Wednesday, July 22, 2009


GREENVILLE — After several phone calls to city officials and two Freedom of Information Act requests, the city refuses to fully disclose how much it spends on security detail for Mayor Heather McTeer Hudson. While the city did respond to the second FOI request, the exact cost of the security detail remains undetermined.
Hudson said she has been receiving death threats since first coming into office in 2004.

Hudson said the Police Department has also provided her with training in gun use and self-defense. “I’ve really had to change my lifestyle, where I go, and what I do in my time, to adjust to these threats,” Hudson said.

Hudson, who is considering a run for lieutenant governor or governor, said overcoming such threats is important for her. As a black political figure, she said she must try to show that she can persevere.

As Hudson’s status as the first black female mayor in Greenville attracted attention, so has the city’s regular use of police officers assigned to protect her. But the issue of how much is spent on the mayor’s security detail comes during an economic crunch.

This year the city has not yet been able to find funds to reopen its only public swimming pool and sales tax revenues are decreasing due to an economic downturn.
The DDT then submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Wicks’ office, which was denied. In a written response, Wicks said that hours and pay scale for officers were not listed according to what particular divisions the officers served.

The DDT asked if it was possible for Wicks and Patterson to add up the salaries of officers on security detail, and provide a lump-sum figure without disclosing any names. That request was also denied. A second Freedom of Information Act, submitted after the DDT sought legal consultation from the Mississippi Press Association, did however yield some results.In response to the second FOI request, Wicks issued a spreadsheet anonymously detailing the salaries of seven officers who work on the mayor’s security detail.

According o those figures, the city’s combined total expenses for salary, overtime pay, pension and federal withholdings that the city pays for these officers has been close to $200,000 between Oct. 1 and July 16.

At that rate, the city will have paid about $252,000 to these officers by the fiscal year’s end.The figures that Wicks disclosed did not say how much it costs the city to pay for security detail training or travel expenses.

Wicks noted that the $200,000 is not limited to payment for security detail duties, as the officers on Hudson’s detail also perform all other duties required of first class police officers.
Because there are no numbers disclosing which hours are dedicated to security detail and which hours are spent working on regular police duties, the cost of the mayor’s security detail is still very much unclear.
Hudson has argued that any controversy over how much the city spends on bodyguards may stem from the fact that in addition to her security detail there are police officers assigned to protect City Hall.

The latter group of officers, she said, are not personally assigned to her. Rather, she said, they serve to defend the property and personnel of City Hall. One other city pays for bodyguards.

Greenville’s population, according to a 2006 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, is about 37,000. The DDT called cities of comparable size or greater to determine whether they had security details assigned to their mayors.

According to these telephone interviews, Tupelo with a population of 35,000 does not pay for regularly attending mayoral bodyguards. Neither do Meridian, population 38,000; Biloxi, 44,000; Hattiesburg, 50,000; nor Gulfport, 64,000.

Although officials in Hattiesburg said the city does not provide an ongoing security detail for Mayor Johnny Dupree, who is black, they did say that security details are provided in cases where Dupree receives threats.

The only Mississippi city of comparable size or greater than Greenville that regularly assigns security detail to its mayor is the state capital, Jackson, whose population of 176,000 is more than five times that of Greenville’s. Jackson, however, has a violent crime rate of 86 per 10,000 population, which is nearly 2.5 times higher than Greenville’s.

During Hudson’s early years in office, however, the crime rate was much higher here. According to a Uniform Crime Rate report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2004 Greenville’s crime rate was 62 per 10,000 population, while the violent crime rate today is at 36 per population of 10,000.

It is in this earlier, high-crime atmosphere that Hudson said she and City Hall in general first began receiving threats.

It is hard to believe that Mayor Hudson is the most targeted victim of crime in Greenville. If incompetence and apathy were factors in being "targeted", she should be about 15th in line!

Ego, paranoia and "Daddy" are the driving factors behind this incredible waste of money. Murders in Greenville are rarely racially motivated. They are primarily black on black and drug related.

So, why in a majority black city, run by a majority black leadership, should we have to pony up $200,000 a year to "protect" a black mayor?

I would bet that for $200 grand we could have an indoor, Olympic size, heated swimming pool, with security... in case the mayor wished to visit.

I think that race should be a non-issue with regard to whom we elect as mayor in Greenville; however, a price-tag of $200,000 a year for security, might be a factor we need to consider in the next election.
Perhaps, we just can't afford Mayor Hudson...


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust!

GREENVILLE — A historical landmark was demolished Tuesday.The Finlay House, once the oldest residence in Greenville, is now a pile of rubble, drawing rage from the house’s previous owner and criticism from the Washington County Greenville Joint Historical Preservation Commission.

Walley Morse, the commission’s secretary, called the demolition of the house at 137 N. Poplar St. shameful.“It is a trend that has been going along in Greenville for a long time,” he said. “It’s such a shame to be seeing those great old buildings being torn down for proposed future development that never gets done.”

The Finlay House was the property of the South Delta Regional Housing Authority, which purchased the house from Hank Burdine, of Greenville.

A local construction contractor, Burdine said he not only lived in it, but spent years renovating the home, trying to keep its post-civil war and Italian-styled architecture preserved.

SDRHA Executive Director Ann Jefferson said her organization had the house demolished because of complaints of vandalism and crime that the run-down building was attracting.

Jefferson added that SDRHA was issued a permit from the city of Greenville to destroy the house.“If the house was a historical landmark,” Jefferson said, “Do you think the city of Greenville would have issued us a permit? This doesn’t make any sense. If it was a historical landmark, wouldn’t the city of Greenville have known about it?”

Calls to the city of Greenville’s Permits and Planning Department were directed to the department’s director, Carlon Williams, who was not in.

But a quick Internet search does reveal the Finlay House to be listed on the National Register of Historical Houses. Benjy Nelken, curator of the Greenville History Museum, said he believes the house dated back to the 1870s.The prominent Finlay family of Greenville, who owned several drugstores in Greenville for many years, lived in the house and owned it at a Shelby Street location.

The house, Nelken said, became apartments in the 1950s, with tenants renting the upstairs and the downstairs as separate units. The house was sold to SRDHA by Burdine, who himself purchased the house to save it from demolition and moved it to the Poplar Street location.

Burdine said he sold the house to the SDRHA because he believed that SDRHA would make sure the house was properly maintained.

“I said to myself, ‘Here is an organization that has the wherewithal and the integrity — and I emphasized integrity — to keep it going.” But he said in the 1990s he noticed the house was deteriorating. Subsequently, he helped the SDRHA find several people who were willing to purchase the house. But they were all turned down.

Burdine said three weeks ago he noticed that workers had boarded up the house and that dumpster trucks were parked close to it.“I told those workers that if they don’t restore this house, if the allow it to fall, it would have a better faith burning down,” Burdine said. “They took a piece of my heart with that house.”

Jefferson said no one has ever approached her during her 2-year stint at SDRHA to buy the house. “We were willing to give it away and couldn’t,” Jefferson said.

Another prime example of why Greenville is dying... we have no respect for our history. Throughout the Delta, towns are trying to preserve their history and capitalize on a bygone era, but NOT Greenville!

The statement that Jefferson made about not being able to give it away, certainly rings true. The sad reality is that if you have a house anywhere in Greenville that you are trying to sell, you are in trouble.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Haley Barbour: No Friend to Health Care

Mental health services slashed by Barbour veto:

Clarksdale’s Region I Mental Health Center received news July 1 that may literally cut it off at its knees and cause serious problems for the four counties its serves and its 3,000 mental health clients.

Governor Haley Barbour vetoed a bill passed by the Mississippi House and Senate to fund the state’s regional mental health facilities, leaving them without the $29 million matching funds to run the facilities.

According to Karen Corley, interim director of the Regional I Mental Health Center in Clarksdale, this is devastating news and could possibly mean a shut-down of the area’s only non-private mental health facility along with the lay-offs of all 158 people on staff.

“We don’t know what is going to happen. The legislature is going back into special session this Friday and we are hopeful that our funding will be included,” Corley stated. “If it isn’t, we do not know what we are going to do. We are right now just working to get everyone behind us to get the funding. If not, this could be catastrophic.”

Region I Mental Health Center provides services to approximately 3,000 mental health patients, most needing life supporting medications and therapy. According to David Cook, clinical director, most of the 3,000 patients currently using Region I Mental Health Center will end up on the street with no medication, which could lead to psychotic breakdowns.

“We have people who come here on a daily basis to receive life altering medications. Many of our clients have major psychoses, have no insurance, and could end up not functioning. There are no hospitals to service our clients and state facilities are extremely backed-up. It could be weeks or months before anything opens up for them. They will probably end up on the streets, in jail, or in Whitfield, if anything is available,” Cook stated.

The staff is currently juggling to stave off the potential shut-down of the facility rather than worrying about their own jobs. If the legislature chooses not to address the problem, all 158 people currently on the staff will probably lose their jobs.

The Region I Mental Health Center is an independent, public, non-profit agency which receives 56 percent of its funding from the Federal Government, but must match the funds. The matching funds, which have come from the state, are what Barbour vetoed. These monies from the state are then paid to the federal government (matching medicaid funds).The Mississippi State Department of Mental Health disburses the money to the Regional Mental Health Centers.

DMH has notified the Department of Medicaid that some of the community mental health centers cannot pay the match and others do not plan to pay the match because of the legality of the request.“For some centers, the lack of funding will have immediate consequences. None of the centers can provide services as intended and survive any length of time,” said Jerry Mayo, executive director of Pine Belt Mental Health in Hattiesburg and president of the Mississippi Association of Community Mental Health Centers.

“Current Medicaid rates do not cover the full costs of most of the services provided as it is. Without the match, services provided by our centers would have to be reduced drastically. Such a reduction in services is likely to contribute to long waiting lists for state hospital beds and an increase in the number of citizens being held in jails awaiting those beds,” said Mayo.

The fifteen community mental health centers operate as individual businesses serving defined counties and not as state-owned institutions or a division of the Department of Mental Health. The centers throughout the state serve more than 100,000 citizens per year including residential services for the seriously mentally ill and addicted. These will likely be some of the first programs that will need to be reduced if the lack of funding goes unaddressed, according to Mayo.

As the name implies, community mental health centers provide services in community settings such as schools, homes, correctional facilities and churches as well as outpatient clinics and facilities in every county of the state. Programs range from intensive services for the seriously mentally ill, behavioral interventions for children, and residential treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, to HIV testing and counseling, prevention programs and specialized services for the elderly.

“We have in good faith worked with the legislators over the years. The House has been very receptive and supportive. It is apparent that others have placed politics above the needs of the seriously mentally ill, developmentally disabled, children and elderly,” said Mayo.The Clarksdale staff requests that citizens contact state officials and request that the funds be made available to continue the services.

As if taxing our hospitals to death were not enough, now our Governor Barbour has turned his wrath toward our community mental health centers. Although the above article refers to Region I (Clarksdale's) possible closure, all 14 Regions in the state face the same woes if his "lunacy" is not stopped.

Throughout the state, thousands of adults and children depend on our community mental health centers for counseling and medications to remain functional members of our society. What will happen to these people? Inpatient treatment is outrageously expensive in comparison to the cost of the outpatient treatment offered at our current facilities.

Where will these patients go... to the hospital ERs which are already crowded with non-emergency patients. That will only increase their costs, not to mention that ER staff members are not qualified to deal with psychiatric patients.

Failing to fund our mental health centers will adversely impact every public institution in our state. Crime will increase, hospitals will incur additional costs, schools will suffer as un-medicated children become disruptive, hundreds of jobs will be lost and most importantly, our friends, family and loved ones will incur great suffering.

If you have never needed the services of our community mental health centers, you are among the fortunate; but, I would bet that you know someone whose life and future happiness depends upon their existence. Mental health disorders are some of the most debilitating maladies that we face today and to withdraw services to these patients will have catastrophic results!

Since Barbour refuses to discuss this matter with either the senate or the house, it is difficult to discern his actual motives; however, the results of his actions are quite clear: Increased crime, major job losses and untold human suffering.

If you feel strongly about this health care travesty, get on line and write your state Representatives and the governor and let them know how you feel. Barbour is no friend to health care and if we allow him to go unchecked, he will completely destroy what has taken Mississippi so long to achieve.


Friday, July 03, 2009

The Cost of Independence

GREENVILLE - Washington County residents due to renew car tags in July and after will have to wait until Wednesday to do so and then will see the cost go up.

The price hike will be due to a reduction in legislative tax credit signed into law as part of the state's new budget, said Washington County Tax Collector Patricia Lee.

For close to eight years, Lee said, a legislative tax credit has given vehicle owners a discount on their car tags.

To deal with budget shortfalls, however, the legislature reduced the legislative tax credit from 5.5 percent of a vehicle's assessed value to 4.25 percent. Lee said although the diminished tax credit was effective July 1, when the new fiscal year began, the delay until Wednesday occurred because of two reasons:

*The Legislature did not pass the budget, which contains the new diminished tax credit, until late Tuesday night.-- There is a general delay caused by the time it takes for county tax collector offices to upload the new state tax credit rates into the county's computer systems, and for the formulation used to calculate those rates to be tested.

I thought this was supposed to be prevented by the new tobacco tax? Just another tax on the "rich" in our Sherwood Forrest economy!