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February 15 - 21, 2012
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February 15 - 21, 2012
1 0 N O . 23
contents COURTESY MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL
6 Love is Strange The story of trusty Joseph Ozment’s romance asks, “Can a murderer and an engineer find true love?” VIRGINIA SCHREIBER
Cover design by Kristin Brenemen
THIS ISSUE: Speaker’s Shade
House Speaker Philip Gunn pushes for a “sunshine” bill. Some wonder what’s in his shadows. SAMUEL MCCAIN
christine ‘chrissy’ wilson gested a lecture series, and History Is Lunch developed from his suggestion. The weekly talks focus on Mississippi history, culture and art. “Even having weekly programs, we barely scrape the surface of the talent and accomplishments of individuals in this community and state,” Wilson says. “I do have a hard time reading all the books that are featured during the year.” Wilson, a Rome, Ga., native, has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in comparative literature (French and Spanish) from the University of Georgia. She moved to the Jackson area in the mid-1970s when her former husband became a professor at Millsaps College, where she taught composition and grammar for a year. She raised her two children, Geoffrey and Laura, in the Belhaven area, and they now reside with their spouses and her grandchildren in the San Francisco Bay area. The 65-year-old also enjoys exploring the state, reading and staying in contact with her children and grandchildren. She still lives in the Belhaven area and loves it. “I have lived in Jackson for more than 30 years,” Wilson says, “and continue to be amazed at the number of visionary people here—writing, painting, songwriting and playing music.” —Richard Coupe
24 Prisms of Color Artist Samuel McCain draws inspiration from the love of his family and the music of the blues.
36 Tasty Turnips Substituting turnips for potatoes in au gratin lightens the dish for spring. Plus, the cake of kings.
Mississippi has no bigger cheerleader when discussing the art, history and culture of Mississippi than Christine “Chrissy” Wilson. She has edited many of the markers on the Mississippi Freedom Trail commemorating the state’s civil-rights heritage as well as the Mississippi Blues Trail and the Country Music Trail markers. “They are all interesting,” she says. “But working on the Medgar Evers Home marker was awe-inspiring.” Her favorites, though, were the Blues Trails markers like Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf because she grew up listening to them. Wilson co-curated an award-winning exhibit called “All Shook Up: Mississippi roots of American Popular Music,” which included a video for schools and an exhibit catalog based on the premise that Mississippi produced the top artists in many genres of music. In addition, she edited several newsletters and journals while at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History about Mississippi history, arts and culture, as well as books such as “Ethel Wright Mohamed” in 1984. Wilson retired in 2008 after 30 years with MDAH and now has fun working part-time on the “History Is Lunch” series. When Gov. William Winter was president of the Board of Trustees of MDAH, he sug-
COURTESY ROXANNE WALLIS
4 ..............Editor’s Note 4 ................... Slowpoke 6 .......................... Talks 12 ................... Editorial 12 ..................... Stiggers 13 ................. Opinion 24 .............. Diversions 26 ........................ Film 28 ...................... Books 29 .................... 8 Days 30 ............. JFP Events 31 ...................... Music 32 ......... Music Listing 34 ..................... Sports 36 ....................... Food 39 ................ Astrology 39 .................... Puzzles 41 .............. Body/Soul 42 ... Girl About Town
Elizabeth Waibel Reporter Elizabeth Waibel grew up in Clinton. In May, she received her journalism degree from Union University in Jackson, Tenn. She likes coffee and trying new cake recipes. She wrote the cover story.
Virginia Schreiber Staff photographer Virginia Schreiber is a recent graduate of Millsaps College. When she’s not working, she spends her time watching films of the Peter Pan genre. She took many of the photos in this issue.
Jacob Fuller New reporter Jacob Fuller attended Ole Miss. When not reporting, he splits his time between playing music and photographing anything in sight. He now covers the city for the JFP. Send him story ideas at jacob@ jacksonfreepress.com.
Sharon Dunten Sharon Dunten came to Mississippi as a journalist to cover Hurricane Katrina. She visits Mississippi often to write and photograph the state and its distinctive culture, which captured her heart. She wrote an arts feature for this issue.
Roxanne Wallis Roxanne Wallis, a native Jacksonian and self-proclaimed Renaissance woman, exemplifies the nature of those born under the Aquarian zodiac sign: unconventional, creative and taking the road less traveled. She wrote a food feature.
Sam R. Hall Sam R. Hall is a journalist turned political/media consultant. He blogs about tech and general geekery at FlashingRobot.net and at samrhall.com. He, his wife and three kids live in Florence with cat Hemingway. He wrote a book review.
Tam Curley Editorial intern Tam Curley loves telling about her move from liberal California to begin a new life with her hubby and daughter in conservative Mississippi. She is an Arkansas native and enjoys time with her two lab puppies. She wrote the Body Soul feature.
February 15 - 21, 2012
Originally from Lafayette, La., marketing intern Morgan Bares is a junior at Millsaps College. She is a Communications major and is actively involved in the Greek community. Morgan enjoys traveling, cooking, exercising, and being with family and friends.
by Ronni Mott, Managing Editor
Evolve My Mind
have always measured the quality of my education against what my father taught me. School bored me mostly, but having a conversation with Papa rarely did. He was a natural teacher of philosophy, political science and history. He peppered his lectures with anthropology, science and economics. Papa fueled my burn for knowledge. He taught me to question the status quo (and just about everything else), to listen deeply and never to be afraid of voicing a considered opinion. As I came into adulthood, his nightly dinnertime lectures evolved into hours-long explorations into politics, civil rights and current events. Eventually, no subject was taboo. I got a thrill each time I presented a point of view he hadn’t considered. He would pause, chewing the information in his big brain, weighing it, spinning it and looking at it from all angles. At those times, Papa had no ego. He could dismiss any opinion—even one he was energetically defending just a moment ago— in favor of another with more merit. He was one of the most authentic, clearest thinkers I have ever known, and I was blessed to have him as a teacher. One lesson I learned from Papa was to be open to, yet wary of, what I heard and read. Never take anything at face value, he taught. But second-guessing everything is a hard road. It tends to piss people off, especially those who would rather I not ask questions such as “why?” “according to whom?” or simply, “really?” It drives me to challenge my foregone conclusions. Sometimes, that’s painful. I recently followed a Facebook post to an editorial in the National Review. I was fairly certain from the title (“The Liberal Enforcers”) that I wouldn’t like what I found, but I read the piece from start to finish, anyway. In it, author Mark Steyn presented, in an overheated and hyperbolic screed, his case that liberals will gang up on anything (in this case, the Susan G. Komen Foundation) to ram “Big Tolerance” down our collective throats. He’s clever. Steyn uses lots of $10 words and citations coupled with a copious application of teeth-gnashing over liberalism in general. You could find yourself nodding in agreement, caught up in the drama. I could just see Steyn raising his hands to put air quotes around the left’s faults: “women’s health” organization Planned Parenthood; “reproductive rights” correspondent Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones; “the 1 percent”; “poor women.” I imagined the accompanying wink-wink, nudge-nudge mannerisms. I wanted to smack the smirk off his headshot. Even if I agreed with his thesis, I couldn’t give a pass to any information presented with such disdain and downright nastiness. (I wouldn’t give one to Barack Obama, either, if you’re wondering, or to the myriad progressive organizations with which I agree for the most part.) No one gets to rewrite the story simply because they don’t like it. Show me the research—primary research, please. No opinion blogs allowed. Turns out, Steyn wasn’t as
scrupulous in compiling all of his “facts.” Of all forms of tyranny, perhaps the worst is convincing people that they are powerless to effect change. The tool to convince us is easy to generate: fear. Smart operatives use fear to maneuver us to do exactly the wrong thing, even act in opposition to our best interests. They know that fearful people—afraid of losing liberties, money, position or life—are easily outraged. Angry and defensive, we stop thinking. That’s the point. Papa came of age in one of the most authoritarian environments imaginable: The Nazi party dominated every nuance of thought and life in its sphere. It wasn’t simply that the party bombarded people with its twisted rhetoric; they literally risked their lives and the lives of loved ones to speak out, much less fight against its absolute repression. Afraid, most people went along with it all, regardless of how horrible things got. Maybe that’s the biggest failure of education: not teaching us to recognize our weakness for security and the easy path; not teaching us we have other options. Never learning to lean into our innate boldness leaves us with tolerance for ineptitude and dishonesty. It serves no one. What’s left is a quivering bundle of low expectations—for our leaders, schools and our daily failures to rise above our personal status quos. Instead, we embrace solutions for problems that don’t exist anywhere but between our ears. Teaching a child to push beyond comfort and convention has to begin early. It’s a learned skill, like grasping the power of reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s not enough to memorize the words and equations; without understanding why and how to use what we learn, knowledge loses its significance. Without sig-
