Foes lining up against plans for annexation

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Annexation opponents are planning their next move followingTuesday’s initial hearing on Brookhaven’s request to enlarge thecity by over 16 square miles.

Fifty-five names, either individuals or families, were on amaster list of objectors following the Tuesday morning chancerycourt hearing that lasted about an hour. Almost all of the signersfell into the category of living within the proposed annexationarea and objecting to the city’s plans.

Sandra Gerald, of 1363 Field Lark Lane, said she was a littledisappointed with the hearing but did not really know what toexpect.

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Gerald said she wanted to meet with other individuals anddiscuss options, such as whether to hire an attorney. She hoped onewould not be needed, because an annexation attorney isexpensive.

“Judge (Ed) Patten assured us that we would be afforded all ourrights without one,” Gerald said.

While an attorney is not mandatory for objectors, Patten saidone would help ensure their rights are protected and would help theprocess run more smoothly. He said more than one person could hirethe same attorney.

“You need to make sure your interests are in common on theobjections,” Patten said, explaining that different areas may havedifferent reasons to oppose the annexation.

David Smith, of 111 Brady Dr., lives inside the city but owns 40acres near Hog Chain that would be included in the annexation.

Smith expressed concerns that the city would raise taxes oneveryone to pay for the annexation area. He said the city cannothandle what it already has, and he did not believe the additionalarea could be handled without a tax increase.

City officials have expressed a desire for the annexation to beself-supporting, meaning that additional revenue would offset thecost of providing services.

During the hearing, Patten said completing an objector formwould insure that the people are notified of court hearings andother matters during the annexation trial process.

“The day of trial by ambush left this state (more than 20 yearsago),” Patten said.

Patten said Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop is compiling a masterlist of objectors. The judge said objectors did not have to attendTuesday morning’s hearing and could add their names to the list atany point in the trial process.

“Just because you’re not here today doesn’t mean you can’t showup and object at any phase,” Patten said.

Patten asked that any filings include the annexation case’scause number, which is 2002-0698.

Cathy Franck, of 573 Natchez Dr., questioned why the city waspaying for attorneys to present its case and asked if the countycould do the same for objectors. Patten explained the city board ofaldermen had voted to pursue annexation and cover the attorneyexpense, but the county could not pay for an individual’s attorneyto challenge the plan.

After hearing from objectors, Patten ordered the case continueduntil May 6 at 1 p.m.

A status conference was set for that day to determine deadlinesfor discovery, a scheduling order and other case matters. Pattenwarned that date could change, but said objectors would be notifiedof any changes.

Patten expected the city’s annexation trial to be held sometimein the fall.

The judge has not decided whether he will recuse himself fromhearing the annexation case. In the event of a recusal, a specialchancellor would have to be named by the state Supreme Court.

Patten said he would consider other court matters and how theannexation case could impinge upon those. If he recuses himself,the judge said he would retain jurisdiction over schedulingissues.

City Attorney Joe Fernald and Jerry Mills, the city’s annexationattorney, complimented Patten on his handling of the hearing. Millssaid the hearing was handled properly to ensure that everyone couldspeak or be heard.

“The hearing was an epitome of fairness,” Mills said.

While objectors may voice opposition before and during thetrial, they would also have an opportunity to appeal a decisionafter the trial. Mills said an individual would have a 30-dayappeal window following the trial’s conclusion.

Ultimately, Mills said once the supreme court hears the case andrules, the matter is settled. He said citizens could not keepappealing in an effort to tie up the issue.

With city elections two years away, officials are making plansto redistrict the city into four wards — with one alderman electedat large — instead of the current six and one at-large aldermenposition. The 2000 census put the city’s population under 10,000,and the city’s form of government stipulates representation by fivealdermen in that case.

If annexation is not done by 2005, the city would have electionsfor five alderman posts.

If the annexation goes through after the 2005 election, the citywould be redistricted and seven aldermen would be elected fouryears later. There would be no special election for the additionalalderman seats.

In case the annexation issue is settled before the election,plans are also under way to redistrict for six wards and oneat-large alderman office. The annexation would boost the city’spopulation back over the 10,000 threshold.

According to demographic data about the annexation, theexpansion would increase the city’s land area from 7.3 square milesto 23.9 square miles. In terms of population, the total would risefrom the current 9,861 to 13,198.

Fernald gave aldermen a brief recap of the annexation hearingduring Tuesday night’s board meeting. He forecast an annexationtrial being held around late October.

“We’re pretty upbeat about the process and the situation the wayit is,” Fernald said.