Archive for July, 2010

City can’t change board appointment status

July 27, 2010

Bay St. Louis representatives on the Bay-Waveland School District board apparently will be able to maintain their appointed status and aren’t in danger of having to run for election, according to a finding by the city attorney.

City Attorney Donald Rafferty had been asked to explore whether the city’s School Board representatives could be required to run for office after their current terms expire. While the three are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, the School Board’s other two members hold elective positions.

Rafferty told the City Council Tuesday night that after talking with state legislators and School Board Attorney Ronnie Artigues, there appears to be little chance the three Bay representatives can be required to run for office in the future.

“My opinion, in talking with the powers that be, is that it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Of the five school board members, only Sherry Ponder and Robinette Lawler must run for office. The other three, Cheryl Ladner, Clevand Williams and Mike Benvenutti, are Bay St. Louis residents who are appointed.

Ponder and Lawler, the elected members, represent areas called the “added territory.” The City of Waveland does not actually name anyone to the School Board, Artigues said.
The question of changing the status of the three Bay St. Louis representatives arose earlier this month after Councilman Doug Seal received citizen complaints when the School Board approved a 1.32-mill tax increase. Board members and the administration said the increase was necessary because of cuts in state aid to education.

Seal had asked that the city look into the issue. “I always tell people, a School Board can do a lot more damage to your taxes than I can,'” he said at the time.

Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame had said he was not opposed to making school board members campaign for election.

But Rafferty said Tuesday that the proposal would require a blanket change in state law that would affect all school districts.

It could not be done under a “local and private” law that would affect only the Bay-Waveland District, he said. Rafferty said the City Council can actually hold School Board members more accountable under the current system than if they were elected.

“Please understand, when you appoint, you have more power,” he said.

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

Zoning battle brews in Bay

July 27, 2010

A debate has heated up over proposed changes in Bay St. Louis’ minority Third Ward, with some citizens fighting a move to rezone two residential properties as commercial, and saying their own City Council representative has a conflict of interest in the matter.

One of the properties proposed for rezoning, located at Washington and St. Francis Streets,
is owned by Power House of Deliverance Ministries, Inc., according to Hancock County land records. Third Ward Councilman Jeffrey Reed has been pushing to have zoning on the land changed from its current zoning of R-2, two-family residential, to C-2, neighborhood commercial.

Powerhouse of Deliverance wants to build ground-floor retail spaces on the property, with residences placed on a second story, Reed said.

Objecting neighbors, including four former City Council members, say the problem lies in Reed’s relationship to Power House of Deliverance. He is senior pastor of the church, was among its founders, and is also listed on state records as president of the organization.

“I believe we have a conflict of interest here,” said longtime city employee and Sycamore Street resident Paula Fairconnetue during a July 19 City Council workshop on the issue. “The property belongs to Mr. Reed and his church. I really don’t believe he should be participating in this.”

‘This is ludicrous’
On Friday, Reed said the conflict allegation is “ludicrous,” since the land is owned by Power House of Deliverance and not by him as an individual. “I just happen to be the senior pastor, the same way Les (Fillingame) happens to be the mayor of Bay St. Louis,” Reed said.

However, he said he will not vote when the City Council considers the issue next Thursday, on advice from the state Ethics Commission. “I’m going to recuse myself from the actual vote,” Reed said.

Aside from the property at Washington and St. Francis, which lies next to Martin Luther King Park, Reed also advocates a zoning change from residential to commercial for a vacant lot at 501 Sycamore St. County records show that land was taken by the state after taxes were not paid by a previous owner. As of Friday, it remained officially listed as state-owned land.

Power House of Deliverance Ministries also owns another piece of land at Sycamore and St. Francis Streets, which formerly housed a now-defunct nightclub.

That land is already zoned C-2, and Power House also wants to develop retail and residential space there, Reed said.

In addition, Reed and his wife individually own 2.2 acres on Washington Street that was the site of a former public housing development before Hurricane Katrina.

Petitions from both sides
When the rezoning process began city-wide, the administration and Slaughter & Associates, a consulting firm, proposed that zoning be changed from residential to commercial on both properties now in dispute.

But the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission overturned that request, and recommended that both parcels remain under current residential zoning. The City Council is scheduled to review the recommendation at 5 p.m. Thursday, when it meets at the city Conference Center at Main Street and U.S. 90.

