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Jackson Public Schools goes virtual, still offers breakfast and lunch

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JPS schools go virtual due to water crisis, but still offering breakfast and lunch

All Jackson Public School District students shifted to remote learning on Tuesday due to Jackson’s water crisis.

State officials announced Monday night that the water system for the city of Jackson was failing, with thousands of Jackson residents already having little or no water pressure and officials cannot say when adequate, reliable service will be restored.

The city water system has been plagued with problems for years, including tens of thousands of residents losing water for multiple weeks during a 2021 winter storm.

Bagged breakfast and lunch are being served at all JPS schools except for Forest Hill High School, which is closed for meals due to inadequate water pressure. Sherwin Johnson, JPS communications director, said that schools are using city water and boiling it to prepare meals. 

Breakfast is served from 7-9 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The district said in a press release that they are monitoring conditions on a day-by-day basis for when schools may be able to return to in-person learning. JPS announced Tuesday evening that they will continue remote instruction on Wednesday, and also added that there are several schools whose air conditioning system depends on water to run effectively.

“We’re having to shift very quickly to virtual learning and while some students are able to make that shift pretty quickly, we have quite a few students, our most vulnerable students, who are not able to make that shift effectively,” said George Stewart, president of the Jackson Association of Educators. “We all worry about our students when they are out virtual, we worry about their health and their safety. It’s not the best situation right now and educators are very concerned right now.”

Johnson also said that students were receiving a full instructional day virtually, but employees at Callaway High School said some of the district was only in operation for 80% of a traditional school day. 

Neighboring school districts said they have not experienced any water pressure issues, but School District Superintendent Delesicia Martin said the district was providing bottled water to students and staff at three schools connected to the Jackson water system.

  • Barack H Obama Elementary School: 750 N Congress St, Jackson, MS 39202
  • Bailey Middle APAC School: 1900 N State St, Jackson, MS 39202
  • Baker Elementary School: 300 E Santa Clair St, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Bates Elementary School: 3180 McDowell Rd Ext, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Blackburn Middle School: 1311 W Pearl St, Jackson, MS 39203
  • Boyd Elementary School: 4531 Broadmeadow St, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Brinkley Middle School: 3535 Albermarle Rd, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Callaway High School: 601 Beasley Rd, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Cardozo Middle School: 3180 McDowell Rd Ext, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Casey Elementary School: 2101 Lake Cir, Jackson, MS 39211
  • Chastain Middle School: 4650 Manhattan Rd, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Clausell Elementary School: 3330 Harley St, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Dawson Elementary School: 4215 Sunset Dr, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Galloway Elementary School: 186 Idlewild St, Jackson, MS 39203
  • Green Elementary School: 610 Forest Ave, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Ida B. Wells APAC School: 1120 Riverside Dr, Jackson, MS 39202
  • Jim Hill High School: 2185 Coach Fred Harris St, Jackson, MS 39204
  • John Hopkins Elementary School: 170 John Hopkins Rd, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Isable Elementary School: 1716 Isable St, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Johnson Elementary School: 1339 Oak Park Dr, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Key Elementary School: 699 W McDowell Rd, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Kirksey Middle School: 5677 Highland Dr, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Lake Elementary School: 472 Mt Vernon Ave, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Lanier High School: 833 Maple St, Jackson, MS 39203
  • Lester Elementary School: 2350 Oakhurst Dr, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Marshall Elementary School: 2909 Oak Forest Dr, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Mc Leod Elementary School: 1616 Sandlewood Pl, Jackson, MS 39211
  • McWillie Elementary School: 4851 McWillie Cir, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Murrah High School: 1400 Murrah Dr, Jackson, MS 39202
  • North Jackson Elementary School: 650 James M Davis Dr, Jackson, MS 39206
  • Northwest Middle School: 7020 US-49 N, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Oak Forest Elementary School: 1831 Smallwood St, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Pecan Park Elementary School: 415 Claiborne Ave, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Peeples Middle School: 2940 Belvedere Dr, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Powell Middle School: 3655 Livingston Rd, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Provine High School: 2400 Robinson St, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Raines Elementary School: 156 N Chapel Rd, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Shirley Elementary School: 330 Judy St, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Smith Elementary School: 3900 Parkway Ave, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Spann Elementary School: 1615 Brecon Dr, Jackson, MS 39211
  • Sykes Elementary School: 3555 Simpson St, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Timberlawn Elementary School: 1980 N Siwell Rd, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Van Winkle Elementary School: 1655 Whiting Rd, Jackson, MS 39209
  • Walton Elementary School: 3200 Bailey Ave, Jackson, MS 39213
  • Whitten Middle School: 210 Daniel Lake Blvd, Jackson, MS 39212
  • Wilkins Elementary School: 1970 Castle Hill Dr, Jackson, MS 39204
  • Wingfield High School: 1985 Scanlon Dr, Jackson, MS 39204

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

The Folded Flag: The Meaning Behind the Folds

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by Mimi Bosarge, Our Mississippi Home

You’ve probably seen it somewhere – the American folded into a triangle with only the blue field with white stars showing.

Maybe you’ve seen it folded at a military funeral or seen it on display in someone’s home. 

And if you’ve seen the flag-folding in person you may have noticed how the honor guards make crisp, precise folds a total of 13 times to complete the ceremony.

This article first appeared on Our Mississippi Home.

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Celebrate 4th of July in the Magnolia State

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by Judy Smith, Our Mississippi Home

July is just around the corner, and we’re ready to herald in the month with lots of red, white, and blue festivities, , and many events to honor .

If you don’t have your plans finalized yet, don’t worry! There are many exciting and fun events throughout the Magnolia State.

Break out those flags and red, white, and blue outfits, and celebrate! Here are some…

This article first appeared on Our Mississippi Home.

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Tensions outside clinic grow as clock ticks on legal abortion

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‘I have never been so beat down’: As the clock ticks on legal abortion, tensions rise outside the state’s only clinic

On Friday morning, Brooke Jones was at work at Mississippi’s only clinic, performing an ultrasound, when her aunt called – twice. 

“She usually doesn’t call when I’m at work,” Jones, a sonogram and lab tech at the clinic, said. “I called her back when I finished my patient up. She was like, ‘Have you heard? I said, ‘Heard what?’ She said, ‘They overturned it.’”

Jones rushed into the hallway, where her colleagues were gathered. They were sad, she said. It felt like a heavy weight had settled onto their shoulders. They were also confused about what the sudden elimination of a constitutional right would mean for the 20 or so patients already in the building.

“We had to tell the patients, we’re not sure if it’s going to be in effect immediately,” Jones said. “It was really emotional for the first 30 minutes, because we honestly didn’t know what to do.”

The patients were scared, Jones said. One asked if she could have her $150 back. That day, the clinic was packed with people from out of town – some clinics around the country had already stopped offering abortions in anticipation of the ruling. One woman said she had driven six hours and just wanted to know if she would be able to get her pills. 

Then, clinic director Shannon Brewer, who was in New Mexico working on plans to open a new abortion clinic there – dubbed Pink House West – told staff to continue with business as usual. 

The workday resumed, busier and more urgent than ever. Jones helped call patients who were scheduled for July to move their appointments up. They finished the pre-op work and got ready for surgical abortions. When owner Diane Derzis and escorts held a press conference outside, staff tuned in from inside the clinic but kept working, just as they plan to do through at least July 6. 

In some states with laws on the books that banned all or most abortions in the event Roe was overturned, legal abortions ended soon after the ruling was issued on Friday. Louisiana’s three clinics stopped performing abortions almost immediately. The West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa canceled about 100 appointments. One of two abortion clinics in Memphis, which frequently serve patients from northern Mississippi, has stopped providing the service

Legal challenges against the trigger bans have now led to the resumption of legal abortion in some places, including Louisiana, at least temporarily. 

But at Mississippi’s only clinic, procedures have continued as normal since the ruling.

The state’s trigger law comes with a 10-day waiting period, which didn’t start until Monday morning, when Lynn Fitch certified that had been overturned. 

That means that as clinics across the South and Midwest close – if they hadn’t already shut their doors to people seeking abortions – the Pink House stands, at least for a few more days, like a battered island in a rising sea. 

“I will tell you this – any patients who contact us, we will see them,” Derzis said during the press conference. “We will make sure we see them in those 10 days. A woman should not have to leave the state to receive .”

On Monday, attorneys for the clinic filed a legal challenge to the trigger law based on a 1998 state Supreme Court ruling that abortion is protected under the Mississippi constitution. If the does not result in a delay to the trigger law, the last day of legal abortion in Mississippi will be July 6. 

Until then, tensions outside the clinic are likely to rise, as clinic staff and escorts try to ensure patients can make it to their appointments, while emboldened but frustrated anti-abortion demonstrators aim to stop them.   

“I have done this nine-plus years. I have never been so beat down,” Derenda Hancock, who has coordinated the Pink House Defenders clinic escort program since 2013, said on Tuesday morning. 

Every day the clinic is open, she and other volunteers stand outside in rainbow vests, directing traffic as protesters try to down people headed to the clinic and persuade them not to go inside, or yell at them over the fence. Now, they’re staring down the clock for the final time. 

The clinic has added extra shifts, and some days the escorts are spending 11 hours outside, surrounded by the usual protesters and by reporters from around the world. 

At times, the small side street that leads to the clinic’s parking lot has been completely congested, backing up traffic into State Street. Hancock said the Jackson Department and Capitol Police have largely ignored escorts’ calls and requests for help maintaining access to the road and clinic, except for when they called to report that Dr. Coleman Boyd, a regular protester outside the clinic, had bumped his vehicle into an escort.

Boyd said he is not convinced he bumped her. 

“It’s been crazy,” Boyd said. “I mean, lots of journalists, which is kind of a pain for everybody cause we’re trying to talk to ladies and it’s just more congestion. There’s cars everywhere in the way. That part just makes it congested for the ladies to get up the street, which is okay by me, but it’s lots more emotion on the street.”

The Jackson Police Department and Capitol Police did not return calls from Mississippi Today.

Jones said that on Friday, patients frantically called the clinic to ask if it was still open. Some of them were confused by protesters outside insisting that the clinic was closed. 

Brooke Jones poses for a portrait in Pearl, Miss., Wednesday, June 15, 2022. Jones is a sonogram tech at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

At the press conference Friday, Derzis said the FBI had visited the clinic to discuss concerns about possible violence by supporters of abortion. Nationally, the FBI is investigating “a series of attacks and threats targeting pregnancy resource centers and faith-based organizations across the country,” the Washington Examiner reported earlier this month. None of Mississippi’s nearly 40 crisis pregnancy centers have been affected, according to a list compiled by the organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. 

Stalking, blockades and assaults against abortion providers rose significantly in 2021, a report released in May by the National Abortion Federation found. 

Katie Greenleaf, public affairs officer at the Jackson division of the FBI, declined to answer questions about the FBI’s communication with the clinic.

“The FBI will continue to work with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of our communities while respecting individuals’ First Amendment rights,” she said in an email. “Our focus remains on protecting peaceful protestors from those threatening their safety with violence. FBI personnel are assessing intelligence to detect potential threats of violence and are in constant communication with our partners.”

The clinic has hired private security guards to protect patients and staff as they go into the clinic.

On Tuesday morning, one security guard – who asked not to be identified because he had taken time off from his regular job to work at the clinic – said he considers himself “95% against abortion.” 

“But it’s not my body, not my wife, not my child,” he said. “I’m a big believer in giving people space.”

On Saturday, he had spent about 10 hours trying to keep the peace among dozens of people, including anti-abortion protesters who made what he called “disrespectful ethnic statements.” Many of the patients and staff at the clinic are Black women, and the protesters, almost all of whom are white, frequently invoke race

“‘How can you be Black security guards around the Black women killing Black babies?” the security guard said he was asked.

“They said to my supervisor– ‘You don’t have a father in your life,’” he said. “I’m like, really? You didn’t ask me a question.” 

Some of the regular protesters at the clinic expressed frustration that Fitch had not immediately certified that Roe had been overturned. 

On Monday morning, Pam Miller and Patty Fultz were praying outside the clinic, which was closed for the day.

“Each day it’s closed, it’s that many fewer babies dying,” Fultz said. 

“Moms are coming from all over,” Miller said. “It just makes me sad that it couldn’t be immediate. Now you’ve got time for people that are already mad to get madder, and act out.” 

In Arkansas and Missouri, state officials certified that Roe had been overturned on Friday.

Michelle Williams, Fitch’s chief of staff, defended the timing in an email to Mississippi Today. 

“Just as with our work to secure the victory in Dobbs, we were and remain focused on working as expeditiously as possible, but in a correct and orderly way to ensure an enduring victory for life,” Williams wrote. 

Pink House leaders are planning to open the new clinic in Las Cruces, New Mexico within a few weeks. Some of the Jackson employees would like to move there to keep working.

At work on Friday, Jones cried, thinking about what the ruling will mean for women in Mississippi and across the country. She thought especially about the teenagers – girls around the age of her youngest sister – who have come to the clinic during her two years working there. 

“If she got pregnant and she didn’t want to keep it, I couldn’t imagine her not being able to have this abortion and continue with her life as a child,” Jones said. “She’s a child. I just could not imagine that.”

She had expected the ruling Friday, and when she dressed for work she put on a T-shirt listing the Supreme Court cases that established and reaffirmed the right to abortion: Roe, Casey, WWH (Whole Women’s Health), June. At the bottom of the list was Jackson, referring to the clinic where she works. Seeing the shirt as she left for work, her aunt told her she must want drama.

“I was like, ‘No, I don’t, I just want to be in support of the clinic,’” she said.

A protester noticed the shirt, too, when she walked past him that day around 8 a.m. 

“He was like, ‘You need to change that shirt and put Dobbs on the end because we’re gonna win,’” she said. “He was right. But I didn’t change the shirt.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Defendant: Bryant should be sued over misspent welfare funds

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Former Gov. Phil Bryant should be sued over misspent welfare funds, civil defendant argues to court

A civil defendant in Mississippi’s massive welfare misspending scandal is arguing that if he’s being sued, so should former Gov. Phil Bryant.

That is just one explosive nugget included in a Friday court filing from Austin Smith, nephew to the now disgraced former welfare director John Davis and a former contractor of Nancy New’s nonprofit. The state is suing Smith for nearly half a million dollars.

Smith, in the filing, also alleges:

  • That he was directed by members of Bryant’s inner circle to expend federal grant funds on an expensive advertising contract with the company that owns Supertalk Radio, the conservative network that spans the entire state and touts Republican leaders.
  • That Nancy New, who has pleaded guilty to misspending millions in federal grant money including for celebrity rehab stints, told Smith she also paid for rehab for the son of Supertalk CEO Kim Dillon. Kim Dillon denied this allegation on Tuesday.
  • That Smith was wrongfully accused of calling his uncle and welfare agency director John Davis gay — a falsehood, Smith says, that isolated him from his family.
  • That the state of Mississippi has protected other entities that were involved in misspending of welfare funds, including the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation and members of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, which allowed for the use of $5 million in federal public assistance funds to build a new volleyball stadium.

Bryant consulted concussion drug company Prevacus, one of the civil defendants that received stolen welfare funds, and the former governor was even poised to accept stock in the company after he left office — a deal only made public after Mississippi Today obtained text messages between Bryant and former NFL legend Brett Favre. Smith’s recent filing uses Mississippi Today’s reporting to criticize the state for failing to name Bryant as a defendant, considering what the organization found about the former governor’s role in the scandal.

FULL COVERAGE: Mississippi Today’s “The Backchannel” investigation

Through a written statement Tuesday, Bryant rejected the notion that he should be held civilly responsible in the scheme.

Independent forensic auditors found that at least $77 million in federal welfare funds were misspent or stolen from Mississippi Department of Human Services during Bryant’s last four years in office. The agency filed a lawsuit in May seeking about $24 million from 38 individuals or organizations, but Bryant — who had the sole, statutory responsibility to oversee the spending of the state’s welfare agency — was not among the defendants.

The latest filing aims to demonstrate that Bryant had a close relationship with Davis and New and is just as responsible for the scheme. Without a bid or application process, Mississippi Department of Human Services, a department under the governor’s office, selected New’s nonprofit to receive tens of millions of welfare dollars, which they spent with little oversight.

“The most plausible reason for this massive transfer to New and her companies is the friendship between Bryant and New. There was no ‘full and open competition’ for this massive federal funding as required,” the filing reads.

New pleaded guilty to bribery, fraud and racketeering while Davis is still pleading not guilty to several similar charges. Much of the case deals with the fact that funds from a federal program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, which is supposed to provide assistance to needy families, were used in ways that didn’t help the poor.

“Governor Bryant’s personal involvement in these misexpenditures would have communicated to Governor Bryant’s immediate subordinate, John Davis, and to Governor Bryant’s long-time, personal friend, Nancy New, that Bryant did not require TANF funds to be used exclusively for the benefit of needy families, but that the governor ratified and approved use of TANF funds for non-TANF purposes,” the filing reads. “Thus, to the extent that Governor Bryant’s immediate subordinate, John Davis, and close personal friend, Nancy New, were expending TANF funds for non-TANF purposes without ‘full and open competition,’ Governor Bryant is jointly responsible.”

Denton Gibbes, a spokesperson for Bryant, defended the former governor in a fiery retort Tuesday.

“The ‘Answer’ filed by Austin Smith’s attorney is truly a work of fiction and an attempt to draw attention away from his client,” Gibbes wrote in an email. “Fortunately, the justice system requires more than hearsay, political jabs, and baseless conclusions. The only thing that doesn’t appear to be a complete fabrication or distortion of the truth is the fact that Governor Bryant was the whistle blower who turned the evidence over to the state auditor, the state watchdog over state agencies that traditionally investigates allegations of fraud and misspending.”

In response, Jim Waide, the Tupelo attorney representing Smith, noted that some lawyers take the approach that if you “deny something strongly enough, people will believe it.”

“I don’t see how he’s going to deny what he said in his own text messages,” Waide said.

Smith alleges in his filing that Bryant had promised Davis a position in the consulting firm Bryant established after he left office.

Instead, Davis explained to his family members, Bryant told him he was going to “fucking jail,” the states, because Davis had allowed an agency contractor, retired professional wrestler Brett DiBiase, to use Davis’ own P.O. Box to receive payment of $48,000 from the agency.

This comparatively small suspected instance of fraud — not information related to the Nancy New nonprofit, the volleyball stadium or Prevacus, projects of which Bryant was aware — is the tip Bryant took to State Auditor Shad White in 2019.

“Governor Bryant apparently believed this check was a kickback,” the filing reads.

Brett DiBiase entered a guilty plea regarding making false statements in order to defraud the government. DiBiase pleaded guilty before Judge Tomie Green in Circuit Court Thursday morning in Jackson.

But in reality, the filing alleges, Brett DiBiase used his boss’ address to retrieve payment because he was in the middle of a divorce and wanted to hide the income from his wife. In a 2019 polygraph interview, in which state auditor’s investigators tried to discern whether Davis had received a kickback, Brett DiBiase explained that he used the money to lavish his girlfriend, not on Davis.

Davis helped direct over $5 million in welfare funds to organizations owned by the DiBiases. The state is also suing the DiBiases for repayment. If Davis received something of monetary value from the DiBiases in exchange for contracts, which would be a clear , officials have yet to describe what it was.

The recent filing touches on another wrinkle in the case that hasn’t become public thus far: Davis’ sexuality. Smith, in the filing, alleges that Brett DiBiase told Davis that Smith told DiBiase that Davis is gay. Smith said both Davis and his own parents became hostile towards Smith as a result.

Smith denies telling Brett DiBiase that Davis is gay, but much speculation has swirled around this case because of the flagrant favoritism the welfare director showed to Brett DiBiase and his brother Ted “Teddy” DiBiase Jr. and the closeness of their relationships.

Former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services John Davis (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Davis and Teddy DiBiase swapped Christian devotionals, traveled out of state and exercised at the gym together, Mississippi Today first reported in its investigative series, “The Backchannel.” Davis frequently texted the older brother, “I love you.” The welfare director flew across the country to visit Brett DiBiase while he was in drug rehab, discussed his treatment options with a specialist and called him the “son I never had.” Davis directed New to use nonprofit funds to pay for Brett DiBiase’s rebab stint, text messages obtained by Mississippi Today show, resulting in criminal charges against New and Davis. When not together, Davis and Brett DiBiase shared long, late-night phone calls, phone records show.

Ties between the DiBiases and the welfare department are central to both criminal and civil cases against several defendants. Brett and Teddy are the sons of famous retired WWE wrestler Ted DiBiase, known as “The Million Dollar Man.” Smith’s filing alleges that Davis said Bryant was in on the welfare program’s partnership with the wrestlers — something the former governor has publicly denied.

“John Davis told Austin Smith that Governor Bryant wanted money received from a federal program called a ‘faith-based initiative,’ to be administered by the Heart of David Ministries, Inc., run by Ted DiBiase, Sr., ‘The Million Dollar Man,’” the filing reads. “According to what John Davis told Austin Smith, Governor Bryant claimed that Heart of David Ministries, Inc., and Ted DiBiase, Sr., would bring movies to the State of Mississippi.”

Former Gov. Phil Bryant and Ted DiBiase Jr. in 2015.

“Assuming that the ‘faith-based initiative’ actually means TANF funds,” the filing continues, “Governor Bryant could not have actually believed that Heart of David Ministries, Inc., operated by the DiBiases (a professional wrestling family), had a ‘special skill’ to expend welfare money for the benefit of needy families. Ted DiBiase, Sr., ‘The Million Dollar Man,’ was a champion in professional wrestling, a pseudosport, in which the champions are determined by fixed matches. According to a post about him on Wikipedia, ‘The Million Dollar Man’ repeatedly bragged that he was paying bribes for his championship belts.”

Michael Dawkins, the attorney for Ted DiBiase Sr. and Heart of David, said his client “acted in good faith reliance on the direction that was given to them by the state” and that the state monitored their work.

Smith’s filing also sheds new light on the state government’s relationship with conservative talk radio network SuperTalk.

In addition to working as a contractor for the Families First for Mississippi program, in which he was hired to develop a curriculum for an educational coding program, Smith also worked for the Mississippi Community College Board as a program manager for the state’s $10.6 million federal Preschool Development Grant (PDGB5). Smith alleges that a high level policy advisor in Bryant’s office, Laurie Smith, no relation to Austin Smith, called all the shots for how the grant would be spent.

“During his time with the Community College Board, Austin Smith refused to ‘sign off’ on only one expenditure,” the filing reads. “(Mississippi Community College Board President) Dr. (Andrea) Mayfield, in the presence of Dr. Laurie Smith, directed Austin Smith to sign an authorization for payment for advertising to TeleSouth Communications, a large media company which operates the well-known radio show ‘SuperTalk.’ Austin Smith declined to sign for this advertising because the time for making the expenditure under the terms of the grant had expired.”

SuperTalk heavily promoted the Families First for Mississippi program — through which most of the welfare funds were allegedly misspent or stolen. The parent company, TeleSouth Communications, received more than $630,000 from the two nonprofits running the welfare program, according to the state auditor.

“After the PDGB5 Grant expired, Austin Smith was the only grant employee whose  employment was terminated. Among the PDGB5 Grant employees retained were Austin Smith’s secretary, the niece of SuperTalk’s prominent host, Paul Gallo,” Austin Smith’s filing reads.

Davis had close communication with Supertalk CEO Kim Dillon and the two would discuss the progress of her son Logan Dillon, who worked as a lobbyist for the welfare department, Mississippi Today first reported in April.

“I talked with Logan last night and told him I had dinner with you. I didn’t go into what all we talked about but did let him know. I appreciate everything you have done for him!” Kim Dillon texted Davis in 2019.

Austin Smith’s filing could provide context for their communication: “Nancy New informed Austin Smith that she was paying for treatment for Logan Dillon, the son of Kim Dillon, the chief executive officer of TeleSouth Communications,” the filing alleges. “Logan Dillon is also a former legislative liaison for Governor Bryant. The fact that such welfare department funds were likely used for the treatment of Logan Dillon is corroborated by Logan Dillon’s former wife, an acquaintance of Austin Smith, who informed Austin Smith that her ex-husband, Logan Dillon, in fact, was receiving treatment paid for by Nancy New’s nonprofit.”

“Such a misuse of money intended for TANF beneficiaries is especially egregious since State law establishes onerous requirements for needy families to receive benefits,” the filing reads.

Kim Dillon denied the allegation, saying to Mississippi Today in a text message Tuesday, “Any medical treatment received by my son is subject to HIPAA laws and regulations. Any allegation that Nancy New or one of her related organizations paid for any medical treatment for my son is categorically false.”

Waide, Smith’s attorney, responded that HIPAA laws prevent providers from sharing medical records, but does not apply to the source of payment for medical treatment. “If they want to check out the sources to show they didn’t pay for it, then that’s the way to go about it to clear it up,” Waide said.

Smith’s filing also criticizes the state for failing to include as defendants the University of Southern Mississippi Athletic Foundation, which received $5 million in welfare funds to build a new volleyball stadium at the school, and Lobaki Foundation, which received nearly $800,000 to run a virtual reality program forensic auditors determined did not serve the needy.

Nancy New admitted to defrauding the government related to her nonprofit’s payments of $365,000 to Lobaki and her son and the nonprofit’s assistant director, Zach New, pleaded guilty to defrauding the government by paying the USM athletic foundation $4 million, which was disguised as a lease.

In addition to Smith’s filing, three other answers to MDHS’s complaint have been filed on behalf of defendants Amy Harris, Adam Such and his company SBGI LLC, and Ted DiBiase Sr. and his ministry Heart of David. Each of them denies the allegations.

Austin Smith’s answer to the civil lawsuit ultimately argues that the state has denied him equal protection of the law since the state did not also name Bryant and others as defendants.

“Arbitrarily naming Austin Smith, who has no assets with which to pay a judgment, while not suing politically-influential entities, such as former Governor Phil Bryant,” the answer reads, “… represents arbitrary denial of equal protection of laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Bill LaForge abruptly out as Delta State president

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‘I am very disappointed’: Bill LaForge abruptly out as Delta State president

The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees has decided that Delta State University president William LaForge’s last day will be at the end of this month, marking a sudden end to a nine-year tenure that oversaw budget instability, some progressive initiatives at the university, and sharp declines in enrollment due to the pandemic. 

Though the trustees made the decision at the board meeting last week, LaForge wrote in a lengthy campus-wide email that IHL did not tell him until “just prior” to sending out a press release Monday night. 

“I am very disappointed in the decision, but I accept the outcome and am fully prepared to move on,” he wrote. 

Through a university spokesperson, LaForge declined to talk with Mississippi Today, but he wrote in his email to the campus that the reason IHL gave for his departure was primarily financial. 

“The very basic explanation I was provided was that the IHL Board thinks a leadership change is warranted because the comparative state of the university from the time when I began my service in 2013 until now is not favorable — especially with respect to enrollment metrics and financial sustainability,” LaForge wrote. 

IHL did not provide its own reason for the move, and the trustees did not discuss the decision publicly at the board meeting last week. In IHL’s press release, Tom Duff, the board president, noted that “these are challenging times for higher education.” 

The board also announced that it had named E.E. “Butch” Caston as an interim replacement. Caston has held multiple administrative positions at Delta State University and Mississippi University for Women. 

“I appreciate Dr. Caston’s willingness to take on the role of interim president and feel certain that he will be able to address many of the issues facing Delta State at this time, including declining enrollment, fiscal challenges, and infrastructure,” Duff said. 

LaForge will be the first university president to depart after IHL made its presidential search process more confidential through a series of policy changes earlier this year. In April, the board voted to make it so search committee members are anonymous, even to each other, and to decrease the role that campus advisory groups play in selecting the president. 

Faculty are concerned these changes will make university presidents less accountable to students, faculty and staff. 

LaForge came to the university in 2013 with no experience in higher education. He had primarily worked in politics as chief of staff for Sen. Thad Cochran and as a lobbyist, but he had also served as president Delta State’s alumni association. 

“This is a career direction change for me,” LaForge said in 2013. “I have not been in higher education administration and I hope to be able to translate the skill sets I have.”

LaForge’s tenure has been marked by cyclical budget cuts. The first round came about a year after he took office. In fall 2014, the university announced about $1 million in cuts, eliminating a slew of academic programs and shuttering the campus newspaper. Twenty-four positions were terminated. Students and faculty held a mock funeral in protest, the Clarion Ledger reported.

The announcement came just a few months after the university announced a higher-than-anticipated fundraising haul.  

Delta State has seen several progressive endeavors under LaForge. In 2014, the university won a national social justice award for its first “Winning the Race” conference which brought former Gov. William Winter and Rep. Bennie Thompson to campus. More recently, students and faculty held an on-campus screening of a documentary about the 1969 sit-in that led to arresting dozens on Black students. More than 500 people attended. 

Faculty led much of those initiatives, though, and the administration has been slow in other efforts. In late 2016, Delta State was the last public university in Mississippi to stop flying the state that contained the emblem. 

“I wish to make it clear that this university is making an institutional decision on this issue because the state government has declined to change the flag,” LaForge said at the time. “This is a painful decision in many respects because this is a highly charged emotional issue for many people.” 

More recently, many students, faculty and alumni have signed a petition calling on LaForge’s administration to rename the Walter Sillers Coliseum – the basketball arena named for the white supremacist founder of the Delta Council. The petition asked for the arena to be renamed in honor of Luisa “Lucy” Harris, the first Black woman on Delta State’s women’s basketball team who died earlier this year. 

LaForge has not publicly commented on the petition. His wife, Nancy, spoke at Harris’ funeral, which was held in the Coliseum. 

The university has struggled to weather the pandemic. Enrollment has dropped by 27% since fall 2019 – the largest drop of any school. In fall 2020, Delta State was the only university to raise tuition rates. 

Earlier this year, LaForge’s administration was still concerned about the budget. Minutes from a February 2022 cabinet meeting show the executive committee “has been reviewing all potential budget savings and cuts; discussing ways to reimage (sic) core programs and growth areas; and, talking about ways to realign the budget to highlight the university’s priorities.”

At IHL’s meeting last week, the trustees were briefed on each university’s budget and finances. One of the budget documents that trustees reviewed showed that Delta State has just 40 days cash on hand, the lowest reserve in the system. Delta State is also the only university facing a negative return on total assets, which means it is losing money on investments.  

In his campus-wide email, LaForge wrote that his family plans to return to northern Virginia. The appointment as university president was a homecoming for LaForge, who grew up in Cleveland, Miss., and attended Delta State as an undergrad. His father, a history professor at Delta State, is honored with a library on campus. 

“I will be forever grateful to Delta State University for all it has given me in life,” LaForge wrote. 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Main Street Pascagoula brings home two awards from Mississippi Main Street Association

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by omshome, Our Mississippi Home

Main Street won the award for Outstanding Project Promotion – Large Community for “The Flagship District.” Community partners hosted a focus group to get input from young professionals who work in Pascagoula, but live elsewhere on how to attract them to live here. As a result, Main Street obtained the city’s blessing to brand downtown The Flagship District and partnered…

This article first appeared on Our Mississippi Home.

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Wicker, Hyde-Smith noncommittal on bipartisan gun safety plan

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Sens. Wicker, Hyde-Smith noncommittal on bipartisan gun safety compromise

Mississippi’s two U.S. senators — Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith — have not endorsed the gun safety agreement worked out by a bipartisan group of their Senate colleagues.

Both said they wanted to see more details before making a final decision on whether they could support the agreement, which was developed by several of their Democratic and Republican colleagues following the May 24 murders of school children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas.

“I look forward to reviewing the proposed language when it comes out to see if there are workable solutions to promote school safety and prevent gun violence without infringing upon the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Wicker said in a statement. “As I have said before, I support efforts to step up enforcement of our existing laws and address the serious mental health challenges that lead to mass shootings.”

The bipartisan group reaching the agreement consisted of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats in the Senate. If the 10 Republicans stay committed to the proposal, they would theoretically provide the 60 votes (including the 50 Senate Democrats) needed to pass the legislation out of the 100-member Senate. In addition Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, also has said he would vote for the compromise if it remains in its current form.

“Sen. Hyde-Smith, as she does with all legislation, would like to see legislative language before commenting on the gun control framework,” said Chris Gallegos, a spokesperson for Mississippi’s junior senator, in a statement.

The agreement includes the following proposals:

  • Establish a red law to make it easier for law enforcement to temporarily take away a gun from someone deemed to be a danger to himself or others,
  • Remove the so-called “boyfriend loophole” that allows a person convicted of assault against a girlfriend not to have his weapon confiscated while it would be if the couple was married.
  • Conduct more rigorous background checks of those under age 21.
  • Develop tools to federally prosecute people who buy guns in one state and try to sell them on the streets of cities in other states.
  • Expand the current law to require those selling multiple weapons to also run background checks before completing the sale.

In addition, the agreement calls for spending more federal funds on mental health issues.

“We are confident this agreement is not only going to save lives in the short run, but it’s going to lead to more success for the anti-gun violence movement in the long run,” said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, whose state was the site of a December 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting where 26 people, including 20 elementary-age children, were killed.

“…What I know when I study great social change movements — and ours is one of those great social change movements — is that success begets success. That when you finally move that mountain, and you pass legislation that makes a difference, that in fact, you attract more people to your movement. You use that coalition for good in the future, and that’s what will happen here.”

Murphy said the agreement could result in “finally breaking the 30-year logjam on the issue of gun violence.”

Hyde-Smith’s spokesman was less enthusiastic about the new agreement.

“(Hyde-Smith) remains steadfast in protecting 2nd Amendment rights, supporting law enforcement, and protecting children,” Gallegos said in a statement. “Given that, she finds it difficult not to be wary of any agreement being praised by some of the same people who not long ago called for defunding the and easing criminal prosecutions.”

The compromise reached by the bipartisan group falls far short of the gun safety measures advocated by many congressional Democrats. But those gun safety measures advocated by many congressional Democrats have nothing to do with defunding the police.

What is missing from the new bipartisan agreement but has been proposed earlier by Democrats is banning the AR-15 style semi-automatic weapons that have been used in some mass shootings, or at least prohibiting the sale of the weapon to those under the age of 21. Other proposals that still have not gained traction include enhanced background checks and waiting periods to buy many types of guns.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

25 Facts About Flag Day

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by Mimi Bosarge, Our Mississippi Home

June 14 is Day. It’s an annual observance of the Second Continental Congress’ official adoption of the American Flag in 1777, which at that time had only 13 stars. The was officially established in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson and in 1949 Congress declared June 14 a national holiday.

The current U.S. flag boasts 50 white stars on a field of blue and 13 alternating red and…

This article first appeared on Our Mississippi Home.

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Thompson tells the world what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

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‘An attempted coup’: Rep. Bennie Thompson tells the world what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

The eyes of the world were on Rep. Bennie Thompson, the longtime congressman from Mississippi, on Thursday night as the special House committee he chairs held a prime-time hearing regarding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Thompson’s bipartisan committee began laying out a seven-point case Thursday night they say will show former ’s efforts to overturn his defeat and keep himself in office.

“Donald Trump was at the center of that conspiracy,” Thompson said. “And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.”

The committee showed dramatic video of how the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, led the attack on the Capitol. They also heard the emotional testimony of a U.S. Capitol officer who suffered a brain injury during the attack.

