- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:


Sept. 1

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on public education funding bill:

Opponents of Initiative 42, a constitutional amendment requiring full funding of public education under existing state statutes, inexplicably have refused a request to make public their correspondence. That includes emails related to Initiative 42, which was placed on the ballot by petition of Mississippi voters.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican from Jackson, have responded to a certified letter from 42 for Better Schools leaders seeking the correspondence as a matter of public record by saying House and Senate rules do not require them to release the information.

Gunn and Reeves oppose Initiative 42 and support a legislatively-crafted initiative, a purported alternative, which its opponents claim won’t require compliance with the funding mandate in law.

State law does not identify legislative correspondence falling under the Mississippi open records/open meetings law.

Even so, correspondence from and to the two offices related to Initiative 42 and the legislative alternative is reasonably viewed as official business. Public education isn’t a secret issue, so the request to provide the correspondence should be granted.

Taxpayers have a right to expect transparency in how tax dollars are spent on what clearly has become a political issue.

The organization 42 for Better Schools, by contrast, is a private-sector initiative, funded by private donations and supported by private-sector volunteers and, in a few instances, paid staff members whose salaries come from private sources like any other business.

It is passing strange that men and women elected to conduct the people’s business seek to hide the conduct of that business by an unsupportable claim of confidentiality.

State law clearly allows the Legislature to set its own rules about open records, so refusing to provide the records apparently is not illegal, but it does nothing to engender trust in what elected officials do in handling public policy.

The law should be changed and legislators placed under the same standard as most other Mississippians and entities. At the very least, Gunn and Reeves should use their discretion or have the proper legislative committees upon which they exert great influence use their discretion to release information sought by 42 for Better Schools.




Aug. 30

The Greenwood Commonwealth on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina:

For 36 years Hurricane Camille was the storm by which others were compared in Mississippi. It made landfall on Aug. 18, 1969, at Waveland and flattened almost everything along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. At the time, it was considered the secondmost expensive hurricane in U.S. history.

Then came Katrina.

Camille was a tightly knotted storm, a Category 5, said to be the most intense hurricane on record to enter the United States mainland. Its destruction along the Gulf Coast was just about as bad as it could get, but its punch inland wasn’t nearly as widespread as Katrina’s. The latter has now become the storm by which other hurricanes that hit Mississippi will be compared.

Saturday was the 10th anniversary of the storm, which turned out to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history and impacted all 82 counties of Mississippi. No one old enough to remember Katrina will ever forget it.

There have been many recollections of the storm on this past anniversary week, including a pair of stories in today’s Commonwealth. Although Greenwood was far enough away to be spared the brunt of the hurricane, the area was still impacted as a haven for storm refugees.

Statistics aren’t as dramatic as the human stories of survival and recovery, but they are still interesting in reflecting on Katrina.

Staff members of the state Department of Environmental Quality, one of the several state and federal agencies involved in responding to the storm, have calculated that Katrina generated more waste in one day than all Mississippians generate in three years. If all the waste and debris generated in Mississippi was loaded into waste transportation trucks and the trucks were lined up bumper to bumper, the line would stretch more than 7,000 miles.

The majority of the waste was vegetative, but plenty of it wasn’t. Much of the waste that had to be cleaned up was hazardous. Food waste, including rotting meat and fish, mixed with building debris, dead animals, medical waste and sewage, presented unprecedented challenges to cleanup crews. Even now, DEQ officials say they have to deal with periodic discovery of Katrina waste that might be hazardous.

Mississippi public officials, from former Gov. Haley Barbour, who has written a book on the subject, to local officials are looking back with pride on how Mississippi responded. They, along with too many first responders and volunteers from around the country to list, can be proud of what they did.

Officials who dealt with the challenges of Katrina say Mississippi is better prepared now to deal with such a disaster than the state was 10 years ago. They say they now have more knowledge and better equipment, including communication technology, to respond to such a disaster.

That’s comforting. Let’s hope, though, it’s a long time before the improvements are put to the test.




Aug. 27

The Commercial Dispatch, Columbus, Mississippi on Mississippi State University:

Mississippi State University President Dr. Mark Keenum spoke at Tuesday’s Columbus Rotary Club on Tuesday at the Lion Hills Center. His 30-minute message could be compressed to a single phrase:

“It’s all good.”

Enrollment is up. In a few days, the university will announced its official enrollment figures, which are expected to show record freshman enrollment. The university is not only attracting more students, it is attracting better students, too. The average ACT score for the freshman class is 24.

There is also a building boom on campus and donations are pouring in.

Oh, and the university has a really good football program, something Keenum said should not be dismissed. The success of a school’s athletic teams raise the profile of the school like little else. MSU’s brand has been expanded tremendously as a result of the Bulldogs’ success on the football field.

MSU students, alumni and fans have reasons for optimism on any number of fronts, both in academics and athletics.

That wasn’t always the case.

There was a time, not so long ago, that Mississippi State was sort of a generic brand. Aside from its agriculture school, there was little to distinguish the school from the scores of regional universities whose influence and reputation were pretty much confined within state borders.

MSU used to be an ag school that offered other stuff.

That has changed dramatically since Keenum’s arrival as president in 2009. While it would be inaccurate to attribute all of MSU’s success since then to Keenum, there is no disputing his role in that success.

He arrived at a time of chaos at the university, with three different men occupying the president’s office in the nine months preceding his arrival.

Prior to coming to MSU, Keenum had spent 22 years in the nation’s capital — 17 years as chief of staff for Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran and three years as an undersecretary in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

His background tells the story of a man skilled in developing policy and strategy, a behind-the-scene expert who understood how things get done. He brought not only stability to the university, but focus.

It is easy to see how those attributes have been applied in his role as MSU president.

MSU has long been known — and will continue to be known — for its excellence in ag science. But the university’s reputation as a broadly-based research university has grown significantly during Keenum’s tenure.

Today, the university is a key player in research in such fields as unmanned aircraft and automotive.

Perhaps the university’s most valuable contribution in the field of research lies just ahead.

MSU has partnered with the famed Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago in an effort to create the “battery of the future.”

For years now, our nation’s best and brightest young mathematicians and scientists have been working on developing a battery with a capacity for energy storage could fundamentally change the way the world operates.

If and when that breakthrough occurs, our dependence on fossil fuel will be greatly reduced, and we will have taken a giant step in the direction of clean, sustainable energy.

MSU could be a part of the biggest revolution in energy the world has ever seen.

It’s all good, indeed.



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