany School District
  • Pontotoc High School in the Pontotoc City School District
  • North Pontotoc High School in the Pontotoc County School District

October 26, 2015

Haley Barbour Comes Out Against Initiative 42, 42A

By R.L. Nave

The following is a verbatim statement from former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour:

Advocates of the proposed constitutional amendment known as Initiative 42 have twisted a passage in my 2007 State of the State address to mislead voters into believing I support their very harmful ballot measure. Not only am I against Initiative 42, I strongly urge all Mississippians to vote “against both” measures on the November ballot.

When I spoke to the Legislature in January 2007, our state had turned the corner in the Katrina recovery: The federal government had been extremely generous with disaster assistance legislation; state tax revenue had exploded as tens of thousands of homes had been rebuilt or repaired; casinos that year would have an all-time record gaming haul; all of which produced the highest state tax revenue in our 188-year history. Further, our country was in the sixth year of consistent economic growth and low unemployment.

Based on those facts I proposed record funding for our K-12 schools, a funding level that met the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP), as well as increased state funding for higher education. The money was there to spend at those levels, and everyone expected state revenue to increase in the coming years.

Yet the country began a deep recession in late 2007, which lasted nationally until mid-2009.
During the Great Recession, Mississippi’s general fund revenue came in $197.1 million or 1.67% below estimates in FY 2009 and a whopping $452 million or nearly 9.5% below estimates in FY 2010.

As Governor I had to reduce spending across the board in FY 2010 by 9.4% in order to meet our requirement of having a balanced budget. Consider the consequences if Initiative 42 had been the law at that time: Instead of all departments and agencies sharing in the 9.4% cut, K-12 (which absorbs about 40% of our state’s general fund budget) would have been exempt from cuts, and every other function of government – universities and community colleges, mental health facilities, and public safety – would have had to be cut nearly double, or approximately 18%.

As this recent history shows, Initiative 42 is terrible as a practical matter because it ties the Legislature’s hands and jeopardizes funding for other critical areas of state government.

It is also awful public policy because it totally eviscerates the constitutional system of separation of powers that has been fundamental to American government since 1789.

Initiative 42 would usurp the setting of K-12 education policy and budget, taking it away from the Legislature and Governor – elected by all Mississippi voters – and give it to the judicial branch; indeed, to one chancery judge, elected by one-fourth of the voters in Hinds County.

While advocates of judicial policymaking and budget setting say that one judge’s decisions would be appealable to the State Supreme Court, how is it a good idea to allow judges – elected for their judicial temperament, legal knowledge and ability to apply law to facts – ...