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Archive for October, 2010

Will Ross be paid during his leave? Nobody seems to know

October 29th, 2010 1 comment

Scott Ross — College Board president, West Point mayor and practicing attorney — is taking a leave of absence from his mayor’s post, according to Columbus TV station WCBI.

Magnolia Marketplace first heard about this yesterday at Hobnob. Since yesterday around noon, multiple voicemails we left on Ross’ cell phone and messages we left at his office have gone unreturned. The messages at his office going unreturned makes sense now that we know about the leave of absence. The cell phone messages being ignored? Baffling.

So with no response from Ross, we called West Point City Hall this morning with the intention of finding out if Ross would continue to draw a check from the City of West Point while  he’s on leave, the details of which and reasons behind have not been explained by anybody.

The first person from City Hall we got on the phone was Rod Bobo, West Point’s Ward 1 selectman.

“I have no idea,” he responded when we asked him if Ross would be paid while he takes leave.

The next person we talked to was a very nice lady from the city clerk’s office. She didn’t know either. She did put us in touch with Orlando Richmond, an attorney who represents the city. Richmond was also very nice.

“I have not explored that issue,” Richmond answered when we asked him the pay question. “There are obviously a number of questions surrounding (Ross taking leave), and that’s one of them.”

Richmond hopes to have the pay issue resolved next week.

“There will be times when the mayor is unavailable,” Richmond said. “His absence for periods of time does not affect the function of city government. Leave for any official is not unusual. Because we don’t have a time frame (for how long Ross’ leave will last), I’m not at all suggesting that there would be any lapse in pay.”

So here’s what we know: Ross is taking a leave of absence from one of his two day jobs.

Here’s what we don’t know: Why is he taking leave? How long will he take it? Will West Point pay him while he takes it? And how is this going to affect his work for the College Board?

Ross needs to answer those questions.

Has KiOR reached a purchase agreement for its product? (Update)

October 26th, 2010 2 comments

Bluefire Renewables Inc., the California-based biofuel company that is building a facility in Fulton, has reached three major milestones recently.

The company has reached a feedstock agreement that will ensure it has the biomass it needs to produce ethanol, it has found a buyer for the ethanol, and it has let the contract to actually construct its facility.

Another biofuel company that plans to build in Mississippi, KiOR, will not receive any of the $75 million in benefits the Legislature approved for it in late summer until KiOR has reached a purchase agreement with an oil company (or companies) to buy the renewable crude oil and refine it.

KiOR CEO Fred Cannon said in late August that he and his team were “in final negotiations” with a buyer. With that in mind, Magnolia Marketplace has been trying since Monday morning to find out if an agreement has been finalized; and if not, how close one is to becoming finalized. Calls and emails to a KiOR spokesperson have not yet been returned. Gov. Haley Barbour’s spokesman Dan Turner was not exactly sure one way or the other. We’re currently awaiting a response from the Mississippi Development Authority.

It would seem nothing can move on this project until KiOR has found somebody to buy and refine the re-crude it plans to produce from timber. The bulk of the state money approved for the project will go toward construction costs and the equipment that will stock it.

So has a purchase agreement been reached? It’s not a hard question. When we get an answer, we’ll let you know.

UPDATE: A KiOR spokesperson just emailed Magnolia Marketplace and said there had been no off-take agreement reached, and that discussions between the company and potential buyers remain ongoing.

No firm timetable exists for executing a deal, but it’s our guess that they’d like to get one done as soon as possible.

Barbour to miss Hobnob

October 22nd, 2010 No comments

The Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob is next Thursday. Hundreds of business leaders and politicians will be there.

Gov. Haley Barbour will not.

According to Dan Turner, Barbour’s press secretary, the governor will spend that day in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania campaigning for GOP candidates before Nov. 2′s midterm elections. Barbour will be one part of a large contingent of Republican leadership who will embark on a last-minute blitz that starts Tuesday and ends Saturday.

“He’s not real excited about missing it,” Turner said of Barbour’s absence. “That’s his element.”

Scott Waller, senior VP for public affairs at the MEC, said this is the second Hobnob Barbour will miss, the first coming in 2005 in the aftermath of Katrina, when Barbour was in Washington and addressed the crowd via satellite uplink.

There’s a good reason Barbour has been at all the others. It’s the largest gathering of the business and political community of the year. Lots of people with lots of money who give that money to political campaigns of every stripe are always there. If you run for office at any level in Mississippi, it’s a can’t-miss.

Granted, Barbour isn’t running for office, at least not officially and at least not one in which only Mississippi voters can participate. And his position as chairman of the Republican Governors Association requires him to campaign nationally (though he would probably do that anyway) and we doubt anybody is all that offended that he won’t be there next Thursday. He will address the crowd via video.

But Barbour is still the governor of Mississippi. Helping our state recover from Katrina is a perfectly good reason for missing Hobnob. Pitching voters in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania is not. Barbour should have made time.

Corollas not on Toyota’s latest recall list

October 21st, 2010 4 comments

A lot of folks lost a lot when that oil well in the Gulf of Mexico started gushing.

If there were a winner, it was Toyota. Just before the well blew Toyota was the hottest news around, and it wasn’t because everybody liked Camrys.

Rather, the company was being excoriated by consumers, industry analysts, even Congress for what was considered its less-than-ideal response to a wave of problems with its vehicles, most of them to do with sudden unintended acceleration. So when the Gulf started filling with oil, Toyota’s PR nightmare was replaced with BP’s.

Toyota recall news returned today, when the company announced that it was issuing recalls for several of its Lexus models and its Avalon because of problems with their brake fluid and fuel pumps. Nearly 750,000 cars in the U.S. and 600,000 in Japan are affected.

The good news: The Corolla, the compact sedan Blue Springs workers will begin producing next year, is not on the list. The bad news: This latest recall brings to 10 million the total number of vehicles Toyota has recalled in the past year, including 1.33 million Corollas in August due to concerns over their engines stalling.

This could be an illustration of Toyota being overly cautious. Or it could be a legitimate recall. Either way, Toyota seems determined not to let this recall issue eat it up like it did last spring.

Natchez rec funding hits a snag

October 18th, 2010 5 comments

Two weeks ago, we wrote a story that took a look at a few Mississippi towns that were either making plans or had firmed up plans to build multi-use recreational complexes.

Natchez was one of them, and there is news to pass along.

The Natchez-Adams Recreation Commission had gotten financial commitments from the city, county and the school board to help fund the planning costs of the complex. Each entity had promised to give $11,000 toward the effort.

The city and the county money encountered no trouble on its way to the Recreation Commission’s bank account. The school board’s cash has.

State law does not allow for a school board to spend money outside of its school district. Apparently, the site of the recreation complex sits outside of the Natchez-Adams School District’s lines. But there is a provision in that statute that allows school boards to provide for and regulate athletic activities. The school board is currently seeking an AG’s opinion on whether the recreation complex meets that definition.

Recreation Commission chairman Tate Hodby, who we spoke to for the story we wrote, told the school board in a letter that the Commission would have no problem designating the board’s $11,000 for improvements in facilities and  equipment within the district’s boundaries. So while it doesn’t seem that the funding is in serious jeopardy, this is an issue that will have to be cleared up before any money exchanges hands.

Staying in Natchez, this week’s MBJ includes a story about Chandler Russ, who is leaving the MDA to take the director’s job of Natchez Inc., the new economic development agency for Natchez and Adams County. The old Natchez-Adams Economic Development Authority had a rough couple years before it was finally dissolved. The Adams County Board of Supervisors pulled its funding in March 2009, right in the middle of the fiscal year, before restoring it after an AG’s opinion ruled that it was illegal to pull an agency’s funding before the end of a fiscal year.

Now comes news from Booneville, where city officials voted to stop funding the Booneville Area Chamber of Commerce for the 2010-2011 budget year. The city was contributing $3,780 per month to the Chamber. The city will provide free office space and utilities to the Chamber.

A lot of chambers and economic development agencies across the state are having to rely more than they’d like on private money, as the recession squeezes city and county budgets. Most experts in the field agree that public-private partnerships work best for funding and operating chambers and EDAs. Looks like Booneville’s, for the time being at least, will have to lean heavily on the private side to survive.

Categories: Economic development, News Tags:

Barbour toots job-creation horn

October 14th, 2010 No comments

Most of the press releases that come out of Gov. Haley Barbour’s office have something to do with an event.

The governor’s holding a press conference. The governor’s filling an empty seat on a judicial bench. He’s making an appointment to a state agency. He’s setting the date for a special election.

If they aren’t announcing something, they usually contain a statement relevant to a recent event. Here lately, most of his comments have taken on a national tone, hitting on broad political themes.

But we’ve never seen one quite like the one that landed in Magnolia Marketplace’s inbox a few minutes ago. For one, at more than 900 words, it’s a lot longer than most. Second, it’s not really announcing anything. What it is doing is pointing out some of Barbour’s year-to-date economic development wins.

According to the release, more than 5,000 new jobs were created in the first three quarters of 2010 by state-assisted economic development projects. Mentioned are Will.Schulz GMBH — the German company that hopes to manufacture at its Tunica facility pipes for the natural gas industry — Lane Furniture’s expansion in Lee County and Southern Motion’s 200 new jobs in Pontotoc, among many others.

The 5,000 new jobs created with the state’s help in the first nine months of this year, says the release, are more than what were created in all of 2009. It also mentions, but does not give a figure, that job-creation has been spurred by projects that did not seek state assistance, financial or otherwise.

Every project listed in the release is old news. No ground is being broken, just re-tilled.

So what’s the point? Well, wouldn’t job-creation within his own state be a leg of any platform Barbour might use in a presidential campaign? Sure would. And it’s our guess that this won’t be the last press release of its kind that Barbour puts forth.

You can read the release in its entirety here.

Is the moratorium really over?

October 12th, 2010 No comments

Earlier today, the White House lifted the ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The moratorium, which was issued after the Deepwater Horizon’s Macondo Well started gushing April 21 in the Gulf of Mexico, was originally set to expire Nov. 30.

Two observations:

1. The Obama Administration was likely tired of the moratorium being an albatross around the neck of Democrats in the heat of midterm campaigns.

2. It likely will remain there.

Democrats and Republicans alike have already said the additional layer of safety rules and regulations attached to any new deepwater drilling are cumbersome. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, who has been holding up an Obama appointee in protest of the original ban, just issued a press release saying she will continue to do so while she monitors the speed with which drilling resumes.

Mississippi’s Third District Cong. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, said in his own statement that the “Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) does not presently have adequate resources to allow for the resumption of offshore drilling. The federal government must provide these resources to ensure an efficient approval process for companies wishing to resume operations. Unless these new regulations are diligently implemented, we still have a de facto moratorium putting more jobs at risk.”

Gov. Haley Barbour said he looked forward “to receiving the details” of the lifted ban.

There’s likely a political devil or two in them.

Engelbert kicks off voter ed campaign

October 11th, 2010 No comments

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann had one of the most memorable — and effective — political advertisements in recent Mississippi memory three years ago.

Hosemann sat on a park bench with a little old lady, who laid out his message, and called Hosemann Gilbert, Wilbert, Engbert, Philbert, and Engelbert, but never Delbert. It was one of the best political spots we’ve ever seen.

A lot of people think the commercial is more responsible than anything else for Hosemann’s victory. They’re probably right.

Dorothy, the little old lady in ad, is back. This time, she’s helping with Hosemann’s voter education campaign in advance of the Nov. 2 elections. Radio and television spots will soon begin airing statewide, and Dorothy’s celebrity will begin anew.

This Friday is also the first “Voter Fact Friday,” in which Hosemann will release tidbits related to common voter questions, such as absentee voting guidelines and precinct location issues.

Categories: Delbert Hosemann, Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Gov. candidates of one mind on eminent domain (Update)

October 6th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace is not finding much disagreement among the 2011 candidates for governor on the issue of employing eminent domain for private economic development.

Two of the three Republicans who are running support Farm Bureau’s efforts to put the issue on the ballot.

So do the two Democrats who hope to reach the Governor’s Mansion.

“As a businessman I strongly encourage economic development, but using eminent domain as a device to take privately owned land to transfer to developers is improper,” Bill Luckett, a Clarksdale attorney, said in a statement emailed to Magnolia Marketplace.

“Mississippians should be able to count on preserving their individual and personal rights against overbearing big government. (Farm Bureau’s) initiative protects private citizens from governmental abuse. Passing this initiative will greatly discourage government entities from taking one’s property for the sole purpose of making money.

“Unless property is taken truly for the good of the public, I do not believe in using confiscatory endeavors as a means of economic development.”

Luckett joins Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Gulfport businessman Dave Dennis in supporting the Farm Bureau petition.

“I tend to agree with them,” Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, a Democrat who will oppose Luckett in the primary, said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “It it is used for public use, I certainly support that.”

The other Republican in the race, Pearl River County Supervisor Hudson Holliday, has not returned a voicemail we left on his cell phone Tuesday afternoon. If and when he does, we’ll let you know his stance.

UPDATE : We just heard back from Holliday. He said he understands the principles behind employing eminent domain for private economic development. That doesn’t mean he agrees with them.

“It’s a slippery slope and something that can easily be abused,” Holliday said. Holliday added that he signed Farm Bureau’s petition. That makes two gubernatorial candidates — Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is the other — who have confirmed that they signed it.

So if you’re scoring at home, every candidate who has either unofficially or officially started pursuing the governor’s seat is in favor of restricting the use of eminent domain to projects that serve a direct public use — like roads, bridges and utilities — and eliminating the government’s power to take private property and give it to a private entity for development.

Burton hopes for quick, efficient redistricting

October 4th, 2010 No comments

Third District Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, took the podium for two minutes or so this morning at the monthly lunch meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps in Jackson.

He wasted no time in chiding his colleagues for leaving Washington and hitting the campaign trail without passing a budget.

“You have to wonder about the leadership abilities in place right now,” Harper said, noting that this is the first time since 1974 the House has not passed a budget before the start of the fiscal year. Harper also all but guaranteed that Republicans will reach a majority in the House with this year’s elections.

When Harper finished, State Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, chairman of the joint committee that will grapple with reapportionment and redistricting next year, spent about 15 minutes providing an update on where that stands.

Burton and other officials just wrapped up a series of 12 meetings across the state to gather public input on the redistricting process. They’ll take that and some Census estimates and begin the process of drawing Mississippi’s state and congressional districts.

Burton is optimistic that the process can and will be done on time, and will avoid some of the legal and political wrangling past efforts have encountered.

“We believe we need to get this done so we can avoid the conflict of running (in consecutive years),” Burton said. “Some of us have been through that and it’s not a very pleasant thing to go throught.” Burton was referring to the redistricting in 1991 and 1992, when the districts had to be redrawn in both of those years, forcing lawmakers to run for office twice.

Burton made it a point to say that he and his counterpart in the House, Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, enjoyed a good relationship and shared a desire to get the redistricting done as quickly as possible.

Considering all the requirements each of the districts has to meet, and all the special interest groups who are sure to take an interest in and try to influence the process, that may be wishful thinking.

Categories: Elections, Gregg Harper, News, Politics Tags: