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Hostility Erupts Over EDF Fund

Much ado about nothing is how Board of Supervisors Attorney John Crow (right) characterized the heated meeting last Thursday involving the transfer of funds from the old Economic Development Foundation Inc. to the new Water Valley Regional Foundation. Crow’s comments came several minutes after Board President Tommy Vaughn got mad and left the meeting. – Photo by David Howell

By David Howell

WATER VALLEY–Allegations from last Monday’s supervisor meeting regarding the transfer of funds from the defunct Yalobusha Development Foundation Inc. (EDF) to the newly formed Water Valley Regional Foundation bled over into a recessed supervisors’ meeting Thursday. It turned ugly.
    Board President Tommy Vaughn, responding to District 3 Supervisor Lee McMinn’s explanation of the transfer, lost his temper and exited the meeting, turning as he left to physically push McMinn before storming out of the meeting.
    After the altercation McMinn motioned to remove Vaughn as Board President, a motion that secured a second by District  2 Supervisor Amos Sims, but failed in a 2-2 vote. District 5 Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman and District 4 Supervisor George Suggs cast the nay votes.
    McMinn’s request to address the board was the final item on the agenda at last Thursday’s recessed meeting and lasted about 15 minutes as he defended allegations made Monday by Vaughn that the transaction was illegal.
    McMinn was referring to Vaughn’s comments that the $50,968.29 could not be transferred legally between the groups because the EDF had been dissolved.
    But first McMinn outlined the players on the former EDF board. The list included Janet Dickey, Pierce Epps, Pamela Redwine, Rex Howell, William Jefferys, Ping Pong Paris, Pat Ray and Taylor Trusty. For clarification, McMinn noted that Paris had resigned almost a year after being appointed to the board due to time constraints.
    “As you can see, everyone of these people are educated, professional, civic-minded folks that y’all run into and talk to every day in Water Valley and Coffeeville. They are very professional. I could certainly vouch for them that they would in no way jeopardize their reputation by doing anything illegal,  underhanded or behind anybody’s back,” McMinn added.
    “By turning this money back over to the newly created foundation, I would say it is not exactly the ideal scenario that the majority of these board members wanted, but it was a good compromise–given the history of where this money came from,” McMinn said.    
    McMinn also said three attorneys worked on the fund transfer earlier this year–Trent Howell, who was the original architect of the  of the Yalobusha Economic Dev-elopment Foundation; David Burns, before his death; and Daniel Martin, an active member of the chamber.
    “I have to rely on their judgement. If anything popped up that wasn’t kosshure, I  believe we would have heard about it,” McMinn added.

Missed Opportunity
    Martin, along with Chamber President Tyler Hill, approached the county about the new foundation at Monday’s meeting last week. They requested the county make an appointment to a three-person board that would lead the Water Valley Regional Foundation.
    However three supervisors expressed concern that the Water Valley foundation could undermine the county-wide unity experienced under the existing Yalobusha County Economic Develop-ment and Tourism District headed by Bob Tyler. The supervisors included Vaughn, Tillman and Sims, but Vaughn was the only one to question the legality of the transfer.
    McMinn said at Thurs-day’s meeting that Hill and Martin had not been treated professionally, referring to Vaughn’s blunt comments about the transactions.
    “In my opinion, and my opinion strictly, this board missed a golden opportunity, Monday, when two really outstanding young men in this community came to us, hat in hand, asking for an appointment from this board, that would make up one-third of the new foundation,” McMinn said.
    “I would like to see them come back to another meeting,” McMinn added.
    McMinn, who took office in 2012, also said he had met with the county’s economic development district director Bob Tyler on multiple occasions to discuss the money prior to taking office.
    “We had many, many meetings,” McMinn said.
    “Dozens,” Tyler agreed.
    McMinn said the EDF offered to shift the old foundation’s organizational framework to the county’s economic development district with the money, or just transfer the money.
    “Either Bob’s little board, or Bob himself, made the decision that was probably not the prudent thing to do. The past history of the money, maybe it didn’t seem like the appropriate thing to do,” McMinn said.
    “I agree,” Tyler added.
    McMinn then said he was approached by Martin, who was working on creating the new economic development foundation that would be a division of the Water Valley Chamber of Commerce.
    “He had a lot of knowledge on where the (EDF) money came from, where it originated,” McMinn explained.
    McMinn also said the defunct foundation board members had input on the creation of the new foundation.
    “We all agreed to it, and after many, many years of fighting the fight, we were ready to get rid of the money. It had been inactive for a number of years. We were ready to move on and that’s what we did. I never would have dreamed in a million years that I would be maligned by my own board–this board here–like I was Monday. I am prepared to take the heat, whatever it takes,” McMinn added about the transfer.

Vaughn’s Response
    “I think as a board here we got some questions we would like to ask and defend ourselves,” Vaughn countered.
    “The first one is, you are a member of this board of supervisors. You sat here for five months and didn’t tell us a thing about this money and you said you were maligned and set back by this. What do you think we felt like when you came in here and told us this stuff?” Vaughn asked.
    Vaughn added that the county’s appointment to the new foundation’s three-person board would be a token appointment because the other two board members would come from Water Valley and not represent the county’s interest.
    “Larry Hart was put on that board the other day. So Larry Hart was given that money… You got two people from Water Valley. That money is not going to be spent anywhere else,” Vaughn said.
    But, Vaughn added that the money wasn’t the main issue.
    “What really bothered me was the fact that you, being a board member, working with the economic development here, and behind our backs set up this thing right here. And we maligned you? Bull, that’s what I got to say is just bull,” Vaughn said. “And one other thing you didn’t say, you were the president of that board, you didn’t mention you were a member, you were the president when it went defunct. Were you not?” Vaughn asked.
    “I was,” McMinn said.
    “And you want to start another one and see if we can defunct that one too?” Vaughn asked.
    “I didn’t say I was starting another one,” McMinn countered.
    “I don’t care about the money, it’s the principle. And to come in here and say we treated those folks bad. Tyler Hill is just like a child to me. Daniel (Martin) is a good man. But y’all did it wrong,” Vaughn said.
    “How did you do it. Did everybody on this list agree to do it?” Vaughn continued.
    “Absolutely,” McMinn answered.
    “How did you have a meeting, you don’t have a board?” Vaughn asked.
   “We had several meetings,” McMinn answered.
  “You don’t have a board,” Vaughn said.
    “We do have a board,” McMinn said.
    “No you don’t, it went nine years ago. You haven’t had a meeting. It went out of date. Our attorney sat right here and told us there was absolutely no way to transfer that money without a court order. How did you do it?” Vaughn asked.
    McMinn answered, explaining again that three attorneys worked on it.
    “It passed muster with them,” McMinn explained. “Every board member signed it.”
    “You are the president, you had to sign it,” Vaughn continued.
    “Of course I signed it, Tommy,” McMinn answered.
    “Janet Dickey quit because she didn’t want her name on it. You didn’t say that either, did you?” Vaughn asked.
  “That’s not true. That’s not true,” McMinn answered.
   “Whether she did or didn’t, it doesn’t make any difference,” Vaughn said.
    “But now you said it though, Tommy. You are sitting there banging you fist on the table. You are pointing your finger in my face. Your lip is quivering,” McMinn said.
    “Your face needs pointing at. I will be honest with you buddy. You have lost the trust of this board,” Vaughn said.
    “Is that true?” McMinn asked.
    “You have lost it with me, buddy,” Vaughn said.
    “Are you speaking for the whole board on that?” McMinn asked.
    “I am speaking for me,” Vaughn answered.
    “Okay,” McMinn answered.
    “Don’t you ever ask me for anything. Ever. I want you to remember that. You don’t go behind my back and stick a damn knife in my back,” Tommy said. “I have had it with you,” Vaughn said.
    “I can’t believe your language in front of this board,” McMinn said.
    “I don’t care what you believe,” Vaughn said.
    Vaughn then made another allegation of back stabbing, before throwing a pencil across the table and exiting the meeting.
    “I have had it with you buddy,” Vaughn said.
    “So you are going to walk out?” McMinn said.
    “I don’t have to. I damn sure don’t have to,” Vaughn said, turning and pushing McMinn with fist drawn.
    “You are way out of line,” Crow said, as other supervisors verbally admonished Vaughn.
    “And don’t you sit there and tell me you didn’t know anything about it either,” Vaughn said to Crow as he left.

Crow’s Answer
    “I am going to say this, now that he is throwing rocks at me. I don’t have to lie to this board,” Crow said. “I may have been wrong in the past, but I never have lied to this board.  Daniel Martin is like a son to me. I am going to go on record right now. No member of this board is going to talk to him like Tommy Vaughn did the other day with me present,” Crow said.
    Crow continued, telling supervisors that Crow Mar-tin LLC represents the board, but he will gladly “push off” if supervisors didn’t want his service. “We are going to survive,” Crow added.
    The attorney said he had worked for the county more than three decades, longer than anybody currently working with the exception of Tax Assessor/Collector Linda Shuffield. He added that he had dropped other work for county business because of his loyalty.
    Later in his remarks  he told supervisors that he was not aware of Martin’s work on the money transfer.    
    “I knew nothing about this,” Crow added, referring to the money transfer. “This is Daniel Martin working on this and I trust him with my life. This is much ado about nothing, and Tommy has got a severe problem,” Crow continued.
    The attorney  also said that Vaughn owed him an apology, and the board would have to ask him to work with him until he got that apology.
    “I didn’t know anything about this. Could care less. This is childish, juvenile behavior. Quite frankly, I am 62 years old and I got better things to do than sit here and listen to this trash coming out of the face of this board, who says he is the president,” Crow said.
    Crow also said the vote to make Vaughn president at the start of the term was underhanded.
    “And put that in the (news) paper,” he added.

Split Vote
    “I don’t know where to start. I never dreamed I would be standing here and be physically assaulted at the board table. There were several witnesses that saw that. Fists drawn back, ready to punch,” McMinn said. He then motioned to remove Vaughn as board president.
    “Obviously we will discuss who the next board president needs to be, but there is a motion on the table,” McMinn said.
    After several minutes of conversation, with McMinn restating his motion multiple times, Sims provided the second prompting the 2-2 split vote.
    “I think as elected officials, we are all held accountable to certain standards that we need to exemplify,” Sims said.
    Tillman, who voted against the power change, said he would like to let everything cool off. Tillman also said that he was confident that Vaughn would regret losing his temper.
    Tillman added that the board does not have a problem with Crow’s representation.
    Suggs, who also voted against the power change, first asked about protocol for selecting a board president.
    “Do we do that every year?” Suggs asked.
    “We do it every term (four years),” Crow answered.
    “I would rather wait until the first of the year,” Suggs said, voting against the motion.
    “Two to two, it fails,” Crow said.    
    “That conduct will happen again,” McMinn said, reminding supervisors that Vaughn had previously “shouted down” Chancery Clerk Amy McMinn.
    “He shouted her down and accused her of being a board member or thinking she was a board member. Every one of us know she is not a board member, she has earned her right to speak up,” McMinn said.
    McMinn also requested an armed deputy at future meetings.
    “That’s the law,” Crow added.
        Input From Tyler
    “There was a lot said last Monday. You said it best,” Tyler said, pointing to Sims. “We must not dilute what we have accomplished. We must stay together,” Tyler told the board.    

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