April 14, 2010 9:39:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Despite claims of political maneuvering and racial inequality, the Starkville Board of Aldermen made progress Tuesday night in its quest to appoint the next member of the Starkville School District board of trustees.
During a 4 1/2-hour meeting at the city''s Sportsplex, aldermen first attempted to override Mayor Parker Wiseman and his veto of Susan Tomlinson''s appointment to the SSD school board, but the attempt failed by one vote. At least five aldermen needed to vote in favor of the override, but Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas, who supported Tomlinson when she was appointed in March, recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest.
Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn Sr. also recused himself. Both Vaughn and Dumas have family members working in the SSD and were advised to recuse themselves by the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins voted against the override attempt, saying he supported the mayor''s veto. Perkins and Vaughn both voted against Tomlinson''s appointment last month after publicly supporting former Oktibbeha County School District Superintendent Dr. Walter Conley.
Perkins and the remaining four aldermen Tuesday voted unanimously to add an item to next week''s meeting agenda which would give Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill permission to readvertise the vacant school board position and restart the selection process.
Aldermen also addressed the racial tensions which have flared up since Wiseman''s veto.
Wiseman said he issued the veto because he wants to see a school board that is representative of the students it serves. The SSD''s student population is approximately 64 percent black; Tomlinson''s appointment would have made the school board 80 percent white.
Wiseman said race should play a factor, "but not be the controlling factor," in making a school board appointment.
Perkins, the lone black alderman involved in the discussion after Vaughn recused himself, said he supported Wiseman on this issue, even though the two frequently disagree.
"We need to have a school board that is reflective of the community," Perkins said.
Wiseman also said he stands by his veto, despite the public backlash he has received.
"This has without a doubt been the hardest thing that I''ve had to deal with since I took office," the first-term mayor said. "It''s a difficult issue. I have shed tears. I have prayed a countless amount of times trying to seek the best course on this. This is one of those times when reasonable minds disagree. Different people have different viewpoints on issues and this is one of those occasions where I think there are varying viewpoints, and I feel adamantly about mine."
Several remaining aldermen said they were disappointed in the mayor''s veto because they felt Tomlinson was the best candidate for the job. They also wondered if white candidates should even apply to fill the vacant seat.
"With any job, with any appointment, it''s about picking the best person for the job," Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker said. "That doesn''t mean the person who has the highest level of degree or the most college degrees. It means the best person that can serve on that board. I have no doubt Susan Tomlinson was the right choice for this appointment. Unfortunately, the veto itself made it a race issue and the veto basically says that (race) is the only thing we should look at. If that is going to be a requirement for the school board appointment, I personally think that''s as bad as the other way."
Ward 2 Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk said she was "disappointed" by Wiseman''s veto while Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver appeared frustrated.
"Even though you say (race) is not the controlling factor, it is," Carver said.
Wiseman vowed not to veto the Board of Aldermen''s next appointment to the school board, even if he disagrees with the selection.
1. Columbus police chief McQueen retires COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Columbus School board won't go 'buy the book' COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. Settlement brings new hope for Kerr-McGee cleanup COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Columbus L&W eyes new 5-year plan COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY