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Save our kids — Government overstepping its bounds?

February 20th, 2012 Comments off

Government is too involved in our everyday lives. That’s the popular mantra for this political season.

Yet, every time we turn around, there is another bill that finds a way to get involved in our everyday lives.

This week, it’s a bill that would educate youth sports leaders and participants about concussions and would make it illegal for coaches to send players back on the field after suffering one.

It is a great idea. Everyone is against kids having concussions.

It’s still a bill that finds a way to get involved in our everyday lives. So, is it OK for government to have more regulation or isn’t it?

Who is going to oversee whether a high school football coach, who makes less than $50,000 a year, as to whether he makes the correct evaluation?

Is Mississippi going to fund the extra medical staff at every high school sporting event — from football to futbol — to make sure we give accurate assessments?

Again, everyone is for kids not being forced to play sports with concussions, but I am not sure Mississippi’s legislature needs to step in to make that happen.

Having covered sports for a large part of my career, it is my opinion that the vast majority of coaches go out of their way to make sure kids remain healthy. The only thing this bill would do is to act as a deterrent for good, quality people to get into the coaching profession. Considering the hours involved and the money offered, it’s particularly difficult now.

Maybe the Mississippi legislature could offer a bill requiring a certain amount of people to be high school athletics coaches.

Bryant forges ahead on healthcare city

November 23rd, 2011 Comments off

You have to give Gov.-elect Phil Bryant credit.

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant

He is jumping in with both feet to work on campaign promises.

>> Read more about healthcare in Mississippi

Bryant is set to lead a trip to Houston, Texas, to tour Texas Medical Center on Nov. 29-30.

Bryant, who will become governor in January, will be joined by Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads and some health care providers and business leaders.

Texas Medical Center consists of 49 institutions and is recognized as the largest medical center in the world. TMC has 162 buildings on its main campus, nearly 7,000 patient beds, over 90,000 employees, and 71,500 students.

Bryant has proposed creating a hospital city in Jackson, and the Texas Medical Center is a great place to emulate.

We hope that Bryant is able to find the same type of money from the private sector that Texas has been able to collect over the last 50 years.

A friend of mine in the fund-raising business for hospitals says that finding people to give huge amounts of money for healthcare these days is difficult.

Having said that, we applaud Bryant’s efforts.

Of course, one of the things Bryant could do immediately would be to ramp up the discussion on prevention and education.

We harken back to the recent story, “Life Expectancy Falling in 561 Rural Counties” by Bill Bishop that documents the fact that life expectancy is declining in more rural areas than urban ones. Read it. The first thing, though, that pops out is that 14 of the top (uh, worst) 50 counties in America with the shortest life expectancies are in Mississippi, including the top (worst) seven.

Then, there was the report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that highlighted Mississippi and Alabama as the only two states, which continue to apply their sales tax fully to food purchased for home consumption without providing any offsetting relief for low- and moderate-income families.

Gosh, if Mississippians were able to purchase more healthy foods, maybe they wouldn’t have such short lifespans.

There’s more. Men’s Health magazine ranked Jackson No. 3 in the nation as part of its “Laziest City in America” series.

We definitely need a hospital city as well as lots of sidewalks leading up to it so we can exercise on the way to being treated for obesity and heart disease.

So, with one of the slowest growing economies in the nation because of poor education and health care, Bryant’s feeling that healthcare is a prime issue is refreshing.

Starting with the elimination of corn-based sodas from K-12 campuses could jump-start all of Bryant’s plans. We agree.

We also agree that his trip to Houston is productive and a step in the right direction.

FAT, LAZY AND STUPID: Mississippi’s 99 percenters just sit, smoke and squander opportunities

November 17th, 2011 2 comments

Reading the national reports of the Occupy protests has me conflicted as I walk in and out of the offices of the Mississippi Business Journal in downtown Jackson.

The national reports conjure up heady folks making an impact on the world as they take on economic inequality and corporate irresponsibility.

Even if, nationally, the scruffy group has been prone to violence, defied police and shown evidence of drug use while camping in public parks across the country — there has been a sense of urgency in the message that is being delivered.

In Mississippi — Smith Park in downtown Jackson, in particular — there is little sense of urgency or sense of purpose.

In interviews we have done with the group, the talking points are all generic and don’t have any specifics that would lead one to believe the Mississippi group is doing anything other than taking up space in a public park.

On the national level, experts say the public supports the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement even if people have reservations about the encampments themselves. And political observers say Democrats may be missing a chance to reinvigorate their base.

In Mississippi, however, there are people protesting for the sake of protesting.

They sit around much of the day smoking, eating and sitting.

Every once in a while, you will hear five minutes of chanting during the lunch hour.

But largely, the Occupy protesters of Mississippi are lazy — even to their own cause.

They have done nothing to educate Jackson’s business community, which walks past the group by the thousands daily. Yet Occupy Mississippi’s numbers generally aren’t enough for a pick-up flag football game in my back yard.

With Mississippi being a conservative state, to begin with, the Occupy team has its work cut out in making a convincing case to the people that see them sitting around every day. Then, to make little or no effort to engage and educate is unacceptable.

Not that I am looking for a giant demonstration, but if you are going to hang around, at least act like you care. Don’t just sit there like a baby bird waiting to get fed by its mother.

Compared to the Occupy protest around the country, Mississippi has got to rank last in zest and zeal. But maybe they think just “occupying” space is enough.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018

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Maybe debate should be the new football in Mississippi

November 8th, 2011 Comments off

With news of Houston Nutt losing his job as the football coach at Ole Miss, there has been renewed talk that too much money is spent on high school and college athletics.

As a huge sports fan, it’s hard for me to totally jump on that bandwagon, but it is hard to justify raising millions for college athletics when there are so many academic classes falling by the wayside because it is politically unpopular to spend money on academics.

Having said that, there is one high school activity that has a 100 percent positive impact on students and their schools as well as having a lifelong impact for the students.

That is high school debating.

Debate has nothing to do with the number of 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebackers a school may have walking the halls who may run a 4.5-second, 40-yard dash.

The fact of the matter is that smaller schools can do well if there is a higher standard of academic excellence required.

Every reason we send our children to school in the first place is what the art of debate teaches. It is what we hope is being taught in all of the classrooms.

In fact, the success of a school’s debate team, it could be argued, could be the singular measuring stick of the success of the school.

A debate team, as well as every student within a school, should be learning analytical skills. The ability to critically analyze a problem and propose workable solutions is invaluable. This is a skill that debate best teaches and high-level business people and professionals possess.

A debate team, as well as every student, should be learning research skills. From traditional library research to the Internet, debate teaches you to become a world-class researcher. Ask any college student, and they’ll tell you how valuable this is.

A debate team, as well as every student, should be learning listening and note-taking skills. Debate requires that you become a careful listener and good note taker. This helps students get better grades and learn faster.

Many of this nation’s top lawyers, business executives, doctors, engineers, and elected leaders were involved in high school debate, and for good reason. Simply put, debate-related skills help one get ahead and stay there. The power to persuade is highly respected and there is no better way to master this art than through debate.

After a recent debate competition, at least for 2011, it would appear that Hattiesburg High School, Oak Grove High School and Pascagoula High School have the most well-prepared students in Mississippi. And this was not an event just for public institutions. Even highly-regarded academic schools like St. Andrew’s and Jackson Prep were a part of the tournament.

So, cheers to the Hattiesburgs, Oak Groves and Pascagoulas of the world, who are offering a well-rounded education to their student population.

Where will our rank be after the next four years?

September 15th, 2011 1 comment

Bob Barker

Taking a page from the “Price is Right” game show, maybe the Oct. 14 gubernatorial debate at The Mississippi College School of Law should be named “The Rank is Right.”
When gubernatorial candidates Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Hattiesburg Democratic Mayor Johnny DuPree square off in Jackson, the scheduled 90-minute, made-for-TV event could be boiled down to three questions.
>> Mississippi is currently ranked 50th in the country in healthcare. Where will it be after your four years (then eight years) in office?
>> Mississippi is currently ranked 50th in the country in education. Where will it be after your four years (then eight years) in office?
>> Mississippi is currently ranked 50th in the country in per capita personal income. Where will it be after your four years (then eight years) in office?
No double talk. No long-winded, heart-tugging stories about children or old people or family values or Tea Party economics.
We just want short answers.
Responses should be no more than two numbers.
When asked the question, we will be looking for a response like, “42” or “35” or “27”.
It will be easy to keep score at a debate like this. Plus, after four years, there will be no doubt whether Candidate A or Candidate B has been successful during his time in office.
Maybe Bob Barker or Drew Carey could moderate.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018

Bynum will be remembered for great, thought-provoking work

September 4th, 2011 1 comment

News that former Mississippi Business Journal editor and co-owner Buddy Bynum passed away this weekend is dispiriting for our newsroom. Bynum has long been held as the best and most thoughtful editor the paper has had in in its 30-plus year history.

James L. "Buddy" Bynum was editor of the Mississippi Business Journal from 1993-1997.

As the new editor of the MBJ three years ago, I began to go through old copies of the publication to see what had been done in the past. It didn’t take long to figure out that trying to match the writing and thought-provoking work of Bynum was going to be a work in vain.

He was the straw that stirred the drink, and if there was anyone that helped put the MBJ on the map, it was, without doubt, Buddy Bynum.

Bynum was with the MBJ from 1993-1997 and then served as the editor of his hometown paper — The Meridian Star — from 2000-2005. He also served as an aide to Gov. Haley Barbour and former Sen. Trent Lott.

There will be many great moments in the years to come at the Mississippi Business Journal, but the memory of Bynum will serve as a great reminder of what every journalist that walks through these doors must live up to in the future.

We will all miss Buddy immensely.

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 …

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.

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.

xxxxxxx

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.”

xxxxxxxx

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.”