City, opponents getting ready for annexation trial

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 18, 2003

With a scheduled court date less than seven weeks away, partieson both sides of the city annexation issue continue preparationsfor the November trial.

“We’re right on track,” said Mike Slaughter, the city’sannexation consultant.

Slaughter and fellow consultant Chris Watson met in executivesession with the mayor and board of aldermen during Tuesday night’smeeting. No action was taken during the approximately 30-minutemeeting called for reasons of pending litigation.

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The city’s annexation trial is scheduled to start Wednesday,Nov. 5, before special chancellor John C Ross and is expected totake several weeks.

According to a scheduling order, the next court matter is apre-trial conference on Oct. 15.

Trial exhibits the parties plan to use will be due then.Slaughter said city representatives are concentrating on thosenow.

“The burden of proof is on the city, and that’s why we’repreparing the exhibits,” Slaughter said.

Brookhaven attorney Carlisle Henderson and Hattiesburg attorneyJerry Evans are working with a group of more than 100 objectors whoare challenging the annexation.

Henderson said objectors are still working on discovery, inwhich the opposing sides share with the other what evidence theyplan to use at trial. Some discovery has not been completed.

“Discovery is a way of getting things going, and it’s servedthat purpose,” Henderson said.

Henderson said efforts are under way to get objectors to respondto a list of personal information questions asked by the city. OnTuesday, he said objectors filed their response to the city’srequest for admissions to trial-related questions.

“We denied everything,” Henderson said.

To justify its annexation request, the city will focus on 12indicia of reasonableness. Those involve showing a need forexpansion, the city’s ability to provide services in a timelymanner, economic impact and other issues.

Slaughter said the city does not have to prove all 12, but themore the better.

“The more the city can prove, the more solid the case will be,”Slaughter said.

In the annexation, the city is asking to enlarge from 7.3 squaremiles to 23.9 square miles. In terms of people, the populationwould go from the current 9,861 to approximately 13,200.

Henderson said objectors are gathering their own information tochallenge the city’s case. Urban planner Kathy Garner is assistingin that effort.

“We are having an independent analysis done on the city’sability to manage this annexation,” Henderson said.

Henderson said the objectors’ side is getting assistance fromresidents both in and outside the city.

“People are coming in with evidence that goes to the 12 indiciathat the city has to prove,” said Henderson, although he did notelaborate on the nature of the evidence.

Henderson said objectors had formed committees to work with him,Evans and Garner on various aspects of their case. All objectors’names remain on file in the case, but the committees are helping inpreparing for trial.

“In order to make it more manageable, we’re working with smallergroups,” Henderson said.