September 19, 2012 10:10:29 AM
It wasn't the budget agenda item that packed the room during Tuesday's Starkville Board of Aldermen's meeting. Although the city held a public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, most of the citizen comments were focused on another topic.
Residents of the Green Oaks subdivision turned out en masse, each one pleading with the board to vote down a motion to open an emergency access gate to the community that has been closed for 13 years.
Despite their impassioned pleas, the board voted to open the gate by a 3-2 motion with two abstentions.
In a roll call vote, Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins voted in the affirmative, while Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker voted to defeat the motion. Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn abstained.
Despite the vote, the gate may remained closed if Mayor Parker Wiseman makes good on his stated intention to veto the measure.
The subdivision is located in Carver's ward and he was noticeably perturbed by the board's decision. Even so, he said thanks to the veto, which would require votes from five aldermen to override the veto, the motion likely won't survive the next board meeting.
"I don't see it happening," Carver said after the meeting. "(Mayor Wiseman) has to veto within 10 days, and you need five of us to override that, so I think it really just delayed the answer."
Carver said he was appalled by the board's decision to ignore the number of citizens who came out in opposition to opening the gate and said with the abstentions and the announcement of a veto, the whole night was a disaster.
"At what point do you start listening to people? That is a record crowd in there, about the worst-case scenario I have seen, and now the citizens don't even really know what happened," Carver said.
He added that a quote from Parker earlier in the night summed up his sentiments.
"We get paid very little money to be up here," Parker said after the vote. "But we do get paid to vote, one way or the other."
Alderman Perkins, the only alderman on the current board that was serving when the board voted to close off the subdivision to Stark Road in 1999, championed the motion, and said he believed that it promoted the health, safety and welfare of the Green Oaks area by improving emergency access.
"The streets are paid for by taxpayer dollars," Perkins said. "It is not in the public interest to close any street. It removes, based on my legal opinion, any potential liability that may exist or arise with respect to any emergency personnel being able to access Green Oaks subdivisions for emergency purposes."
Perkins actually voted to close the road in 1999, something he says was a mistake that he has tried to remedy since. The effort to close the road was in response to the announcement that several large apartment complexes were to be built west of Green Oaks, and worries of increased traffic in a highly residential neighborhood with few sidewalks prompted a quick closure.
It was continually pointed out by all that voted for the motion, the intersection of Douglas McArthur and Stark Road would not be open to the public, but for emergency and official vehicles only, which is the case now, but there is a gate blocking the intersection.
"This does not open any road to the public, though," Perkins said.
The gate is supposed to be accessible by emergency vehicles, and Alderman Parker said the board has received no formal complaints from any agencies in the area regarding its accessibility.
The motion also said the area, which is slightly overgrown now, would be maintained by the city and emergency access-only signage would be provided.
Many of the citizens who spoke during the comment period seemed to be under the impression that the road would be open for complete public access, which, under the motion that was passed, is not the case.
But that does not necessarily mean people won't use it. Without a gate in place, technically, anyone could access Douglas McArthur from Stark Road and vice versa, which would be something the Starkville Police Department would have to enforce.
In other board business, the city's FY 2013 budget was passed, and with only one citizen speaking on the subject during the short public hearing, Sandra Sistrunk was amused.
"I wish people were as passionate about the budget as they are with other issues," she joked.