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2013 Year in Review: Miss-Lou saw highs and lows

The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — What a year 2013 proved to be with a myriad of major events impacting lives in our community.

From high points that will be fondly recalled for decades to come, to low points about which we’d all rather forget, the year certainly was a busy one for the Miss-Lou.

Change was the story of 2013 with a new school opening in Ferriday, the death of a Natchez native and former governor, a deadly bank hostage situation and many more events all leaving their marks in our community’s history.

But it was the lights of Hollywood shining bright in Natchez that perhaps garnered the most attention in 2013.

James Brown film announced for Natchez

The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez Democrat

Award-winning director Tate Taylor’s August announcement that every scene of his upcoming biopic film, “Get On Up,” about legendary singer James Brown would be filmed in Mississippi had major implications for Natchez.

A majority of the film, which chronicles the life of “The Godfather of Soul,” was shot in Natchez from early November until just before Christmas.

Iconic Natchez landmarks, such as Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center and The Malt Shop, and hundreds of local residents who played extras in the film will shine on the big screen when the movie is released in 2014.

Local restaurants, bars and hotels reported increased revenue generated from the influx of movie business.

Having Universal Studios and Taylor, who filmed “The Help” in Greenville, choose Mississippi and Natchez was a decision Mayor Butch Brown said has him confident about the city’s future.

“With them having such a successful time in Greenville and then choosing to come to Natchez was quite flattering,” Brown said. “We’ve heard lots of numbers about the budget, but anytime you have a major studio spending a million dollars in Natchez, Mississippi, it’s going to have major implications for everyone — food service industry, bed and breakfasts, hotels and others.”

But the real highlight of Hollywood’s stay in Natchez will hopefully come in the future as movie officials left with the ultimate goal of returning for another production.

The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez Democrat

“I have a feeling we’re all going to be back really soon,” executive producer Trish Hofmann said in December.

Tensas Bank hostage situation

For several hours on a Tuesday night in August, the community of St. Joseph, La., stood still with worry and fear.

For nearly 24 hours, law enforcement officials, media outlets and spectators gathered in the small town to watch tragedy unfold after a 20-year-old resident entered a local bank and took three bank employees hostage.

Armed with a handgun and an assault rifle, Fuaed Abdo Ahmed kept the three hostages in a small workroom near the bank vault before eventually releasing one of the hostages, Patricia White.

Ahmed shot LaDean McDaniel and Jay Warbington when police stormed the Tensas State Bank building. Ahmed was shot and killed by police.

Warbington died inside the bank, and McDaniel died the next day at an Alexandria, La., hospital.

At a memorial service days after the shooting, St. Joseph Mayor Edward Brown told residents that time would heal the emotional wounds of the community.

The message is still one Brown said he portrays to town residents.

The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez Democrat

“We had to do our best to move on from this situation, and I think we’re moving forward,” Brown said. “As I said before, it’s going to take some time for all of this to blow over and for some healing to occur, and I think our community is still doing some of that.”

School district faces budget cuts and state takeover potential

The Natchez-Adams School District found itself needing to cut nearly $2 million in May just to continue operating.

The cuts ranged from reducing the district’s athletic budget by $42,832 to not purchasing a new edition of textbooks for the upcoming school year to a two-day unpaid leave for all administrators.

The cuts were necessary, district officials said, because of the state continually underfunding the district, as well as a depletion of the district’s 16 Section land interest funds.

On top of the budgetary issues, the district also found out two of its schools — Morgantown Middle School and Natchez High School — could be taken over by the state in September 2014.

The two schools received an “F” rating from the state for two consecutive years. If the schools receive another “F” rating in 2015, state takeover could occurr, which would consist of terminating all school employees and finding replacements.

The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez Democrat

District officials are researching plans that could restructure the schools and essentially reset the failing clock, while also monitoring benchmark assessments of the annual state tests, which are taken in May, that help predict what rating the district could get.

County officials work through sale of Natchez Regional Medical Center

The Adams County Board of Supervisors started the sale process earlier this year after the hospital’s administration expressed concerns about the viability of being able to operate long-term as an independent, rural hospital in light of recent changes in national health care policy.

County and hospital board officials are using a stalking horse model to sell the hospital, where a bidder negotiates a buying price for the facility, signs a contract with the county and puts down a security. When the hospital is officially placed up for auction, the stalking horse’s price is considered to be the base bid.

If no one outbids the stalking horse, the hospital will automatically be sold to the stalking horse.

Once a stalking horse bidder is negotiated, the supervisors have to approve the agreement. When the agreement is approved, the board will pass a sale resolution, which will be advertised for a month before the action can take place.

The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez Democrat

During that advertisement period, residents have the ability to file a petition asking for the matter to be taken to a referendum. The petition would require 1,500 signatures.

Hospital board officials hoped to have a tentative agreement lined up by the end of the year, but remain confident an agreement will come early in the new year.

Gov. Allain dies at age 85

Natchez native and 59th governor of the state Bill Allain died in December after a brief illness.

Allain served as Mississippi’s attorney general from 1980 to 1984 and as governor from 1984 to 1988.

Family and friends gathered at St. Mary Basilica days after his death to celebrate his life and remember him as a humble public servant with a heart for helping those in need.

Allain was laid to rest in the Natchez City Cemetery with a six-gun salute.

Former Natchez resident connected to ricin letters

The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez Democrat

The national spotlight shined bright on Mississippi and Natchez briefly in April when a former Natchez resident was arrested and accused of sending poison-laced letters to a number of political figures including President Obama, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and a Mississippi judge.

Paul Kevin Curtis, an Elvis impersonator who grew up in Natchez, was sought because of a simple signature on the letters sent out — “I am KC and I approve this message.”

Curtis had made personal Facebook posts signed with the same message just like the letters that initially tested positive for poison.

After six days and various court proceedings, the charges were dropped against Curtis and the investigation shifted to Everett Dutschke, a former martial arts instructor from Tupelo.

Court documents state Dutschke mailed the letters “to retaliate against and frame Kevin Curtis.”

The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez Democrat

A federal judge postponed Dutschke’s trial in September after a request for continuance by his lawyer.

Curbside recycling pickup begins in Natchez, Vidalia

The cities of Natchez and Vidalia started curbside recycling programs this year.

Natchez’s program began in August and was part of the city’s negotiations for trash collection with Waste Pro.

The program is averaging approximately six tons of material each week with curbside pickup each Wednesday.

Vidalia started its pilot program in October and reached a benchmark earlier this month when the city collected its first ton in a single pickup day.

The Natchez Democrat
The Natchez Democrat

Inmate stabbed to death in Wilkinson County riot

A prison brawl at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility in April left one inmate dead.

The state inmate, Demond Flowers, 21, died from a single stab wound to his heart, according to preliminary autopsy reports.

The stabbing occurred one Saturday night in April when multiple fights broke out between inmates at multiple housing units across the 1,000-bed facility.

When the fighting was quelled, Flowers was dead inside the facility. He was serving an 18-year sentence for car burglary, strong-arm robbery and robbery.

In addition to Flowers, nine other inmates sustained injuries that required hospital care, and an undisclosed number of other inmates received minor injuries and were treated within the facility.