Madison mayor sues county supervisors
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler filed a lawsuit in circuit court on Monday against three members of the Madison County Board of Supervisors involving the rezoning of 350 acres on Bozeman road that is currently under appeal.
Hawkins-Butler filed the suit personally and in her official capacity, naming District 3 Supervisor Gerald Steen, District 4 Supervisor Karl Banks, District 5 Supervisor Paul Griffin, and the bonding company in an effort to have them repay the county $965,000 she alleges was illegally paid to the Bozeman Family Trust for property the county already owned.
The lawsuit also alleges the county was involved in a pay-to-play scheme that involved the transfer of land to the county in exchange for rezoning of the 350 acres from a Special-Use District (SU-1) to a Highway Commercial District (C-2) that will allow everything from convenience stores to strip malls.
At a February 2023 meeting of the Madison County Planning & Zoning Commission, Board Attorney Mike Espy explained that the county acquired 35 acres from the Minnie J. Bozeman Family Limited Partnership in 2022, half in the form of a donation and the other half for $1,030,700, which would be returned upon successful completion of the Reunion interchange with ramps leading to I-55.
“He didn’t want to donate all of it, because he’s been fooled in the past by the county, where he donated land that was never any ramps, never any bridge, so the county gave the land back to him that he had donated,” Espy told P&Z commissioners.
Espy later went on to say that upon completion of the I-55 ramps, the county would receive a check back for the payment.
Hawkins-Butler’s lawsuit points out several issues with the transaction.
First, the amount in question. The board only paid $965,000, not $1,030,700, and the check didn’t show up on the claims docket though it was cashed, the lawsuit alleges. Second, the lawsuit states the county still owned the land in question.
The lawsuit explains that in 2009, when the county first attempted to build the Reunion Parkway, the Bozeman family donated the land for the right-of-way. The initial memorandum of understanding approved called for a reversionary clause in the event that the county did not move forward with the project. However, that MOU had to be amended because the Mississippi Department of Transportation would not allow for a reversionary clause. The lawsuit states that as of Sept. 15, 2009, the county owned the property in question.
In 2014, the board conveyed the land back to the Bozeman family based on the original MOU and the reversionary clause, something Hawkins-Butler contends in her lawsuit was illegal.
Last year, the board entered into a new MOU with the Bozeman family outlying the terms Espy explained in February 2023.
“While the Reunion Parkway extension has been funded and approved, the construction of an interchange with on-off ramps has not,” the lawsuit contends. “In sum, the board agreed for the Minnie J. Bozeman Family Limited Partnership to ‘donate’ the 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-off ramps.”
Hawkins-Butler’s lawsuit asserts that the donation of the 35 acres for right-of-way was also part of a deal to rezone 350 acres of land.
At the same February P&Z meeting, Espy said, “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.”
Espy went on to say that the county engineer even provided road drawings so the Bozeman family knew could plan for commercial development.
Hawkins-Butler also asserts in the lawsuit that the county violated the Mississippi Open Meetings Act, by meeting in private settings to discuss developments.
Griffin said the board members gave the lawsuit to Espy and did not wish to comment because of pending litigation, only adding that “Mary’s at her games again.”
This lawsuit is separate from a lawsuit filed earlier this summer by Madison the City and five subdivisions to stop the rezoning. Those subdivisions are Belle Terre, Cherry Hill, Ingleside, Reunion and Reserve.
They contend the Bozeman family did not meet the burden of proof for rezoning, saying there hasn’t been a significant change in the character of the area.