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county_prentiss_greenBy Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

BOONEVILLE – The Prentiss County school board did not vote during its regular meeting Wednesday to renew the contract of the New Site principal, but school board President Ronny Kesler indicated that Ronald Clark would continue to serve in the position for the 2014-2015 school year.

A vote on Clark’s contract renewal will be placed on the agenda of the next regular board meeting on May 19.

The matter intensely discussed at the meeting was at least two board members’ dissatisfaction with the services of board attorney Allison Worley in handling issues related to Clark’s contract.

The school board voted in February to not renew Clark’s contract without full certification, although Clark has a provisional administrator’s license that is good through 2016.

Clark requested a hearing on the board’s decision, a hearing date was set and attorney Daniel Tucker was appointed as hearing officer.

After reviewing written submissions from the school district and Clark’s attorney, Tucker determined that although Clark had properly filed his request for a hearing, the school district had not followed proper procedure to provide Clark with required materials at least 14 days before the hearing. Therefore, by default, Clark’s contract should be renewed, Tucker determined.

On Wednesday, Kesler squarely laid blame for the district’s failings in the situation on attorney Worley’s shoulders.

His pointed comments were followed by a statement from board member Shelia Johnson in which she called for Worley’s termination as board attorney.

Worley, who has served as board attorney since June 2012, said late Wednesday that she had made board members aware of what was needed, but did not have direct access to district documents and computers to access the materials herself.

“The adversarial way they have behaved with me lately made it clear it was not a healthy relationship, so I had decided that I would not ask to renew the contract,” Worley said.

Worley’s services as attorney also will be placed on the next board agenda.

lena.mitchell@journalinc.com

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com CaJewel Pegeus and David Pickle, employees at ACCO Brands, talk with Governor Phil Bryant as he visits the plant during an expansion announcement on Tuesday.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
CaJewel Pegeus and David Pickle, employees at ACCO Brands, talk with Governor Phil Bryant as he visits the plant during an expansion announcement on Tuesday.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com ACCO Brands employees work at the company's call center in Booneville on Tuesday afternoon.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
ACCO Brands employees work at the company’s call center in Booneville on Tuesday afternoon.

By Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

BOONEVILLE – An expansion at ACCO Brands in Booneville that will add 162 full-time jobs was formally announced Tuesday with help from Gov. Phil Bryant.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bryant joined company officials from the home office near Chicago, along with many regional, state, county and local figures for the celebration.

“Mississippi works together as a team for economic development,” Bryant told the crowd of about 100, that included ACCO Brands’ customer care employees at their work stations and in seats of honor in the audience.

The governor congratulated ACCO on the milestone, and also thanked the office supply company for about $1.6 million of new investment and its continuing confidence in Mississippi. ACCO received $150,000 in incentives for building modifications.

The company has had a presence in Booneville since 2005, when it merged with Quartet, and completed a $55 million expansion in 2008 that added about 300 new jobs.

The jobs being performed at the site with the customer care expansion include order-taking and order management; inside sales and dealer support; business-to-business communications in binding and laminating; office supply and wholesale; and consumer group support, said Matt Kiesling, vice president of inside sales and customer care.

“Our products have a lifetime guarantee, so customer service has a closet that’s like a museum of 45 years of product,” Kiesling said. “If a customer has a question about how to change a spring in a stapler we sold in 1975, they have to be able to look at that model to tell them.”

Booneville’s ability to attract the new jobs is a testament to the quality workforce ACCO has found here, said Leon Hayes, executive director of the Prentiss County Development Association.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for our area workforce,” Hayes said. “Our partnership with ACCO goes a long way back, and we can’t say how excited we are about this.”

lena.mitchell@journalinc.com

town_corinth_greenBy Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

CORINTH – A Corinth man who was fatally hit by a train in Corinth on Monday evening has been identified as 38-year-old James Michael Becht of 3614 Mathis Road.

The engineer of the Norfolk Southern freight train that hit the man made the call to Alcorn County 911 about 6:30 p.m. Monday, said Capt. Ralph Dance of the Corinth Police Department.

The engineer said Becht was lying across the railroad and the train did not have time to stop, Dance said. The accident happened at John and Proper streets, where the railroad runs parallel to Proper.

When Officer Erin Hill arrived at the scene, he found the body lying under the train about 14 cars back from the engine, Dance said. Capt. Chuck Hines was called to the scene to conduct an accident reconstruction.

Investigators from Norfolk Southern also were on the scene until about 9 p.m., Dance said.

No foul play is suspected, Dance said.

Witnesses told police that Becht had left a house that he was visiting on Wick Street on foot, and said he had been somewhat depressed lately.

Family members also said Becht had a medical history of seizures, and had also attempted suicide several years ago.

No autopsy will be performed, but Dance said the coroner will send blood for a toxicology test.

The case remains under investigation by the Corinth Police Department and Norfolk Southern.

lena.mitchell@journalinc.com

LENA MITCHELL

LENA MITCHELL

June 2014, will mark the 50th anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer, an extensive statewide effort to gain voting rights for disenfranchised Mississippians.

On April 28, voter registration will end for Mississippians who want to vote in the June 3 primary election.

How effective the secretary of state has been in helping Mississippians without identification obtain proper ID for the new voter ID law that takes effect at that time will be tested with that election.

Following is an account of Mississippi Freedom Summer, quoted from the Stanford University website “ Martin Luther King Jr. and the Global Freedom Struggle,” and slightly edited for Daily Journal writing style and length.

“The 1964 Freedom Summer project was designed to draw the nation’s attention to the violent oppression experienced by Mississippi blacks who attempted to exercise their constitutional rights, and to develop a grassroots freedom movement that could be sustained long after student activists left Mississippi.

“When Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee activist Robert Moses launched a voter registration drive in Mississippi in 1961, he confronted a system that regularly used segregation laws and fear tactics to disenfranchise black citizens. Moses proposed that northern white student volunteers take part in a large number of simultaneous local campaigns in Mississippi during the summer of 1964.

“On June 14, 1964, the first group of summer volunteers began training at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio. Of the approximately 1,000 volunteers, the majority were white northern college students from middle and upper class backgrounds. The training sessions were intended to prepare volunteers to register black voters, teach literacy and civics at Freedom Schools and promote the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s challenge to the all-white Democratic delegation at that summer’s Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J.

“Just one week after the first group of volunteers arrived in Oxford, three civil rights workers were reported missing in Mississippi. James Chaney, a black Mississippian, and two white northerners, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, disappeared while visiting Philadelphia, to investigate the burning of a church. The abduction of the three civil rights workers intensified the new activists’ fears, but Freedom Summer staff and volunteers moved ahead with the campaign.

“Voter registration was the cornerstone of the summer project. Although approximately 17,000 black residents of Mississippi attempted to register to vote in the summer of 1964, only 1,600 of the completed applications were accepted by local registrars. Highlighting the need for federal voting rights legislation, these efforts created political momentum for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“In an effort to address Mississippi’s separate and unequal public education system, the summer project established 41 Freedom Schools attended by more than 3,000 young black students throughout the state. In addition to math, reading and other traditional courses, students were also taught black history, the philosophy of the civil rights movement and leadership skills that provided them with the intellectual and practical tools to carry on the struggle after the summer volunteers departed.

“At Mose’s invitation, King visited Greenwood, to show the support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the summer project and to encourage black Mississippians to vote despite acts of violence and intimidation. Less than three weeks after King’s visit, the murdered bodies of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were found.

“Freedom Summer marked one of the last major interracial civil rights efforts of the 1960s, as the movement entered a period of divisive conflict that would draw even sharper lines between the goals of King and those of the younger, more militant faction of the black freedom struggle.”

