Meridian Star

August 28, 2013

Bond issue opponents file objections

By Terri Ferguson Smith / tsmith@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Opponents of the county's $14 million bond issue have filed objections in Chancery Court to stop the action that will fund recreation projects and partial renovations to the county courthouse.

    Attorney Stephen Wilson filed on behalf of petitioners opposed to the bond on Monday, based on the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors decision not to call a special election for the bond issue. A copy of the objection names the petitioners as James David Harwell, Beth B. Tennyson, John Flowers, Wally Hudnall and Bryan Tennyson.

    A group of opponents of the bond issue held a petition drive calling for an election, but fell short of the number of required signatures, 1,500 by the May 6 deadline. Although they had more than 1,500 signatures by that date, many were thrown out because either they were not registered voters, were signed by spouses, or were illegible. That brought the number down to 1,338 valid signatures, which were fewer than required by law.

    Earlier this month, the board voted to issue  $3.2 million in bonds, the first of the bonds.

    Petitioners brought additional signatures to the board after that, but supervisors voted against accepting the signatures because they were turned in after the deadline.

    "Primarily we feel that an election should have been called," Wilson said. "Our contention is that enough voters had signed a petition for the board to call for an election. That's the primary thrust of the objection."

    At a scheduled bond validation hearing on Monday in Lauderdale County Chancery Court, Wilson filed an objection, as did Tommy Williams, who is representing himself. Williams has been among the outspoken opponents of the bond issue. Judge Lawrence Primeaux set a hearing for Sept. 10.

    Rick Barry said that this is the first time in his 22 years as board attorney that someone in Lauderdale County has filed an objection to bonds being validated by the judge. The validation is necessary in order for the bond issue to move forward.

    "I you are filing an objection to a bond issue, typically you've got to have a legal basis for doing it," Barry said. "Their main contention, they believe they should been allowed to count the additional names. To me, that's the only legal issue in the bond validation. I don't think that objection will stand, because that's not what the law says."

    The delay in validating the bonds could be costly, Barry said.

    "They had planned on selling the bonds on the 29th," Barry said. "The hearing is not set until Sept. 10, so if the interests rates should change or go up just a little bit over the life of the bond issue, that could be several thousand dollars. Who is going to be responsible for that?"

    William's objection went further than the bond petition drive. He alleges that the board of supervisors should never have voted on the bond issue to begin with because it had not properly discussed the matter in a work session just three days before the vote. He also says the county had not thoroughly researched the matter in terms of costs, oversight and maintenance of the recreation facilities. Among his several other concerns is the city has not formally approved the construction of the athletic complex at Highland Park.