Meridian Star

April 17, 2014

State's high court to hear bond issue case

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — By Terri Ferguson Smith

    The Mississippi Supreme Court will take up Lauderdale County's bond issue case. A three-justice panel has denied two requests from opposing sides in the county's bond issue case. The $14 million bond issue that three members of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors passed more than a year ago will not go forward until the matter is resolved.

    In a ruling issued April 9 from the high court, justices denied a request from the county to dismiss the appeal from a group of citizens who objected to the issuance of the first $3.2 million in bonds.

    The justices also denied a request from those citizens to dismiss a cross appeal.

    Tommie Cardin, an attorney with Butler Snow Law Firm in Ridgeland, who represents the county in bond issue actions, said the issue before the court is still whether the bonds were properly validated. A Lauderdale Chancery Court judge, Chancellor Lawrence Primeaux, ruled earlier this year that the bonds were properly validated — meaning all the necessary legal steps were taken. Objectors filed an appeal in Mississippi Supreme Court.

    "The next step now is just that the appeal will start going through the normal process with the Supreme Court. Then the next step is for the record to be prepared and sent up to the court," Cardin said by telephone on Wednesday. "The appellants will be the first ones to file a brief. Then the county will file its brief after that. The county doesn't have anything to do immediately. Those other steps have to take place before the county files its briefs."

    Cardin said it is difficult to predict how long the process will take.

    "It will be several months to get the record in place and for the briefs to be filed. It's hard to say with specificity at this juncture exactly how long it will take," Cardin said.

    Stephen Wilson, the Meridian attorney who is representing a group of citizens opposed to the bond issue, said the county's cross appeal claimed that Primeaux had made a mistake in not assigning a bond that would have forced the objectors to put up $90,000. That bond would have been forfeited to the county if the county incurred damages caused by the delay in issuing the bonds.

    At the time, Primeaux said he did not believe that taxpayers who want to hold the government accountable should have to post a bond so high that in doing so they would risk losing their home or property.

    "The cross appeal will have no effect on the disposition of this case," Wilson said. "There was no supersedeas bond set. The cost bond was $100."    

    The year-long controversy began on April 1, 2013, when District 1 Supervisor Hank Florey, District 3 Supervisor Josh Todd, and District 4 Supervisor Joe Norwood voted in favor of the bond issue to fund recreation projects in the city and county, as well as renovations to the Lauderdale County Courthouse. Voting against the bond issue were District 2 Supervisor Wayman Newell and District 5 Supervisor Kyle Rutledge.

    In August, 2013, the Board voted 3-2 to issue the fist $3.2 million in bonds, which led to the objections in court to the bond validation.