February 23, 2018 11:01:52 AM
As the fallout continues from the Starkville Board of Aldermen's Tuesday vote to deny a request for a local LGBT group to hold a parade, three alderman have said they would be willing to consider putting the item to a second vote.
It's still uncertain, though, whether a second vote would actually change anything.
Aldermen voted 4-3 on Tuesday to deny Starkville Pride's request to hold a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride parade in late March. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn voted to deny the request. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller supported the parade.
All three aldermen who supported the parade said they are open to a second vote, either at a special-call meeting or the board's next scheduled meeting on March 6. It takes two aldermen to call a special meeting.
"This was more than just a vote by the Starkville Board of Aldermen," Miller said. "It's representative of a movement that has taken place in this country for decades now. Starkville had an opportunity to Tuesday to fall in line or not fall in line, and this has gone from what Starkville is and what it's become to what we're not. The narrative is we're not progressive, not forward thinking and not concerned about other people."
Mayor Lynn Spruill, who also supports the parade, said it's "unlikely" at the moment that the board will reconsider, or that any votes will change if they do. In any case, she said she isn't going to place it on the agenda.
"I'm not placing it on the agenda only for it to fail again," Spruill said.
Still she said she would "love for aldermen to reconsider."
"While I realize there are some fundamental differences in how we feel about the issue, I think there is a fundamental belief in the community on the basic rights of assembly and free speech," Spruill said. "I don't think anyone would deny that. Viewing this in that context informs that decision more, and I think it is appropriate for us to revisit that with those thoughts in mind, and with how this has impacted the view of the community in ways I don't think everybody necessarily anticipated."
On Wednesday, Starkville Pride leaders confirmed they retained representation from New York law firm Kaplan and Company to bring a lawsuit against the city.
News of the parade denial has spread across the country, with major news organizations such as the Washington Post, New York Times and The Hill picking up the story. Spruill said she's heard from people in Colorado, Washington, Florida, Canada and Washington D.C. since the board's Tuesday vote.
Sistrunk, referencing the lawsuit, said the aldermen who voted to deny the request may feel pressure to change their votes. If the board does take the matter up again, she said it would likely be in the city's best interest to do so quickly.
"Now that we've had our vote and people's positions have been a little more thought out, we're looking at a lawsuit -- and one that I think we have almost no chance of prevailing in," she said. "It absolutely could go on a future agenda. I think, given the publicity we're getting and given the unlikely event that we would prevail in a lawsuit, I think it would behoove us to go ahead and act and get this put behind us."
Walker, likewise, said he's open to considering a second vote, but only if all aldermen are present. Like Sistrunk, he said he's doubtful the city would win a lawsuit.
"It looks like we're clearly going to get sued and there's a pretty high chance we lose," he said. "We'd spend a considerable about of money fighting a fight that would ultimately be a loss."
Carver speaks out
In order for the parade request to gain approval, at least one of the four aldermen would have to switch to voting in favor of the request, if all aldermen are present. If one of the four who voted to oppose the parade is absent or abstains from voting, and all other votes remain the same, Spruill would likely break the 3-3 tie in favor of the parade.
The four parade opposers have been silent on the reasoning during and since Tuesday's meeting. But on Thursday, Carver told The Dispatch he has no plans to change his vote, even with a lawsuit bearing down on the city.
"I was forewarned before any type of vote that this might lead to a lawsuit," Carver said. "If anything, this is solidifying my decision, to stand my ground and keep my stance."
Carver said most of the communications through emails, text messages and phone calls he's received after the vote have been positive. He said about 10 to 15 percent has been negative, and about half of that has been rude or vulgar.
"Cussing an elected official out doesn't sway their opinion," he said. "It's not a good strategy.
"I never thought I'd get so much response from a positive nature," he added. "If anything, it kind of solidifies my opinion on the matter. Don't count on my being the swing vote. I don't stand on one side of something then change my mind. We get information beforehand to make a wise decision."
Little, in a text message, told The Dispatch he's been advised by counsel not to comment on the matter. Perkins told The Dispatch he could not comment, either on his vote or the pending lawsuit. Vaughn couldn't be reached for comment by press time.
Lawsuit or not, Carver said his vote represented his constituents.
"I'm not sure of the potential for loss on the city's side," Carver said. "I was elected to represent the constituents and the majority of the constituents from my ward have been supportive of this. I feel like I'm in line with what Ward 1 wants.
"The potential for a lawsuit is always in play for any elected official on any level," he added.
1. As anchor tenants depart, a Starkville shopping center sees opportunity STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
3. Vibrant Church's $14M expansion nearly complete COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. Columbus turns to consultant for leadership building COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. CPD will go longer without an assistant chief COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY