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2017: Year in review for Starkville and Oktibbeha County

 

OCH Regional Medical Center CEO Richard Hilton, center, smiles upon hearing the results of the Nov. 7 vote on the sale of the hospital. Nearly 60 percent of voters opposed selling OCH.

OCH Regional Medical Center CEO Richard Hilton, center, smiles upon hearing the results of the Nov. 7 vote on the sale of the hospital. Nearly 60 percent of voters opposed selling OCH. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Lynn Spruill was sworn in as Starkville's new mayor July 3 at City Hall. Chancery Judge Dorothy Colom administered oaths to Spruill and all seven aldermen. Spruill's aunt, Frances Jutman, held the Bible as the city's first female mayor officially assumed her new role.

Lynn Spruill was sworn in as Starkville's new mayor July 3 at City Hall. Chancery Judge Dorothy Colom administered oaths to Spruill and all seven aldermen. Spruill's aunt, Frances Jutman, held the Bible as the city's first female mayor officially assumed her new role.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

Mississippi State University football players hold up signs for newly hired head football coach Joe Moorhead during his first press conference on Nov. 30.

Mississippi State University football players hold up signs for newly hired head football coach Joe Moorhead during his first press conference on Nov. 30.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Alex Holloway

 

 

Starkville and Oktibbeha County saw a bustling year in almost every facet of life in 2017. 

 

From a contentious, bitter-fought campaign to sell or lease the county hospital to unprecedented success for Mississippi State women's basketball or the arrival of new elected officials into public life, the community has had no shortage of changes and activity throughout the year. 

 

Some matters, such as the long-awaited completion of the new police station for Starkville Police Department, saw their conclusion in 2017. Others, such as the development of a new industrial park, or legal challenges surrounding the mayoral election, will carry on into the new year. 

 

Here's a look at the year's top stories from Starkville: 

 

 

 

Voters keep OCH local 

 

Oktibbeha County's voters delivered a fatal blow to plans to possibly sell OCH Regional Medical Center when, in November, they voted by a 58.5 to 41.4 percent margin against the sale of the county-owned facility. 

 

The election was the culmination of a heated and at times unsavory campaign that surfaced deep divides in the community over whether to sell the 96-bed facility. The election came after hospital supporters mobilized a petition drive to force the issue to the ballot -- an effort that started in 2016 after supervisors began exploring potential sale/lease options. 

 

Two nonprofit hospital systems -- Memphis-based Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation and Tupelo-based North Mississippi Health Services -- bid on the hospital in the fall, though it was not initially clear who bid on the hospital until public pressure forced supervisors to go public with the information. 

 

Still, some changes may loom in OCH's future. Hospital CEO Richard Hilton said several systems approached him about a possible affiliation, which could provide additional services while keeping the hospital locally owned. Those talks stalled as supervisors ramped up efforts to possibly sell the hospital, but since the election, hospital trustees have authorized Hilton to look further into the matter. 

 

Voters also elected Oktibbeha County's new circuit and chancery clerks. 

 

Tony Rook will succeed former circuit clerk Glenn Hamilton, who resigned from his post after pleading guilty to felony methamphetamine possession in the summer. 

 

Sharon Livingston will succeed former chancery clerk Monica Banks, who died in 2016 after an extended illness. 

 

 

 

Spruill wins office 

 

Lynn Spruill became Starkville's first female mayor after a contentious municipal election in the late spring. 

 

Spruill, a Democrat, bested fellow democratic opponent Johnny Moore by seven votes in a Democratic primary runoff in May. She follows former mayor Parker Wiseman, who opted not to seek a third term after serving as mayor since 2009. 

 

Moore challenged the election's results, and though that case is still wrapped up in the court system, Spruill has since been sworn into office and started leading the city through the beginning of her term. So far, Spruill's early term has focused on quality of life improvements for the city and its workers, along with major projects such as a $7.5 million infrastructure bond issue and an ongoing annexation study. 

 

Spruill is joined by a board of aldermen that features two new faces, in Ward 2's Sandra Sistrunk, who returned to the board after defeating former alderman Lisa Wynn, and Patrick Miller, who succeeded former Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard. 

 

 

 

Mullen era ends 

 

The Dan Mullen era ended after nine years in Starkville. Mullen worked as the head coach for MSU football since arriving from a post as an offensive coordinator for the University of Florida in 2009. 

 

He left Starkville in late November to return to Florida, this time as a head coach. Mullen rejoins former Mississippi State University Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, who left the school for the same post at Florida in 2016. 

 

Mullen went 69-46 in his nine seasons in Starkville, after inheriting a program that went 32-65 in the eight years before he arrived. His record includes 2017's 8-4 regular season. 

 

Less than a week after Mullen's departure, MSU announced the hire of Pennsylvania State University offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. 

 

 

 

Women's basketball soars 

 

The Mississippi State University women's basketball team enjoyed a year of unprecedented success in the 2016-17 season, eclipsing even expectations set by a strong 2015-16 season that ended in a Sweet Sixteen loss to the University of Connecticut. 

 

The Bulldogs returned to the postseason, notching victories over the University of Washington and Baylor University in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, respectively. They then avenged their loss against Connecticut with a 66-64 overtime victory in the Final Four in Dallas, Texas, thanks to a Morgan William buzzer-beater. The victory snapped Connecticut's nation-leading 111-game win streak. 

 

While the Bulldogs ultimately fell to the University of South Carolina, 67-55, in the national championship game, the postseason run was the best in program history. 

 

So far, the Bulldogs have started the 2017-18 campaign a perfect 14-0 as they head into Southeastern Conference play this evening at the University of Georgia. Only time will tell if they'll match or surpass last year's heights. 

 

 

 

Transitions at SOCSD 

 

The Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District has experienced a year of transitions as several new faces have arrived on the district's administrative team. 

 

Former superintendent Lewis Holloway, who helmed the district since 2012, retired at the end of June. In March, trustees hired Eddie Peasant, a former assistant superintendent with the Tupelo School District, to follow Holloway as SOCSD's next superintendent. 

 

Peasant took over the district in the summer. He was joined by new assistant superintendent Christy Maulding, who replaced former Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Education Jody Woodrum. 

 

More change is likely on the way for the district. Former Assistant Superintendent Toriano Holloway recently left SOCSD to head the Quitman School District as superintendent. His replacement has not yet been named. 

 

 

 

New police station opens 

 

The City of Starkville celebrated the opening of its new police station in October. The facility, which was completed after a $5.4 million renovation of the former city hall building, marks the end of a decades-long struggle for the city to find a permanent home for its police station, including a failed vote on a $8.45 million bond issue in 2011. 

 

The new station is the first standalone facility the city has had for its police force. Its opening allowed the reunification of the police department in one location, after being scattered across Starkville for more than a year while construction was underway. 

 

Even the new facility experienced some difficulty in opening. An opening ceremony originally planned for late June was scuttled when the city learned of standing water in the building's basement. Aldermen later authorized the facility's opening, though some work continued on the building. 

 

 

 

City, county forge ahead on industrial park 

 

Oktibbeha County and the City of Starkville have pushed ahead to provide a combined $14 million in public funding for an industrial park, despite a lingering legal challenge. 

 

The new industrial park sits on nearly 400 acres of land north of the Highway 82-Highway 389 intersection in north Starkville. Work is currently underway to clear the land of cultural artifacts. 

 

The park represents yet another effort by Starkville and Oktibbeha County to strengthen the local industrial base. Cornerstone Park, on Highway 25, has struggled to attract industrial tenants due to a lack of power capacity. Another effort for a 326-acre site, dubbed the Innovation District, was abandoned in 2015 due to the discovery of unexpected cultural artifacts on the site. 

 

Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO has said the park is presently on schedule, with plans to start partial marketing by June 2019 and full marketing by December 2019. 

 

Still, property owners near the park have challenged a rezoning decision by the Starkville Board of Aldermen. The Oktibbeha County Circuit Court has affirmed the city's decision, but the property owners have since appealed the matter to the state Supreme Court. That matter will likely continue to drag out in the months, if not years, to come. 

 

 

 

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