Van Ray, Pontotoc native, elected chairman of outdoor conservation committee

Sep. 29—JACKSON — A Pontotoc native will head a statewide committee charged with doling out funds to rehab Mississippi's aging state parks.

During their inaugural meeting on Thursday, members of the newly formed Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund Committee picked Van Ray to serve the organization's first chairman. Ray, the president and CEO of the Bank of Yazoo in Yazoo City, will now be responsible for presiding over the organization's meetings, where the members will decide how to distribute funds to rehab state parks and improve access to public and private lands for outdoor recreation.

"It's an honor to be chosen as chairman," Ray told the Daily Journal. "We have some great people serving on the committee."

The committee also voted to allow the state personnel board to advertise for the group's first employee, a project supervisor, to coordinate with entities and public bodies who apply to the organization for funding. The employee's salary would range from around $66,000 to $80,000.

Kelly Hardwick, the chairman of the state Personnel Board, told the committee that he could likely help the organization hire a candidate in about a month.

The committee also opted to use the Mississippi Attorney General's Office for legal advice, instead of contracting with outside legal counsel for services.

After years of political brinkmanship, the Mississippi Legislature earlier this year passed legislation creating the committee. Lawmakers and the governor agreed to set aside $10 million for the trust fund's first year for conservation efforts.

After the inaugural year, it will be up to the Legislature to determine how much money goes into the fund. The committee can also apply for federal funds.

Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann attended a portion of the meeting and told the committee that he hopes the members' work will lead to improvements in wildlife conservation across the state.

"You're going to leave big footprints in the state with this," Hosemann told the members.

House Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Chairman Bill Kinkade, a Republican from Byhalia, similarly said that he's excited to see how the committee operates going forward because years of work have culminated into the organization's current work.