Lee County road woes show murky process

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The recent flap over Sunny Meadows subdivision reveals an inconsistent process for making private roads public.
Residents of the Lee County subdivision want the Board of Supervisors to adopt and maintain its roads, with their latest plea presented last month. But the board thus far has refused to consider it.
“We just want our road taken in,” said resident Barbara Black. “We don’t even need it paved, we’d be happy with just gravel and tar.”
A Daily Journal investigation shows that, while state law has guidelines for taking in roads, supervisors have great leverage in applying them.
Mississippi allows counties three methods for taking in a public road:
n Dedication – A county board of supervisors deems a road necessary for public convenience and obtains the deeds.
n Prescription – A county board of supervisors deems a road necessary and obtains an easement.
n Petition – Someone petitions the county board of supervisors to take in a private road in the interests of the public. If the board finds the request reasonable, it appoints a committee to inspect the road and decides whether or not to accept it.
Within those guidelines exists room for interpretation by supervisors, who act as sole judges of whether roads are necessary or whether public interest is at stake.
They need not have experience in road construction or maintenance to make these decisions. They don’t even need to involve experts in the process.
County Road Manager Tim Allred said he maintains roads once they become public but takes no part in the decision-making process before that. The decision is left entirely up to supervisors.
And despite having a countywide road system, if the supervisor in whose district the road exists doesn’t want it taken in, few if any of his colleagues will challenge it. That leaves such decisions in the hands of one elected official, not the entire five-member board as was intended by law.

No records, no proof
In the past five years, supervisors have taken in 34 roads. In each case, the board formed a two-person committee to inspect the roads before accepting them. The committee then reported its recommendations back to the full board.
Each time, the recommendation was favorable. No records dating back five years show a case in which a committee opposed a road.
“Usually, once a road gets to the stage when a supervisor presents it, it passes,” said Chancery Clerk Bill Benson, who acts as the board’s records keeper. “I don’t recall a committee ever rejecting it.”
But it’s the committee’s decision whether or not to accept the road, according to state law.
The law also require that committees be formed to inspect the roads and that those committees file written reports to the full board.
But committees formed by Lee County supervisors don’t file written reports from road inspections. They’re always verbal, said County Administrator Sean Thompson. And no records of such reports exist in the minutes.
There’s no way of knowing what work was performed by the committees to determine roads met certain criteria – or if criteria ever were applied.
And without proof rules are being applied fairly, it’s unclear whether Sunny Meadows subdivision residents are simply overreacting or if they have a legitimate beef.
What is clear, though, is that they feel slighted. And so far, no one has an answer for that.
“Give us an answer,” said Earl Hester, who also lives in Sunny Meadows. “We can’t even get that.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.