Tupelo urges court to oust annexation motions
By Philip Moulden
Tupelo attorneys Wednesday called motions to dismiss the city’s annexation petition “frivolous” and rebuked Lee County and the county school system for refusing to “work things out.”
At the same time, Tupelo filed a motion in Lee County Chancery Court to dismiss a 1991 annexation petition by the city of Verona, saying that case has dragged on beyond reason. Verona is among the parties opposing Tupelo’s annexation.
Lee County supervisors and the county school board have asked the court to throw out Tupelo’s annexation petition, contending the written description of the target areas did not coincide with oral descriptions provided to City Council. The council-approved plan cut into property of one business at the Tupelo-Lee Industrial Park South, although the city administration had said it removed the industrial park from its proposal.
But city attorney Guy Mitchell said Wednesday the discrepancy does not constitute an error in the legal description and therefore presents no basis for the court to throw out the petition.
“There is no legal support for these motions,” Mitchell said.
Jamie Barnett, another city attorney working on the case, said intent is not the question before the court. “They (council members) approved what they approved,” he said of the annexation ordinance.
That ordinance asks the court to approve expansion covering about 18 square miles on all sides of Tupelo. City attorneys said previously they would not present evidence on the disputed industrial park section of the petition, thereby effectively removing it from the annexation area.
“It is sad to me to see Lee County and the Lee County schools take such a belligerent attitude,” Barnett added. “Last time, we sat down and worked things out. But these frivolous motions are wasting the taxpayers’ money …”
Gary Carnathan, attorney for the county school board, shrugged off the city’s argument.
“What the city of Tupelo says is one thing. What we may be able to prove in court is another. It will be decided by the court,” Carnathan said.
In its motion on the Verona case, Tupelo’s attorneys charged the smaller city had failed to pursue its case and “a clear pattern of delay was established.”
Tupelo expended considerable time and effort in investigating Verona’s petition, gaining information that is probably outmoded after 4 to 5 years, Tupelo’s attorneys said.
“We prepared this case in good faith, spending taxpayers’ money on annexation experts to help analyze data on Verona,” Mitchell said. “That data is now almost five years old.”
In addition, Verona has failed to respond to discovery questions posed by Tupelo, Barnett said.
Verona filed its petition in May 1991, seeking to expand on the west along Tupelo’s southern boundary to Coonewah Creek, and on the east to about one mile east of U.S. Highway 45. A trial had been scheduled in the case for last September, but Verona obtained a postponement before it began.
Carnathan, who also represents Verona, said Wednesday the September trial was postponed because of the need for additional information and a timing conflict of an expert witness who had to appear in another case elsewhere.
Carnathan conceded that both cities would have to update information for the case, but said that should require only minimal time and effort.
“Both of us can do that without a lot of to-do and get the matter to the court and settled,” he said.
But Mitchell and Barnett contended Verona should be required to pass a new ordinance “if the Mayor and Board of Aldermen are really serious about annexation.”
“It’s certainly not fair to Tupelo to have to get ready all over again (on this case),” Barnett said.