This recap of history is an important reminder of the price many paid for black Mississippians to get full access to the vote, and the need for anyone who is eligible to not squander that right.

Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter and writes a Sunday column each month. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com George Buss, form Freeport IL, and portraying Abraham Lincoln, shakes hands with Denzel Toomer, 17, as he portrays a Confederate Soldier, at the Contraband Camp Park in Corinth on Friday.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
George Buss, form Freeport IL, and portraying Abraham Lincoln, shakes hands with Denzel Toomer, 17, as he portrays a Union Soldier, at the Contraband Camp Park in Corinth on Friday.

By Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

CORINTH – Stories of the escaped slaves who made their way to Corinth behind Union lines were told with more passion, life and depth than ever before during a two-day symposium that ended Friday.

Re-enactors, park rangers and academics demonstrated the experiences those who escaped bondage found as they built new lives, first as “contrabands” of war, serving alongside Union soldiers to gain their own freedom and as freed men and women.

“Contraband camps began to spring up wherever there was a Union presence, especially after preliminary announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation,” Ranger Tom Parson told the crowd of several dozen visitors as he led a tour around the Corinth Contraband Camp.

Making stops at each of the camp’s five stations featuring life-size bronze statues, Parson explained more about how people lived in the camp: Laying out streets that they named after Union generals; dividing the community of up to 6,000 residents into wards; building and living in wood frame houses; building a hospital, a church, a school.

At each statue Parson described what life was like for camp residents represented by the statues – a washerwoman, a farmer, a teacher with student, a man and boy gathering up books and a black soldier.

“I’ve been here once before and it just fascinated me,” said tour member Janette Tigner of Hornsby, Tenn., the historical librarian at Hardeman County Library. “I first got interested in contraband camps helping a couple from Illinois who came to research a relative from the camp at Grand Junction, Tenn.”

Tigner was accompanied by a fellow history enthusiast and author, Lisa Coleman of Bolivar, Tenn.

“I’ve written about the history of Hardeman County,” Coleman said, “and didn’t know about contrabands. That’s what I love about history, that you never know everything. It’s just fascinating.”

Joining the tour were George Buss, an Illinois historian who interprets President Abraham Lincoln, and Michael Crutcher of Kentucky, portraying Frederick Douglass.

The men were later joined by Dr. E.C. “Curt” Fields of Collierville, who portrays General Ulysses S. Grant, for a mock press conference, where they fielded questions that would have been posed to each of them in 1863, after signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Those re-enactors, along with noted historian Dr. John David Smith of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Dr. Dierdre Cooper Owens of the University of Mississippi, were brought together to create an interesting, entertaining and informative program.

“I’ve been really pleased with the interest and turnout we’ve had for these programs,” said Supervising Ranger Ashley Berry of the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. “I hope everyone has been pleased with what we tried to do.”

lena.mitchell@journalinc.com

PRESLEY

PRESLEY

By Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

TUPELO – Whether a face-to-face meeting for Mississippi’s northern district public service commissioner and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s chief executive officer will lead to more autonomy for local power association boards remained unclear Wednesday.

Commissioner Brandon Presley invited TVA CEO Bill Johnson to meet with him in Tupelo after what Presley described as an unsatisfying outcome to a recent meeting in Iuka to address underbilling of a Tishomingo County Electric Power Association customer.

JOHNSON

JOHNSON

Pattie Ferguson, owner of Pattie’s One Stop in Tishomingo, was left with the expectation that she would pay about $18,000 for services that TCEPA failed to bill for her business over a two-and-a-half year period. Meanwhile, Ferguson had been regularly paying the amounts billed to her each month.

She received the bill in December 2013, followed later by a letter delivered by TCEPA Director Robert Grisham, outlining arrangements to repay the full balance of the underbilled amount.

After a March 28 meeting, Presley told the Daily Journal that the TVA manager had threatened a lawsuit against the power association if they forgave any portion of the underbilled charges. However, Johnson told the Daily Journal Wednesday that no one from TVA had made such a threat.

“I’ve talked with everybody at TVA in detail who was involved in this and was assured by all those folks that no such thing was ever said nor were we asked the question,” Johnson said. “I can find nobody at TVA who said this.”

Presley said his effort is to help local power associations break TVA’s stranglehold.

“I’ve been bringing complaints to TVA and fighting this battle for going on six years now,” Presley said. “The only thing they seem to get excited about is when I mention that the CEO of TVA makes $16,000 a day. It seems like more people at TVA are concerned about me criticizing them than solving their customers’ problems.”

Local power company boards have complete autonomy to act in their customers’ best interests, TVA’s Johnson said. “We certainly are not in control of that board or any board,” he said. “Those people are elected. They’ve made a decision here which is an appropriate local decision.”

lena.mitchell@journalinc.com

town_corinth_greenBy Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

CORINTH – The Crossroads Regional Park board on Monday approved the bid of Parsons Earthworks of Iuka for clearing and grubbing of 17 acres of park property for expansion.

Parsons was recommended by Cook Coggin Engineers for the work with a bid of $58,000. The project estimate was $50,000 to $70,000, said Cook Coggin President Kent Geno.

Geno opened 11 bids on the project last week, with one bid disqualified due to incomplete paperwork.

The lowest bidder, Volunteer Bridge Construction of Crump, Tenn., withdrew its bid of $38,400.

Other bidders included: Buddy Ayers Construction of Corinth Co. Inc., $65,162; Pittman Construction Co. of Corinth, $68,283; Quinn Contracting Inc. of Falkner, $79,222; Interstate Landscaping of MS of Falkner, $84,018; TLSL Inc. of Walnut, $88,850; Ronald Franks Construction of Savannah, Tenn., $92,017; Ausbern Construction of Okolona, $156,000; and Colom Construction of Ripley, $206,400.

An interlocal agreement among Alcorn County, the city of Corinth, the Crossroads Regional Park board and the Corinth Area Convention and Visitors Bureau will make it possible to finance the $5.3 million Crossroads Regional Park expansion project with bond funds available through the Crossroads Arena.

The initial clearing and grubbing work, however, will be completed with current park funds.

Cook Coggin will establish a start date with the contractor, said park board President Butch Carmichael, and the company will have 45 days to complete the work.

Work continues to finalize the plans for the park expansion.

However, park Director Todd Witt, who has promoted a park expansion for many years, is retiring from his position on May 15, after 25 years of service, before he can see his vision for the park expansion realized.

A search is underway for Witt’s replacement, and the park board is accepting until May 1 by mail only, sent to P.O. Box 1372, Corinth, MS 38835.

Interested individuals must have a bachelor’s degree in one of several areas: parks and recreation, health, physical education and recreation, public administration management, business administration, or a closely related field. The position also requires four years of administrative experience in the parks and recreation setting.

lena.mitchell@journalinc.com

town_corinth_greenBy Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

CORINTH – The Corinth Board of Aldermen on Tuesday voted to sell the property that formerly was the West Corinth Elementary School to the sole bidder.

The Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission was awarded the property on the basis of their bid of $1,499.

The Commission, along with the National Park Service, had expressed interest in acquiring the property several months ago, as it is a Battle of Corinth battlefield site and is historically very significant.

“The property requires a lot of cleanup each year, and we kept that in mind as we considered this bid,” said Mayor Tommy Irwin.

The bid notice also required that the winning bidder keep use of the property consistent with the property’s historical significance.

The West Corinth property is the second of three parcels formerly used as elementary schools which reverted to city ownership after they were no longer used as schools.

Last month the Easom Outreach Foundation was awarded a long-term lease to the former South Corinth school property for use as Easom Community Center.

