Board unmoved by effort to keep wildlife office

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks isstill on a course to leave Brookhaven after a trio of current andformer businessmen were initially unsuccessful in their attempt topressure supervisors into granting a new lease to the departingstate agency.

Supervisors took the matter “under advisement” Monday,apparently not immediately moved by the presentation of a signedpetition calling for MDWF&P to be allowed continued use of acounty-owned office building that houses the department’s DistrictFive headquarters.

“We have a mistake made, I believe,” said Brookhaven MonumentCompany owner Dave Pace, who authored the petition and gathered itssignatures. “Lincoln County needs to be open for business, whateverit takes. Don’t run people out of town for whatever reason.”

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Supervisors in January decided to allow the lease to expire,hoping to reclaim the building at 304 South Second St. for use bythe growing Lincoln County Tax Assessor’s Office. The decision hasled to MDWF&P to depart from Brookhaven for Percy Quin StatePark new McComb.

Pace’s petition had 35 signatures as of Monday. He said he wouldfax updated petitions to supervisors as he gets moresignatures.

The petition listed five reasons why MDWF&P should beallowed to remain in the building – the agency’s departure createsan inconvenience for Lincoln County citizens, eliminates 20 jobs,signals the county’s non-support for existing industries, detractsfrom the local law enforcement community and subtracts dollars fromthe local economy.

Supervisors remained mostly silent during Pace’s presentation ofthe petition.

Board president the Rev. Jerry Wilson said afterward he wouldnot comment on the situation concerning MDWF&P until after theBrookhaven election on June 2. Wilson is a candidate for mayor.

During Monday’s meeting, District Three Supervisor NolanWilliamson was the only supervisor who defended the decision toallow the lease to expire. He pointed out the tax office is toolarge to operate efficiently in its current space in thecourthouse.

“People don’t realize the courthouse was designed in the 1970s.We’re running out of room,” he said. “We’re just handling thetaxpayers’ dollars as we see fit. It’s cheaper to redo thatbuilding than to rebuild the courthouse. Do the taxpayers want usto go out here and buy a building for a state agency?”

Williamson said supervisors considered moving the tax officeinto space recently vacated by the Brookhaven Police Department’smove into new offices on Highway 51, but the Lincoln CountySheriff’s Department plans to move its jail kitchen into thespace.

Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop said supervisors considered movingthe tax office across First Street into an office owned by locallawyer Carlisle Henderson, but the office is too small.

Bishop asked Pace, who has interacted with many citizens whilecrafting his petition, about the general public’s ideas for solvingthe issue. Retired businessman John Pennington took the floor andsuggested letting county residents decide.

“Here’s what should be done in a democratic, free country …ask the people in Lincoln County what the board can do to servethem,” he said. “Decide what the people in Lincoln County wantinstead of what the board of supervisors want. I know it’s yourjob, but you’re still here to serve the people of LincolnCounty.”

Of all the people in Lincoln County, some of the most affectedby the loss of MDWF&P’s District Five office will be localbusiness owners. Several local business owners said last week theloss of the department’s presence would cost the local economythousands of dollars, as the department has its vehicles servicedand repaired in local shops and the many officers and office guestseat and shop in Brookhaven.

Just Kiddin’ of Brookhaven owner Joe Fleming said his toy storeon Railroad Avenue serves many customers from other counties whostop by after conducting business at the wildlife office. He alsoreminded the board of MDWF&P’s service to the community,pointing out the wildlife department has participated in severalspecial events around the city.

“Guys, we’re kicking heroes of the community out,” he said.”When (Hurricane) Katrina hit, where was wildlife and fisheries?They were here. During the (Mississippi Gran Prix) bike race, wherewas the wildlife and fisheries? They were here. If the county ownedthe building the National Guard was in, would you tell them toleave because you need the space?”

Fleming told supervisors they could have free access toapproximately 3,000 square feet of warehouse space in the back ofhis store to house records from the tax office if they would recanttheir decision to allow MDWF&P’s lease to expire.

“If you need to use it, it’s free,” he said. “I’ve got space ifyou need to keep maps. But don’t kick out our heroes.”