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Summary of recent Mississippi newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

July 20

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo) on storm relief magnitude continues proving worth:

MEMA and FEMA, the state and federal emergency management agencies, updated tornado relief figures for Mississippi, showing $19.7 million has been granted or loaned for recovery from tornadoes that hit Northeast Mississippi and Winston County/Louisville in late April.

Twelve Mississippi counties were certified for emergency assistance from the storms that happened in the April 28-May 3 time frame.

Neither agency is charged with completely rebuilding all properties damaged in tornadoes or similar events, but substantial numbers of people who apply receive generous help:

— Nearly $14.2 million in low-interest disaster loans has been approved by SBA for 229 homeowners, renters and businesses.

— Nearly $5.5 million in FEMA Individual Assistance grants has been approved to help Mississippi disaster survivors recover, including:

— More than $4 million approved for housing grants, including short-term rental assistance and home repair costs.

— Nearly $1.5 million approved to help cover other essential disaster-related needs such as medical, dental and funeral expenses as well as repair or replacement of personal property.

— More than 5,300 people contacted FEMA for help or information during the 60-day registration period that ended June 30.

— Nearly 3,000 (99 percent) home inspections have been completed.

Survivors who are receiving FEMA rental assistance or staying in a temporary housing unit are periodically required to recertify their need. Thousands of Mississippians who hoped they would never have to seek help from a disaster agency have found some measure of assistance in a timely way after the spring storms.

It is essential that Mississippians continue telling members of the U.S. House and Senate how vital FEMA and MEMA are in response to our always-unsettled climate.

Online:

http://www.djournal.com


July 18

The Greenwood Commonwealth on open records.

When it comes to the shameful attempt on the Gulf Coast to keep public records secret, State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Attorney General Jim Hood apparently haven't learned their lesson.

Both elected officials continue to fight a Harrison County judge's sanctions against them, the worst of which was her blistering criticism of their conduct.

Chancellor Jennifer Schloegel ruled two months ago that Pickering and Hood were part of a deliberate effort to prevent a Biloxi newspaper from looking at Mississippi Department of Marine Resources records as part of an investigation into that agency's corrupt or questionable spending.

Pickering, whose office loves to send out press releases when it catches other elected officials breaking the law, already has appealed the Harrison County chancellor's ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Schloegel has said that Hood and Pickering abused the grand jury system to spirit the records in question away from state jurisdiction and into the federal court system, hoping that dodge would keep the records under lock and key and out of the hands of The Sun Herald newspaper. In the process, state officials barefacedly ignored the judge's directive to turn the records over.

The major financial penalty for this arrogance and abuse of power was the $36,000 that Schloegel has ordered Pickering, his office and MDMR to reimburse the newspaper for its legal fees. She also fined Pickering, Hood and six others $100 — the maximum fine allowed — for violating the state Public Records Act.

We're glad the judge has stuck to her guns. What's still a mystery, though, is why Pickering and Hood took such an adversarial approach to the Biloxi newspaper. The two should have welcomed the newspaper's digging, since whatever its reporters turned up would only have helped the state and federal investigation that nabbed several MDMR officials, including the former head of the agency, and assorted others.

Why did Pickering and Hood instead try to thwart the newspaper? What was in those records that they didn't want the public to see?

We look forward to someone answering those questions.

Online:

http://www.gwcommonwealth.com


July 20

Enterprise-Journal (McComb) on: Schools wrong to sue the state

At least three law firms in Mississippi are speaking to school boards around the state, encouraging them to join a lawsuit against the Legislature in search of education money the districts should have received but did not.

It's hard to think of a riskier course of action than suing the group that provides a big chunk of your operating budget. School boards that join this proposed lawsuit are playing with fire.

A Ridgeland attorney told members of the Natchez-Adams school board about the plan. He said the district should have received $10.8 million more from the state since 2010, when Mississippi Adequate Education Program funding became mandatory.

The attorney said the law firms planning the suit have commitments from nearly 40 school districts. The firms expect to file the claim in August.

Presumably local school districts are receiving a similar pitch. While the opportunity to get a few million dollars in extra money from the state must be tantalizing, trustees should resist the temptation.

It's impossible to see how such a lawsuit, even if it's successful, ends without school districts paying the price over the long term.

Let's say the school districts win their case in court, or settle it for a smaller amount of money than they're seeking. Does anyone really think the leaders of the Legislature will forget that when future budgets roll around?

Schools have a right to be upset. The MAEP was supposed to provide enough money to give kids all over the state a shot at a decent education. But the Legislature has almost never given the program all the money it's supposed to.

Over the last six years, that decision is understandable. Mississippi and the nation went through a severe recession. State tax receipts declined for a couple of years. You can't give schools or any other agency money that you don't have. Every agency had to do without all the money it wanted.

The idea of government entities in court over such a high-profile issue is troublesome. Both will be spending taxpayer dollars to make their point. That's simply wasteful.

There's a better way to solve this: Voting. The best way for anybody to get more money from the Legislature is through elections.

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