Mississippi editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Greenwood Commonwealth on the hiring of a school official:
Holmes County school officials would not have known three years ago when they hired Dyana Terrelle Thomas that he would get locked up for allegedly having sex with a student of the high school where he has been the assistant principal.
But they would have — or should have — known plenty about his shady past in Alabama to make him ineligible for hire.
Even a cursory background check — nothing more involved than typing his name in a Google search — would have turned up plenty of disqualifying information: namely that over a span of nine years, Thomas had been credibly accused three times — at three different schools where he was principal — of misusing school funds for personal gains.
He had been found guilty in a 2007 federal prosecution of directing payments two years earlier to three summer workshop “instructors” who never instructed. In at least one of the cases, Thomas got a cut of the payment made to a bogus instructor, a Mobile barber.
In 2012, Thomas was fined $1,000 by the Alabama Ethics Commission for misuse of funds at another school.
Then in the summer of 2014, two years before the Holmes County Consolidated School District would offer Thomas a job, news broke that he was in the crosshairs of yet another investigation into financial shenanigans as a principal. He would eventually plead guilty in 2018 to taking kickbacks from multiple individuals whom Thomas had arranged to work at school functions.
In describing Thomas, an Alabama prosecutor said, “This guy’s fingers are more slippery than an eel.”
With that kind of criminal past and reputation, even before Thomas’ latest legal trouble, serious questions have been raised about how much the Holmes County school district checks out job applicants or whether it even cares.
Mississippi law requires that school districts do background checks on all potential hires. Was one done on Thomas? If so, was it overlooked or ignored?
Admittedly, Holmes County is a tough place to recruit teachers and administrators. It’s poor, heavily rural and has few of the amenities that most people want.
It deals with a chronic shortage of certified educators and probably has to accept some hires who don’t have the ideal academic credentials.
But even desperate school districts should have some standards, such as not hiring people in positions of trust with a demonstrated proclivity of stealing from their employer.
Holmes County has some explaining to do. So far, it’s provided none other than for the current superintendent, Dr. James Henderson, to make the excuse that he wasn’t around when Thomas was hired.
He was on board, though, when Thomas was convicted last August in Alabama. What action did Henderson take then?
It’s time for some answers.
The Vicksburg Post on completing a flood plan:
Time for talk is over; we need action to complete flood plan
For U.S. Senators, a maiden speech is a cherished tradition and something very important to those elected to the Senate. As the name hints, senators only get one maiden speech, one first speech, on the floor of the Senate.
Many of us can remember our first kiss, the first time we drove a car and our first date. There’s a reason such firsts are so remembered.
For U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), her maiden speech came last week, and the main focus of that speech was the ongoing Mississippi River flood impacting the Delta, highlighting the plight of farmers through the region and those residents waging a war against water on Eagle Lake.
In her comments, Hyde-Smith was dynamic and powerful in the words she chose, and strong in her call to action.
“Today’s flooding in Mississippi should not be happening. It’s time for the federal government to step up and make good on its promises,” she said. “It’s time for the federal government to listen to the people in need of help — and to help them.”
Hyde-Smith, and other members of the state’s congressional delegation have been strong proponents of the Flood Control Act of 1941, which authorized a range of systematic flood control improvements in the Yazoo Backwater Area of levees, drainage channels, floodgates and pumping stations.
And, as the senator’s office again highlighted in a release following her speech, “all of these features have been completed other than the Yazoo Backwater pumping facility, which has resulted in catastrophic flooding inside the existing levee system due to the inability to remove water trapped on the protected side of the levees.”
In many ways, Mother Nature is going to do what Mother Nature is going to do. There’s nothing we can do to stop the rain, the wind or even the horror brought about by tornadoes or hurricanes.
That said, there are man-made solutions to man-made problems and the inability to finish the work planned out in 1941 is a man-made problem. Hindsight being 20-20, some of what we are battling today would have been prevented had we simply finished the plan laid out.
Would there be other problems? Very likely. Would all of the flooding have been prevented by finishing the plan? Probably not. But, something is better than nothing.
While we appreciate Hyde-Smith using her first speech on the floor of the Senate to bring attention to the problem, the time for speeches is over. What we need now is action.
The next step is legislation from one of our elected leaders — and it would be nice if someone representing the area introduced such legislation — to finish what was started so many years ago.
Completion of the project would still be years away, but it would be nice to know there’s at least a finish line to be crossed.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on officials getting special treatment:
Last week’s revelation that another Lee County official received special treatment following his 2018 drunken driving arrest is deeply alarming.
After County Supervisor Billy Joe Holland was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in April 2018, not only did he not get booked or have to bond out, but his charges also were quickly dismissed, as exposed in an exclusive Daily Journal story by reporters Caleb Bedillion and William Moore.
This is the second instance over the past year in which a local official was given preferential treatment by law enforcement. Tupelo city attorney Ben Logan was never booked in the Lee County Jail following his December arrest on charges of DUI-refusal.
The two incidents show a clear pattern in which justice is not evenly administered.
Instead, a privileged few - the wealthy, the powerful, the elected - are able to escape the same consequences that pummel average citizens. And when there isn’t one clear standard applied to everyone, it erodes the public’s confidence in a system that was designed to keep them safe.
For his part, Holland told the Daily Journal he doesn’t know why the case was dismissed and that he didn’t ask for such. The second-term supervisor said he was prepared to face the legal consequences of his actions.
“I hate that it happened,” Holland said of his arrest. “I messed up. It’s my fault, and I’m moving on.”
Holland was stopped at a Mississippi Highway Patrol checkpoint on April 6, 2018 and was taken to the Lee County Jail, where a test showed his blood alcohol level to be 0.1 percent. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.
He received a citation for DUI-first offense, but his picture never appeared on the jail website, and his name was not written in the jail’s docket book, a procedure normally applied when individuals are arrested. Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson’s explanation has shifted. He first insisted to the Daily Journal that Holland was booked. When the evidence didn’t bear that out, Johnson said that he took responsibility for the manner of Holland’s release. More recently, Johnson has seemingly shifted responsibility and now says that he always assumed Holland was booked on the night of his arrest.
Meanwhile, former Lee County Prosecuting Attorney James Moore said Sheriff Johnson called him and requested the charges be dropped, a point that Johnson strongly denies. Moore also said the absence of any standard jail records helped shield Holland’s arrest from the public for more than a year.
That’s not how our justice system is supposed to work. All persons who break any Mississippi law should be treated the same and follow the same processes and procedures, regardless of their job, race or religion.
This continued pattern of abuse by local elected and government officials gives us concerns that the practice of preferential treatment of the powerful in Lee County goes much deeper and that more such incidents will be revealed.
This flawed system of protecting the good ol’ boys needs to stop immediately, and officials need to be held accountable for their role in it. The law must be equally applied to all.