Starkville aldermen shake up Parks Dept. in final meeting

July 1, 2009

Tim Pratt -

 

STARKVILLE -- In its final meeting of the term, the Starkville Board of Aldermen Tuesday made a controversial decision about the future of the city''s Parks and Recreation Department. 

 

Aldermen voted to turn the Parks and Recreation Commission, which oversees the Parks and Recreation Department, from an autonomous group of seven board members into an advisory body, which now will have to report to the mayor and Board of Aldermen. 

 

Ward 3 Alderman P.C. McLaurin said the decision won''t drastically change the group''s functions. It just will have to get future spending, personnel and other administrative actions approved by the Board of Aldermen, whereas the Commission as an autonomous body made those decisions in-house, McLaurin said. 

 

"An advisory Parks Commission can still manage the day-to-day operations of the parks, just as they have," McLaurin said. "Final authority and decision-making on matters across the board -- recommendations for personnel, recommendations for budgets and so forth -- will rest with the Board of Aldermen." 

 

McLaurin said the Parks and Recreation Department gets approximately $1 million each year from the city. The Commission is made up of volunteers who are responsible for those funds. 

 

"I have some difficulty in saddling a volunteer board, though they''re doing a good job and would do so as an advisory commission, saddling them with the responsibilities and liability of this $1 million," McLaurin said. "The operation of the city is slow sometimes, inefficient sometimes, but I view it as cogs in a wheel: they''ve all got to turn together. Therefore I think it is the elected representative body of the city -- the Board of Aldermen -- that should make those decisions and make sure all the cogs in the wheel are turning together and meshing as efficiently as they possibly can. This, of course, can happen with an advisory Parks Commission." 

 

Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Dan Moreland was adamantly against the board''s decision. One of his main concerns involved the city''s 2 percent food and beverage tax, and language in a state statute which designates the tax moneys for the Parks and Recreation Commission. 

 

Moreland had a letter from an attorney, which he distributed to aldermen Tuesday night, with an opinion that said the 2 percent tax is designated specifically for the Commission. With the Commission being abolished and aldermen voting to establish a new advisory board, which is made up of the same seven commissioners, Moreland said he and his attorney believe the Parks and Recreation Department would no longer be entitled to the 2 percent tax moneys.  

 

The Parks and Recreation Department receives about $600,000 a year through the 2 percent tax, Moreland said. 

 

City attorney Rodney Faver said he wasn''t sure whether or not the board''s actions would affect the 2 percent tax distribution. 

 

Ward 1 Alderman Sumner Davis was against the decision for that very reason. 

 

"I think it would be very foolish tonight to take this action without that information," Davis said. 

 

Moreland shared Davis'' concerns after the meeting.  

 

"They''re willing to gamble that $600,000 just to push this through tonight," Moreland said. 

 

Ward 2 Alderman Rodney Lincoln initially made a motion to table any action on the future of the Parks and Recreation Commission, saying the decision should be left up to the next Board of Aldermen, which gets sworn in Thursday. But Lincoln''s motion failed by one vote.  

 

Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey later made a motion to repeal an ordinance that established the Parks and Recreation Commission, and it passed 4-3. Only Davis, Lincoln and Ward 5 Alderman Matt Cox voted against the motion.  

 

Corey also made a motion to establish the advisory body in place of the old, autonomous board. His second motion passed with the same 4-3 vote as the first. 

 

McLaurin then made a motion to move the seven former members of the Parks and Recreation Commission onto the newly formed advisory board. It also passed 4-3, with Cox, Lincoln and Davis opposed.