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Archive for August, 2011

Mississippi State to win easy game against Memphis

August 29th, 2011 1 comment

If you are a Mississippi State football fan these days, life is pretty good.

Most college football experts believe the Bulldogs will win as many as 9 or 10 games before any SEC title game or bowl contest.

Oddsmaker Danny Sheridan even has the Bulldogs a 27 1/2 point favorite in their season opener against Memphis on Thursday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Elvis’ hometown.

Rarely has MSU’s future looked so bright. Does that mean the Bulldogs need to be taken down a notch. Probably not. … I say the Bullies win by at least 35. But what do I know? I am just the editor of a business newspaper.

Find out what the readers of the Mississippi Business Journal think.

DuPree will be no pushover against Bryant in governor’s race

August 22nd, 2011 Comments off

The first time I ever met Johnny DuPree, he had been holding court in my office for about 30 minutes before I ever walked in the door.

Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree

One of our reporters was using my office for the interview, and when I walked in, I was in a hurry but didn’t want to be rude. I mean he was running for governor. I thought I would listen a couple of minutes, and then slip out the door with my briefcase.

Forty-five minutes later, I was having a philisophical conversation with the Hattiesburg mayor about education in Mississippi.

I was totally entralled. On education, at least, I wasn’t sure if all of his ideas would work, but I knew he would make a decision, if he were governor, and stick by it.

It was that day, I knew he would give Clarksdale atorney Bill Luckett a run for his money for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Hell, he might even win, I thought.

Well, last night, DupRee smoked Luckett in the Democratic runoff, becoming the first black candidate to win major-party nod for the state’s top job.

DuPree, 57, advances to the Nov. 8 general election to face Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, 56, of Brandon. Bryant already has spent $3.1 million on his campaign — more than twice as much as DuPree and Luckett, combined.

For months, Bryant has been all but given the throne to the kingdom, the heir apparent to Gov. Haley Barbour.

Bryant, may win — may win. But, it won’t be because DuPree isn’t a worthy opponent.

Don’t sit back and assume he won’t be there when the confetti cannon goes, because DuPree has come to play and he didn’t leave his ball at home.

‘The Help’ gets a thumbs up from the old, bald editor

August 20th, 2011 Comments off

My wife and I went to see “The Help” Wednesday, and I have mixed feelings about the movie. I loved being able to watch the movie and pick out people that I know as extras (Mr. Lt. Gov. Bill Crump!). It’s fun to see places on the big screen that you have seen every day of your life.

And while I enjoyed the movie (laughing and crying in the appropriate places), it gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Yet again, Mississippians are being shown for having been racists and treating people as lesser folks. It’s sad, but the fact of the matter is, the movie is accurate.

We are who we are and we have to admit where we have been before we can see where we are going.

There are those at The Boston Globe who believe we, as America, are looking back at racism and patting ourselves on the back. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We, as the people in the theater — in Madison, Mississippi — watched and knew there is still room for all of us to grow.

Kathryn Stockett should be applauded for her book and now movie, and we should all be aware of the changes we still have to make in order for all of us to move forward together. And apparently, the rest of the country likes it as well.

Without giving away anything, I loved Cicely Tyson in her role as one of the maids. She didn’t have a ton of lines, but her role and her portrayal of it were powerful. My pick for funniest is when Sissy Spacek’s character walks past her daughter and the two exchange words. Priceless.

By the way, the popcorn was great!

Here are what some other folks thought …

••• ABC News

••• Baltimore Sun

••• San Jose Mercury News

••• Variety Reviews

••• Entertainment Weekly

••• Moviefone

••• Salon.com

••• UK Progressive

••• Indie Wire

••• Your Houston News

Click here to let us know what you think of the movie …

West Memphis 3 plead guilty in murders to win freedom

August 19th, 2011 Comments off

From The Associated Press

JONESBORO, Ark.  — Three men convicted of killing three 8-year-old Cub Scouts and dumping their bodies in an Arkansas ditch were freed from nearly two decades in prison Friday, after they agreed to plead guilty to secure the release of one of them from death row.

Pamela Echols, mother of Damien Echols, arrives at the Craighead County Court House in Jonesboro, Ark., for a hearing Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. A judge has rejected a plea deal of three men convicted in the killing of three 8-year-old Cub Scouts that would have released them after nearly two decades in prison. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley had been offered a chance to change their pleas in the 1993 killings at West Memphis. The defendants were convicted in 1994 of killing Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore and leaving their naked bodies in a West Memphis ditch. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston) (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

HERE’S WHAT OTHERS HAVE WRITTEN …

••• The New York Times

••• The Los Angeles Times

Under the plea bargain, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were being freed immediately. The boys’ families were notified about the pact ahead of time but were not asked to approve it.

The defendants, known by their supporters as the West Memphis 3, agreed to a legal maneuver that lets them maintain their innocence while acknowledging prosecutors have enough evidence against them.

“I am innocent of these charges but I am entering an Alford guilty plea,” Echols told the judge. Baldwin and Miskelley also reasserted their innocence.

“Although I am innocent, this plea is in my best interest,” Misskelley said.

The three were credited with time served, and Echols is being freed from Arkansas’ death row. They were placed on 10 years’ probation and if they re-offend they could be sent back to prison for 21 years, Prosecutor Scott Ellington said.

“I believe that it would be practically impossible after 18 years to put on a proper trial in this case,” Ellington said.

“I believe this case is closed and there are no other individuals involved,” he said.

Baldwin and Echols each pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder. Misskelley pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder. The Alford plea allows the men to maintain their claims of innocence.

After the hearings, Baldwin told reporters that he had been reluctant to plead guilty to crimes he maintains he didn’t commit, but that they agreed to the deal because they had to get Echols off death row.

“That’s not justice, however you look at it,” he said.

Echols thanked Baldwin and called his release “overwhelming.”

“It’s not perfect,” he said of the deal. “It’s not perfect by any means. But it at least brings closure to some areas and some aspects.”

He said the West Memphis Three would continue to work to clear their names.

Echols’ wife, Lorri, sat in the front row of a crowded courtroom, next to Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, who became a key supporter of the men after watching a pair of HBO documentaries about the case. Vedder put his arm around her during the proceedings.

The three defendants were expected later Friday at a news conference in the courtroom basement.

Circuit Judge David Laser acknowledged the case was complex, and that both the victims’ families and the supporters of the three men convicted had suffered. He said he thought Friday’s deal would serve justice “the best we can.”

“I don’t think it will make the pain go away,” Laser said during the court proceedings.

One person yelled “Baby killers” as the three left the courtroom.

The May 5, 1993, killings were particularly gruesome. Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore were found nude, and hogtied, and rumors of Satanism roiled the community in the weeks following their deaths. Branch and Moore drowned in about 2 feet of water; Byers bled to death and his genitals were mutilated and partially removed.

Police had few leads until receiving a tip that Echols had been seen mud-covered the night the boys disappeared. The big break came when Misskelley unexpectedly confessed and implicated Baldwin and Echols in the killings.

“Then they tied them up, tied their hands up,” Misskelley said in the statement to police, parts of which were tape-recorded. After describing sodomizing and other violence, he went on: “And I saw it and turned around and looked, and then I took off running. I went home, then they called me and asked me, ‘How come I didn’t stay? I told them, I just couldn’t.'”

Misskelley later recanted, and defense lawyers said the then-17-year-old got several parts of the story incorrect. An autopsy said there was no definite evidence of sexual assault. Miskelley had said the older boys abducted the Scouts in the morning, when they had actually been in school all day.

Misskelley was tried separately, convicted of first- and second-degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison plus 40 years. He refused to testify against the others and his confession was not admitted into evidence.

Defense lawyers for Echols and Baldwin alleged juror misconduct, saying they heard about the Misskelley confession anyway. Attorneys also said there wasn’t enough physical evidence linking the three to the crime scene.

The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld Echols’ conviction and death sentence in 1996, saying there was still enough other evidence to sustain it.

A 1996 HBO documentary, “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” drew the attention of celebrities including Vedder and Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks. They and other celebrities helped fund a legal team that worked to win the three a new trial.

“Why are they innocent?” Vedder said in an interview with The Associated Press last year. “Because there’s nothing that says they’re guilty.”

Last fall, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new hearing for the three and asked a judge to consider allegations of juror misconduct and whether new DNA science could aid the men or uphold the convictions.

In upholding Echols’ conviction in 1996, the state Supreme Court noted that two people testified Echols bragged about the killings, an eyewitness put Echols at the scene, fibers similar to the boys’ clothing were found in Echols’ home, a knife was found in a pond behind Baldwin’s home, Echols’ interest in the occult and his telling police that he understood the boys had been mutilated before officers had released such details.

Yancy goes negative

August 18th, 2011 Comments off

Lee Yancy has gone away from his good-old-boy TV ads and has gone into attack mode … Let’s see how that works out for him.

Hardwick offers some Facebook drawbacks

August 15th, 2011 Comments off

In his usual great blog, Phil Hardwick offers some enlightening information about Facebook, which can bee seen here.

Blues Trail iPhone app is really cool; plus blues fans will love it

August 12th, 2011 Comments off

In a crazy, kind-of, cosmic way, the stars allied for me yesterday in way that would cause my wife to say, “You really are a nerd, aren’t you?”

Following the Creative Economy Summit this week at the Jackson Convention Center, I learned that the Mississippi Blues Trail mobile app is now available for download.

And it’s free.

Well, hell. You can’t beat that.

As a confessed iPhone and iPad app junkie, I was pretty happy. Combine that with a real love of the Blues, and I was in hog heaven.

It took me exactly 12 seconds to find the app and begin downloading. From there, I was pretty much worthless the rest of the day.

I spent parts of the rest of the day scrolling through the names, the maps and watching the videos that are part of the app.

The main menu consists of six main buttons:

Map — Powered by Google Maps, users can see the location of every marker and zoom in to a specific site; when they click on any marker icon, it will take them to the individual page about that marker.

Timeline — By scrolling and expanding, users can see which artists were contemporaries and what historical events were happening that were associated with blues music.

Markers — By following this link, users get several options: first an alphabetical list of markers appears; then buttons at the top of that page allow users to sort by distance from their location. This is especially helpful to travelers who want to locate nearby markers. After users go to a specific marker link, they have the option to add it to their itinerary. Each marker page includes the address of the site, the main text from the front and back of the marker and photos. There are also direct links to the iTunes store, so users can listen to a preview of an artist’s song and then purchase and download the music on the spot.

Itinerary — After markers are added to the itinerary, this page allows users to see the route that has been mapped for them, including turn-by-turn directions to each site.

People — This button shows individuals who are mentioned on markers and links back to the pages they are associated with.

Videos — Users can view a 4 ½-minute introduction video about the Mississippi Blues Trail and several videos for specific markers around the state.

All of that and it’s free.

According to the press release from the MDA, funding for the development project was provided by a grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division. Greenwood, Miss.-based Hammons and Associates acts as project manager for the Mississippi Blues Trail and partnered with Starkville -based Concept House in development.

So, here I go, looking for Howlin’ Wolf, my favorite bluesman. I scroll down and there he is, and with a click, there are album covers, followed by trail markers that are associated with him, of which there were 16 (gotta be a record, but don’t go checking behind me).

Then I clicked on the markers section and — hailing from Cleveland —  began to look for the marker in Dockery, between Cleveland and Ruleville on Mississippi 8. And sure enough, under Birthplace of the Blues, there it was. It detailed the Dockery Farms location as “one of the primal centers for the music in Mississippi.”

The intermittent home of the great Charlie Patton, Dockery was a place of great interest to me as a kid, and still is.

I say all of that to say that whether you are a big blues fan or not, it is a super cool app.

Get it, download it today — right now.

Did I mention that it is free.

However, it is currently available only for iPhones, which is OK since I have an iPhone.

Right out of ‘Swamp People': Greenville gator nabbed

August 11th, 2011 Comments off

An 11-foot American Alligator was captured on the streets of Greenville …

11-foot ‘gator nabbed prowling Greenville streets

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi wildlife department sergeant and six others caught an 11-foot-alligator prowling the streets of Greenville.

Master Sgt. Hugh Johnson told The Delta Democrat-Times (http://bit.ly/ntYfBM) that a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy spotted the alligator while patrolling Wednesday morning.

The alligator was to be released at the Pearl River Wildlife Management area in Madison County.

“He’s a reminder that where there is one, there are others. This must be taken very seriously. They can hurt you,” said Johnson, who was bitten on his right thumb earlier this year by one of the reptiles.

“These animals are hungry,” said Johnson. “They will eat anything that gets in their way.”

Johnson advised residents not to feed alligators and to call authorities if they spot one.

“I can’t emphasize enough on how important it is to call someone if they spot one of these things,” he said. “They are very dangerous.”

Mississippi State, Ole Miss ready for Aggie invasion

August 11th, 2011 Comments off

An image released by the University of Mississippi shows a proposed expansion to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. The university has announced plans to raise $150 million to build a new on-campus basketball arena and upgrade the football stadium. The first phase of the program would build a 10,000-seat basketball arena to replace Tad Smith Coliseum, a cramped facility that was built in 1966 and holds slightly more than 9,000 fans. It would also include renovating the concourse and premium seating in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

On the eve of college football taking center stage across the South, folks here in Mississippi appear on the verge of having a new team (maybe two) to pay attention to on a regular basis.
In a story that flamed up quickly last week, Ole Miss and Mississippi State could add Texas A&M to its Southeastern Conference Western Division permanent schedule as soon as next season.
The Aggies to the SEC, according to reports in multiple newspapers, appears to be picking up steam less than a month before the new, restructured Big 12 plays its first season.
Having said that, don’t expect the SEC to add the Aggies without throwing in one more to make scheduling easier. An SEC with 13 teams isn’t as tidy as one with 14. So, if A&M is brought into the fold, look for a school like Missouri to make the move, too.
I think a 16-team SEC is where the league is headed with Florida State and Clemson likely contenders to come into the league.
Mississippi State and Ole Miss look like they have been gearing up  for any potential moves.
Just last week, Ole Miss officials announced a $150 million fund raising campaign, along with plans to replace the university’s basketball facility and improve Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The University said $100 million from premium seating charges in both venues and $50 million from philanthropic donations.
In addition to the new basketball facility and football stadium improvements, plans call for creation of a Hall of Fame to showcase Ole Miss Athletics history.
Meanwhile, MSU has been working on a plan, raising funds, for expansion of Davis-Wade Stadium by 5,000 to 7,000 seats at a potential cost of $100 million.

A rendering of what Davis-Wade Stadium at Mississippi State will look like when expansion is complete.on.

A football-specific facility, which would house offices and more, would be part of the deals as would upgrades to MSU’s outdoor practice fields.
Completion could be ready in the next couple of years.
For now, it appears Mississippi’s two SEC schools are finanacially prepared to take on the added challenge of  Texas A&M and whoever else comes calling in a new-look super league.
The question left is how quickly all of this could happen.
Some reports show a deal between A&M and the SEC as imminent with the Aggies coming on board for the 2012 football season. Other reports show the deal making A&M ready for 2013.
Either way, money talks and the SEC is rarely on the short end of the stick. Landing A&M would mean millions in TV money for the league and ultimately billions if it lures the likes of FSU and Clemson down the road.
I’d be willing to bet my lunch money Georgia Tech and Tulane wish they had never left the league way back when.

How is Jefferson just now being put on administrative leave?

August 5th, 2011 Comments off

A.J. Jefferson was placed on administrative leave this week, following her arrest … You can read the complete story here …

My question is … how did it take three years for the South Delta Regional Housing Authority Board allow Jefferson to stay on the job after the story below ran in the Delta Democrat Times?

Maybe now is the time to investigate the board to find out how it could allow these actions to go on after they had been unveiled by the local media.

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Housing authority director’s tactics questioned by community, homeowners

By JOSHUA HOWAT BERGER joshberger@ddtonline.com | 8 comments

LELAND – It’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday and a hundred-plus homeowners are gathered at the Leland headquarters of South Delta Regional Housing Authority.

South Delta’s executive director, Ann “A.J.” Jefferson, is pacing the floor with authority. She is dressed in short jeans and a black jersey with a purple number 19 on the front. Jefferson is a big woman, with a big afro and big, tinted glasses, and she has a way of filling the room when she speaks.

“You all gotta help us maintain your community,” Jefferson is telling the assembled homeowners. “That’s why you’re here today. You know, it’s not about no one person. It’s not about South Delta. It’s not about you. It’s about all of the Delta community.”

A sense of community, however, does not seem to be what’s brought most of these homeowners here this rainy Saturday morning.

The homeowners have been summoned by letter for a meeting about maintaining their property. They are participants in a South Delta program that helps low-income families in the six counties South Delta serves – Bolivar, Humphreys, Issaquena, Sharkey, Sunflower and Washington – buy their own houses.

It’s a long drive to Leland for many of them, and from the anxiety with which they gather at the sign-in sheet, it’s clear why they’ve made the trip: The penultimate sentence of the letter they received reads, “Anyone not attending will be fined.”

That threat, it turns out, will be the first of several.

During the meeting, South Delta staff member Angela Brady tells the homeowners she’ll be inspecting their property inside and out. If she finds any unresolved problems, she says, South Delta will fix them – and then send the homeowner the bill.

Jefferson takes it one step further, threatening to kick out homeowners who don’t meet South Delta’s maintenance standards.

But what gets to the woman near the front of the room is Jefferson’s call for the homeowners to maintain not only their own property, but their entire neighborhood.

As Jefferson delivers her talk on community to the neatly arranged rows of residents, the woman near the front ventures a thought.

“Ma’am,” she says, “I don’t think that’s fair, really. Because I keep my property up. She keeps her property up. But the people down the street don’t keep their property up. … That’s not my responsibility.”

“You have to make a decision on how and what way you want your community,” Jefferson tells her. “If paper and stuff is being put in my community, I go down the street and I clean up.”

“You do?” the woman asks.

“Yes, I do,” Jefferson says.

“Then come on down and clean up my property,” the woman says.

The moment is indicative of the resistance Jefferson has encountered as she works to revitalize South Delta. Jefferson took the executive director job in September 2006, and has turned heads in recent months as she’s charted an ambitious new course for the agency.

South Delta Regional Housing Authority is a government entity created in 1976. It was established under the state’s public housing statute, and receives funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The agency has always had a bold mission: to provide decent, affordable housing to anyone in the region who needs it. Jefferson, a 25-year veteran of the public housing world, has a bolder mission still: to do away with public housing projects that concentrate and isolate poverty, and instead give poor people a chance to live anywhere they choose.

Few would dispute the desperate need for quality affordable housing in the Delta. And few would dispute the importance of eradicating the crime-ridden ghettoes to which the region’s poor are often confined.

Yet Jefferson has been a source of controversy in recent months as South Delta has begun moving into wealthier neighborhoods and demanding more things of its residents.

As South Delta has upset some new neighbors and leveled threats at some long-time clients, many in the region have begun questioning the scope of the agency’s mandate.

The scrutiny has led to allegations that Jefferson has abused her position both to intimidate those who challenge her and to profit inappropriately from her job.

It has also raised concerns about the propriety and the legality of some of South Delta’s recent work.

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The tension between South Delta and the Leland Historic Preservation Commission had been building for several weeks before the commission’s July 21 meeting – though many of those involved would only realize this in retrospect.

Both sides seem to agree that there were two sources of friction.

The first dispute was over South Delta’s obligation – or, A.J. Jefferson maintained at the time, the absence thereof – to follow the city’s ordinance on preserving the historic district.

The second dispute arose from a letter written to a member of South Delta’s board by historic district resident Kenneth West, the dismayed neighbor of a property recently purchased by South Delta.

The March 2000 ordinance that created the preservation commission requires property owners in the historic district – which comprises downtown Leland and the area along Deer Creek – to get a “certificate of appropriateness” from the commission before changing exterior features such as building facades or landscaping.

Hebe Splane, the chair of the commission, says she told Jefferson about the ordinance after South Delta violated it – apparently unintentionally – by cutting some trees at one of its new properties, 205 N. Deer Creek Drive W.

Nevertheless, according to Splane, South Delta then proceeded to cut more trees at another of its properties, 201 N. Deer Creek Drive W., without seeking the commission’s approval. Technically, this offense is punishable by a misdemeanor conviction, a $1,000 fine and a three-year moratorium on further work at the property.

