Aldermen vote down proposal to stop municipal project

December 19, 2012 10:57:45 AM

  -

 

Even though the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court has authorized the city of Starkville to issue general certificates of participation to fund an $8 million municipal project that includes a new City Hall, there was a motion made at the Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night to rescind all action pertaining to these certificates. 

 

The motion, made by Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins, also moved that instead of the $8 million project, a $3.5 million project focusing on the police department rather than City Hall, should be sent to voters via a bond referendum in the 2013 municipal elections.  

 

The motion failed, 4-3, with Perkins, Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn and Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver voting in favor. The discussion prior to the vote featured some fiery exchanges among the aldermen that included claims of "segregated decisions." 

 

In June, the aldermen voted 4-3 in favor of the new municipal complex's construction at the site of the old Starkville Electric Department and the renovation of the current City Hall in order to house an expanded police station. The $8 million project would be financed through the Mississippi Lease-Purchase Law. 

 

It was agreed that the city would lease the proposed property to West Brothers Construction and make payments toward that lease over a 20-year period, after which the city would assume ownership. 

 

But in September, William McGovern filed an objection to the city's plans with the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court, claiming the board had violated Mississippi's Open Meetings Act and left out some pertinent information, including the name of the contracting company the city would be entering the lease agreement with, and what property the city would be obtaining for the project. 

 

It was announced at the aldermen's Tuesday meeting that 14th Chancery District Chancellor Jim Davidson's final judgment and accompanying opinion had been released, and that Davidson had decided to deny McGovern's objection. 

 

McGovern will have 20 days to file an appeal. 

 

Essentially, this gave the municipal project the green light, but not without one final hurdle in the form of Tuesday's motion to stop the project. 

 

Perkins said his motion came at the request of some of his "constituents and other tax payers, who have made it emphatically clear that they desire to be heard through the voting process." 

 

Two similar municipal projects, centered mainly on the construction of a new police department, have failed as bond issues in recent years. Perkins argued that the new project lost focus on the police department, with the renovations to the current City Hall into the new station only amounting to $1.3 million of the $8-million project. 

 

Perkins also said he believed the cost for the total proposed municipal project was too high, and that a new police station could, conservatively, cost the city just $3.5 million, including acquiring land and construction. 

 

"This has brought controversy throughout the years," Perkins said. "Put it on the ballot, let the people go to the voting place and vote it down or up. We need this building for the police department. In their agreement, the police department is not the focal point." 

 

Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey was the first to respond to Perkins' motion, referring to Perkins' claims as "pure political theater." Perkins' motion was outlined on a single sheet of paper, while the original resolution passed by the city in June totaled more than 10 pages, Corey said.  

 

"I will not be voting for this; this has been hashed and rehashed," Corey said. "What really bothers me is the whole basis for this is a single sheet of paper -- no supporting documentation, nothing to show where the $3.5 million number came from...If the intent was to bring a real proposal, one that brought a real alternative, there would be more than just this." 

 

Corey, who announced in October he would not be running for a third term, said he was glad he had made the decision, because "this kind of stuff can wear on you." 

 

This prompted Vaughn to respond to Corey, saying the reason Corey was worn down was because the board has continually made decisions that do not benefit the entire city. Vaughn then backed Perkins, on a more personal level. 

 

"These three years have been a hell of a three years," Vaughn said of his time on the board. "I have seen this board make so many decisions, segregated decisions...whatever Alderman Perkins brings to the table is knocked down before he gets done talking. It's nothing but racism." 

 

The discussion ended abruptly after Vaughn spoke. The vote was taken, and the motion failed. 

 

Before Vaughn's rebuttal, however, Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said the back-and-forth debate showed what a difficult issue the complex has become.  

 

"It is an issue that has lingered for years and years, and we have much more pressing issues that need to be done," she said. "I respect the people that decided popular or unpopular, political or apolitical, that we are going to do what is in the best interest of Starkville and we are going to solve this problem."