The third property, East Corinth Elementary, has drawn interest from Mississippi Action for Progress to combine its two Corinth Head Start campuses in one location.

Title to the West Corinth property will be transferred as soon as possible, said city attorney Wendell Trapp.

lena.mitchell@journalinc.com

county_alcorn_greenBy Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

CORINTH – Action on a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former Alcorn County Sheriff’s Department employee against the sheriff and Alcorn County may be delayed in federal court.

Michelle Cohoon-Loyd, who worked in the sheriff’s office until Aug. 23, 2012, as administrative assistant to Sheriff Charles Rinehart, filed the lawsuit in February.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had ended its investigation of her complaint and given Cohoon-Loyd a “right to sue” notice in November 2013.

Jackson attorney Silas McCharen, representing Rinehart, said he received notice this week that the right to sue notice from EEOC was issued in error and has been revoked.

“I’m unsure of the impact,” McCharen said, “but I don’t think it will pose any long-term impediment of the case going forward. It may mean a 30- to 60-day delay in EEOC reissuing the right to sue.”

The complaint by Cahoon-Loyd was filed in U.S. District Court in Aberdeen by Corinth attorney Danny Lowrey. However, she expects to be represented by her Houston, Texas-based brother-in-law, attorney John Bruster “Bruse” Loyd, who is seeking Mississippi licensure to handle the case.

Lowrey was unreachable for comment Tuesday.

The complaint, which presents one side of a legal case, contends that Rinehart on two specific occasions in June 2012 and August 2012, tried to kiss Loyd by force, and otherwise sexually harassed her, subjected her to a sexually hostile work environment and retaliated against her in the workplace.

Cohoon-Loyd requests a jury trial and award of attorney fees, expert fees, court costs, damages and other relief as the jury may decide.

lena.mitchell@journalinc.com

The Corinth Contraband Camp was established by Union Gen. Grenville M. Dodge to accommodate escaped slaves after the Battle of Corinth in October 1862. (Courtesy photo)

The Corinth Contraband Camp was established by Union Gen. Grenville M. Dodge to accommodate escaped slaves after the Battle of Corinth in October 1862. (Courtesy photo)

By Lena Mitchell

Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

CORINTH – A different mix of Civil War re-enactors will present two days of Corinth Civil War history this week during the Corinth Contraband Camp Symposium on Thursday evening and Friday.

The National Park Service, in conjunction with the Ulysses S. Grant Association and the Mississippi State University U.S. Grant Presidential Library, will offer programs and discussions with actors portraying President Abraham Lincoln, escaped slave and abolition activist Frederick Douglass and Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Corinth Contraband Camp and Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center are units of Shiloh National Military Park.

Some individuals from the Corinth community who portrayed roles in the orientation film at the interpretive center also will don their re-enactment attire for a Friday morning tour at the contraband camp.

The three re-enactors – George Buss as Lincoln, Dr. Curt Fields as Grant and Michael Crutcher as Douglass – will participate in a Thursday evening public event as well as a Friday afternoon panel discussion with M. Scott Morris of the Daily Journal as moderator.

The event was originally planned for last year, the 150th anniversary of the Corinth Contraband Camp, said supervising Ranger Ashley Berry, who administers the interpretive center and contraband camp. However, the 2013 federal government sequestration delayed the event.

During the Federal army’s occupation after the Battle of Corinth in October 1862, many slaves escaped to find safety behind Union lines. The National Park Service recounts the camp’s history as follows:

“The Corinth Contraband Camp was established by Union General Grenville M. Dodge to accommodate these refugees, and the camp featured numerous homes, a church, school and hospital. The freedmen cultivated and sold cotton and vegetables in a progressive cooperative farm program.

“By May 1863, the camp was making a clear profit of $4,000 to $5,000 from it enterprises. It became a model camp and allowed for approximately 6,000 ex-slaves to establish their own individual identities.”

lena.mitchell@journalinc.com