By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – At the regular January meeting of the Water Valley City Board, it took Mayor Bill Norris just under 20 seconds to read a letter that brought an end to a process than has spanned three months.
About 90 minutes into the Jan. 2 meeting, Mayor Norris read the brief note stating that Carothers Construction Company was no longer interested in purchasing 2.7 acres of surplus city property behind the old Big Yank building.
The letter, signed by Carothers Chairman Arnold Wayne Carothers stated: “In October we asked the city of Water Valley if the property on Railroad Street could be purchased as we were looking for a location to move from our present location.
Due to the lapse in time our circumstances have changed and we are no longer interested in this property,” the letter concluded.
At the October board meeting, the company first asked the city to consider selling the property setting off two months of often contentious debate among aldermen that ended with a split 2-2 vote at the December meeting. Mayor Norris broke the tie by voting for the sale.
Economic Development officials called the deal a “no brainer” as the construction of a state of the art office complex would enhance the area. The company’s move from their location in the county would also bring jobs and taxes into the city.
Carothers President Ben Logan told the Herald several days after the meeting that, “No move is planned or scheduled.”
After Mayor Norris read the letter, Brenda Campbell, clerk for the Spring Hill North Missionary Baptist Church, said that she had approached the city in March about the property and was told it wasn’t for sale. The church owns adjacent property to the south.
Later in the meeting, Campbell brought up the land again and asked how the church could go about obtaining it. “Is this land up for sale,” she asked.
Board attorney David Burns explained that findings were made by the board that the sale to Carothers would “foster economic development.” He said that if the church is interested in the property they should request to be put on the agenda and appear before the board to express their interest.
In other board action during the nearly three hour and thirty minute long session:
Dolly Neely Pierce presented a letter to the aldermen outlining the difficulties she had experienced since fire destroyed her home July 28. The letter explained that she was unaware that she had to have permits to clean up the property or that she was in a zone that prohibits manufactured homes.
The property, located just inside the city limits at 935 Blackmur Drive, is zoned R-1 (Single-Family Residential). Only areas zoned R-4 allow manufactured homes.
Pierce said she had spent over $21,000 acquiring and setting up a singlewide manufactured home on the property only to be told that she would have to move it.
In her letter, Pierce asked for a variance to allow her to keep the home. Board attorney Burns explained that a variance could not be granted for a use not permitted in the district. He said that the proper action would have to be rezoning from R-1 to R-4.
Zoning Administrator Morris Surrette pointed out that several similar requests had been denied in the past. “My opinion is that we need to treat each citizen the same,” he said.
After about 25 minutes of discussion, Alderman Charlie Harris motioned and Alderman Fred White seconded to allow Pierce a public hearing on the matter.
“All it does is say that we are going to consider this issue at a public hearing,” Attorney Burns said.
When the mayor called for a vote, Aldermen White and Harris voted for the motion and Aldermen Lance Clement and Sherry Martin voted against.
The split 2-2 vote left it up to the mayor to break the tie. Mayor Norris placed a phone call to Alderman Tommy Swearengen, who has been ill, and asked him to come to the meeting to vote.
Alderman White suggested that the mayor move on by voting to break the tie.
While the board waiting for Alderman Swearengen, Attorney Burns explained once again that voting to allow the public hearing did not allow the property to be rezoned. “It would still be up to the board – following the public hearing – to vote whether or not to approve or disapprove the rezoning the property…after the opportunity for public comment and objection and provided by the statute.”
As soon as Burns finished his statement, Alderman Swearengen walked into the meeting just over 12 minutes from the time he was called. Burns then explained for him what had occurred up to that point.
Alderman Swearengen said that others who had requested the same thing had been denied. He then cast his vote to allow the public hearing, but then stated that he wanted it understood that he would vote against allowing the mobile home to remain.
Mayor Norris then announced that the public meeting would be held at 6:30 on Feb. 9 at the beginning of the regular meeting.
Before moving to the item three on the agenda, Attorney Burns requested that the last item be moved forward so that Alderman Swearengen – who needed to leave the meeting – could vote. Because the issue involved the recently passed “beer ordinance”, a unanimous vote by the full board would be required.
Burns explained that there were some typographical errors in the ordinance that didn’t affect the substance and one item that needed to be clarified.
“In the haste to put the ordinance together, there was some language included that could be read… to prohibit the possession of beer or light wine on the streets of Water Valley. That was not my intention,” Burns said.
He further explained that he was trying to prohibit open containers and added that one of the comments on the Herald website was where he first realized there was a problem.
“Somebody (on the website) said, ‘If you can’t have it on the street, how are you gonna’ get it home?’,” Burns added.
On the first roll call vote to amend the ordinance, Alderman White voted nay. But, after additional explanation by Burns, White said he had no problem and voted yes along with the other aldermen.
The mayor was about to move on to the next agenda item, when Alderman Swearengen said that he had one thing he wanted to bring up “concerning Fred and the junk yard.”
“I think we need to do something about that before it gets too big and Fred can still move those cars.”
White asked to what Swearengen was referring and commented, “You hadn’t got nothing to do with that.”
“Those cars down there are for sale and you ain’t got a damn thing to do with it,” White added, raising his voice. “You need to leave it alone.”
“No,” Swearengen responded, “I need to bring it out. We’re cleaning the town up.”
“Those cars are for sale,” White said. “You’re sticking your nose where you don’t have no business. Anything for sale I don’t have to move.”
“Do they run?” Swearengen asked. “Do we need to read the ordinance?”
After some discussion, it was determined that no one had a copy of the ordinance.
Swearengen said that he would go. But, he added that he would be back to pursue the issue.
The remainder of the meeting moved along much more quickly.
• Approved a project by the Water Valley Town and Country Garden Club to place 18 to 20 garbage containers on Main Street from City Auditorium to south of Dupuy Street.
• Voted to pay two invoices for work on the airport; $690.22 to Willis Engineering and $25,749 to J. M. Moore.
• Approved bids from Hanson Products and ADS for culverts.
• Tabled for further study bids received for an aerial device (bucket truck) at the request of City Electric Department Manager Joe Newman.
• Made final payment to Cal-Mar Construction of $69,290 for tennis courts at the Crawford Sports Complex.
• Paid Board Attorney David Burns $3,160.
• Transferred an old tractor from the water department to the electric department.
• Voted to allow Coffeeville to remove two old police vehicles saving the city the cost of having to dispose of them.
• Approved a trip for Mayor Norris to attend the Mississippi Municipal League conference in Jackson on Jan. 22 and 23.
• Voted to allow the purchase of a $1500 roll-up type door for the street department machine shop.
• Decided to leave the garbage collection policy as is which, in effect, denied the request of a local church to be exempted from paying a fee.
• Kept the current policy of allowing only local, non-profit organizations to use the City Auditorium. The city had received a request from an out-of-town company to sponsor a for-profit gospel show at the auditorium.
• Voted to go into executive section at approximately 8:30. When the board returned to regular session more than an hour later, the aldermen voted to hire Steven Story for the police department and Harold Potts for the water department.