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Itawamba County library show long-term, steady growth

Although it’s a building filled with the written word, it’s numbers that matter when it comes to funding for the Itawamba County Pratt Memorial Library.

Each fiscal year, head librarian Jeffrey Martin prepares the budget to present to both the City of Fulton Board of Aldermen and the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors. This year’s numbers show longterm, increased growth for the library.

“As we near the end of the year, circulation has continued to be quite strong in [2019],” Martin told The Times via email. “That’s remarkable when you think of all the technological advances that have occurred through the years.”

From 2018 to 2019, the total circulations were up by more than 7,000 items. In total, the local library check out more than 55,339 books, movies, ebooks and more. Children’s book circulation was 18,247, an increase of more than 4,000 items from the previous year.

Martin expects both of these numbers to continue to grow.

“As for the year we are finishing up, it looks like the circulation of the physical collection is going to be really close to that of the previous year,” Martin said. “We have had over 50,000 items circulated with one month left to go on the year.”

Martin noted computer usage has gone up with over 6,500 computer sessions logged so far in 2019, a number that is already ahead of 2018’s number of 5,946. Electronic items such as electronic books and electronic AudioBook collections, which are shared with the Lee County Library, were numbered at 7,772 circulations last year. That number is expected to be higher at year’s end.

Martin said it’s adapting to change that has helped the local library maintain relevance in an increasingly digital world.

“The library does not resist change, but instead, it adapts to change,” Martin said. “There are so many innovations that could be seen as a threat to the traditional idea of what the library is, but instead of digging in and resisting these changes, the library world has embraced these changes and found ways to use these innovations to better serve users of the library.”

The use of high speed internet, apps and internet services for genealogy and job searches gives individuals reason to take advantage of more than just the latest best seller on the shelf, Martin said.

In July 2018, the library upgraded and significantly increased the speed of its internet connection by going to a fiber connection. The current speed for their connection is up to 100 Mbps upload and download.

“A few months ago, we were excited to learn of a way that library users could come into the library and print items directly from their phones,” Martin said. “This is done through a free app from the manufacturer of our printer that allows mobile devices to communicate with the printer.”

Signing up for a library card allows library users access to multiple subscription websites and online services. For those working on their family histories, the library offers access to the genealogy website HeritageQuest. Free access to from within the library building is also available.

Access to the LearningExpress Library database for career seekers, test takers (ACT, GED, GRE) and people wanting to learn more about computers is also available through the library, both from within and outside its walls. The library began offering the database in October 2018 after receiving a subgrant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Act and administered by the Mississippi Library Commission (MLC). Since that time, it has been accessed more than 500 times.

The library has access to 63 digital magazines using that platform, including popular titles like Better Homes and Gardens, National Geographic, Newsweek, and Reader’s Digest.

Martin said, along with funding from both the city and county, they are fortunate to receive grants that allow them to make the advances necessary to meet the growing need of the public.

“We are pleased to announce that we received a $10,000 grant from Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi, Inc., to start a program we are calling STEM Story Time,” Martin said. “[Toyota] has been a great partner; it’s been great to have them in our area.”

STEM refers to the curriculum that emphasizes Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The program takes a STEM-based hands-on approach to the traditional story time model. Ideally, it blends literary arts and science.

“For example, if we happen to be talking about bears in a given week, we will talk about the types of bears, their habitat, what they eat, and other characteristics of the animal in addition to reading some fun, fictional books with bear characters,” Martin said. “We will also do a fun craft or building projects each week that will allow the children attending to use their creativity and some early STEM skills. We plan to gear these story times toward children between the ages of 3 and 10.”

The grant will be used to purchase a several new STEM-related fiction and non-fiction titles for story times. It will also be used to purchase arts and crafts supplies to be used during the hands-on portion of these story times.

“The grant will allow us to bring in several “STEM-in-Action” speakers intermittently throughout the year to show attendees ways that STEM can be applied to our lives in fun and interesting ways,” Martin said.

