April 14, 2014 10:03:43 AM
Starkville aldermen should reorganize the city's three-person audit and budget committee to include any and all representatives willing to participate in financial discussions, and any foot dragging should be perceived as an attempt to deny at least one alderman's right to represent his constituents.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker was barred from actively participating in Thursday's preliminary budget talks after Board Attorney Chris Latimer said the meeting was solely noticed for the three-person committee. Any participation from Walker, who aldermen prevented from joining the budget committee after he volunteered his services, would change the nature of the meeting, Latimer said.
Walker was told he could observe, not participate in discussions.
Proper public notice is required when four aldermen - a legal quorum - sit down to discuss city business. While the budget committee has to follow Open Meetings Act rules, it at any time can reorganize and provide other aldermen seats at the table.
If the board reorganizes the committee, the city must then post meeting notices - a simple piece of paper taped to the front wall of City Hall will suffice - and record minutes.
The city was more than capable of meeting these requirements last year when all seven aldermen met during budget work sessions, but now representatives say adding extra members creates potential scheduling problems.
We beg to differ. If Walker is so determined to participate in budget discussions, he will find time to be at the table.
Questions must be asked when the five members of the board - all but Walker and Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver - voted earlier this year to limit budget committee members to three and prevent a willing volunteer from joining.
Although Latimer's opinion seems valid and reasonable, denying Walker the opportunity to represent his constituents - like it or not, Cotton District registered voters, whether students or long-term residents, do have a say in public policy - reeks of a bully move by Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins.
Halfway through Thursday's meeting, it was Perkins who left the table while aldermen discussed sanitation finances. His return prompted Chief Administrative Officer Taylor Adams' absence, and Adams would go on to relay Latimer's opinion.
The board of aldermen, which has been publicly lambasted numerous times for the appearance of back-door deals and under-the-table shenanigans, does itself no favors by keeping a willing representative out of any budgetary conversation, whether during a work session or at a formal meeting.
At any given board of aldermen meeting, Walker appears to be a man alone on an island, whose votes repeatedly fall in the minority. He appears not as a person shouting into a deafening wind, but as a man pleading unsuccessfully with cattle to move out of the middle of a road.
To deny Walker or any willing alderman the opportunity to guide city finances and represent his or her constituents is a slap in the face to voters and a pathetic act by small, power-hungry few.
If your ward's representative opposes an expansion of the committee or does not want to participate in a meaningful way with the budgetary process, let them know your displeasure during Tuesday's public comment session at City Hall.