Bellevue incorporation hearing postponedBy BUSTER WOLFE,
The second legal encounter to consider the proposed incorporation of Bellevue in Lamar County was postponed after only attorney William Ducker – representing citizens opposing the incorporation of Bellevue – showed up Monday morning in Purvis.
On Sept. 25, Senior Status Judge Michael H. Ward of Gulfport had set a schedule for further legal proceedings, beginning with a status hearing last Monday. However, Ducker said he was unsure why no one else appeared.
Court clerks in the William J. “Pete” Gamble III Chancery Courthouse, where the initial hearing was held, said late Tuesday that nothing had been added to the court file that would indicate when the status hearing had been rescheduled.
After coordinating calendars with the attorneys representing Bellevue, Hattiesburg and citizens who oppose the incorporation, Ward set the weeks of May 7 and 14 for the jurisdictional procedure in the case. During these two weeks, the signatures on the petition for Bellevue incorporation will be verified.
Other dates agreed to by Ward and the attorneys are an April 18, 2018, pretrial hearing in Purvis to exchange exhibits, and a May 2, 2018, pretrial conference in Hattiesburg.
Ducker said he had been contacted by a court official Wednesday afternoon about changing the hearing date.
“I said that as long as they meet the discovery requirements and set dates for depositions, that’s fine,” he said. “I got a call Thursday afternoon that said the hearing was on as scheduled.”
Ducker said last Friday’s snowfall kept him out of the office, so he said he didn’t get a call about any changes.
“They couldn’t have gotten me at the office Friday because it was closed,” he said. “I was playing in the snow with my grandkids.”
Lamar County residents who are opposing the incorporation of Bellevue claim that the petition for incorporation is about 1,000 signatures short of the number required by law to complete the process. The petition for incorporating a town – which was presented to the Lamar County Chancery Clerk’s Office on May 19 – must have signatures of at least two thirds of the qualified electors in the area.
According to examination by the citizens group, the 4,118-page petition contains 2,184 signatures, about 300 short of the required number. With another 600 signatures that appeared to be invalid, the petition appears to fall between 900 and 1,000 signatures short of the number needed for incorporation.
Attorneys who are involved in the case with Ducker include those who are directing the Bellevue incorporation efforts – Chad Mask of Jackson and Ben Snow of Hattiesburg – and Jerry Mills, who was hired by the City of Hattiesburg to oppose the incorporation because of the Hub City’s annexation efforts into the area.
John Adcock, the proposed mayor of Bellevue, responded to the report of insufficient signatures on the petition on Twitter, dismissing the opposition group’s claims.
“The very small group of objectors to Bellevue are alleging that there are a number of ‘irregularities’ with the signatures on the petition for incorporation and that we don't have the required two thirds,” he said. “They have no idea what they're talking about. This is nothing more than an effort to stir up a frenzy among people and try to raise money for their dwindling cause.”
State Supreme Court Chief Justice William L. Waller Jr. appointed Ward to hear the incorporation after 10th District Chancellor M. Ronald Doleac recused himself.
Three Chancery Court judges – Rhea H. Sheldon, Deborah J. Gambrell and Johnny L. Williams – had recused themselves from the Belleville incorporation case in a June 16 order.
Doleac was assigned to the case, but Ducker filed a motion June 23 for Doleac to be recused because relatives allegedly live in the proposed Bellevue area.
Doleac filed an order of disqualification and recusal June 27 and the Mississippi Supreme Court Docket Manager was advised of the action that same day. Waller appointed Ward on June 29.