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MSA opening selected as year’s top story

The opening of the Mississippi School of the Arts overwhelmedall other local stories of 2003 as the major story of the year inpolls of both the public and The DAILY LEADER staff.

It was not the first year the MSA had made the Top 10 list.Progress on renovations to the former Whitworth College campus andthe state legislature’s funding approval were enough to propel theschool to number six in the 2002 poll.

The school officially opened and admitted its first 63 highschool juniors this year. The August opening placed the school atthe top of the charts.

Another veteran of the Top 10 lists climbed in the rankings for2003 as well. Discussions of a possible annexation of 16.7 squaremiles of Lincoln County by the city of Brookhaven were enough togive it a 5th place slotting in the 2002 poll.

It climbed into second place in both staff and public polls onthe 2003 list as the city moved forward in its plans againstopposition by some resident who would be affected by theannexation. The annexation went to trial in November, but wasrecessed until Jan. 26 when it could not be completed beforeThanksgiving.

The nation’s top story of the year for two consecutive years hada direct effect on Brookhaven when the Army Reserve’s 296thTransportation Company was dispatched to support combat operationsin Iraq in January.

The unit returned in September with no losses. That story rankedthird among the newspaper staff and sixth among the public inimportance.

The newspaper staff’s fourth-ranked story was a tornado whichripped a 10-mile wide swath through northern Lincoln County inApril. Loyd Star was the hardest hit by the tornado, whichdestroyed more than 110 homes and businesses. The voting publicranked that story as ninth in importance.

A sidebar to the 2004 elections won more votes than the generalelections when four-term incumbent Sheriff Lynn Boyte lost his bidfor re-election during the primaries.

Democratic candidate Wiley Calcote won the November generalelection. Boyte’s loss placed him fifth in the polls among staffvoters and third among public voters.

Court action involving Cearic Barnes and Jerrard T. Cook inconnection with the June 2002 murder of Marvin Durr received enoughvotes to capture sixth place on the list of stories voted bystaffers. The story received only a few votes in publicpolling.

The arrest in June and trial in October of a McComb attorneyaccused of selling drugs in the Lincoln County Jail placed higherin the public’s polling than the newspaper’s. The public ranked thestory fourth whereas the staff placed it seventh.

The trial ended in a mistrial when the jury could not reach averdict. A second trial is scheduled for Spring 2004.

Public polls also thought more highly of stories on theescalation of methamphetamine abuse, its causes, and its effects. Aseries of articles examining the problem was tied at fourth inpublic polls with the attorney’s trial, but was ranked eighth inthe staff poll.

At ninth in the staff poll was coverage of the local elections,which placed seventh in public polling.

The staff ranked the industrial park plans as the tenth-mostimportant story of the year, but the industrial park did notreceive any votes in public polling.

Instead, the public ranked the city’s ongoing dispute with someresidents about their ability to spray private property formosquitoes as one of the most important of the year. Voters rankedit eighth on their list. The issue was ranked twelfth on thenewspaper’s list.

Other issues receiving votes by the staff or public in order ofmost votes to least included Brandi Cobb’s return home to LawrenceCounty after a double transplant and nearly a year in a St. Louishospital; Brookhaven’s garbage and solid waste problems; the citybudget (and employee health insurance); Multi-Modal Facility andnew city hall plans; Copiah-Lincoln Community College celebrates75th anniversary; Military Memorial Museum opens in downtownBrookhaven; and a few others that received very few votes.

Each full-time member of The DAILY LEADER was asked toparticipate in the poll. They were asked to select the top 10stories from a list of 22 topics and rank them from most importantto least important. Points were assigned to each ranking andtotaled.

The same system was used to tabulate votes received from thepublic, who were asked to make their selections and turn them in tothe newspaper office.