At a recent planning commission public hearing, Third Ward residents turned out to comment
on the commercial proposal. Residents both favoring and opposing the zoning changes also filed petitions with the city.

Those opposing the change include former City Council members Thomas Farve and Harry Farve, Charles Johnson, and Connie Lampley. Fairconnetue, a city employee who served for years as council clerk, also objected.

When Johnson spoke at the public hearing, he said he had supported Reed as a council candidate. “I lost a lot of friends and family over that, too,” he said, predicting that crime will rise if more commercial areas are added to the quiet neighborhood.

But Marian Vincent, a Diamondhead resident whose husband owns residential and commercial properties in the Third Ward, said the zoning change is necessary for growth.

“Opportunities for small businesses should be available,” she said. “We totally lack shopping opportunities.”

The recusal
The Mississippi Attorney General’s office has issued numerous opinions through the years on potential conflict of interest issues involving City Council members. But a Sea Coast Echo search of AG’s opinions turned up none dealing with issues similar to the Reed situation.

The Mississippi Ethics Commission did issue an opinion early this year on whether a City Council member employed by a non-profit organization can vote on actions that benefit other non-profit entities associated with directors of the council member’s own employer.

In such a case, the commission said, the council member should refrain from voting on a related issue.

Reed said Friday that he had consulted with City Attorney Donald Rafferty on the propriety of participating in a vote on the zoning changes he is championing. Reed said the Ethics Commission advised that since he and his wife individually own the former public housing site in the middle of the disputed area, he should recuse himself from the actual vote on the rezoning proposals.

However, he said, that will not keep him from participating in a discussion of the issue. “If I don’t stand up and say something, nobody else will say anything,” he said.

Fairconnetue disagrees. “Councilman Reed taking part in this discussion, I don’t believe should be done,” she told the zoning commission.

“As far back as I can remember, there were always businesses” on the two lots, which are now vacant, Reed said. “I’m pushing it because they always had commercial use.”

Harry Farve, who lives on St. Francis Street in between the two potential commercial lots,
noted that Reed lives on Keller Street, nowhere close to the lots he wants rezoned.

“He’s not changing his neighborhood,” Farve said. “He’s changing mine.”

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

Man pleads guilty to cocaine charge

July 27, 2010


A Gulfport man faces five to 40 years in prison on a guilty plea to possession with intent to distribute cocaine in Harrison County.

Jeffrey Allen Isabell, 26, was set for trial Monday but changed his plea on Wednesday.

He also faces a fine of up to $2 million.

Isabell remains free on bond. U.S. District Judge Walter J. Gex III will sentence him on Oct. 28 at 10 a.m.

Isabell was indicted by a federal grand jury after his arrest in a traffic stop in Gulfport in March.

The government accused him of having nearly 43 grams of cocaine in his 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, which led to a search of his home in the 2100 block of 38th Avenue.

Drug agents said they seized a kilogram of cocaine and a large amount of money from the attic, paraphernalia used to turn powdered cocaine into crack cocaine, and 21 pounds of marijuana in the trunk of a different vehicle in his front yard.

A kilogram is about 2.2 pounds.

Agents said they also seized a loaded 9mm handgun from the dresser of Isabell’s bedroom.

Isabell admitted buying cocaine by the kilo about twice a month over the previous eight to 12 months, according to a drug agent’s sworn statement.

Records show Gulfport police detective Wendell Johnson made the traffic stop that led to the searches. Johnson stopped Isabell on a violation of having his windows tinted darker than allowed by law and called in a drug-sniffing dog based on Isabell’s nervous response, according to documents.

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Armed burglary suspect arrested

July 27, 2010


A man is accused of breaking into a home Friday and robbing a woman at gunpoint while she was home alone with her two infants, police said.

Police identified the suspect as Lionel Lavon Richard, 25, of Dr. Gilbert Mason Drive in Biloxi.

Investigator Nick Sonnier said the woman and her children, who live on Todd Cove, were not injured.

Police arrested Richard on charges of armed robbery and burglary of an occupied dwelling.

He was jailed Friday night and remained in custody Monday afternoon at the Harrison County jail.

Justice Court Judge Bruce Strong set bonds at $100,000.

The maximum penalties for the charges are life without parole for armed robbery and 25 years for breaking into an inhabited dwelling.

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Poplarville resident to appear on ‘MasterChef’ premiere

July 27, 2010
By KRISTI RICHIE – Special to the Sun Herald

Whitney Miller of Poplarville is hoping to turn her culinary hobbies into a quarter of a million dollars by competing on Fox’s new reality show, “MasterChef.”

“Just to have the title of ‘MasterChef’ because I’m so much younger would prove that I’ve taught myself so much,” the 23-year-old and youngest chef competing said. “I’m very competitive in everything. I want that title. I never got the chance to attend culinary school, so this is my chance. This is a dream.”

“MasterChef,” featuring Gordon Ramsay the snarling chef of “Hell’s Kitchen” fame, premiers at 8 tonight on Fox.

Contestants have one hour to prepare their signature dishes and present them to the MasterChef judges, who are looking for passion, creativity and most importantly great flavor and taste. The top cooks will win the coveted white apron and move on to the next round of competition.

Miller auditioned for the show in New Orleans and was selected for the top 50 chefs from throughout the nation. She will be preparing blackened catfish tacos with mango chutney for the first round of competition.

“The mango chutney was an experiment. The spiciness of the catfish goes with the sweetness of the chutney,” Miller said. “The catfish is shredded. I have given it to people to try and they didn’t even know what they were eating – and they loved it.”

A senior at the University of Southern Mississippi majoring in nutrition and biology, Miller hopes she will inspire more young people to get in their own kitchens and eat healthier while keeping within a meager budget.

“I want them to see that they don’t have to pick up fast food all the time. I’ve always cooked during the week, while going to college and on (my parents’) teacher salary budget,” she said. “I use cheap ingredients and make it a little more gourmet. I really try to think outside the box.”

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Thousands audition for ‘Idol’

July 27, 2010


Long before sunrise Monday morning, more than 6,000 young vocalists put their dreams of stardom to the test at the New Orleans Arena, joining others from throughout the nation in hopes of becoming the next “American Idol.”

New Orleans was the third site for auditions for the first round in the popular Fox reality show, coming into its 10th season. Nashville and Milwaukee have had auditions, and East Rutherford, N.J., Austin, Texas, and San Francisco are coming up in August.

There were Mardi Gras masks and jangling Mardi Gras beads, guys with ink-black Adam Lambert hair and at least one male contestant dressed like a cross between Vegas-era Elvis and a Mardi Gras king.

Not too far from the front of the line was Karinlee Brister, 26, of McComb, who was planning to sing “Unchained Melody.” It was her first time to audition for “Idol,” although she has sung “all my life.” Just down the line, Joey Stimeling, 18, of Long Beach, was in line with parents Traci and J.C.

“I’m doing ‘Simple Man,’ Shinedown’s version,” he said. Music has been a longtime love, and he even put off college plans.

Josh Ledestich, 23, of Gulfport is in the Navy. Friends and his girlfriend encouraged him to audition. He chose “Come Fly with Me,” the Michael Buble version.

Lorrie Morgan Barnhill of George County is just 16, but she was ready to wow the judges with “something country.”

“Since I’m a country girl,” she said with a laugh. And yes, she was named in honor of the country singer.

Zachary Jones, 19, of Pascagoula chose “Good Riddance” by Green Day for his song. He, too, was auditioning for the first time.

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Obama to appear on ABC’s ‘The View’ on Thursday

July 27, 2010
By FRAZIER MOORE – AP Television Writer


ABC’s “The View” has welcomed many notable guests, but none more prominent than President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to visit for Thursday’s edition.

In making the announcement on Monday, executive producers Barbara Walters and Bill Geddie said this marks the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited a daytime talk show.

They said the majority of the hour will be devoted to Obama’s appearance, which will touch on topics including jobs, the economy, the Gulf oil spill and family life inside the White House. It is scheduled to tape on Wednesday.

“We are so pleased and honored,” Walters said.

Walters will make a special return to the studio for the occasion, joining co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Sherri Shepherd. Other than a brief segment broadcast from her home this month, Walters has been off the air since undergoing open-heart surgery in May and had not planned to be back until September.

Obama’s appearance is part of the show’s continuing “Red, White & View” campaign, which is committed to political guests and discussions. The show welcomed Vice President Joe Biden in April.

Obama was last a guest on “The View” in March 2008 when he was a U.S. senator.

The program airs weekdays on ABC at 11 a.m. Eastern time.

ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co.

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Leaders look for different options for oil

July 27, 2010


Waste Management will hold off on dumping any oil-related waste at the Pecan Grove landfill until Harrison County supervisors can meet with BP and Unified Command about alternative options for disposal, a Waste Management representative told the Harrison County Board of Supervisors on Monday.

Supervisors responded that they will have their attorney work on an injunction to cease disposal at the site if the meeting does not happen in a timely manner, hopefully within days.

Harrison County supervisors has long been in opposition of putting oily waste from the BP cleanup into the landfill. The Board had discussed issuing a subpoena to have Waste Management meet with the Board, but company officials agreed to attend Monday’s meeting without legal action.

District 3 Supervisor Marlin Ladner expressed his frustrations at Monday’s meeting, saying that BP had previously said the waste would be taken to Louisiana and the company would look into alternate methods of disposal besides using the landfill.

He said the decision to use the Pecan Grove landfill as a disposal site was never discussed with the Board beforehand.

“What you’re putting in the landfill might have some toxicity in it,” Ladner said. “We don’t know what the long-term effects of that is, especially with the dispersants.”

More than 200 homes are within a half-mile radius of the landfill, he said.

A representative of BP was briefly in attendance at the meeting, but after she told the Board she was not authorized to make any decisions there, the supervisors had no more questions for her.

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First Lady visits South Mississippi today

July 23, 2010


America’s first lady will be in South Mississippi later this morning. Michelle Obama will participate in the christening of the Coast Guard National Security Cutter Stratton at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Pascagoula.

The christening will mark a historic day where the legacy of the first female Guardians, the SPARs, is honored and remembered. Named for Captain Dorothy Stratton (1899-2006), the cutter honors her contributions not only as the first woman accepted in to the Coast Guard in 1942, but also, as a trailblazer for all future female Guardians to come.

Stratton, known for coining the name SPARs, led the 10,000 enlisted women and 1,000 commissioned officers that made up the SPARs during World War II.

“I am honored to serve as sponsor of the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, named after one of the most extraordinary women to serve our nation in uniform,” said the First Lady during the keel laying ceremony almost one year ago to the day.

This will be Mrs. Obama’s second visit to our state since her husband became president. She was in Jackson last March to promote her Let’s Move Campaign that targets childhood obesity.

Trang Pham Bui will cover the First Lady’s visit to our community and will have that story for you later today on and WLOX News.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

Checks will be coming

July 23, 2010

Jobless benefits are renewed for millions

By ANDREW TAYLOR – Associated Press


Federal checks could begin flowing again as early as next week to millions of jobless people who lost up to seven weeks of unemployment benefits in a congressional standoff.

The White House said President Barack Obama would quickly sign the legislation Congress approved Thursday to restore benefits to people who have been out of work for six months or more, ending an interruption that cut off payments averaging about $300 a week to 2 1/2 million people who have been unable to find work in the aftermath of the nation’s long and deep recession.

At stake are up to 73 weeks of federally financed benefits for people who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state jobless benefits. About half of the approximately 5 million people in the program have had their benefits cut off since its authorization expired June 2.

They are eligible for lump-sum retroactive payments that are typically delivered directly to their bank accounts or credited to state-issued debit cards. Many states have encouraged beneficiaries to keep updating their paperwork in hopes of speeding payments once the program was restored.

In states like Pennsylvania and New York, the back payments should go out next week, officials said. In others, like Nevada and North Carolina, it may take a few weeks for all of those eligible to receive benefits.

The 272-152 House vote Thursday will send the measure to the White House, where Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama would sign it as soon as it arrived. The House vote came less than 24 hours after a mostly party-line Senate vote Wednesday on the measure, which is just one piece of a larger Democratic jobs agenda that has otherwise mostly collapsed after months of battles with Republicans.

“Americans who are working day and night to get back on their feet and support their families in these tough economic times deserve more than obstruction and partisan game-playing,” Obama said Wednesday night.

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