Although some state lawmakers continue pushing for new legislation to restrict annexation in DeSoto County, the group fighting the latest effort feels legal success is their best chance to stop the City of Olive Branch from adding their homes inside the city’s boundaries.
Unincorporated Citizens of DeSoto County, also known as Fight4DeSoto, held a nearly two-hour long meeting Saturday, Jan. 25 at New Prospect Baptist Church in Lewisburg.
Officials with the anti-annexation push told the half-filled sanctuary about where they were at in the court fight. Also on hand were state Rep. Steve Hopkins (R-Southaven), state Sen. Michael McLendon (R-Hernando), former state Rep. Robert Foster, DeSoto County Supervisor Michael Lee, and attorney Pope Mallette, the lead legal representation for Fight4DeSoto.
Fight4DeSoto official Jamie Cross said they have acquired an expert witness who will help present their side of the annexation fight. Chris Watson, an urban planner, has been hired to help present their case in court.
“He’s taking the annexation area, taking it and comparing it to what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense for it to be annexed,” Cross said. “He’s helping us to build our case to oppose it.”
But, Watson’s expert testimony will come at a cost. Cross said DeSoto County government and the City of Hernando have agreed to share the cost, which could reach approximately $200,000 shared three ways, if the case goes on for two years.
Another court hearing is scheduled for March of this year, Mallette said, but legal objections have pushed the resolution of the case back at least a year.
Mallette also cautioned the case is going to be a lengthy process.
“It is much more of a behind-the-scenes process than you may appreciate,” Mallette said. “That all ramps up significantly when we get beyond the initial exchanges of documents and we move into the deposition phase.”
Mallette said there is no trial date set and that the deposition phase could take weeks into the month of May before that is finished.
“We have asked for more time to finish discovery, which has made the discovery deadline into the early summer,” Mallette explained. “It’s now doubtful that there would be a trial before the late summer or early fall.”
Mallette did not take questions, saying he had to be careful about saying anything in a public setting “that would be available to the other side,” he said.
Lee used the strong county response to the Jan. 11 tornadoes as an indication that DeSoto County already offers the services Olive Branch said it would provide under annexation. But, Lee said the county also provides something the city cannot offer: freedom.
“You can hunt, you can raise chickens and you can raise cows,” Lee pointed out. “You can do those types that you’re able to do because a city will put ordinances on you that you’re going to have to abide by. I think that’s what you’re fighting. You move to the country for a reason and that’s part of your reason.”
Hopkins and McLendon plan to push new legislation in their respective chambers this spring. Hopkins said he was more hopeful of its movement because the committee chairman that prevented it from advancing last session was defeated in the last general election. Hopkins added state Rep. Dan Eubanks (R-Walls) is now vice-chairman of that committee.
“The people in the affected area of annexation shall have a vote to approve or disapprove whether or not they want to be annexed,” Hopkins said. “We also want the city that wants the annexation to pay for the election. If they challenge the results of the election, they have to pay for the attorney fees on both sides.”
Foster said there are states that allow citizens to vote on annexations, citing Alabama and Texas as examples.
“Cities in Mississippi, since you have no true vote but only the court system, make a laundry list of promises X, Y, and Z,” Foster said. “You may not want X, Y, and Z. That’s just what the cities will tell the court, that they’re going to provide these amenities.”
Cross asked supporters to continue financially backing the effort, providing figures of a $90,000 financial goal for the year.
A safe, secure online system called DonorPerfect is being used to solicit donations, either on a one-time, or recurring, basis.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune