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Aldermen spar over plans for downtown roundabout




The tone of Tuesday's Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting was set early after discussion of a proposed roundabout by First Baptist Church was removed from the agenda. 


The roundabout was challenged by Ward 6 alderman Roy A. Perkins, Ward 3 alderman Eric Parker and Ward 7 alderman Henry Vaughn, with the discussion deteriorating into personal criticisms and criticism of the board. Eventually, the board voted unanimously to take the item off the agenda. 


Perkins made the original motion to remove the item from the agenda, pointing to the Planning and Zoning Commission's decision to table FBC's request as the reason he wanted it removed. Perkins said he wanted the request to follow proper procedure. 


The Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing for FBC Starkville in early November and reviewed plans for the roundabout, which would be located at the intersection of Lafayette and Lampkin streets. The matter was tabled.  


"Once the matter was tabled before the Planning and Zoning Commission, then that leaves it as their property; they have not relinquished authority," Perkins said. "We will debate the merits of the matter when it gets here, after a recommendation has been made." 


Though not objecting to the removal of the agenda item, Parker said he thought the matter in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission was a zoning issue, while the matter on the board agenda concerned street engineering. 


"I am not against taking it off the agenda," Parker assured the board. "But we are just putting someone on a path and then shooting them down again. You know, this item has been on the agenda since Friday. We put every hurdle in the world in front of people." 


But city attorney Chris Latimer sided with Perkins. 


"I thought the matters were too intertwined," Latimer said. 


Things went briefly off course when Perkins and Vaughn become noticeably perturbed by even the attempt to question the item's removal. The board tries to grant "special exceptions" for certain projects, according to Perkins, who said Parker was trying to split hairs by separating the two issues with the roundabout.  


Vaughn said he felt the board was continually trying to set itself up for a lawsuit with the way it has dealt with certain projects. He then turned his attention to Parker. 


"By law, any time construction or development issues come up, Eric Parker should excuse himself," Vaughn said, noting Parker's work as a contractor.  


Latimer said he had talked privately with Parker about any conflicts of interest related to his occupation. 


During the citizen comment period, Gerry Emison, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, thanked the board for its decision to remove FBC's proposal and allowing the issue to go forward with full consideration. 


Despite the tense atmosphere, the board did manage to pass some measures, including funding to help with a Mississippi Department of Transportation project on Highway 182. 


The board will allot up to $20,000 for the project, which will remedy a drainage problem near the entrance of Peter's Rock Temple Church. The city funds will be directed from its storm drainage budget.  


The approval of the assistance to MDOT brought its own debate as well but eventually passed 5-1, with Ward 2 alderman Sandra Sistrunk abstaining. Ward 1 alderman Ben Carver voted against the proposal.  


The major concerns came from Perkins, Sistrunk and Ward 5 alderman Jeremiah Dumas, who all had questions as to the timing, reasoning and potential funding behind the project. 


After Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman addressed each of the issues, Vaughn made a motion to approve the item as is, but Dumas followed up with a motion to approve the item with the money to be taken from the city's ending fund balance. Sistrunk admitted quickly that if the motion was presented with Dumas' amendment, she would have to vote against it. The board then collectively decided to go back to Vaughn's original motion, which it approved.  


In other action, the board also approved the restructuring of the building, codes and planning department. The changes came from chief administrative officer Lynn Spruill. 


The proposal passed 4-3, with Carver, Perkins and Vaughn voting against the measure.




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