“What I saw was a war scene,” said Caroline Edwards, one of the more than 150 officers injured in the rampage. “I saw officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up … I was slipping in people’s blood … it was carnage, it was chaos.”

Before the hearing — broadcast live on nearly every major American network with the exception of Fox — began, Thompson convened the meeting with a powerful speech.

Below is a transcript of his remarks.


“Thanks to everyone watching tonight for sharing part of your evening, to learn about the facts and causes of the events leading up to and including the violent attack on January 6th, 2021 — on our democracy, electoral system, and country. 

I am Bennie Thompson, chairman of the January 6, 2021, Committee. I was born, raised and still live in Bolton, Mississippi, a town with a population of 521, which is midway between Jackson and Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Mississippi River. 

I am from a part of the country where people justified the actions of , the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try and justify the actions of the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021. 

Over the next few weeks, hopefully you will get to know the other members, my colleagues up here, and me. We represent a diversity of communities from all over the United States — rural areas and cities — east coast, west coast, and the heartland. 

All of us have one thing in common: We swore the same oath. The same oath that all members of Congress take upon taking office and afterward every two years if they are reelected. We swore an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. 

The words of the current oath taken by all of us — that nearly every United States government employee takes — have their roots in the . Throughout our history, the United States has fought against foreign enemies to preserve our democracy, electoral system, and country. 

When the United States Capitol was stormed and burned in 1814, foreign enemies were responsible. Afterward, in 1862, when American citizens had taken up arms against this country, Congress adopted a new oath to help make sure no person who had supported the rebellion could hold a position of public trust. Therefore, congresspersons and U.S. federal government employees were required for the first time to swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. 

That oath was put to the test on January 6, 2021. 

The police officers who held the line that day honored their oaths. Many came out of that day bloodied and broken. They still bear those wounds, visible and invisible. They did their duty. They repelled the mob and ended the occupation of the Capitol. They defended the Constitution against domestic enemies so that Congress could return, uphold our own oaths, and count your votes to ensure the transfer of power — just as we’ve done for hundreds of years. 

But unlike in 1814, it was domestic enemies of the Constitution who stormed and occupied the Capitol, who sought to thwart the will of the people, to stop the transfer of power. And they did so at the encouragement of the president of the United States. The president of the United States, trying to stop the transfer of power — a precedent that had stood for 220 years, even as our democracy has faced its most difficult tests. 

Thinking back again to the Civil War, in the summer of 1864, the president of the United States was staring down what he believed would be a doomed bid for reelection. He believed his opponent, General George McClellan, would wave the white when it came to preserving the Union. 

But even with that grim fate hanging in the balance, President Lincoln was ready to accept the will of the voters, come what may. He made a quiet pledge. He wrote down the words, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the president elect….” It will be my duty. 

Lincoln sealed that memo and asked his cabinet secretaries to sign it, sight unseen. He asked them to make the same commitment he did: to accept defeat if indeed defeat was the will of the people. To uphold the rule of law. To do what every other president who came before him did, and what every president who followed him would do. 

Until Donald Trump. 

Donald Trump lost the presidential election in 2020. The American people voted him out of office. It was not because of a rigged system. It was not because of voter fraud. Don’t believe me? Hear what his former had to say about it, and I’ll warn those watching that this contains strong language. 

Bill Barr. On Election Day 2020, he was attorney general of the United States — the top law enforcement official in the country, telling the president exactly what he thought about claims of a stolen election.

Donald Trump had his days in court to challenge the results. He was within his rights to seek those judgments. In the United States, law-abiding citizens have those tools for pursuing justice. He lost in the courts just as he did at the ballot box. And in this country, that’s the end of the line. 

But for Donald Trump, that was only the beginning of what became a sprawling, multi-step conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election, aimed at throwing out the votes of millions of Americans — your votes, your voice in our democracy — and replacing the will of the American people with his will to remain in power after his term ended. 

Donald Trump was at the center of that conspiracy. And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy. 

Any legal jargon you hear about “seditious conspiracy,” “obstruction of an official proceeding,” “conspiracy to defraud the United States” boils down to this: January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup. A brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6, “to overthrow the government.” 

The violence was no . It represented Trump’s last, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power. 

Now, you may hear those words and think, “This is just another political attack on Donald Trump by people who don’t like him.” That’s not the case. My colleagues and I all wanted an outside, independent commission to investigate January 6, similar to what we had after 9/11. 

But after first agreeing to the idea, Donald Trump’s allies in Congress put a stop to it. Apparently, they don’t want January 6 investigated at all. 

And, in the last 17 months, many of those same people have tried to whitewash what happened on January 6 — to rewrite history, call it a tourist visit, label it “legitimate political discourse.” 

Donald Trump and his followers have adopted the words of the songwriter: “Do you believe me or your lying eyes?”

We can’t sweep what happened under the rug. The American people deserve answers. 

So I come before you this evening not as a Democrat, but as an American who swore an oath to defend the Constitution. The Constitution doesn’t protect just Democrats or just Republicans. It protects all of us. “We the People.” 

And this scheme was an attempt to undermine the will of the people.”

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson, leading the public Jan. 6 hearings, has long worked to protect democracy

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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