September 4, 2014 10:57:36 AM
Starkville aldermen approved a November conference trip for Mayor Parker Wiseman and Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn on Tuesday, but the matter pit Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins and the first-term representative at odds over the value of continuing education and ever-tightening city finances.
With the 4-3 vote -- Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard and Perkins opposed -- both Wiseman and Wynn will head to Austin, Texas, for the 2014 National League of Cities annual Congress of Cities conference, an event Wiseman hailed as a premier source of educational materials and topics for municipal managers.
The city approved up to $2,750 in travel costs for the two-person delegation, but Perkins attempted to nix the matter since he previously opposed a pay raise for city employees.
Since taking office in 2014, the city has sent numerous representatives to conferences in Seattle, Washington, and the nation's capital. The current administration's generous travel allotments, he said, put the city out of touch with its own employees since pay raises are not expected for the coming fiscal year.
Wiseman countered, saying the city was proposing to send a smaller delegation than it has in the past, but the board's longest-tenured aldermen pressed for a moratorium on travel into the next fiscal year.
He called the current board's willingness to dip into travel funds "unheard of" compared to the previous administration's penchant for conferences.
"Even though this is a budgeted matter, I do not think this is a good time, personally, to expend these funds. It appears, as of this date and time, there is not an appetite for ... a pay raise for city employees. As a result of that, it certainly does not look good, in my opinion, for members of this governing body to take what I call a very expensive trip using taxpayer funds," Perkins said. "I think we owe it to our city employees and tax payers. Every dollar counts, and we need to keep more money in the general fund."
While Perkins said he was not targeting a specific alderman or city employee on the travel issue, he turned to Chief Administrative Officer Taylor Adams to confirm specifically that he was not seeking a spot on the trip.
Adams was never included in the original agenda item, nor was his potential travel discussed outside of Perkins' questioning.
"His plate is overrunning," Perkins said of Adams' job responsibilities. "Somebody has to say these things to exert leadership at the table."
Wynn, who pushed her own travel funding to a vote later in the night, argued against Perkins' stance by saying the educational material outside the scope of her own background -- she's studied education, not governmental policies and procedures -- allow her to make more informed decisions that benefit the city.
She specifically targeted Perkins' apparent unwillingness to fund city employee raises and his trip to last year's Mississippi Municipal League conference.
"If you know anything about me, you know I support our employees receiving pay raises. The vice mayor said he would advocate doing nothing -- those were his words," she said. "I'm a proponent of seeing our all our city employees receiving raises."
Perkins was inducted into MML's Hall of Fame last year and honored for his 20 years of civic duty. Wynn argued that Perkins collected his award on taxpayers' dime without even attempting to further his education.
"He did not attend classes; he was there to receive an award. Taxpayers paid for that at almost $700. I was in class every day taking my courses. You all should thank goodness I had the course work I did to be able to make a sound decision for our city," she said referring to the board's recent approval of $5 million in economic development bonds for a new industrial park near the Highways 25 and 182 bypass.
Wynn supported the bond issuance, while Perkins did not.
"I'm a big proponent of attending college, but at the end of the day, as an educator, I understand college isn't for everyone. So, guess what? Sometimes a manufacturing job is what people, especially when they're my color and look like me, have an opportunity to get," she said. "Based on the course work I attended, I supported that. I got on the phone with people in our community and said they should call their aldermen."
A majority of funds for the November conference will come out of the current budget due to the need to book flights and hotel rooms, city staff said.
Approximately $8,915.71 remained in the board of aldermen's travel budget Tuesday, city staff said, but the mayor's fund would dip down to $6,100 if aldermen approved the claims docket as it hit the table.
After the mayor's administrative assistant delivered the figures, Adams told aldermen that both travel budgets are within statutory limits.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
1. Councilman Turner responds to AG opinion COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Camp Rising Sun: A community treasure COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Higgins: $150 million project eying Lowndes Port COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY