Regulator: Day’s departure due to his withholding Kemper information

May 20th, 2013 5 comments

Mississippi Power Co. has made an abrupt change at the top.

Southern Co.’s board of directors voted Monday to name G. Edison “Ed” Holland the utility’s new leader. Holland replaces Ed Day, who has been president since 2010. Day has spent a total of 30 years with Southern Co.

The change will be effective immediately. Holland will be “responsible for the operations of Mississippi Power, including overseeing the continued construction of the Kemper County energy facility,” said a company press release.

Southern Co. gave no reason for Day’s departure, but it comes about a week after the Mississippi Public Service Commission learned that Day had ordered that documents containing details of when the utility knew about cost overruns at the Kemper County coal plant be withheld from regulators.

The PSC in April 2012 affirmed the project’s certificate of public convenience and necessity, after the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the original certificate – issued in 2010 – did not cite sufficient evidence from the record of proceedings.

In May 2012, Mississippi Power revealed that the Kemper facility would cost roughly $300 million more than it had originally estimated.

Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz, who counts as his constituents most of Mississippi Power’s 190,000 ratepayers, said in an interview Monday morning that regulators asked about a year ago for information that outlined when the company knew about the overrun, in response to it being revealed right after the PSC reaffirmed the project’s certificate.

Day, Bentz said, ordered that the information be withheld.

“My investigation revealed about a week ago that there was information not being given to us under the direction of Ed Day,” Bentz said. Bentz said regulators received the requested overrun information last week. He added that his office will continue to investigate the matter.

“We’re not done,” he said. “This is an absolutely ridiculous way of doing business. Corporations sometimes hide behind trying to protect the shareholders. If this is what that is, they live in a different society than what’s right. We were not fed and given the proper information. What does that do to the credibility of Mississippi Power moving forward?

“This is a culture that has kind of somewhat become acceptable in the corporate world, to put a spin on everything,” Bentz continued. “Talk straight and give me the truth. A spin is a lie to me. We are not done. We are going to protect the ratepayers. Ed Day’s departure is a direct result of us as regulators doing our jobs and protecting the ratepayers.”

Bentz said Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning “has done everything he said he would do” since becoming involved in the matter. “He deserves a lot of credit.”

The Kemper County coal plant is scheduled to begin production in May 2014. Mississippi Power last month revised the project’s cost estimate upward, bumping it to just over $3 billion. Per the terms of a settlement with the Mississippi Public Service Commission, the utility can charge ratepayers only for the first $2.4 billion in construction costs. Lawmakers approved in the session that ended in April up to $1 billion in bonding authority that would cover cost overruns. The bond falls outside PSC jurisdiction.

“They told us they could build this plant for $2.4 billion, and that’s what we expect them to do,” Bentz said.

U.S. Senate bill seeks to lower craft brewery excise tax

May 14th, 2013 1 comment

American Craft Beer Week has gotten a congressional boost.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is one of 18 bipartisan sponsors of legislation that would reduce the excise tax on brewers that make up to 6 million barrels of beer per year to $3.50 on the first 60,000 barrels and $16 on additional barrels under 2 million annually.

Small brewers, defined as those that brew fewer than 2 million barrels per year, pay $7 in excise taxes per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels annually.

Collins filed the bill Friday. Sponsors were not listed on the congressional website.

It could have an impact in Mississippi. Since the alcohol content in beer made and sold in the state was raised last year, a handful of breweries have started operation that would qualify for tax under the Small BREW Act.

An economic impact study by Dr. John Friedman at Harvard found the bill would generate $153 million in economic activity in the first year and almost $865 million over five years. It would create nearly 4,400 jobs in the first year.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House.

The small brewer threshold and tax rate were established in 1976 and have not been updated.  Since then, according to figures Collins supplied in a press release, the annual production of America’s largest brewery increased from 45 million barrels to 105 million barrels.

American Craft Beer Week, observed May 13-19, is designed to celebrate and bring awareness to America’s small and independent craft brewers and their contributions to America’s communities and our economy.

 

UMMC, Center for Justice form partnership to benefit those with HIV/AIDS

May 9th, 2013 No comments

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI — The University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Mississippi Center for Justice, both in Jackson, are forming a partnership aimed at providing free civil legal services for people living with HIV and AIDS.

The collaboration includes the Mississippi State Department of Health’s Crossroads Clinics Central and the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation.

It’s the state’s first medical-legal partnership.

The Center for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, will offer on-site legal assistance at the Crossroads Clinics. The assistance will focus primarily on HIV-related housing and employment discrimination.

Marni von Wilpert Skadden, legal fellow at the Center for Justice, said in a press release that those with HIV and AIDS “often lack access to legal resources. This program will help ensure they are treated fairly so they can lead productive, fulfilling lives.”

UMMC was involved in finding earlier this year what researchers called a “functional cure” for HIV, when a toddler born to a mother with the virus showed no signs of it after going several months between treatments.

“While we have made significant medical advances in managing HIV/AIDS, the ultimate success in improving these peoples’ lives is getting them back into society as full productive members,” said Dr. Claude Brunson, UMMC professor of anesthesiology and senior advisor to the vice chancellor for external affairs. “This partnership aims to achieve that goal.”

Demand should be heavy.

The city of Jackson has the fourth highest HIV infection rate of all U.S. metropolitan areas that report HIV infection information, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Mississippi’s African-American population accounts for 78 percent of new infections, according to a recent MSDH study. Mississippi ranks 49th in funding civil legal services, according to the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission.

There are 97 medical-legal partnerships in the U.S. that serve 54,000 patients a year at more than 275 healthcare institutions.

Oxford mayor Patterson calls Wade’s conflict of interest challenge ‘political malarkey’

May 8th, 2013 1 comment

OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI — Former Ole Miss football player and current Oxford mayoral candidate Todd Wade stopped just short Tuesday night of accusing his opponent of having conflict of interest issues.

Wade, who’s running as an independent, said in a campaign press release that he would not participate in any private real estate transactions if he’s elected, and said Democratic incumbent George “Pat” Patterson’s real estate holdings could violate the public’s trust.

“I encourage my opponent to join me in this pledge to restore the public’s confidence,” Waid said in the release.

Patterson said in an interview Wednesday afternoon that he owns one piece of commercial property in Oxford that houses the James Food Center near the Square.

That contradicts Wade’s assertion that Patterson owns “a vast portfolio of student housing and business property” in Oxford.

“It’s total political malarkey,” Patterson said. “What pieces of property is he referring to? I only have one. It’s complete B.S.”

Until Tuesday’s primary ended, the most common issues in Oxford’s mayoral debate had centered on parking and public transit. Patterson said he intended to keep it that way. “I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this,” he said.

Patterson served as head of the Oxford Tourism Council and as alderman before being elected mayor in 2009. Wade was an All-America offensive tackle at Ole Miss and was selected 53rd overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 2000 NFL draft. He played for four teams before retiring in 2008. He has spent his post-NFL career in Oxford.

Wade and Patterson will face each in the general election June 4.

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MSSC Justice Randolph blasts DOJ in Manning execution dissent (Updated)

May 7th, 2013 2 comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court stayed the execution of Willie Jerome Manning, who was scheduled to die Tuesday night at 6 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Manning was convicted in 1994 of killing two Mississippi State students in front of the campus’ Sigma Chi fraternity house.

Justices voted 8-1 to issue the stay. Justice Michael Randolph, of Hattiesburg, dissented.

Randolph was critical of the court’s decision, writing that Manning had failed to comply with the statutory requirements attached to his claim that DNA testing on a hair found in one of the victim’s cars could possibly exonerate him.  Randolph took particular issue with letters submitted with the hair analysis from the U.S. Department of Justice that were unsigned.

“The letters challenge not only former FBI experts in hair, but also ballistics. Our established law and justice require more,” Randolph wrote in his opinion.

Randolph also pointed out what he felt were discrepancies in one of the DOJ letters, which said mitochondrial DNA testing became routine in 2000. Randolph cited an article published by the DOJ in 1999 that said the testing became routine in 1992, and would have been available for Manning’s 1994 trial, if he had asked that it be done.

The DOJ’s controversial “Fast and Furious” gun-running program also made an appearance in Randolph’s dissent. The program was initiated in 2009 to track Mexican drug cartel leadership, but the DOJ lost track of almost 2,000 weapons, one of which was used to kill a border agent in 2010. Congressional GOP leaders have complained since that pinpointing exactly who is responsible for the botched operation has been difficult due to DOJ stonewalling.

Randolph compares that to the FBI’s recently asking anti-death penalty group the Innocence Project to assist with the Manning hair analysis process due to his execution date being close.

“Although the connectivity and expediency by which this review was accomplished is mind boggling, I should not be surprised, given that the families of victims of the clandestine ‘Fast and Furious’ gun running operation can’t get the Department of Justice to identify the decision makers (whose actions resulted in the death of a border agent and many others) after years of inquiry, and that this is the same Department of Justice that grants and enforces Miranda warnings to foreign enemy combatants,” Randolph wrote.