nificance, things become irrelevant, and I can’t think of any reason to respect irrelevance. And isn’t that where we’ve landed on education? Instead of respecting knowledge and those who impart it, we pay teachers a pittance (as befits those who give little of value) and turn our kids into mindless test-stressed drones, eager to be done with it all. It’s not surprising that we grasp at any alternative that promises to make things even a little better. But that doesn’t get to the root of the cancer. We’re fond of moving the pieces without changing the rules, but we have a self-defeating bias for the illusion of stability that keeps us in an endless loop of educational failures. We have the power to make fundamental, systemic change, but exercising our power is never easy. In confronting our prejudices and distortions, we will run into our own brick wall of resistance, powerless at times to even see them, much less rise above them. Spiritual author Marianne Williamson wrote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” That light is our fuel for growth, change and making a difference. We all have it. “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others,” she continues, and that may be the scariest part of all. Look, change is as inevitable as February. We can resist it, or we can grab hold and ride that bucking bronc, flailing and falling and getting back on. Change my mind. Please. I welcome evolving, precisely because it’s not easy. Don’t expect me to go along just to get along. That’s not a horse worth riding. Papa taught me that, too.
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news, culture & irreverence
Friday, Feb. 10 GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. â€Ś Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn reintroduces â€œSunshine Actâ€? legislation to authorize agency heads to hire lawyers to represent the agencies in litigation instead of the state attorney generalâ€™s office. An earlier version of the bill died Thursday after it was ruled improperly before the House. Saturday, Feb. 11 Grammy Award-winning singer Whitney Houston, 48, dies at a hotel in Beverly Hills. â€Ś The Ole Miss basketball team beats Auburn 61-54, but the Mississippi State Bulldogs lose to the Georgia Bulldogs 70-68.
Monday, Feb. 13 Washington becomes the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage. â€Ś State Sen. Joey Fillingane introduces a bill in the Legislature â€œto protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth, to the extent permitted by the federal Constitution.â€? Mississippians defeated a similar ballot initiative last November. Tuesday, Feb. 14 The hit game Angry Birds comes to Facebook. â€Ś Ward 3 residents vote in a new City Council member to replace former Councilman Kenneth Stokes. Get news updates at jfpdaily.com.
COURTESY MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL
he committed in 1990. LaChina Tillman and Ozment became friends, and then more. Tillman wasnâ€™t the only person who found Ozment charming. Ozment apparently thought of himself as a good catch. An old web page for Mississippi Prison Pals carries a personals ad for Ozment in which he describes himself as a â€œinteresting, fun, imaginative, confined body, caring heart, free soul, open mind, single, white male...light brown eyes, collegiate student, athlete; open, honest, sincere, and affectionateâ€”sensitive, happy, loving, and desiring attractionâ€”educated, intellectual, vast variety of interests, unlimited.â€? Ozment and Tillman maintained their relationship throughout his incarceration. A Bay St. Louis native, Tillman went on to finish her engineering degree and secure a job with Northrop Grumman, a Fortune 500 company that specializes in aerospace and military contract work. Her LinkedIn profile lists her job title as lead surface system architect with the company. In fact, her credentials are so impressive that Women of Color magazine named her a 2008 Rising Star in the category of science, technology, engineering and math. Ozmentâ€™s jailhouse jobs, according to the resume Memphis television station WMCTV obtained, included working as a teacherâ€™s aide and recreational orderly, and as a â€œcookâ€? at the governorâ€™s mansion for Marsha and ODD COUPLE, see page 7
Stupid Excuses for Skipping School
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February 15 - 21, 2012
Sunday, Feb. 12 Singer-songwriter Adele takes home six awards at the 54th annual Grammys. â€Ś Three houses catch fire in Jackson. Authorities say there were no reported injuries.
State Sen. John Horhn talks business and development. p 10
by R.L Nave
to identify him, delivered two more bullets to the head of the 40-year-old clerk, who was begging for help. An anonymous caller, whoâ€™d been at the store shortly before 11 p.m., told police had seen three suspicious black men leave the store and speed off in a gray Chevrolet. Ten days later, DeSoto County sheriffâ€™s deputies arrested three black menâ€”Shinault Young, Tracy Blackburn and Kelvin Earl Toddâ€”and Ozment, who is white. All were students at Northwest Mississippi Community College, and each was charged with armed robbery and murder. Ozment, who at 21 was the oldest member of the gang, turned stateâ€™s Joseph Ozment, a pardoned governorâ€™s mansion evidence on the others and pleaded trusty, and LaChina Tillman, an engineer for a guilty to simple murder, armed robFortune 500 company, are planning a life together. bery and conspiracy to commit armed Thatâ€™s assuming that the Mississippi Supreme Court doesnâ€™t invalidate Ozmentâ€™s pardon. robbery to avoid the death penalty. In 1993, he received a life sentence with parole eligibility after 10 years and was n the night of Dec. 7, 1992, Joseph sent to the state penitentiary at Parchman. Ozment and three friends arrived to It was around that time that he met a rob J & Râ€™s Old Store in Hernando young college student named LaChina Tilland found Ricky A. Montgomery man. Tillman, who was a little younger than there, working alone. During the robbery, Ozment when they met, was studying comone of Ozmentâ€™s accomplices shot Mont- puter engineering at Mississippi State Unigomery three times, though not fatally. Oz- versity and visiting her older brother, Geno, ment, fearing Montgomery would be able who was serving a life sentence for a murder
Thursday, Feb. 9 The state Supreme Court hears arguments over former Gov. Haley Barbourâ€™s more than 200 end-of-term pardons. â€Ś State Rep. Steve Hollandâ€™s satirical bill to rename the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of America goes viral, gaining national attention and punking America.
The Odd Couple
Wednesday, Feb. 8 U.S. House Speaker John Boehner threatens that if President Barack Obama will not reverse his administrationâ€™s policy requiring religious organizations to cover birth control in their health-insurance policies, Congress will. ... Mississippi executes mentally ill Edwin Hart Turner after a federal appeals court lifts a stay of execution issued earlier in the week.
In 2009, the average high-school dropout rate in Mississippi was 16.8 percent, more than twice the national average. For Hinds County, the rate was 18.6 percent, and Madison Countyâ€™s was 9.6 percent; Rankin Countyâ€™s rate was 12.2 percent. Amite Countyâ€™s dropout rate was 44.1 percent. SOURCES: KIDSCOUNT.ORG; NCES.ED.GOV
K, OK. We know some of you have good reasons for skipping school, maybe. Sometimes you have to get creative, right? We asked readers for some of the excuses that probably didnâ€™t get them a hall pass.
â€˘ They wonâ€™t let me wear pajamas to class. â€˘ I broke a nail. â€˘ I got an F for turning in my essay on toilet paper. â€˘ The dog ate my common sense. â€˘ All the teachers made me sit in the back, because of my weave. â€˘ I couldnâ€™t make out with my boyfriend/girlfriend. â€˘ I got a job at McDonaldâ€™s. â€˘ Bill Gates dropped outâ€”now look at him! â€˘ Ninth grade isnâ€™t for everybody. â€˘ Reading Chaucer in the original Middle English seemed less appealing than gorging on Cheetos and playing WoW all day. â€˘ Why go to school when we have Wikipedia? â€˘ My parents grounded me from school. Donâ€™t you believe me?
Send Jacktown news tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org
news, culture & irreverence
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ODD COUPLE, from page 6
tially lashed out at Hood, saying he was â€œdisappointedâ€? in Hood for characterizing Ozment as a white supremacist when his bride-to-be is African American. â€œHe does have a tattoo on his back, but itâ€™s not a white supremacist gang tattoo,â€? Moxley told the Jackson Free Press recently. But when asked what the tattoo is, Moxley said: â€œIâ€™ll be damned if I know. Itâ€™s not a gang tattoo; itâ€™s innocuous.â€? Moxley said officials at Marshall County Correctional Facility, who said Ozment wasnâ€™t a â€œgangbanger.â€? â€œThey say they know darn well he never had any kind of gang affiliation,â€? Moxley said last week. He called Ozment and Tillmanâ€™s tale â€œa love story.â€? Moxley confirmed they met years ago when Tillman was visiting someone in prisonâ€”he was not â€œlegally positiveâ€? that person was her brotherâ€”and became friends. The relationship blossomed from there, Moxley said: â€œThey have been planning a life together. Itâ€™s a legitimate romance.â€? Mary McAbee, Ricky Montgomeryâ€™s sister, is less enchanted with Ozment even if he is 1,300 miles away. She spoke briefly with reporters after the Supreme Court hearing on the pardonsâ€™ constitutionality. â€œIâ€™m a little nervous about that because you never know,â€? she said of Ozmentâ€™s living out west. â€œHe has his full freedom. He can go anywhere he wants and do anything he wants to do.â€? Comment at www.jfp.ms.
Pardongate: Continuum by R.L. Nave
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Haley Barbour, both of whom Ozment lists as employment references. The relationship between Tillman and Ozment came into focus in January when Attorney General Jim Hood circulated the coupleâ€™s wedding save-the-date announcement. Ozment had been the target of a weeks-long hunt by investigators after he received a pardon Jan. 6 for the 18-year-old crime. Hoodâ€™s officers tracked Ozment to Colorado, where they believed Tillman was living, and then to Laramie, Wyo. Property records show that Tillman purchased a $305,000 home in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Ozmentâ€™s resume listed his address as Olive Branch). â€œItâ€™s unfortunate how things have occurred at the mansion and how these prisoners were handled,â€? Hood said at a January press conference, noting that Ozment was dressed in street clothes in the photos rather than the striped green-and-white jumpsuit that minimum-security inmates are required to wear. â€œThis guyâ€™s got a tattoo with Aryan Brotherhood on his back, and this ladyâ€”who has a college degree and is an engineer and is doing very wellâ€”has taken up with him.â€? Tillman visited Ozment at the mansion more than a dozen times, and the two even took photographs for their wedding announcement there, according to Hood. Robert Moxley, Ozmentâ€™s attorney ini-
by R.L. Nave
Drilling the Front Lines
Céilí and Workshop with Patrick O’Dea
Sunday, February 19th at Fenian’s Céilí (Irish social dancing) 2:00 - 5:00 PM
Free. Donations accepted. Beginner-friendly and fun for all ages.
Sean-nós (old-style) Solo Dancing Workshop 5:00 - 6:30 PM
$15 per person, $10 for members of Jackson Irish Dancers and CHS for intermediate/advanced dancers To join our e-mail list or for more information:
February 15 - 21, 2012
Congratulations to Benjamin Bradley for picking the Super Bowl score EXACTLY right! He wins $100 in gift certificates to Sportman’s Lodge. Thanks to everyone who played JFP Football Pick’em in 2011-12... Look for more Pick’em contests coming soon! sponsored by:
COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
aptain Louis Skrmetta is on the front lines. So far, Skrmetta, whose family has operated tour boats between the mainland and Mississippi’s barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico since 1926, is fighting a winning battle to rebuild his business to pre-Hurricane Katrina levels. Before the 2005 storm, Skrmetta’s Ship Island Excursions ferried 65,000 people per year on average. Last year, it shuttled 43,000 people. “It grows every year,” he said of his recovering business. “It’s just very confusing as to why the state would push an activity that would hurt cash flows (of tourism business owners).” Skrmetta’s voice is one among a growing chorus of Coast residents opposed to a state plan to potenSome business owners worry that tourists, drawn to sites like Fort Massachusetts on West Ship Island in the Gulf tially ramp up mineral exploration of Mexico, will be put off by industrial drilling activity near the islands. Under a proposed plan, drillers would be able to operate as close as one mile from the islands—and this doesn’t please everyone. and drilling. In mid-December, former Gov. Haley Barbour directed the Mississippi Development Authority to start the process of opening up state waters to drilling. the reserve diminishes also depends on the gas board. Dan Turner, spokesman for the MDA, market—the higher the price, the more inDuring the most recent sale for federal explained that energy companies would centive energy companies have to draw and waters in the western Gulf, 20 companies bid on blocks the Legislature established in sell it quickly. paid $712 million for 191 leasable plots. 2004 and, if lawmakers choose to accept The U.S. Energy Information Admin- Among the big players in the auction that the bids, would also pay a royalty on what- istration bolstered Bounds’ claim about the took place in New Orleans Dec. 14 were ever minerals are extracted. smallness of Mississippi’s gas resources, ConocoPhillips Co., BP Exploration and Before leaving the post in January, concluding in its more recent energy profile Production Inc. and ExxonMobil Corp. Leland Speed, former MDA executive di- of Mississippi that the state is a “minimal” Despite the potential for a windfall for rector, wrote an open letter estimating the producer of natural gas and electric power the state, Bounds’ report makes the point state could collect between $241 million given its high per-capita consumption. that the biggest loser in the deal will be and $523 million in royalties alone, with “We understand the economy is bad, people like Skrmetta who depend on tourmore than 97.5 percent going to the state’s and everyone wants a free lunch. And we’d ist activities. education trust fund. Turner added that like to believe that elected officials supportIf one in 20 visitors—5 percent—stay the actual royalty amount would depend ing drilling are just not paying attention to away from the Gulf Coast, Bounds eson market conditions. the beat of the market drum, or are simply timates, the loss of state tourism revenue But Skrmetta and other critics won- so desperate and panicked that they are over the life of the reserve would amount der whether the benefits of the gas royalties making bad choices,” Bounds wrote. to $168.5 million dollars, gobbling up the outweigh the long-term damage that could “But, in this case, the facts are plain state’s anticipated revenues. MDA refutes be done to tourism and the environment. enough that we believe citizens need to start this argument, saying on its website that Jeffrey K. Bounds, an MIT- asking state officials at least this simple ques- tourism remains robust in Alabama. trained engineer who has family ties to tion: Why now? Who profits? It is clear that Andrew Whitehurst, assistant direcMississippi’s Gulf Coast region, drilled it will not be residents of the state.” tor of science and water policy for the Gulf down to the numbers in a report published Looking at companies that operate or Restoration Network, worries about conin January 2012. have recently purchased oil and gas leases in tamination resulting in the event of drillIn “Drilling by the Numbers, Again: the Gulf of Mexico answers the question of ing-fluids spillage or pipeline ruptures such The Economic Impact of as Exploration who profits. In Alabama, which ranks 14th as the BP disaster of 2010. He also took Offshore of Mississippi,” Bounds picks in U.S. gas production, just three operators issue with what he characterized as MDA’s apart several of the state’s assumptions, produced 240 billion cubic feet in 2010, hurried public comment process. including the size of the state’s natural gas which is almost the size of Mississippi’s to“The way that they’ve done this, putreserve and how much in royalties the state tal estimated reserve. ting out their notice during the Christmas might collect based on price trends. ExxonMobil Corp., Legacy Oil + Gas holidays, was unfair,” he said. Even accepting the MDA’s claim that Ltd. and W&T Offshore Inc., which re“When you’re a state agency consid350 billion cubic feet of natural gas lies cently acquired a gas field in Mobile Bay ering something this big and this controunder the seabed, Bounds finds that the from Shell Offshore. Alabama’s oil and gas versial, and you choose that time of year figure is one-seventeenth of neighboring revenue totaled $311.2 million in fiscal to publish your rules, you’re trying to hide Alabama’s 6.5 trillion cubic feet. How fast year 2010, according to the state oil and from controversy.”
Legislature: Week 6
by R.L. Nave
Bring the Noise VIRGINIA SCHREIBER
agency directors would still have to work within their budgets. â€œItâ€™s about giving agencies greater flexibility and independence,â€? said state Auditor Stacey Pickering, a Republican, who also attended the meeting. State Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, produced a letter that Democrats say demonstrates how the billâ€™s passage could lead to conflicts of interest. In the letter, from Russell Latino of Wells, Marble and Hurst to former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Latino wants to represent the state Division of Medicaid in a fraud suit. Speaker Phillip Gunn also works for Wells, Marble and Hurst. â€œThis letter corroborates our concern that this bill is and always has been about members of the Legislature profiting off of the state,â€? Evans said of the letter. Hood has claimed all along that his office already posts contracts with outside firms online. Roughly 5 percent of the some 3,000 cases the AGâ€™s office deals with are contracted out and, an even smaller number of outside law firms are hired on a contingency fee basis. His officeâ€™s webpage lists 33 active contingency fee contracts, including a fraud suit against WorldCom and accounting firm KPMG. View a full list of contingency fee cases on the attorney generalâ€™s website (ago.state.ms.us). Active hourly fee cases being handled by outside firms include a $1.2 million contract to Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell
& Berkowitz, PC for the Olivia Y v. Haley Barbour case, filed in 2004 on behalf of six children whom the suit alleges suffered physical and psychological harm while in the stateâ€™s custody. Meanwhile, the Senate is clicking on all cylinders, too. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves made it plain when he announced his legislative agenda Feb. 1 that he wanted to consolidate the Drew and Indianola county school districts into a new Sunflower County School District. Sen. Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, introduced a bill on Monday, Feb. 6 and two days later, the Senate passed the measure 43 to 4 and sent it to the House. Comment at www.jfp.ms.
Personhood Redux E\(OL]DEHWK:DLEHO
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egislative Republicans are setting â€™em Wiseman said, Republicans want to â€œneuterâ€? and knockinâ€™ â€™em down. After a clumsy Hood, nonetheless. first month In its reincarwhen the nated form the act House didnâ€™t even went a step further to have committee scale back the powers assignments, bills of the attorney genare starting to soar eral by incorporating through the coma process whereby the mittee process and state Personal Service going to the floor. Contract Review Case in point: Board must approve the thunderstorm certain contracts. caused by the SunThe previous bill shine Act proposal. called for the board The bill, which to serve as a clearingultimately failed house for contracts on a technicality over $100,000. but was resurrected At Mondayâ€™s later, would let state 45-minute-longhearagency directors hire ing, members gave outside legal help Hood the chance to if they think a conargue against the bill. flict of interest exists With filing deadlines approaching, state He estimates an adwith the state at- legislators are moving legislation swiftly ditional cost of $11 torney general, who through the committee process and onto the million to the state normally represents floor for consideration. based on the $65 per the state. hour rate his office Speaker Philip Gunn introduced the bill bills state agencies compared to the $130 per late on Monday, Feb. 6. It was taken up in the hour that private firms charge. Judiciary A Committee the following mornRepublicans dismissed Hoodâ€™s argument ing and on the floor by Thursday when At- that the state would incur higher costs because torney General Jim Hood was arguing his case in the ongoing Pardongate matter. Democrats have framed the issue as a Republican attempt to slap back at Hood, for XVWWKUHHPRQWKVDIWHUYRWHUVWXUQHGGRZQD3HUVRQ repeatedly getting under the skin of the GOP KRRG,QLWLDWLYHDWOHDVWRQHOHJLVODWRULVWU\LQJWRJHW power establishment. Marty Wiseman, direcLWEDFNRQWKHEDOORW tor of the John C. Stennis Institute on Gov 6HQ-RH\)LOOLQJDQH56XPUDOOLQWURGXFHGD FRQFXUUHQWUHVROXWLRQ0RQGD\LQDQHIIRUWWRDPHQGWKH ernment, said itâ€™s deeper than that. VWDWHFRQVWLWXWLRQWRÂłSURWHFWWKHOLIHRIHYHU\XQERUQ Wiseman explained that the 1890 MisFKLOGIURPFRQFHSWLRQWRELUWKÂ´ sissippi Constitution created a weak executive :KLOH)LOOLQJDQHÂśVSURSRVHGDPHQGPHQWVSHFLÂżHV because whites feared that with their numbers, WKDW0LVVLVVLSSLÂśV&RQVWLWXWLRQGRHVQRWVHFXUHDQ\ ULJKWVUHODWLQJWRDERUWLRQLWVD\VLWZRXOGRQO\SURWHFW blacks might have been able to elect the stateâ€™s XQERUQFKLOGUHQÂłWRWKHH[WHQWSHUPLWWHGE\WKHIHGHUDO governor. As a result, Hood, the only statewide &RQVWLWXWLRQÂ´ Democratic officeholder, â€œis the statutorily $VWKHFRXUWVFXUUHQWO\LQWHUSUHWLWWKHIHGHUDO &RQVWLWXWLRQJLYHVZRPHQDULJKWWRJHWDERUWLRQV most powerful person in the state.â€? 7KHUHVROXWLRQÂśVQRGWRIHGHUDODERUWLRQODZĂ€LHV Even though Hood has been largely nonpartisan in the way his office pursues cases,
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