Annexation trial back in court

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Following an extended recess over the Thanksgiving and Christmasholidays, Brookhaven’s annexation trial resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesdayin Lincoln County Chancery Court.

The city is asking to annex more than 16 square miles ofterritory, but objectors are questioning the city’s ability to meetexpansion-related obligations. In terms of population, theannexation would increase the city from the current 9,861 to over13,000.

Trial participants on both sides of the expanding city limitsissue agree on one thing: they’re reading for the trial to end.

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“We’re looking forward to getting it over with,” said SandraGerald, one of over 200 objectors who are challenging the city’sannexation plan. “We think we have a very good case.”

City Attorney Joe Fernald said the city is also interested inwrapping up the trial as soon as possible. Special Chancellor JohnRoss, of Corinth, is presiding.

Due to use of the chancery courtroom for a regular term inFebruary and scheduled trials in the circuit courtroom, Fernaldsaid the annexation trial may not start back until March if it doesnot conclude this week. He said Saturday and Sunday are availablefor court action if needed.

“We will more than likely do everything we can to finish it thisweek,” Fernald said.

After starting Nov. 5, the annexation trial was recessedTuesday, Nov. 25, after attorneys realized they would not be ableto finish before Thanksgiving. Various scheduling conflictsprevented court action in December.

The trial was to resume Monday. However, Jerry Mills, the city’sannexation attorney, has a matter before the state Supreme CourtTuesday.

Kathy Garner, objectors’ urban planning expert, was being crossexamined on the witness stand when the trial recessed. Due to aconflict on Wednesday, her testimony will resume Thursday.

Objectors are expected to call other witnesses Wednesday. Geraldwas hopeful they would be helpful in combating annexationefforts.

“We’ve had a lot of good testimony and some more to come,”Gerald said.

After objectors conclude their case, the city will have a chanceto call rebuttal witnesses. Fernald was unsure how many would becalled, saying it would depend on additional testimony from Garnerand what other witnesses say.

To be allowed to annex, the city must address 12 indicia ofreasonableness. The indicia involve such issues as need forexpansion, path of growth, minority voting strength and impact onthose sought to be annexed.

If the trial concludes this week, Fernald anticipated the judgeissuing a ruling within 30 to 60 days. After the order is entered,there is a 30-day window for appeal.

The judge may accept or reject the annexation plan in full. Hemay also modify it under guidelines of the 12 indicia ofreasonableness.

Fernald said there are a number of city issues contingent on theannexation trial’s outcome. The attorney mentioned redistricting ofthe city alderman wards.

With a population under 10,000, the city is to have fivealdermen instead of the current seven. Annexation would allow thecity to maintain seven members on the board.

The next regular city elections are in spring 2005. Fernald saidannexation consultants have been working on redistricting plans forboth a five- and seven-member board of aldermen.

“We need to get ready for redistricting one way or the other,”Fernald said.