(Jefferson didn’t respond to questions from the Delta Democrat Times about the accuracy of Splane’s account.)

Around the same time, Jefferson became aware of a letter from West to Howard Sanders, the Washington County appointee to the board that oversees South Delta.

West’s letter expressed his belief that South Delta’s purchases in the historic district violated the preservation ordinance and would have a detrimental effect on property values.

Jefferson penned an outraged response, which she had South Delta employees hand-deliver to the members of the preservation commission. Jefferson says she believed at the time that West was a member of the commission. (For the record, he is not.)

“You would think that in 2008, people have learned the lessons of Mississippi’s horrid past,” Jefferson wrote in her reply.

“The letter is direct and not subtle in its attack on the very core of the goals and mandate of SDRHA to provide affordable and first class housing for the clients that it serves,” Jefferson continued. “It is not a mandate that perpetuates the age old stereotypes those less fortunate should be constricted to marginal housing.”

These disputes, with their weeks of buildup, finally unwound in a flurry of words at the July 21 commission meeting.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Jefferson interrupted the proceedings and accused the commissioners of racism and bigotry. As Splane tried to correct the misimpression that West was a member of the commission, and to explain that nothing in the preservation ordinance prevented South Delta from buying property in the historic district, Jefferson said she refused to let the commissioners demean her.

“Do not interfere with our contractors,” she concluded. “That is a violation of federal law.”

As the minutes describe it, Jefferson then stormed out of the meeting with an entourage of South Delta employees behind her.

“I was just so astonished,” says Commissioner Daryl Lewis. “She just barreled right through. She didn’t let anyone get a word in edgewise.

“We were fully prepared to work with her,” he added.

“I almost don’t know what to say,” says Splane. “We didn’t have any idea that there was a problem.”

After a separate meeting between Jefferson, Splane and Mayor Barbara Brooks, a self-described ally of South Delta, Jefferson agreed to follow the rules of the historic district.

But at another public meeting last week – this time at South Delta headquarters – Jefferson again lost her temper after Splane told her the historic commission had investigated the effect of low-income housing on property values.

As Splane tried to share the results of that investigation with Jefferson – the commission had found a study concluding that low-income housing does not have a significant effect on property values – Jefferson railed against what she called the inherent racism of the question.

“Just because a person makes less than somebody else doesn’t mean they’re worth less,” Jefferson said.

Then she left the meeting, again.

“OK, I’m done,” she said. “Meeting’s over with. I’m getting upset.”

“This is racism, pure and simple,” she said later in an interview. “You can’t judge a person based on whether they’re poor or rich.”

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When the homeowners’ meeting is over, the attendees trickle outside into the rain.

Many of them don’t sound happy about what they’ve just heard.

“That was stupid,” one woman says. “They forgot about those grants they mentioned last time. … Everybody was supposed to get a grant to fix their houses up.”

Another woman looks at the maintenance clause in her deed and says she knows she’s responsible for keeping her house up.

But demanding her presence at a Saturday morning meeting and threatening her with a fine is another matter, she says.

“They don’t have that authority,” she says. “I don’t appreciate them talking to me no kind of way.”

The participants in South Delta’s homebuyer assistance program are, for the most part, like any other homeowners. They hold the deeds to their houses. They are the registered owners at the tax assessor’s office. They pay their property taxes. They have homeowners’ insurance. And they signed off on a maintenance clause essentially identical to that in any residential mortgage.

The difference is that they have bought their homes from a government-run housing authority. Instead of making loan payments to a bank each month, they write their mortgage checks to South Delta.

The interest rate on new contracts is currently about 5 percent, with a down payment of about $2,500.

According to Jefferson, this deal means South Delta homeowners have a special set of obligations – especially since South Delta is trying to expand the program to neighborhoods such as Deer Creek.

“We hold the mortgage to this property, and you gotta keep it up. Simple as that,” she says. “If we don’t do this – make sure they take care of their property – then people like Hebe (Splane) is gonna win.”

