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Madison County Supervisors accused of...

Madison County Supervisors accused of purchasing previously donated property

By: Jeremy Pittari - August 30, 2023

Madison County Board of Supervisors

Lawsuit alleges property in Madison County was traded in exchange for favorable zoning prior to interstate interchange construction.

A lawsuit has been filed against the Madison County Board of Supervisors for allegedly purchasing property the county already owned as part of a project to build an interstate interchange. 

The lawsuit – Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler and the city of Madison v. Madison County Supervisors Gerald Steen, Karl Banks, Paul Griffin and The Ohio Casualty Insurance Company D/B/A Liberty Mutual Surety – alleges the county paid the Minnie J. Bozeman Family Limited Partnership for property donated to the county years prior. 

In the suit, Butler outlines a years-long series of discussions and agreements between the Madison County Board of Supervisors and Richard Skinner of the Minnie J. Bozeman Family Limited Partnership where the property was donated, given back without a proper deed, and then purchased even though the county still technically owned it. 

Butler states in the suit that the county eventually paid the Partnership $965,000 in 2022 for property it received as a donation from the Partnership in 2009. Once the interchange is complete, including on and off ramps from Interstate 55, the Partnership would return the money to the county. It’s also alleged that the county helped the Partnership obtain a commercial zoning designation on the remaining property the Partnership owns near the proposed interchange.

“Nothing about this deal is legal. The County does not owe the Partnership a guarantee that MDOT will build an interchange; the Supervisors cannot pay public funds to the Partnership for nothing in return; they cannot contract to vote to approve rezoning of the Partnership’s adjacent property; and they cannot meet to authorize the County Attorney to negotiate such a deal in private meetings with no minutes,” the lawsuit states. 

Butler admits the city of Madison has interest in the matter, stating the city administration intends to annex the Partnership’s property into its municipal limits.

Only three members of the Board of Supervisors were named in the suit because the other two members voted against key matters outlined in the suit, the filing states.

The initial donation of the property occurred as part of a June of 2007 memorandum of understanding that included a stipulation that the Madison County Board of Supervisors would work with MDOT to build an interchange near Gluckstandt Road and Bozeman Road off of Interstate 55 and construct Reunion Parkway within two years. The MOU stated the county would receive 11 acres to build Reunion Parkway. Two years later, the MOU was amended to include a total of 35.07 acres. According to the suit, the Board of Supervisors agreed to have the surrounding property still owned by the Partnership rezoned from Special Use or residential to commercial.

Property zoned as commercial is typically worth more, especially when located near an interstate interchange. 

Through a series of exchanges that took place from 2009 until 2023, the property was given back to the Partnership, but the name on the deed was never changed in Chancery Court for unknown reasons, meaning it remained in the ownership of the county, the suit alleges. In 2022, a revision of the MOU removed the time limitation and, “In sum, the board agreed for the Minnie J. Bozeman Family Limited Partnership to ‘donate’ land that the partnership did not own (And therefore to receive tax credits for the donation) and to allow the partnership to hold public funds as a guarantee that MDOT will construct an interchange with on and off ramps.”

Madison County Board of Supervisors Vice President Trey Baxter said he is throwing Board Attorney Mike Espy under the bus.

“As far as purchasing the property, we were acting under his advice. I did not vote for the zoning because I don’t think we should trade zoning for right of way,” Baxter said.

Board of Supervisors Attorney Mike Espy, a former Congressman and U.S. Agriculture Secretary, was described in the suit as confirming “Madison County had agreed to assist in the re-zoning of the subject property in order for the Applicant to make commercial use of his property, and had provided Applicant with information on the planned roadway and ramps that would traverse his property.”

According to minutes from the city’s Planning and Zoning February 16, 2023 meeting described in the suit, Espy was quoted as saying, “We know that Mr. (Richard) Skinner can’t wait for two years for something to be built, for the bridge and ramp to be built. He has commercial interests in this land that’s zoned agricultural. And I told him personally, and the Board confirmed, I don’t say anything without authorization of my Board, that we would do our best, to rezone this land, so that he could begin planning for commercial projects, shopping center, office building, whatever.”

MDOT Public Information Officer Mike Flood said the only involvement MDOT had with the project was ensuring all of the necessary federal guidelines were followed and everything was in compliance before passing the federal funding down to the local level. Flood said MDOT will have no role in the construction of the interchange.

A groundbreaking for the project was held a month ago, he said.

When contacted for comment via email, Espy said he usually does not “handle media advisories.”

You can read the lawsuit below.

About the Author(s)
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Jeremy Pittari

Jeremy Pittari is a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast. Born and raised in Slidell, La., he moved to South Mississippi in the early 90s. Jeremy earned an associate in arts from Pearl River Community College and went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned a bachelor's of arts in journalism. A week after Hurricane Katrina, he started an internship as a reporter with the community newspaper in Pearl River County. After graduation, he accepted a full-time position at that news outlet where he covered the recovery process post Katrina in Pearl River and Hancock Counties. For nearly 17 years he wrote about local government, education, law enforcement, crime, business and a variety of other topics.