The library’s kickoff even will be Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 4 p.m.

The library will continue with STEM Story Times with the library staff each week thereafter with Stem-in-Action speakers featured once a month in the weeks ahead.

“Cute and Creepy Animals” will be second STEM-in-Action speaking event scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 4 p.m. prior to Fulton’s “Scare on the Square” Halloween event.

Martin said the goal with this program is to encourage both childhood literacy and an early interest in gaining STEM skills that are paramount to life today and are likely to have an even greater role in the future.

Presley holds town hall meeting in Fulton

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley met with a dozen or so citizens during a town hall meeting in Fulton, last week.

Presley addressed the group concerning the availability of broadband internet service, natural gas expansion, rural water association issues and his office’s effort to stop unsolicited marketing calls, frequently known as “robocalls.”

Broadband availability

Among the most pressing topics Presley covered was access to high speed internet in the most rural parts of the state. Presley likened broadband access to that of any other type of infrastructure.

“Just as important as roads and bridges, is children having access to internet in rural areas,” Presley said. “They simply cannot participate in the modern world without it. Period.”

During the meeting, Presley referenced his office’s efforts to push the passing of House Bill 366 to combat the lack of reliable internet service. Referred to as the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, the bill allows electric power cooperatives across the state to offer high-speed internet service to its customers.

Governor Phil Bryant signed the bill into law in January.

Presley noted more than 40,000 customers will now have more options for broadband internet service, which he believes will help lower costs and increase access.

“With Tombigbee Electric Power Association moving forward with their project and existing efforts being made by Fulton Telephone Company to provide their customers with broadband, this gets our citizens what they need and brings competition to the market,” Presley told the group. “And competition is good for the market.”

Presley was referencing an ongoing project by the Fulton Telephone Company to expand its broadband service.

Presley also noted that health care advancements can be crippled by lack of sufficient internet service. Many individuals rely on the connectivity to hospitals for their pacemakers or other lifesaving medical devices.

“Most people do have access to the internet, the problem is the speed,” Presley said. “In the modern world, we must have it to move forward.”

Natural gas expansion

Presley stated another objective of his office is to put money back in the pocket of the consumer. He believes expanding natural gas services is one way to do it.

“It’s more efficient and it puts money back in your pocket,” Presley said of natural gas. “It’s also crucial to the development of the county’s infrastructure.”

Presley mentioned the success of the City of Fulton’s $1.19 million expansion of its natural gas services into Fairview in 2018. The project included Fairview Attendance Center and will eventually add around 130 customers to its service.

He encouraged citizens who do not currently have natural gas but are interested to contact his office.

“Expanding to new areas is based on interest and we need to know that the interest is there,” Presley said.

Rural water associations

In July, Presley’s office announced the lifting of an eight-year moratorium against Northeast Itawamba Water Association. The moratorium prevented the association from adding new customers due to the overcapacity of one of the association’s two water systems.

Presley said the moratorium’s lifting is the first step in the process of ensuring the water association’s customers are receiving clean water at high pressure.

“Our office, along with Mississippi Rural Water Association were able to work with the association, get their two systems tied together and get the moratorium lifted,” Presley said. “But we are not letting go until a permanent solution is in place.”

Presley said the partnering of his office and the Mississippi Rural Water Association has enabled Presley to ensure rural water associations are serving their customers to the best of their abilities.


Before the meeting came to a close, Presley addressed the ongoing issue with robocalls. The PSC and Secretary of State’s Office announced changes to the Telephone Solicitation Act, affecting the registration requirements of charities. Organizations paying telephone solicitors are now covered by the act and are subject to penalties of up to $10,000 if they fail to comply.

“The PSC worked directly with Secretary of State Hosemann’s office to change this law and put a stop to fraudulent charities making calls or texting,” Presley said. “This change was one way of keeping scam artists from stealing money from hard-working citizens.”

Presley also discussed at length the failure of telephone companies to do their part in combating issues with robocalls.

“We must get these phone companies on board,” Presley said. “There are industry standards, and I’m not convinced they are doing all they can do. We need all companies on board.”

Presley said his office has held over 200 town meetings. He told the group it is very important that his office make itself available to those they serve.

Sheriff, judge, deputy sued for alleged rights violations

A man arrested in 2017 after refusing to identify himself to local law enforcement agents is suing an Itawamba County justice court judge, deputy and the sheriff for alleged rights violations.

Jonathan Lee Pierson filed a federal lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi in late April against Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson, deputy Larry Johnson, Itawamba County Justice Court Judge John Bishop and other unnamed individuals. According to the complaint, Pierson accuses those named of violating his First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The First Amendment protects the right to free speech; the Fourth Amendment gives the right to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” without probable cause; the Fourteenth Amendment protects the rights of U.S. citizens.

Pierson is seeking $500,000 in damages, or “such other reasonable amount as the Court deems,” plus attorney fees and declamatory judgments that those named as defendants violated the law and his civil rights during his arrest. Judge Glen H. Davidson is set to preside over the case.

Pierson is represented by Oxford-based attorney Danny Lampley.

Dickinson and Bishop are being sued in their official capacities. Johnson and the unnamed defendants are being sued as individuals.

During their regular meeting, last week, the Itawamba County Board of Supervisors voted to turn over the lawsuit to the county’s insurance company for representation.

Pierson was arrested on Oct. 26, 2017, on a charge of disorderly conduct after he refused to identify himself to local deputies, Johnson among them. Pierson was shooting a video at the time of his arrest. Portions of the footage were subsequently uploaded to Youtube following his arrest, which drew national attention from groups of civil rights activists.

Officials with the Itawamba County Sheriff’s Department claim Pierson and another man, Stephen Kilbourne, were filming and taking pictures in several places throughout downtown Fulton on the day of his arrest, including the county courthouse, Playgarden Park, post office and outside the jail. The department reportedly received several complaints regarding the duo, leading to the initial confrontation.

Law enforcement officials said Pierson was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, after repeatedly refusing to provide identification upon request. He was later transported to Lee County on an outstanding warrant.

According to Mississippi law, disorderly conduct constitutes a “failure to comply with requests or commands of law enforcement officers.”

Although with Pierson at the time of his arrest, Kilbourne was not arrested.

The suit details a number of alleged civil rights violations, including the arrest itself.

“Neither Mr. Pierson nor his colleague engaged in any behavior that was disruptive, combative, loud, disturbing, disorderly, or unpeaceful, nor any that would give rise to any articulable suspicion that they were engaged in, or about to engage in, any crime such as that their presence could be lawfully questioned or that they should be stopped for questioning, much less arrested,” the filing states.

The suit also alleges the digital contents of Pierson’s phone were illegally searched during his arrest. Pierson claims one or more personal files on his phone had been deleted, although not the video that captured his arrest.

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police aren’t permitted to search the digital contents of a phone, tablet, camera, or similar electronic device without a warrant. This ruling extends to situations in which a person is arrested and his or her phone, etc. is seized since, according to the court, digital contents don’t pose an immediate physical threat to law enforcement.

The unnamed defendants in the suit include “the other deputies and personnel of the sheriff’s department who were immediately present or assisting in the arrest of the plaintiff and who participated or were otherwise involved in the attempt to delete the video file of the occurrence which had been recorded by the plaintiff on his cell phone.”

The claim also alleges that the charge of Disorderly Conduct was changed to Disturbing the Public Peace without Pierson’s input or consent, a violation of due process. It also states Judge Bishop denied Pierson’s request to record his trial.

According to the State of Mississippi Judiciary website, electronic recording during justice court proceedings is up to the discretion of the judge.