This is the core of Jefferson’s mission. To realize her vision of fully integrated neighborhoods – where poor blacks are no longer ghettoized in decrepit public housing projects, and rich whites no longer the exclusive proprietors of beautiful homes on Deer Creek – Jefferson believes she must overcome perceived adversaries such as the Leland Historic Preservation Commission with the sheer power of community she sees in the South Delta homeowners.

It’s not a vision shared by everyone. South Delta is currently being sued by at least one participant in the homebuyer assistance program over a dispute related to South Delta’s interpretation of the maintenance clause. And a growing number of community members who aren’t South Delta clients have begun questioning how much South Delta’s recent property purchases will really improve the community.

Because South Delta does not pay property taxes, some residents worry its current buying spree will diminish municipal budgets. At its discretion, South Delta can make “payments in lieu of taxes” to city coffers.

But South Delta board members say those payments don’t usually equal the reduction in tax revenue.

Records at the Washington County chancery clerk’s office currently show 23 properties registered to South Delta that have been purchased since October 2007 – in effect, taken off the tax rolls.

That’s in addition to the 20 properties that the agency already owned in the county.

The figures may turn out to be even higher. Jefferson says South Delta has started using “fronts” to buy property so that sellers will agree to a fair price.

“People jack up the price if they know you’ve got federal money,” she says.

Jefferson refuses to disclose how many properties South Delta plans to buy in the coming year, again citing the problem of sellers raising the price.

The Delta Democrat Times requested information about South Delta’s budget and operations, and its five most recent fiscal year audits – which South Delta has told HUD are available for public review.

Jefferson referred the request to South Delta’s attorney, Paul Mathis. Mathis did not respond.

According to the Web site fedspending.org, South Delta received $6.4 million for Section 8 housing programs in fiscal year 2007. Jefferson says South Delta uses rents from Section 8 tenants to buy new properties and rehabilitate them.

Beyond that, she has declined to discuss South Delta’s operations.

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When Jefferson moved to Leland from St. Louis, she bought a house on Deer Creek Drive, taking out a loan from Bank of America for $118,750, the chancery clerk’s records show.

Jefferson then got approval from South Delta’s board to move into a South Delta-owned house. She sold her home at 203 N. Deer Creek Drive W. to South Delta and moved to another South Delta property on Feltus Boulevard.

Of all the concerns that have been raised over Jefferson’s leadership of South Delta, perhaps the most serious of all arise from allegations that she has made inappropriate personal use of the agency’s resources.

Some have questioned whether Jefferson should have sold her house to South Delta.

They have also questioned whether she should be living in a house owned by the agency, and on which it pays no property tax.

Jefferson did not respond to inquiries about her salary. But in 2004 – the last year for which records were available through channels other than South Delta (the agency used to have a non-profit arm whose tax returns are public) – South Delta’s executive director earned $108,502.

That is well above the income bracket public housing programs typically target.

South Delta board members say they feel the arrangement is appropriate. But Bolivar County appointee Robert Gray acknowledges the agency has a lack of available housing.

“I can’t say that there’s enough to go around,” he says.

Board members did not approve of another perk that Jefferson has allegedly allowed herself: use of South Delta employees to do maintenance work at her home.

Earl Lewis lives near Jefferson’s old house on Deer Creek Drive. He says three or four truckloads of maintenance workers used to arrive in South Delta trucks to do yard work and other chores at Jefferson’s house.

“They did yard work, poured concrete, put in air conditioners, painted it inside. They even done the flower beds,” he says. “That was going on all the time.”

Other neighbors at both her new and old houses tell similar stories.

“I’d see them when I’d leave in the morning, and when I’d come back in the evening they’d still be there,” one man said. “And when I came home for my lunch hour, they were there then, too.

“And it wasn’t just a few days,” he added. “It was for extended periods of time.”

Jefferson did not respond to questions about her personal real estate transactions with South Delta.

Nor did she respond to the allegations that she improperly used South Delta workers to maintain her house.

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Despite the controversy that has surrounded her tenure at South Delta, Jefferson says she feels the large majority of the region’s residents support her mission.

As for the rest, she says she’s a fighter, with a mission that’s worth fighting for.

“We’re gonna have some people that disagree with us,” she says. “But we’re not gonna stop because of how they feel.

“We know we’re gonna run into obstacles with some of them. But we’re not gonna let that stop us.”