Corey pushes for city control of Parks

April 17, 2013 10:02:22 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


Starkville aldermen unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday which makes two standing city boards advisory entities, but Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey said the same alignment should occur with Starkville Parks Commission to prevent future budgeting issues from occurring. 


The ordinance the board passed Tuesday only affects the Starkville Stormwater Hearing Board and Board of Adjustments and Appeals. The Starkville Parks Commission remains an autonomous body. 


Advisory boards' decisions still require final approval by the board of aldermen. As an autonomous board, SPC is granted certain latitude with spending, personnel and other administrative actions. 


A Watkins, Ward and Stafford audit released earlier this month revealed three major budgeting issues associated with SPC, including the fact SPC Chairman Dan Moreland issued an unauthorized cashier's check to help pay the department's J.L. King Splash Pad construction bill. 


The firm issued a clean, unqualified position, but the report said findings indicate serious issues involving inadequate policies and procedures to monitor internal budgets of capital improvement projects, the issuance of payments without commission approval and budget overages on numerous SPC line items. 


No state statutes were broken, CPA Randy Scrivner said earlier this month, but new board policies are needed to prevent these issues from reoccurring.  


Officials previously said the city's audit, along with Parks findings, would be presented to aldermen Tuesday, but that item was pulled from the agenda prior to the meeting. Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said the audit was not yet finalized and should be presented before the end of the month. 


"I really think (the ordinance) should (rein in SPC autonomy)," Corey said during board debate prior to its vote. "This has come up before. There have been issues for a while. They keep coming up, and I think they're going to keep coming up. I really hope we do something about it." 


The previous Starkville Board of Aldermen attempted to rein in SPC's autonomy in 2009, but its decision was one of the first vetoed during Wiseman's term. 


Minutes from the June 30, 2009 board meeting show aldermen voted to end SPC's autonomy with a 4-3 vote. Corey motioned the action that day and was supported by Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins. Former aldermen P.C. McLaurin and Jannette Self also supported Corey's motion, while then-aldermen Sumner Davis, Rodney Lincoln and Matt Cox cast "nay" votes. 


The 2009 ordinance's language read, "... the mayor and board of aldermen believe that it is in the best interest of the City of Starkville for the ultimate oversight of the operation and accountability of the parks and recreations amenities to be vested in the elected body of the board of aldermen ... it is necessary for the mayor and board of aldermen to have sufficient oversight and control to insure the harmonious and efficient operation for all of the functions and employees of the City of Starkville." 


Moreland, who led SPC in 2009, said doing away with SPC would effectively do away with the two percent food and beverage tax monies the organization receives, but former Starkville Mayor Dan Camp rebutted that Parks programs would not be affected and the city would still have a commission which complies with legislation dealing with tax distribution, previous board minutes state. 


In that same meeting, former SPC commissioner Mary Love Taggert said if SPC was changed to an advisory board, it would make life easier for commissioners, but to keep it autonomous would make life easier for the Starkville Board of Aldermen, minutes state. 


In 2009, the Dispatch reported Wiseman vetoed the Parks ordinance because abolishing the commission would threaten to slow the entities progress and unprecedented growth. 


During public comments prior to Corey's take on the situation, Ward 2 resident Milo Burnham called for aldermen to make SPC advisory in nature. Burnham also chairs the city's board of adjustments and appeals. 


"You, the board of aldermen, are the governing authority of the Parks Commission. As such, you have the power to remove any members of the commission for inefficiency or incompetency or any other cause. The timing is right for you to restructure the Parks Commission and work toward the incorporation of the city's parks and recreations programs into a closer relationship with the city government, with the Parks Commission serving only as an advisory group," he said. "It's an old problem and has gone on long enough. While this is election time, it's time to do something about it." 


Ward 2 alderman Sandra Sistrunk told Burnham the city should not react quickly without learning the facts surrounding SPC budgeting issues. Sistrunk, Wiseman and Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas previously said the city could form an investigative task force to discover all facts surrounding the 2012 Parks audit. 


Tuesday's meeting did see pro-SPC comments from citizens as three individuals spoke in favor of the commission and its leadership. 


Dorothy Isaac, an SPC commissioner, alluded to Moreland's check issuance without board approval as "a simple mistake" and warned Burnham not to make the commission's audit a political device during election season. 


Both Corey and Dumas, the two aldermen who have been publicly critical of SPC's leadership, are not running for re-election this cycle. Like other BOAA members, Burnham is appointed to the entity by aldermen. 


"(Burnham) should get the real facts. He shouldn't just ... say what he wants because he wants. This is political stuff; it shouldn't have anything to do with what the Parks Commission does," she said. "Please don't pick on Parks and Recreation. If it ain't broke, don't go run out and try to fix it. It's the people's, not y'all's, community. Let's be a people community." 


Minutes show Isaac told aldermen in 2009 that SPC is operating "nicely" and is there for the children of the community, a stance she again took Tuesday. 


Former Starkville High School baseball coach Danny Carlisle said during public comments that he enjoyed a strong working relationship with SPC during his school district tenure. That relationship was a reflection upon SPC's leadership, he said.  


"When you have a Parks Commission ... if I had to come up here and ask the board and get y'all's permission (for maintenance and repair issues), we'd never get anything done," he said. "I feel like ... we do need the Parks Commission. Under its present leadership, I think they're doing an excellent job." 


"I have traveled all over the South. There's not a park system better than what we have," Ward 1 resident Barry Sullivan added Tuesday. "I know there's some questions about how the money was handled, but at the end of the day it appears all the money is there. It might have been handled inappropriately, it might have been handled against guidelines in place, but I haven't heard any of that."

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