December 10, 2012 9:53:27 AM
Despite reservations by some Starkville aldermen, the board approved a motion to restructure the building, codes and planning department, combining it with the engineering department and hiring a director to oversee operations.
The new department, which will be called the community development department, was recommended by chief administrative officer and interim city planner Lynn Spruill, during the Dec. 4 board of aldermen meeting.
Spruill said after looking at comparable cities nationwide, she found many had community development departments, with city engineering as a sub-department.
She said the new department should be able to operate without the city having to hire additional employees other than the director, who will focus on community planning. Edward Kemp will continue to serve as city engineer, making recommendations to the new director prior to acting on projects. Kemp will also fill in during the director's absence.
Spruill said her recommendations had nothing to do with Kemp's performance as city engineer.
"Edward does an excellent job," Spruill said. "We just want to work on our customer service and efficiency."
Prior to board approval, Ward 7 alderman Henry Vaughn voiced concern over the change, saying the added (director's) position would make it more difficult to enforce codes and get permits.
"I think it's going to be hard not to add some more (employees) too," Vaughn said. "But I can see it coming ... it's leading up to a good ole boy system."
Both Ward 1 alderman Ben Carver and Ward 6 alderman Roy A. Perkins sided with Vaughn, saying they felt the issue should be sent to the planning and zoning commission in order to get their input.
Ward 2 alderman Sandra Sistrunk suggested lowering the experience requirements to a minimum of six years of relevant experience and three years of managerial experience, which would broaden the pool of applicants while still ensuring an experienced hire.
Ward 5 alderman Jeremiah Dumas agreed with Sistrunk's motion, saying the change would give the public -- and potential business suitors -- one point of contact, but added that he felt strongly about ensuring the director was certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners.
"This is a planning position in my opinion," Dumas said. "We need a professional planner on staff."
Spruill's recommendations, with Sistrunk's revisions, passed 4-3, with Carver, Vaughn and Perkins casting the dissenting votes.
The city will begin advertising for the community development director immediately.