Judge refuses to kill Tupelo, Verona annexations
By Philip Moulden
A Lee County Chancery Court judge Friday rejected motions by Lee County and the county school district to dismiss Tupelo’s annexation petition.
At the same time, Judge Timothy Ervin also threw out Tupelo’s motion to dismiss a Verona annexation case that has languished in virtual limbo since it was filed in May 1991.
County and school district attorneys contended Tupelo erred in its annexation petition by submitting a legal description that included land within the Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South. The City Council was told that the industrial park had been removed from the annexation plan prior to council’s 5-4 vote for passage.
State law requires that expanding cities define annexation target areas “with certainty,” a test the Tupelo petition failed, county Board of Supervisors attorney Bill Beasley argued.
But Lee County School Board attorney Gary Carnathan could not get city Planning Director Fred Rogers to admit a mistake had been made on the final annexation plan.
The legal description accurately detailed the half-section line marking the intended expansion boundary, Rogers testified. That it included land owned by an industrial park tenant and the Community Development Foundation was of no consequence, he said.
In fact, Rogers said the city tried to draw the expansion line just as close to industrial park tenant buildings as possible to assure it left no room for Verona or any other municipality to intercede between Tupelo and those industries. Tupelo eventually hopes the industrial park will join the city, Rogers said.
Get Carr Vista
“Our intent was to annex Carr Acres (Vista), which comes up right to the half-section line,” Rogers said. “It was our intent to exclude the (industrial) buildings. We did not look at ownership (of the vacant land).
“There was no mistake,” he said.
Ervin rejected the county’s error argument, noting the description in the petition adequately depicted some real tract of land. Determining the “intent” behind a legally approved ordinance would be virtually impossible, he said.
Ervin said aggrieved parties have the right to fight their inclusion in the court proceedings. The chancellor has the authority after trial to grant annexation of all, part or none of the areas sought by the city.
City and industrial park lawyers earlier indicated they had agreed that no proof on the industrial park segment would be offered at trial, which in effect would remove it from the petition.
Ervin gave each party eight months to prepare cases and said he will set trial as soon thereafter as possible. The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.
In the Verona case, Ervin said he had no authority to dismiss the annexation ordinance, although he agreed long periods passed without court action on the case. Verona has proposed taking in new land both to its east and west.
“I cannot wipe out such an ordinance even if I were to find that the city of Tupelo had been damaged by lack of prosecution of the case,” Ervin said.
City attorney Jamie Barnett charged that Tupelo taxpayers were being hurt because the city will have to repeat expenditures for data to fight Verona’s expansion.
Barnett said the case file shows nothing was done on the record for 1,227 days in one stretch.
But Carnathan argued that settlement discussions were taking place during that period as Verona sought to avoid a long and costly legal battle with the better-heeled Tupelo.
Rogers said he knew of only one meeting between Tupelo and Verona officials, in either 1991 or 1992, and it focused on a possible merger of the municipalities. Rogers said Tupelo meanwhile paid an annexation consultant about $11,000 between August 1991 and April 1992 to compile information for trial.
Ervin’s ruling indicated that Verona need not pursue its expansion even now, although Carnathan said the city is prepared to push forward.
“We’re going to move ahead,” he promised.
Barnett said he was satisfied.
“We got what we wanted,” he said. “I think we accomplished our purpose … move ahead, progress.”