The entire order granting the stay and Randolph’s dissent can be read here.

UPDATE: Attorney General Jim Hood has issued a statement. Here it is, verbatim:

I am sorry that the victims’ families will have to continue to live this 20 plus year nightmare.  Out of an abundance of caution, our Court stayed the sentence until it had time to review this flurry of last minute filings.  Yesterday evening our office filed a report with the Court, which I obtained from the district attorney’s office around 6:00 yesterday afternoon.  The  report states that there was no serological evidence from the victims’ fingernail scrapings or semen on the vaginal swabs from the rape test kit for a DNA test to identify. 

After having an opportunity to consider this new evidence, the senior attorneys in this office believe our Court will dissolve the stay and the sentence will be carried out.  If, however, our Court orders that these items be retested, then we will carry out that order. 

 I am in conversations with the DOJ and FBI to determine how these last minute letters came about.  After conversing with expert witnesses at our Crime Lab, it is clear that FBI experts and experts in all states used more conclusive language in their testimony up until around the time the 2009 National Academy of Science report was issued on forensics.  Since then the policy of many experts has been to qualify their testimony by using the magic words “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty”.  The FBI agents in this case were simply following the standards used in their fields at the time. 

The letters sent from the forensic taskforce chairman at DOJ, merely state that the science was not that exact in 1993, not that these agents were not following the standard followed by all of their colleagues at the time, both state and federal, in testifying to the degree of certainty.

Nissan’s Canton chief taking new position, will leave Mississippi

May 3rd, 2013 No comments

The head of Nissan’s Canton facility is taking a new position within the company.

Dan Bednarzyk will be the vice president of what Nissan is calling Total Delivered Cost, effective May 13. It’s a newly created position.

Bednarzyk’s new role will be to oversee Nissan’s cost efficiency operations in North and South America. His job description will center on lowering overall manufacturing costs.

Bednarzyk has been in Canton since the facility started production in 2003. He’s been with Nissan since 1985. His new office will be in Franklin, Tenn, Nissan’s North American headquarters.

“Dan’s extensive experience in manufacturing and his successful leadership of the Nissan Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant will help him drive total delivered cost improvements across all our manufacturing operations,” Bill Krueger, senior vice president of manufacturing, purchasing, production engineering and supply chain management, said in a company press release announcing the change.

Bednarzyk’s replacement is David Aldana, who is currently head of Nissan’s manufacturing facility in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Like Bednaryzk, Aldana has been with the company since 1985, when he was named deputy general manager of the Nissan Civac plant in Cuernavaca, Mexiso. He has since held several manufacturing management position in Mexico and the U.S.

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Nissan sales surge in April; Toyota’s dip slightly

May 1st, 2013 No comments

 

Nissan reported Tuesday that its April sales were up 23 percent over last year.

The company, which has a facility in Canton, sold 87,847 units for the month, up from 71,329 in April 2012.

A 24.6 percent sales jump in the Nissan division was spurred by the Altima (built in Canton), Pathfinder, Sentra (also built in Canton) and the Rogue compact SUV. Sales of the Altima in April were up 35 percent. Sentra sales jumped 44.9 percent.

“In the first quarter of 2013, we improved our retail sales by more than 4 percent while reducing deliveries to fleet customers by more than 17 percent,” said Jose Munoz, Nissan Americas senior vice president for sales and marketing. “We continued this trend in April with retail up 29 percent and fleet mix down over four percentage points from one year ago, which proves that our new products such as Altima, Sentra and Pathfinder are taking strong hold in the marketplace. We expect to have gained market share in April due to our strong retail performance, which we have full intention to continue through the summer months given the building momentum that we are seeing with Altima, Sentra and Pathfinder in particular.”

The news wasn’t as good for Toyota, which builds the compact Corolla sedan in Blue Springs.

Overall Toyota Motor Sales dipped 5 percent. The Toyota Division’s sales fell 5.4 percent over April 2012 on one more selling day.

It was the first month in several the automaker did not report monthly sales had risen year-over-year. March sales rose 4.8 percent. February sales were up 8.7 percent; January sales increased 21 percent.

“From an industry standpoint, continued retail sales growth indicates the underlying strength of the market, which is a great sign for the months ahead, especially with new products, low interest rates and plenty of pent up demand,” said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager of Toyota Division.  “Toyota’s two newest models – Avalon and RAV4 – continued to attract customers with double digit gains in April.”

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Madison, retailer Target working on site plan

April 30th, 2013 No comments

Madison appears close to landing a Target.

During Monday night’s mayoral debate, incumbent Mary Hawkins Butler shared with those in attendance an email from a Target representative, who thanked her for working with the retail giant on securing acceptable elevations on a site for a store in the Jackson suburb.

Though details about the exact site are scarce, the Clarion-Ledger reported Tuesday that the agenda for the next meeting of the Madison Planning Commission, scheduled for May 13, includes an item for a Texas developer seeking a site plan for a shopping center on Grandview Boulevard that would include Target. Grandview already has several national big-box retailers, including Walmart, Lowe’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy and a Malco cinema.

Butler told the newspaper that more definitive plans would be unveiled by the end of this year.

A Madison location would be the third Target in the Jackson Metro Area, joining Flowood and Jackson.

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Commission names new state port director

April 29th, 2013 No comments

Jonathan Daniels has been named the new executive director of the Mississippi State Port Authority in Gulfport.

The Mississippi State Port Authority revealed Monday morning that Daniels will replace Don Allee, who resigned last year in the middle of some controversy about the port’s expansion. Daniels comes to Mississippi from the Port of Oswego in upstate New York. He had been there since 2007.

He is familiar with the Gulf South region, having served as managing director of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge before heading to the Northeast. Daniels will start in mid-June.

“We are very pleased to be successful in landing a person with the experience and credentials of Jonathan Daniels,” said Jim Simpson, port commission president. “Jonathan has port management, international trade and economic development experience and that is the ideal combination of skill sets we need in a leader.”

Port commissioners started searching for Allee’s permanent replacement inDecember. Allee had been at the port 11 years, but resigned in October in the middle of some disagreement over a few details of the port’s $570 million expansion paid for by Hurricane Katrina relief money.

The expansion reached a milestone earlier this month when the last load of “fill” was dumped on the west pier. The project’s completion date, which to go with filling the west pier will include deepening the port’s channel to 45 feet, is scheduled for 2015. The expansion will add around 1,300 jobs, to go with the 1,200 already employed there. Officials still hope it can attract as many large ships carrying textiles, automotive parts and fruit to Europe and Asia.

Lawmakers approve Yokohama incentives

April 26th, 2013 No comments

Lawmakers approved in a special session Friday a large load of state incentives for Yokohama Tire to make heavy equipment tires in Clay County.

The House passed authorized legislation 117-2 for the project Friday morning. The Senate did the same less than an hour later. The bill now goes to Gov. Phil Bryant, who has said he intends to sign it.

The state will borrow $70 million for land, infrastructure and workforce training. Local governments will chip in $12 million, $1 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission, $900,000 from the TVA and $590,000 from natural gas utility Atmos Energy.

The first phase of the project will represent a $300 million investment from Yokohama, and create in the neighborhood of 500 jobs. The company has plans to expand in three additional phases, raising its investment to over $1 billion and job numbers to 2,000. The expansions are scheduled over the next eight to 10 years. Total state bonding authority for the project is $130 million, with everything above $70 million contingent upon the expansions.

Yokohama will build the facility on a 500-acre megasite close to West Point. Construction will start this fall with plans to start production in fall 2015. Economic development officials have spent the past several months marketing the site in hopes of luring a large manufacturer.

This is the first big fish for the new economic development consortium made up of West Point and Clay County , Columbus and Lowndes County and Starkville and Oktibbeha County. The consortium, known as the Golden Triangle Development Link, had in its sights a Yokohama-like project when it formed last year.

The House Ways and Means Committee passed the bill unanimously Friday morning. Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said talks with Yokohama started about a year ago. He said Clay County, whose March unemployment rate was second highest in the state at 18.2 percent, was one of two finalists.

Ad valorem taxes, under a revenue sharing plan West Point and Clay County have entered into, will be split between the city and county.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the company and the state contains clawback provisions that call for the state to receive $35,000 for every job the company comes up short in providing in each phase. For example, if the job count for phase one is 500, Yokohama will have to pay the state $35,000 for every job short of that. The same clawbacks apply to all four phases.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering will have oversight of the project, since the state bonds will be issued under the Mississippi Major Economic Impact Act. Pickering pushed legislation last session – and plans to push again next session – that would have extended his office’s oversight authority to all state bonding programs. Pickering currently does not have automatic oversight over projects assisted under bonding programs like the Advantage Jobs Act and the Mississippi Development Bank.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, offered an amendment to the incentive legislation that would have given Cooper Tire in Tupelo a sales tax on equipment break worth $1 million. The amendment was defeated.

“This is going to be such a shot in the arm for West Point,” Smith said.

 

 

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