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September 17, 2013

Judge rules in favor of county on bond issue

MERIDIAN — County officials favoring a $14 million bond issue to fund recreation projects and improvements to the county courthouse have made it through another hurdle.

    Chancellor Lawrence Primeaux issued a ruling on Monday stating that the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors had acted within the law in passing the bond issue and his court had no authority to address other matters that were brought up by those objecting to the bond issue.

    "From all of the evidence in the record, and having carefully examined the transcript of the bond proceedings, the court finds that due, proper and legal notice on the hearing on the bond validation was given in the form, time and manner prescribed by law," Primeaux wrote.

    Having found everything in legal order, Primeaux said the bonds should be validated. The validation hearing held Sept. 10 in court brought attorneys from both sides in to present evidence.

    Primeaux made it clear in his ruling on Monday that it was not in his authority to second-guess the actions of the Board of Supervisors.

    "Simply put, in this case the court cannot consider politics and policy-making decisions that led to the passage of the bond resolution," Primeaux wrote. "Nor can this court rule on the wisdom, forethought, or soundness of judgment of the Board of Supervisors in passing the bond resolution; those are for the court of public opinion to rule on in the voting booth on election day, not for a court of law.

    "If the voters of Lauderdale County disagree with the legislative judgment of the supervisors, they may replace them on election day with supervisors with whom they can agree," Primeaux wrote.

    Attorney Stephen Wilson, representing a group of objectors, had argued that the county should have counted additional signatures from a citizen-led petition drive that ultimately failed because not enough valid signatures were turned in by the county's deadline.

    More signatures were submitted later that would have put the petition drive over the top, but the Board of Supervisors, in a 3-2 vote, rejected adding those names. In a move that further angered opponents of the bond issue, the board voted to allow citizens to remove their names from the petition if they so desired, but they did not allow new signatures to be added after the deadline. Citing a previous Mississippi case, Wilson argued that the Board didn't begin canvassing immediately to determine the validity of the petition signatures, as did supervisors in the 50-year old case.

    To that, Primeaux wrote: "The objectors are correct that one reason assigned for the Board's delay in taking action was to allow signers to remove their names from the petition, but they overlook the remainder of the language in the motion, which goes on to state, 'so that the Board can investigate the sufficiency of the petitions.'

    "The court finds that this language had the effect of allowing time for the Circuit Clerk to canvass the signatures for validity, which is allowed by the statute.

    The judge also said there was nothing in ruling from the previous case, which was in Neshoba County, that "specifically rules out the submission of additional signatures after the deadline."

    As to the objections of Tommy Williams, who represented himself in court, Primeaux said Chancery Court was not the proper place for those questions. The only objection Williams lodged that could have been considered in the bond validation hearing, Primeaux said, was whether the county would exceed its debt limit by passing the bond issue.

    Williams did not present any evidence showing it would exceed the limit; however the state's bond attorney, Spence Flatgard, testified that the new bond issue would not exceed the county's limit.

    On Monday afternoon Wilson said he had not had time to talk with his clients about their next move. If there is an appeal, it would be in the Mississippi Supreme Court, unless that court redirects it to the state's Court of Appeals.

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