Annexation opponents to call witnesses

TUPELO – After 18 days of testimony in its trial to annex 16.15 square miles of county land, Tupelo on Thursday rested its case – almost.
Although it finished with its witnesses, the city will review final evidence during the Memorial Day weekend before officially concluding.
Annexation opponents, including Lee County, the city of Saltillo and the town of Plantersville, will then begin presenting their sides when the trial resumes Tuesday in Lee County Chancery Court.
Judge Edward C. Prisock is presiding.
Since trial started March 29, the city has called to the stand Mayor Jack Reed Jr., City Council President Fred Pitts, each of the municipal department heads and its expert witness, Karen Fernandez.
Fernandez, of New Orleans-based Fernandez Plans, spent the past week in court explaining why she deemed the city’s expansion necessary. Her proof centered on 12 “indicia of reasonableness” – the criteria for annexation – set forth by the Mississippi Supreme Court.
An indicia is a legal term loosely translated as signs or evidence. Among those required by the state are proof that a city needs to expand and that the targeted areas already are within the path of growth.
It also must show those areas need city services and that the city financially can provide those services.
Fernandez said Tupelo lacks adequate land for future development. She also testified that the proposed annexation areas require municipal services because either they’ve grown beyond their current means or because they’re in the city’s future path of growth.
Her testimony was picked apart by attorneys for the opponents, who grilled her on her use of flood maps, census data, and other resources that helped her form an opinion.
Minority voting strength appeared a particularly thorny issue, with Lee County attorney Chad Mask repeatedly questioning whether annexation would dilute it and Fernandez repeatedly sidestepping his question.
“You don’t know from a racial standpoint whether the proposed annexation area has gotten whiter or blacker since the 2007 data, do you?” Mask continued to ask.
Ultimately, Fernandez said no.
As Tupelo’s case wound down Thursday, attorneys on both sides launched objections at each other over a host of legal technicalities. On several occasions, the attorneys seemed to spend more time arguing among themselves than questioning the witness.
Prisock acted as referee, sustaining some while overruling others.
The trial is expected to last several more weeks.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal