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Friday, August 1, 2003

By Staff
Still don't know all the facts surrounding interchange
To the editor:
The East Mississippi Business Development Corporation was heavily involved back in 2000 during the initial purchase of the 615 acre industrial park commonly known as the Malone Ranch. During that time, then-EMBDC president Slater Barr talked the supervisors into purchasing that tract of farmland. They did so at excessive prices.
Former EMBDC chairman Ronnie Massey and board member Ralph Morgan owned 204 acres of the 615 during that original purchase, apparently making substantial profits. EMBDC is also heavily involved in the selection of the controversial interchange site near Hawkins Crossing Road and I-20/59, as one can infer from Meridian Chief Administrative Officer Ken Storms' remarks on WALT radio on June 2.
He stated that the mayor, plus a team put together by EMBDC, was leading the interchange project. Publicly, EMBDC president Wade Jones has been strangely silent with regard to the interchange issue. Usually EMBDC becomes the mayor's cheerleading squad and enthusiastically supports his projects.
Perhaps now they are reluctant to do so, since many citizens suspect political favoritism and a "stacked deck" in the choosing of the interchange site. That site is two miles away from the industrial park and in the middle of a 500 acre tract of land privately owned by EMBDC men. Those owners are local developers Jimmy Covington, Jimmy Alexander, Bob Luke and others.
Two members of those families made political contributions this year to "Friends for Dick Hall," (the re-election committee of Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall). Jimmy Alexander sent Hall a check for $1,200 recorded on Feb. 11. Sidney Covington sent Dick Hall a check for $250 recorded on Feb. 12. Now, with Terrell Temple's letter to The Meridian Star on July 30, some of us perceive that he is acting as a spokesman for EMBDC, since he too is a member of that tax supported organization.
Eddie Smith on WMOX radio recently identified Terrell Temple as one of the members of the secret committee who assisted the mayor in officially selecting the interchange site; consequently, I perceive that the choosing of the interchange site area was an act of political favoritism. To date, Mayor John Robert Smith refuses to reveal other members of that secret committee. Some surmise that he keeps it a secret because one or more of the owners of that 500 acre tract were also on that committee. Others surmise that all members of that secret committee were EMBDC members. Everywhere we turn to in this project, we always find EMBDC members being favored and in position to make large sums of money.
To date, no one, including Dick Hall, will accept responsibility for choosing the Hawkins Crossing site. I believe it was the mayor and influential EMBDC men who did it with Dick Hall's support. What are they trying to hide? Our citizens need information, honesty and accountability from the mayor, but he refuses to give it. His continual refusal is a blatant act of dishonesty to we citizens and a pitiful role model to our children.
Transportation Commissioner Hall denies that MDOT chose the site. He states that MDOT is not going to select a site for the interchange, that MDOT is only going to approve or disapprove whatever site is recommended by the city and county officials. I believe that he currently is vainly attempting to wash his hands of this controversy.
We learned at the supervisors meeting on July 22 that they have been left in the dark on this interchange problem. However, District 2 supervisor Craig Hitt, the board president, said the engineering firm chose the site. Apparently that was a false statement because during the July 23 City Council meeting Carl Ray Furr and Ed Bailey of Engineering Associates stated that the site was already in place when their firm entered into this project: "that MDOT pretty well told the city where you can build an interchange," i.e., near the Hawkins Crossing Road overpass at I-20.
No one will own up to the responsibility of choosing the site area. Perhaps they are afraid of possible investigation and litigation. They need to get together and agree to put the site back at our $5 million industrial park.
Concerned citizens should contact our federal representatives and demand an investigation of this matter before more federal tax dollars are wasted on the development of a private commercial tract of land owned by EMBDC members.
Roy Hurst