School security

Sherman Smith talks to the Board of Supervisors about school security. 

(Photo by Mark Thornton)

Moselle parent pleads for deputies in schools

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A Moselle man made a passionate plea to the Board of Supervisors, asking them to come up with funds to help put a deputy at every Jones County public school.

“Those are the most valuable buildings we have,” Sherman Smith said in the board meeting on Tuesday in Ellisville. “Nothing else is more important.”

Smith has a child who goes to Moselle Elementary, and teachers there told him their security plan in case there’s an active shooter. He reiterated the plan before the board and said it was probably the “best they could do,” then added, “but it’s not good enough.”

Sherman said he’d had conversations with Sheriff Alex Hodge and Superintendent Tommy Parker about the issue and both agreed that school security “should be left up to the professionals, such as the Jones County Sheriff’s Department.” The initial setup cost would be $1.2 million, to equip the deputies and give them cars, Sherman said, then $700,000 per year after that. Hodge was present at the board meeting and did not disagree.

“Mr. Parker said he gave money from his budget before, but it didn’t go to security,” Sherman said. “He said he would be willing to give up $400,000 of his budget if he had a guarantee from the board that the money would go to school security.”

Sherman acknowledged that a previous meeting about the same issue “got pretty heated,” and said, “but I’m not here to fight with you.”

He said the cost is a “very, very, very small price to pay for our children.”

The potential response time to a school like Moselle Elementary, which is farther away from a town with police protection than other county schools, could be critical, he emphasized.

“Do you know how many kids can be killed with an assault rifle in three minutes?” he asked.

Sherman, who also submitted a letter to supervisors, said they were “elected to protect and serve the taxpayers” and to “do what is right with our money.”

“There is not anything else as important as this. This is a real threat,” and he concluded with, “If you don’t make this happen, the blood of these defenseless children will be on your hands, if anything ever happens.”

Supervisor Johnny Burnett suggested that Sherman go before the school board and confirm that the members would be willing to spend $400,000 per year because it’s the board that allocates the money.

In another matter involving security and young people, County/Youth Court Judge Wayne Thompson requested $40,000 per year to pay for a full-time officer for his court. The Jones County Sheriff’s Department had been providing security in the court, but after Hodge lost the runoff election, he said that several members of his department are either taking unused vacation time or going to other jobs, so he’s short-staffed. He left Jones County Circuit Court untended one day last week, but he is required by statute to provide security there and was reportedly warned that he would be charged with contempt if he failed to do so. Security has been in place in that court ever since.

The board adopted its $50.6 million budget for the Fiscal Year 2020, which begins Oct. 1. (Look for more details about the budget in a future edition.)

Jeff Pittman and Lisa Pittman-Windham opposed the budget, complaining about the Economic Development Authority getting extra money for next year’s Dixie Youth World Series and the county paying for security at the South Mississippi Fair. 

EDA Executive Director Ross Tucker explained that those events bring in money that circulates in the community and benefits many local businesses, but it’s impossible to measure the impact.

The board also acknowledged receiving an operating budget of $186.2 million from South Central Regional Medical Center.

In another matter, the board heard the annual service report from South Mississippi Planning & Development District Director Leonard Bentz, asking for the same $74,000 contribution that the county gave last year. The agency works with 15 counties and 38 municipalities in areas such as services for senior citizens and workforce development. The agency provided five scholarships to Jones County students and refunded the county $1,400 last year.

“We appreciate what y’all do for the county,” Supervisor Johnny Burnett said.

Supervisors also approved the appointments of Edwin Todd (Beat 2) and Billy Sanders (Beat 4) to the South Mississippi Fair Commission.

They also OK’d the lone bid of $7,500 from Ellis Dozer Service in Seminary to purchase the steel beams from a bridge on Ellisville-Tuckers Crossing Road that is scheduled to be replaced. The company will have to remove the beams from the old structure, supervisors said.

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