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madison County supervisors and residents clash…

February 22, 2010

Residents, supervisors clash over roads

Lucy Weber • • February 17, 2010

  • Though some were quick to dispute the notion, the Madison County Board of Supervisors meeting room this week could have passed as a Civil War re-enactment site.
The Northern forces — residents of rural north Madison County — were holding their ground in most of the seats in the board room and spilling over to standing room only as the space quickly reached the fire code maximum of 174, more than 15 minutes before the meeting started Tuesday. Then the Southern forces arrived — a busload of District 2 south Madison County residents questioning the distribution of funds for roads — and they were forced to watch the action from outside the hallway.

At issue was the 2010 road plan, approved by the board two weeks ago, which funneled $21.5 million, remaining from an original $50 million in bond money, to 10 road projects of new construction and renovation work on existing streets, including 100 miles of substandard roads in northern Madison County.

Residents of Districts 4 and 5 supported the existing plan, without any changes. In the plan, $2 million was allocated from the $21.5 million and other $2 million from other sources to resurface and improve more than 100 miles of substandard roads in northern Madison County.

 “We’re concerned about the allocation of funds and the inequitable distribution of funds,” Canton Mayor William Truly said. “The northern part of the county has been forgotten. We’re asking you this day to help us rise up.”

 “We’ve spent a lot in the southern part of the county. Now it’s our turn,” District 4 Supervisor Karl Banks said. “We’re talking about developing Madison County in its entirety.”

 By the end of the meeting, the supervisors on a 3-2 vote agreed to keep the road plan intact as they approved earlier.

 “We’d like all five districts to work together,” District 4 resident Eric Battle said. Mary McLaurin, spokesman for the District 2 residents, raised a number of questions about how the road plan was developed, the money paid by the county to engineer Rudy Warnock and the $4.7 million the county spent on Reunion Parkway interchange, which is no longer going to be built.

“We want more transparency in government,” McLaurin said. “We want to ask Rudy for full disclosure of his contracts and subcontracts.” Warnock said he would provide whatever paperwork the group requested.  As to the money spent on Reunion, District 2 Supervisor Tim Johnson said the county is negotiating with the Mississippi Department of Transportation for repayment of up to $6 million spent on design work and environmental studies for the project before the supervisors pulled out because of a dispute with MDOT.  “We had a MOU (memorandum of understanding) that MDOT would work with us in good faith. We’re trying to avoid a lawsuit to get our money back. We will get our money back and use it on other roads.”

 McLaurin said the supervisors didn’t answer a lot of questions and the setting was too small to allow for all the public to have access. “The next move for us is to have a town hall meeting. We want to call for all five supervisors to meet to answer questions. We’re not sure all of them will show.” The move to schedule the town hall forum will come in the upcoming weeks, she said. After that, she said the group will look into how to conduct a recall election on Johnson and Banks. We’ll probably hold it in the next few weeks.” Johnson said he had heard talk of a possible recall and isn’t worried. Johnson said he makes the best decisions possible for all citizens of Madison County and “if people disagree, so be it.”

 Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler said she agrees that the money set aside in the road plan for improving roads in north Madison County needs to be spent there. However, she said supervisors need to be accountable for the other $29 million from the $50 million bond issue. “Where has the $29 million gone? It’s not on asphalt. It’s on paper. “The voices of the people of Madison County should be heard, and they are crying for an investigation on where that money went,” Butler said.  The southern Madison County group began planning its appearance before the board last week, sending out emails to encourage residents concerned about the way their tax money is spent to attend. The group scheduled a bus tour of what it called “roads to nowhere” or the new construction included in the 2010 road plan after McLaurin’s appearance before the board.

 As word spread about the south Madison County movement, residents in Districts 4 and 5 were urged through flyers and from their church pulpits to come take a stand on behalf of the road plan.  “The people coming was a reaction to this supervisor and Karl Banks not wanting to see the road plan changed,” District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin said. 

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