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Conference Room Sparks Disagreement At County Meeting

By David Howell

COFFEEVILLE – A discussion about permanently designating the conference room in the county-owned Multi-purpose Building for use one day a month for four hours by the Mississippi Food Network led to a heated debate during Monday’s supervisor meeting.

    William Shelton, who attended Monday’s meeting to question a decision made the previous week, told supervisors that he needed the use of the conference room on the second Monday each month from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Specifically, Shelton said, he needed a board order spread on the minutes confirming this action.

    The topic first surfaced last week, during the Tuesday, Sept. 8 meeting, when Shelton sent word by Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn of his request.

    “He has asked that we spread something that every second Monday that they have permission to use the building,” McMinn reported to supervisors. Yalobusha Extension Service Director Steve Cummings attended the Sept. 8 meeting and described an earlier scheduling conflict.

    “They (Mississippi Food Network) have been using the foyer part. What came up was we had our program going on in the conference room and his (Shelton) supervisor came over to inspect,” Cummings told supervisors last week.

    “If you would say the foyer part or the arena part, then that would clear up everything,” Cummings said at the Sept. 8 meeting, adding that the Mississippi Food Network had used the building for a number of years with no problems.

    Supervisors then voted to pass an order designating the breezeway for use each second Monday for the Mississippi Food Network.

Shelton’s Response

    Shelton attended the Monday,, Sept. 14 meeting, to question the decision by supervisors. Shelton also reported that Mississippi Food Bank officials recently inspected the distribution, and cited the local representatives for using the open breezeway to distribute the food.

    That conference room is not only for distribution of food, Shelton explained to supervisors.

    “People come here with the diabetes program, we show people how to cook dietary products they get from the supplemental food programs…It is not only a distribution center, people come and sit down and have to fill out the applications again,” Shelton said, adding that the breezeway is not an appropriate setting.

    “The same day y’all do this, you have the dietary stuff, you do it all the same day?” Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman asked.

    “That’s right,” Shelton said, adding again that the organization had gotten written up during the inspection.

    “That’s a little different,” Tillman responded.

    “I don’t think we have no big problem here,” Board President Amos Sims then told Shelton.

    “We want to be able to allow the people that come there for these services to have an adequate place. But we want you to understand that if at all possible that there is not something that is urgent that we have to use that space, then I don’t have a problem working with you to make sure you have that space,” Sims continued.

    “As far as I am concerned it is the Multi-purpose Building, but it is also the extension building. I think that was the concern of Mr. Cummings, when he came to the board last time, that we wouldn’t set aside that conference room because it might be something that conflicts,” Supervisor M.H. “Butch Surrette added.

    “What they are asking for is that we designate that room for them on that particular day, it don’t make difference no matter what else comes along. I think that is reaching a little far,” Surrette explained to Shelton.

    “What I am trying to set in place is, if this date is set, then every other event that Mr. Cummings or somebody else does not have in place, would have to work around that date,” Shelton countered.

    “If there is something set from the state level, and they already know that this date is already there, Mr. Cummings can give them a calendar of events, or he can say this is normally what happens on this date. I have no problem with not using that room on a particular date if there is something more grander than what we are doing. The point is, if you are not willing to set aside a date for something that is going happen once a month, four hours a day, …”  Shelton said.

    “We would be glad to work with you. I think the county is just more than happy  that you are up there, I don’t think we charge anything for you being up there, we are just more than happy that you are there,” Surrette said.

    “Why should you charge, that is a county building?” Shelton said.

    “We are just tickled to death that you are there,” Surrette responded.

    “Let me say something. Nobody is against the program, we are all for it… But everybody that uses it … pays for that facility,” Supervisor Tommy Vaughn said, referring to other groups that schedule the conference room.

    “We ran into this one time with somebody wanting to do an outreach program for a church, which was great –  we were all behind it. But, by law we can’t do it because you are giving away county property. But as far as using that facility if nobody is there, I am all for it,” Vaughn said.

    “What if somebody is there, what do I do? I go out in the breezeway?” Shelton asked.

    “Right,” Surrette answered.

    “Just like you have in the past,” Vaughn said.

    “That is what I am saying, I cannot do that with the food,” Shelton answered.

    “How long have you been doing that?” Surrette asked.

    “That is the thing that has been going on. When they came to examine, they said this cannot happen,” Shelton explained.

    “In other words, the state is saying it,” Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman said.

    “It is not the state,” Surrette answered.

    “Is it C.M.I.?” Tillman asked, referring to Central Mississippi, Inc., a non-profit organization that offers Head Start programs and other services in the county.

    “Are you kidding me? This is the Mississippi Food Network,” Shelton said. “It’s nothing that Shelton pulled up here,” Shelton said.

    “It’s the same thing they do in Water Valley,” Surrette said, referring to a similar food program where food is distributed from a church in Water Valley.

    “They use the Masonic Temple in Oakland,” Tillman added.

    “That’s right,” Surrette answered.

    “He is just going to be using the building, he is asking to use it that one day from 10 to 2. After I did some checking the other day when Steve was here,” Tillman said.

    “You know when I called you the other day?” Surrette asked Tillman, as the topic changed from the current conversation to a previous phone call.

    “Yeah, I know,” Tillman answered.

    “I had a good feeling of what is going on,” Surrette said.

    “I have checked into some stuff since then,” Tillman said, adding that the room could be booked on the requested day. As Surrette walked to the coffee pot located behind Tillman’s seat, the dialogue between Surrette and Tillman continued amidst other conversations between other board members.

    “Butch, get over here and do the mumbling. Don’t get over there behind my back. You get right over here and sit down to do your mumbling,” Tillman said, again, slamming his fist on the table.

    “You stand up right here, if you want to, I will mumble you,” Surrette responded as the tension and voices elevated.

    “I heard you mumbling,” Tillman said.

    “Settle down,” Vaughn then told both men.

    “Don’t accuse me of nothing because you get upset over phone calls,” Tillman told Surrette, as the exchange continued.

    “This is business, we need to clear our heads and try to settle this,” Sims said.

    “I told you the other day,” Surrette said.

    “I heard what you said the other day,” Tillman responded.

    “I don’t like that kind of stuff,” Surrette replied, as the exchange was over and it was back to business as usual.

    Neither man offered further explanation of subject of the phone conversation that apparently triggered their exchange.

    “We are not trying to work against this food network,” Sims then told Shelton.

    Shelton made a final request to supervisors to spread on the minutes that the room would be used primarily by the food network on the second Monday unless something else had priority.

    “I just don’t know whether we can do that legally,” Vaughn answered.

    “Everything has been going alright?” Tillman asked, referring to numerous years in the past where the Mississippi Food Network had operated using the Multi-purpose Building.

    “They have never been there on a day when the food was in the breezeway when they come to inspect,” Shelton said, referring to the recent inspection. “On that particular day the stench from the arena and everything; and we got  200 boxes of food out there and people coming up with flys and things flying around. That is all I am trying to say,” Shelton said.

    “I guess we probably need him back down here,” Surrette said, referring to Cummings. “He was here last week to present his side of it. I think he was concerned and we didn’t set it aside on that date because of meetings that they (extension service) do have there. Unless he has changed his mind,” Surrette said.

    “It’s a possibility that it is booked all the time,” Tillman said.

    “Which, you know, people change their minds,” Surrette said.

    “What’s your real objection, Mr. Surrette?” Shelton asked.

    “I don’t have an objection other than he came to us last week asking that we didn’t set it aside. It is an extension building and that is where he carries on his business. That is where they function. I don’t think he has a problem with you using that room, but he don’t want it set aside in case something comes up and they have to use it. We all agreed last week, and that wasn’t too long ago, that that was sufficient. You were more than welcome to keep coming and giving the food out there. I don’t think anybody here has a problem with you using that room if there is not somebody in the room. But to put it on our minutes that he can’t use his facility on a particular day,” Surrette said.

    “Wait, Mr. Surrette, to use ‘his’ facility?” Shelton asked.

    “That is what it is set aside for, the extension service,” Surrette answered.

    “I thought it was a multi-purpose building,” Shelton responded.

    “That part over there. It is a multi-purpose building. We put the extension service out there,” Surrette said.

    “So he has priority over everything?” Shelton said.

    “I would think so,” Surrette answered.

    Board of supervisors attorney John Crow, who had been studying the state code during the discussion to see if the non-profit Mississippi Food Network could use the conference room without incurring a charge from the county, told supervisors that they could not donate money to a non-profit organization. But, as far as use of the building, Crow said he would have to do more research.    

    “I don’t think this is a state agency,” Surrette said.

    “He said it was a non-profit,” Crow answered.

    “It is a non-profit, right,” Surrette added.

    “It is the Mississippi Food Network,” Shelton said.

    “But it is not a state agency,” Surrette said.

    “It is chartered,” Shelton said.

    “I think Mississippi Food Network is a non-profit organization,” Crow said.

    “It is chartered for this county,” Shelton said.

    “But is still not a governmental agency or government.  Legally it is not, there is no doubt about that,” Crow said.

    “Well, we do get governmental regulations,” Shelton responded.

    “I understand that. The reason I am bringing this up is that if it was a governmental agency, established by the legislature,” Crow said.

    “Then we could get by without charging,” Surrette continued.

    Crow then told Shelton he would search attorney general’s opinions to see if the non-profit could use the building without incurring charges from the county.

    Supervisors took no additional action on Shelton’s request.

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