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Heavy rainfall continues to bring flash flooding to Northeast Mississippi (copy)

TUPELO • Heavy rainfall as Thunderstorms moved through the area, Wednesday, caused flash flooding throughout Northeast Mississippi and forced some residents to flee their homes.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Memphis issued a flash flood warning for some Northeast Mississippi counties late Wednesday morning. According to the NWS, Lee, Pontotoc, Union and Lafayette counties were under the warning much of the afternoon and evening.

The NWS said most of north Mississippi had received 4 to 6 inches of rainfall within a 24-hour period.

Areas near Holly Springs and Potts Camp received 6 to 8 inches of rain overnight, Tuesday, according to data from the NWS. Data also showed Tupelo receiving nearly 6 inches of rainfall, as of 7 a.m. Wednesday morning.

In Lee County, several houses were flooded in a subdivision on Willow Creek in Saltillo. Emergency crews with the Tupelo Fire Department were out rescuing area residents by boat because of rising waters.

“Nearly every river in north Mississippi is now flooding and is still rising,” the NWS said in a Wednesday morning update. “The biggest concern will be prolific flash flooding, river flooding, and potential road washouts and property damage.”

In Lafayette County, Oxford officials said the city received more 8 inches of rainfall over a 36-hour timeframe and more than 2.5 inches of rain early Wednesday morning.

Several city streets and county roads were either partially flooded or completely washed out, forcing emergency officials to close those roads to travelers.

Early Wednesday afternoon, the Lafayette County Fire Department urged residents living in the Gumtree subdivision near County Road 102 and Tara Estates in Oxford to evacuate their homes because of a potential levee break at the Lake Tara Damn.

“The Lake Tara Dam has not breached at this time,” Lafayette County EMA director Steve Quarles said in a statement online. “A sinkhole is forming on the levee. Local fire officials are pumping the water to relieve pressure off of the levee.”

Emergency personnel spent the afternoon pumping the lake to help ease the risk. As of late Wednesday afternoon, the levee was still holding.

The NWS has warned more rain is in the forecast for today and that flooding is still a significant threat.

“Additional heavy rainfall could cause significant flooding across areas that have already been hit hard,” the NWS said on Wednesday.

Salvation Army launches Madalyn's Angels in remembrance of devoted volunteer Madalyn Bails

TUPELO • Shirley Freeman believes with all her heart that her granddaughter, Madalyn Bails, accomplished more in 21 years than most people given far longer.

Bails died in January following complications related to COVID-19, but she left a positive impact on hundreds of children’s lives through her work through various local nonprofit organizations and events, most notably, Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary.

To memorialize her charitable work, the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary is launching Madalyn’s Angels, an annual campaign to raise funds to ensure every child registered in the popular Angel Tree program receives clothing.

The group will be selling decorative metal angels for $75 – the estimated cost of a child’s outfit – with the goal of selling enough angels to clothe every Angel Tree child.

The campaign starts Saturday, June 12, Bails’ birthday, with a campaign launch party from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Salvation Army’s 527 Carnation Street location in Tupelo.

As one of the Women’s Auxiliary’s youngest members, Bails anticipated the Angel Tree each year because she knew how important it was for children to have clothing, said Rhonda Westmoreland, president of the Women’s Auxiliary and chairperson of the Madalyn’s Angels campaign.

“I pray that all the angels sell, and I hope (people) get from this the importance of her legacy and that it shall live on,” Westmoreland said.

People are encouraged to decorate and display their angels from June 12 to June 27 and enter it in the Madalyn’s Angels Extravaganza on the September 6 as part of the Salvation Army’s Christmas Kick Off at Fairpark. Attendees will be able to vote for their favorite angel by contributing $1, which equals one vote, to their favorite angel’s kettle.

That money, of course, also goes to clothe children. It’s what Bails would have wanted.

‘She lived to give’

Bails never wanted praise for the work she did, but her impact will ensure future children and families benefit from her good deeds.

The kickoff party on June 12 will honor how hard Bails worked in 2020 to guarantee every child was taken care of. Later that afternoon, her church family and friends plan to have a more private celebration where they release butterflies in her honor.

“This is a great way to remember her, not for how she died, but for how she lived, and she lived to give,” said Dell Hatch, chair of Madalyn’s Angels.

Bails quietly served throughout her life. When some Angel Tree gifts went unfilled this past Christmas, Bails called her Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (AKA) sisters and friends to bring clothes in the right sizes. Westmoreland hopes Madalyn’s Angels will encourage an overflow of clothing and inspire others to contribute and donate.

“I want them to see that whatever it was she was a part of, that they too want to be a part of it,” Westmoreland said. “They want take time to come out and volunteer to see what exactly it was she had done or that we all do to prepare our babies for Christmas.”

Angel Tree was a multigenerational passion for Bails’ family. Each season, Bails worked side by side with her mother, Antoinette Freeman, and grandmother, who are also Women’s Auxiliary members. The family became involved with the Women’s Auxiliary nearly six years ago, joining after Shirley Freeman’s retirement as a way to be inspirational in the community.

“Whatever we did, she did it too. She was right there with us,” Freeman said.

Antoinette Freeman said her daughter got joy out of volunteering every year because she was an only child, and volunteering made her feel like she had more siblings.

‘No regrets’

Shirley Freeman felt more like a mom to Bails than a grandmother. When she was born, Bails had to go to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Bails stayed with her grandparents the first five years of her life, and Freeman was even her first Head Start teacher. She became involved with the Plantersville St. Jude Bike-A-Thon at a young age; her grandma remembers pulling her in a wagon when she was 5, and Bails remained devoted to the cause ever since.

“Wherever children were involved, she was a part of it, and if she could help, that was her passion, to help a child,” Freeman said.

Through a recent fundraiser dinner in her memory, her family raised $4,200 for the St. Jude Bike-A-Thon.

Bails left an impression on everyone she came in contact with. Throughout her involvement in various extracurriculars and clubs, she had numerous mentors who encouraged her to be the best. Westmoreland remembers Bails being part of Girl Scouts with her children, with Bails receiving the Gold Award in 2018.

Even before becoming official members, Bails inspired her family to volunteer with the Salvation Army as part of her Girl Scouts volunteer requirements.

Antoinette Freeman appreciates witnessing all her daughter’s accomplishments. She retired in 2007 after her doctor warned her she had blood clots. Leaving the workforce allowed her to spend time volunteering with Bails throughout the community, including with Angel Tree.

One of Freeman’s proudest moments was seeing Bails join the sisterhood of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (AKA) in 2019 as an undergraduate student at Mississippi State University (MSU). She followed in her mother’s footsteps, as Antoinette Freeman did the graduate chapter.

“We went through all the initiation, and all of this, and all of that,” Freeman said.

The chapter would later honor her memory with a brick with her name, AKA membership year and graduating year that was installed on the Compass Scholars Walk at MSU.

Bails was also a member of the NAACP, and during her time at home, she remained committed to Angel Tree. She participated in Distribution Day, and volunteered with the Salvation Army’s Community Thanksgiving Luncheon and Empty Bowls.

She graduated MSU in three years, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development and Family Science with a concentration in Child Development on November 25, 2020. Inspired by Dr. Bryan Darling, the neonatologist who worked in the NICU when she was born, Bails enrolled in graduate school with the goal of becoming a doctor.

Some of the Shirly Freeman’s most bittersweet memories of her granddaughter involve travel. Through Bails’ involvement with different organizations, the two journeyed to Florida, Georgia, New York and Washington, D.C.

Before every trip, Bails would ask her grandmother, “Are you going with me?” Freeman always said, “yes.” For that, she’s grateful.

“You never know when it’s your last time to be, ”Freeman said. “I don’t have no regrets that I said no when she asked me to go.”

Lt. Gov. Hosemann’s inaugural nonprofit got $368k in unreportable donations, filings show

JACKSON • A nonprofit created to fund Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s inauguration raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret donations, with some gifts as large as $20,000, recent tax filings show.

The organization, Advance Mississippi 2020, raised the money to pay for inauguration events early last year including a gala and prayer breakfast, according to IRS documents submitted last month. The group was dissolved later in 2020 with the leftover money given to several charities.

The documents are the latest example of how Mississippi politicians can use nonprofits to sidestep the usual restrictions and transparency required by campaign finance laws. Unlike many other states and the federal government, Mississippi has no rules around how politicians raise, spend and disclose cash for their inaugurations.

Hosemann spokeswoman Leah Rupp Smith said in a statement that transparency has been a “central tenet” of the lieutenant governor’s administration, including his push to webcast legislative proceedings.

“In accordance with the law, a totally separate nonprofit organization, with a separate board, raised money for the inauguration events, filed all appropriate tax returns, and distributed the remaining funds to the charities listed,” Smith said.

Earlier this year the Daily Journal reported on an inaugural nonprofit for Gov. Tate Reeves that raised more than $1.6 million for his inauguration festivities and transition to office. It received dozens of anonymous donations, some for $100,000 and more. The Republican’s nonprofit, For All Mississippi, also paid $150,000 to a business owned by the governor’s brother and sister-in-law.

Mississippi lawmakers advanced legislation this year that would have required more transparency around inauguration funds – at least for Reeves and future governors.

But the bill, after easily clearing the House, died without a vote in the Senate, the chamber Hosemann oversees as president.

So in Mississippi, unlimited and anonymous fundraising for inauguration festivities remains allowed. Other types of 501©4 nonprofits that participate in political activities in the state can do the same.

Hosemann’s inaugural nonprofit raised $368,049 from 2019 to 2020, according to the tax filings. Some $145,000 in donations from 2019 were not broken down by amount. In the nonprofit’s 2020 IRS filing, donations amounts were disclosed, though all identifying information such as names and addresses were kept secret.

Of 27 donations to the nonprofit ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 last year, three people gave the top amount, nine donated $10,000 and 11 handed over $5,000. The nonprofit spent money on advertising and promotion, fundraising, office costs, contract labor, and printing and publications. For the inauguration events themselves, the group reported spending $80,000 on meals and $6,000 on gifts.

Experts say political nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors leave the public in the dark, with no clues about what interests they may represent and how they may seek to influence the politician while in office. Political campaigns are required to disclose these basic donation and spending details in order to increase accountability and transparency around the process.

Many states and the federal government have also decided such transparency regulations should apply to inauguration fundraising. Louisiana, for instance, caps individual donations at $5,000 and inauguration donations and expenditures are revealed similar to a campaign finance report. Kentucky requires quarterly reporting, and anonymous donations over $100 are banned. Virginia mandates regular public reporting of donors, including special reports for large donations.

The Mississippi Legislature appeared interested in passing the state’s own inauguration funding regulations this past session. House Bill 1019 said Reeves and any future governor-elect would need to report inauguration financial information to the Secretary of State’s Office. The bill’s author, Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, had said he thought the bill should be amended to cover any politician who raises money for an inauguration.

“It’s a good government piece of legislation. People want to know who’s contributing to elected officials,” Lamar told the Daily Journal in January. “I really don’t know why we’ve never had anything on our books that would require this.”

But after clearing the House with only one vote against, the bill died in the Senate after it wasn’t brought up for consideration in the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee. The chairman of that committee, Sen. John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, said in March the bill was a casualty of a busy session, especially for his committee.

Smith, Hosmann’s spokeswoman and deputy chief of staff, noted the House bill was retroactive, meaning it would have required Reeves to report who gave to his 2020 inauguration nonprofit, not just who gives in the future. “Without retroactive provisions, such legislation will have more opportunity for a positive legislative outcome,” Smith said.

About half the money donated to the Hosemann nonprofit was ultimately given away to other charities, the filings show, including $10,000 to the Hosemann Family Autism Foundation.

Other entities that received leftover money from the inauguration were foundations for Mississippi State and Ole Miss, Friends of Children’s Hospital, Willowood Developmental Center, Foundation for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Canopy Children’s Solutions, Magnolia Speech School.

Friends of Children’s Hospital, Friends of the Growing Tree and William Carey University.