Legal battle over City Hall construction continues

March 1, 2013 10:22:39 AM

Carl Smith - csmith@cdispatch.com

 

Legal attempts to block the city's construction of a new municipal facility are ongoing, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman confirmed Thursday. 

 

Local attorney Charles Yoste petitioned the Mississippi Supreme Court to reconsider its denial of an appeal that asked for a review of a previous Oktibbeha Chancery Court case filed by Starkville resident William McGovern, Wiseman said. 

 

The city learned of the new motion last week and filed its own response, Wiseman said. 

 

Messages left for Yoste and McGovern went unreturned Thursday. 

 

It is unknown how long the court will take to decide on the request, but Wiseman said justices should act on the petition before the end of March. 

 

In June, aldermen approved construction plans for a new city hall and renovations to its previous home after residents defeated an $8.45 million bond referendum in 2011. 

 

The plan utilizes money free in the city's budget, soon-to-be retired debt and projected revenues toward a 20-year lease-purchase agreement funded by certificates of participation. As approved, the city will lease the former Starkville Electric Department building for improvements. The building would then be leased back to the city for 20 years and house the new Starkville City Hall. Starkville would retain ownership of the facility at the end of the lease. 

 

Litigation over municipal project funding processes began when McGovern filed a bill of exceptions appeal with the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court in June. He later filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commissions accusing the city of violating the state's open meetings laws. The bill of exceptions was voluntarily dismissed and replaced by an objection with the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court. 

 

McGovern objected to the city's plan to issue certificates of participation as a financing mechanism for the construction of a new city hall. It also stated the city left pertinent information blank in its approved plan. 

 

Oktibbeha County Chancery Judge Jim Davidson's December ruling stated "due process requirements of law" were met by the city and allegations of open meetings violations were "collateral and have no bearing upon the ultimate decision." 

 

The Mississippi Ethics Commission ruled the city failed to strictly comply with the state's Open Meetings Act. 

 

Yoste filed an appeal on McGovern's behalf with the Supreme Court on Jan. 9, but Starkville's legal counsel contested that the appeal was filed after the 20-day appeal deadline, which ended Jan. 7. The high court granted City Attorney Chris Latimer's dismissal, nullifying the appeal. 

 

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch