Article Comment 

Our opinion: Land deal exposes Columbus' good ol' boy system




Columbus Light and Water''s deal with a local developer to pay $996,000 for 118 acres, on which it plans to spread treated sewage, is smellier than we thought. 


The offer has exposed the "good ol'' boy" system that seems to rule Columbus. 


The CL&W board member who pushed the hardest for the land deal, David Shelton, has business ties with Russell Sheffield, who owns the land near Pickensville Road and Shady Lane. Shelton first tried to get the board to buy the land for $1.18 million in September, then garnered the votes to do the deal for $996,000 this month. 


Sheffield agreed -- who wouldn''t agree to sell rural farm land in Lowndes County for $8,440 an acre? The sale is conditional on Sheffield landing permits required by the state Department of Environmental Quality. 


The CL&W board is obviously paying too much for the land, which had a low appraisal of $500,000, and a ridiculously high one of $1.8 million. 


It appears Sheffield has been able to strike cheaper deals with board member Shelton. Chancery Court records show Sheffield purchased lots on Sixth Street North, and two lots from his son, Justin Shelton, at 17th Street North and Seventh Street North, for $10 each. 


Sheffield and Shelton have done other business together. Sheffield Construction handled the renovation of the new Renasant Bank location downtown on Main Street, a building David Shelton owns. 


The much cheaper piece of land the CL&W board also considered -- $450,000 for 115 acres owned by Ronnie and Donna West of West Brothers Construction -- also had a board connection. Board member Tom Sneed, who voted against the Sheffield offer, recently worked for West Brothers Construction, though not directly for Ronnie and Donna West. 


The light and water board''s attorney, Jeff Smith (who has done legal work for the Sheltons and represented Russell Sheffield in his divorce) says that what is happening here is completely ethical, and Shelton and Sneed didn''t need to recuse themselves from voting on this land deal.  


We think the appearance of impropriety is glaring. Maybe no ethics laws were breached, but we think it''s obvious that this is a sweetheart deal between friends, with you, us, and all the other customers of CL&W and taxpayers of Columbus footing the bill. 


Add all that to the fact that there should be no rush here. The city''s waste storage needs are covered for the next 20 years. CL&W recently raised the levees on its three storage lagoons just south of Columbus, at a cost of $368,000, to handle sewage storage. 


At least the permitting process will last another year or so, according to attorney Smith. The process will include public hearings -- we imagine the neighborhood and church near the property will have opinions about their new neighbor, the sludge farm.  


We urge the public to take a good, hard look at what is happening here. This whole deal really stinks.



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Reader Comments

Article Comment hope commented at 10/31/2010 10:13:00 AM:

Here we are trying to restore sanity to our government in Washington, and now we have to deal with it at home. This is a prime example of politicians making decisions to fund their best interest and not the people's. We will see a lot more of this if the Republican Tea Party gets elected because they want less government to keep big brother from looking over their shoulder to keep them honest. We should refuse to pay the 10% increase until all board members resign.


Article Comment frank commented at 10/31/2010 11:08:00 AM:

Wow Hopeless, you want all those Democrats to resign!? That's a twist.


Article Comment walter commented at 11/1/2010 10:45:00 AM:

If public funds are going to be used to purchase the property and the seller is a public servant, it makes sense to get as much as possible for it, if one can. If there are other public servants and they're interested in following suit, it makes even more sense to purchase the property for as little as possible. Of course, that is how it would be in a society in which the citizens aren't taken for granted.

Are the citizens of Mississippi taken for granted by many of their public servants? Columbus? Lowndes? Or, are the citizens simply ignorant by design? Are they being deliberately kept in the dark by elected-officials who make certain that only a bare minimum of the funds needed for education are ever alloated to enlighten the public/citizenry?

Of course, there are a number of honest, sincere and very hard-working elected-officials at every level of government throughout the state. The problem is there simply aren't early enogh of them to check the huge number of them who don't give a d--n about the people of Mississippi. Others, despite winning office, don't know their a-ses from a hole in the ground.

Regardless of who it is and regardless of the purpose for which the property is being purchased, if the amount being asked is unreasonable, given the economic circumstances we presently find ourselves, as a nation, state and/or county, then, the other elected-officials have a duty to challenge the price and if necessary, bid for and locate a more competitive offer. On the other hand, perhaps the sum being asked and tendered is reasonable. What say independent experts about the whole affair?


Article Comment jb commented at 11/1/2010 6:32:00 PM:

Sheffield has done right of way clearance for CL&W on several occasions that was not bid out. Another business man was wanting to get some of this work but was ignored.The process of bidding is to compare apples to apples. We need to find out why this process was not used and, who approved Sheffield to do this work and how much he was paid. Why did CL&W run fiber optic to Ralph McClain's businesses on Lehmberg and Shoney Dr. on 45? Why does Teletec maintain , install, sell all the radio, and GPS systems in every vehicle the Light & Water owns? Ralph McClain owns Teletec, but the interesting part about that is that he is CL&W general managers father in law. All this work of, buying, installing, maintaining and right of way clearing is done with the money that we as rate payers fork over every month. Let's do something about these thieves. I for one can't stand the thought of a 10% increase when this has been going on for who knows how long.


Article Comment hope commented at 11/2/2010 8:20:00 AM:

This deal works like a frivolous lawsuit, except it isn't a lawsuit, it's just stealing from the taxpayers. We shouldn't let them get away with this! This board doesn't want our government to operate like this, so we should hold them accountable also.


Article Comment hope commented at 11/2/2010 9:07:00 AM:

@hope---------should have read rate (rape) payers.They will probably get the tax payers next.


Article Comment walter commented at 11/2/2010 10:48:00 AM:

Regettably, individuals with more than a passing knowledge of the legal system and a whole lot of integrity and courage, but, imperfect in their personal lives, have been driven-out of the area by others, who are even more imperfect in their own personal lives and who are totally devoid of even the semblance of integrity.

If the issues impacting the public are founded upon legal principles and the area has a limited number of principled-persons practicing law, then, woe to the people. Sadly, many of those with integrity are motivated more by personal greed than they are any sense of duty to the public or oath of the profession.

You're in a pickle, Lowndes Countians, and citizens of the Golden Triangle, when you're unable to see the forest for the tree and you've entrusted the responsibility for guarding the hen-house to the foxes. You're defensely against a well-organized and trained association of thugs who will do anything, and I mean anything, to get and secure money, and other properties, for themselves and their prosperity. They begin by eliminating, by any means necessary, the potential threat, from any individual or entity that they suspect would object or challenge their chicanery!

But, the old adage still holds: a people deserve the people they choose, if they're too much of a coward to replace them, especially when it is obvious that they do not have the best interest of the people at heart. Golden Triangle, I personally believe you deserve better.


Article Comment walter commented at 11/2/2010 10:52:00 AM:



Article Comment bob commented at 11/2/2010 1:46:00 PM:

I would really like to know why my TVA fuel adjustment is 14.3% on top of my electric bill!!! Why is my electric portion of my CL&W bill more than $200 more than 2 years ago??? What other good ole boy stuff is going on with the TVA?? There were articles in the Dispatch about electic going up, but it was along the lines of 5%. This is getting ridiculous. My friends in the county aren't paying anything like I am on similar sized homes. No wonder Columbus is dying as more and more folks opt for the county due to rising tax and utility costs. Are we paying for the electical useage out at the industrial park too??


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