May 1, 2013 10:49:18 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
A discrepancy emerged Tuesday between Democratic mayoral candidate Mary Lee Beal's previous support of a 2011 judicial complex bond referendum and a recently mailed attack ad against the current administration's plan.
A mailed advertisement hit Starkville mailboxes Tuesday claiming Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman "took a dive" in regard to 2011's $8.5 million dollar bond referendum which would have funded the construction of a new police station at the intersection of North Jackson Street and Miss. Highway 182.
The ad was paid for by the organization Mary Lee Beal For Mayor.
"As mayor, Parker Wiseman tried to force taxpayers to pay $8.5 million for a new judicial complex that voters overwhelmingly rejected," the ad states.
Wiseman held up the attack ad Tuesday for debate attendees to see and called it "a very harsh piece of rhetoric." He also took to the offensive by questioning the ad when she supported the bond referendum publically before voters decided its fate.
In August 2011, the Dispatch published a letter in which Beal openly lobbied readers to support the bond initiative.
"As most people are aware, the citizens of this community on Sept. 27 (2011) are being provided an opportunity to support an issue that is absolutely vital to continued growth of Starkville. A YES vote on the bond referendum for a new police station is absolutely necessary for our city's future," Beal wrote in the letter to the Dispatch. "Yes, the present time is enduring bad economic difficulties, but we as a community must arise above this while looking toward the future."
She then outlined a list of reasons why she supported the initiative, citing a lack of operating space and city and departmental growth.
"If one carefully reads the ... list, then any doubts about voting yes should be permanently removed. Our police officers place their lives on the line every time they begin their shift. They are a precious resource, and our responsibility is to see that they have the safest and best-working environment possible," Beal's letter continues. "We have a safe community - let's keep it that way. Let us be the community that arises to the challenges of tomorrow. Vote YES on Sept. 27 (2011)."
Voters defeated the bond referendum 55 to 45 percent. The city needed a 60-percent-plus-one-vote result to authorize the measure.
The city went back to the drawing board, and aldermen passed a resolution in June to fund construction of a new city hall at the former Starkville Electric Department and then renovate it's former municipal home for Starkville Police Department's usage with a measure that does not raise taxes.
That action utilizes a public-private partnership in which the city will issue certificates of participation as a funding mechanism for the project. The city will pay for the almost $8 million project with money freeing up in its budget, retiring debt and projected revenues through a 20-year lease-purchase agreement.
The city endured a lengthy legal challenges by a local resident but was eventually OK'd by an Oktibbeha County Circuit Court judge and the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Officials unveiled the new city hall's design last week.
Beal said during Tuesday's debate she opposes how a new city hall took precedence over constructing a police department, a change from the 2011 plan.
"I do not disagree with the process that took place. I think public-private payment partnerships were the only way this project was going to be done," she said.
Wiseman also took issue with Beal's January stance on the city's municipal facilities plan.
In a Jan. 16 Starkville Daily News article, Beal said, "There is no tax increase for the citizens, so I'm not quite sure why there's such a dissension about it now. It is something the city desperately needs.
"Perhaps the process could have been changed, but the decision for a lease-purchase is absolutely the best decision to meet these goals," she added in the article.
Using a boxing motif, the ad depicts silhouettes booing Wiseman and calls Beal "A real tax fighter! Someone who goes the distance for Starkville taxpayers." It also alludes Wiseman "threw in the towel" for a project "called 'risky financing' by a member of the board of aldermen."
"Dan (Moreland, the GOP mayoral candidate), I believe I know where you stand on it; Mary Lee, at this point, I'm not really sure where you stand on it," Wiseman said during Tuesday's debate. "I'm a bit confused. I would like to know, and I think the voters need to know, is this the harsh rhetoric that you sent in the mail today or are these projects that you support, that you believe are absolutely the best decision to meet the city's facility needs?"
Beal and Wiseman will meet in the May 7 Democratic Primary. The winner of that race will face Moreland, the Starkville Parks Commission chairman, in the June 4 General Election.
While the mailed advertisement directly attacks Wiseman - a photo of him is included on one side - it also takes a swipe at Moreland. The ad states Beal "will bring Parks and Recreation budget back under board review."
SPC's budget became an issue after its FY 2012 audit revealed three major issues, including the fact that Moreland issued an unauthorized cashier's check to help pay the department's J.L. King Splash Pad construction bill.
The report's findings indicated 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, and all of SPC's finances were accounted for, the audit stated.
Aldermen unanimously supported a resolution making the Starkville Stormwater Hearing Board and Board of Adjustments advisory entities on April 16, but Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey said the same alignment should occur with SPC to prevent future budgeting issues from occurring.
City officials previously said an investigative process could begin on SPC's discrepancies, but no such motion has been made.
The Dispatch will have a comprehensive review of the debate in tomorrow's edition.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch