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Zoo raises questions

By By Terry Cassreino / assistant managing editor
April 21, 2002
Here's the plan: Visitors will stop by Lauderdale County's new recreation center to picnic, play ball and visit a zoo complete with ducks, chickens, goats, a rabbit and a pony.
Original plans called for a petting zoo. Now, though, it will simply be a small zoo with farm animals that visitors will be able to view, observing their behavior and watching how they interact.
And when the people are finished, some may wonder how in the world members of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors could justify funding such a project especially given the millions of dollars of other, more pressing county needs.
Consider this: Lauderdale County supervisors earlier this year wanted to establish a $5 million line of credit with the state. They would then borrow against the line of credit to help fund a list of long-needed projects.
Among the projects were $240,000 in elevator repairs at the county courthouse, $1.9 million for road equipment, $2.25 million for a juvenile detention center expansion and $3.5 million for road work.
Plans went awry when a group of county residents, wary of supervisors' spending habits, launched a petition drive to put the line of credit issue to a countywide vote.
When the residents presented their signed petitions to supervisors, the board abruptly dumped the line of credit proposal and, in turn, effectively put the long-needed projects in limbo.
Now, fast-forward to last week's board of supervisors meeting. Supervisors said nothing about the elevator repairs, the road equipment, the juvenile detention center or the road work.
But they did talk about the zoo. They hired Henry Stringfellow to work about 20 hours a week at $8 an hour, presumably to care for the zoo's ducks, chickens, goats, rabbit and pony.
Then, minutes later, came the kicker: Supervisors hired a full-time and a part-time sheriff's deputy to work at the Lauderdale County jail. And they decided to pay them $7.54 an hour each.
That angered deputies and sent the county into damage control.
County administrator Rex Hiatt later pointed out that the deputies will receive more than $6,000 a year in such benefits as health insurance and vacation. The zoo worker won't get any of that.
That may be true, but it doesn't erase the fact that deputies who care for violent and dangerous inmates will be paid less than a zoo worker who cares for ducks, chickens, goats, a rabbit and a pony.
And it says nothing about the millions of dollars in other county needs.
Barbour visits Meridian
Republican Haley Barbour, a possible gubernatorial candidate next year, makes an important two-day stop in Meridian this week  attending a fund-raiser Monday night and speaking to a civic club Tuesday.
His visit comes about two weeks after one by Democratic state Attorney General Mike Moore  the man who said he could whip Barbour in the November 2003 gubernatorial election.
A lot of things have to take place between now and then, including decisions from both men about whether they plan to seek the state's chief executive job now held by Democrat Ronnie Musgrove.
But one thing's certain: Many top Republicans view Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, as the GOP's best shot at regaining the governor's office.