Sheriff: Oversight lacking at Lee County Agri-Center

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – An alcohol-fueled party that left the Lee County Agri-Center trashed and at least two people in jail prompted renewed calls for stricter oversight at the struggling facility.
“There needs to be somebody down there at all times,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson. “That night there was nobody – no part-time director, no interim director – nobody from the county representing this thing to monitor it or make sure the contract was being followed.”
The county owns the Agri-Center, which has been suffering from a steady lack of revenue and has had no direct leadership since its previous director resigned in October.
Johnson said his office responded to a call about a wreck on the property around 1:30 a.m. Sunday. Upon arriving, deputies found an intoxicated 16-year-old who had crashed into the gate after leaving a party on the premises.
Deputies also discovered more than 400 people inside the Agri-Center’s Magnolia Room, which had been rented to Noe Lopez, 25, of Houston.
It was not the first time Lopez had rented the facility, according to Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson, who was unaware of any previous problems.
Lopez was charging $35 at the door and an additional $4 per alcoholic beverage despite the facility’s no-alcohol policy, Johnson said. A band from Mexico was performing at the time.
Lopez was arrested and charged with public drunkenness, and selling beer and liquor without permit. He also was charged under the state’s new social host law, which bans adults from hosting events where underage people can access alcohol.
The 16-year-old, who isn’t identified due to his age, was arrested for DUI.
Johnson said this is not the first time unauthorized and unsupervised alcohol consumption has caused problems on the property. He cited at least one death resulting from a person who drank at an Agri-Center event and was hit while crossing the street afterward.
“I think this type of things happens a minimum of twice a month,” he said. “I have told the supervisors before, but they’re turning a blind eye.”
Johnson said he gathered the five-member Lee County Board of Supervisors at the Agri-Center early Monday to see the damage.
None of the members would make a statement to the Daily Journal at their board meeting afterward. But Thompson said he has stopped events before upon learning alcohol might be served.
He also said the weekend incident will prompt an investigation by the volunteer-citizen committee appointed recently to study the Agri-Center.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com