- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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April 19

The Sun Herald of Biloxi on the legacy of a recently-deceased Gulfport homeless man:

Celebrate with us the story of Michael Eugene “Mike” Webb, the dying Vietnam veteran whose only home was his truck in the Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot in Gulfport.

Webb’s fortunes changed a few months ago when he wandered into the Salvation Army. All he wanted was a shower.

He found new friends, April Morton and Leo Suarez, and from them a network of support. James Edward Bates and his Operation Homeless Hope Facebook page helped raise money to get Webb out of the parking lot and into an apartment.

Then Becky Montgomery Jenner heard about Webb and helped him get his discharge papers, which in turn got him into hospice at the Biloxi VA. She took him to Wal-Mart to get new clothes. That was about all he had; new clothes, a duffel bag, two bags of groceries and a food stamp card.

He didn’t need the food stamps; hospice was providing his meals.

So he had Jenner take him to Sam’s Club, where he spent the last of his benefits on groceries the two then delivered to the Salvation Army food pantry.

A few days later, he died, Suarez and Morton by his side.

At Webb’s funeral at the Biloxi National Cemetery, his new friends said it was they who were blessed by their friendship with the once-homeless man.

And that is the story that gives us hope.

And, we should all strive to be like those who looked at Mike Webb and saw not just another homeless soul, but a blessing in disguise.

Their world of compassion is the world we all should choose to live in.

Online: https://www.sunherald.com/

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April 25

The Columbus Commercial Dispatch on Confederate Memorial Day:

On Monday, Mississippi observed Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday observed by just two states, Alabama being the other.

State employees, at least the ones who haven’t lost their jobs after the latest series of state agencies cuts implemented by Gov. Phil Bryant, got the day off, as did some county and city employees around the state.

The governor, who has cut the budget, on average, every three months for the past year-and-a-half, keeps telling us we must live within our means and that in these hard economic times, there are some things we just can’t afford - education, roads/bridge repairs, mental health services, take your pick.

Let’s add one more item to the list of things Mississippi can no longer afford: Confederate Memorial Day.

The cost goes beyond that associated with providing a paid holiday for those employees who got the day off. The real cost is to Mississippi’s image beyond our state borders and the damage it does to a state economy that desperately needs an infusion of jobs.

Mississippi is 50th in the nation in both per-capita income ($21,036) and median household income ($39,680). Our state needs every positive factor we can find in trying to appeal to industries and potential residents as they consider their options. Aside from a workforce that can be guaranteed to work for low wages and a state government that must resort to bribery to lure businesses to our state, there are few real incentives.

It’s an uphill climb. It has always been an uphill climb. Our job growth rate has stalled - only a net of 800 more jobs were created in 2016 than the previous year, according to labor statistics. The national economy is prospering. Our economy is foundering.

And yet, even as we try to conjure up new reasons why companies should come here, we stubbornly cling to imagery that creates a negative perception of our state as backwards, regressive and, in the eyes of many, institutionally racist.

Relics of our past - the Confederate imagery on our state flag, the governor’s annual proclamation of April as “Confederate Heritage Month” and Monday’s “Confederate Memorial Day,” confirm the very stereotypes our state must escape. Mississippians are free to draw their own conclusion about the propriety of maintaining these traditions, of course. But the time has far since passed that the state should give its sanction to these ideas.

The truth is pretty simple: When it comes to recruiting the industries our state so desperately needs, it doesn’t matter much what Mississippians think of these tributes to the Confederacy. What matters is what those businesses and industries think of those things. For the overwhelming majority, the Confederacy is forever and indisputably linked with the abomination of slavery.

Knowing that, no one in their right mind would insist that this sort of imagery remain a part of its brand.

We simply can’t afford it.

Online: https://www.cdispatch.com/

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April 25

The Greenwood Commonwealth on government contracts:

Mississippi’s “lowest and best” standard for awarding government contracts creates an avenue for public officials to award business to their friends and supporters.

What’s considered a “best” bid to those who are inclined to push government business to their cronies may not be best for the taxpayers.

By even the most liberal definition of “best,” however, it is incredible that the staffs of the state’s Information Technology Services Department and the corruption-scarred Department of Corrections have recommended that a $4.8 million contract be awarded to a company implicated in the Chris Epps prison bribery scandal.

That contract with California-based Sentinel Offender Services was tabled last week after a Republican lawmaker who sits as a non-voting member on the ITS board raised questions about the propriety of doing business with a company that’s being sued by the state over a previous contract for the same service that the new contract would cover - monitoring offenders on probation or parole.

Attorney General?Jim Hood has brought litigation against Sentinel and several other companies whose business with the state was allegedly contingent on funnelling kickbacks to Epps, the former corrections commissioner who is awaiting sentencing for his graft.

According to federal prosecutors, Sentinel paid a Gulf Coast consultant, Robert Simmons, $4,000 a month from 2012 to 2014, from which Simmons then kicked back $1,400 to Epps. Simmons has pleaded guilty to bribery in the case. Although Sentinel has denied any knowledge of the kickbacks and no criminal charges have been brought against the company, Hood disputes its profession of ignorance and claims it is civilly responsible for what took place.

Until this matter is cleared up, the state should not be entering into any new business with Sentinel. One of the ways to deter graft is to penalize the companies that benefitted from it, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Simmons was one of Sentinel’s agents. He acted on the company’s behalf, and at the minimum Sentinel should have kept closer tabs on him.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a former state auditor, suggests that awarding a new contract to Sentinel, while this cloud hangs over it, is inappropriate, even if it’s legal. He is right.

Online: https://www.gwcommonwealth.com/

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