May 6, 2013 9:30:56 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
"And then it got ugly," tweeted one Starkville resident Friday in observation of the public, back-and-forth row between Democratic mayoral candidate Mary Lee Beal and incumbent Parker Wiseman.
Beal, a long-serving former aldermen, went on the offensive again last week and issued a mailed attack ad claiming Wiseman is an "empty suit" when it comes to leadership. The ad alleges Wiseman's lack of leadership led to budgetary issues within the Starkville Parks Commission, among other issues.
Wiseman responded late in the week with a video of his own which claimed Beal supported 1983 legislation which created SPC and made it an autonomous board.
SPC budgeting became an issue when its FY 2012 audit revealed three major issues, including the fact that SPC Chairman Dan Moreland issued an unauthorized cashier's check to help pay the department's J.L. King Splash Pad construction bill.
Moreland is the lone GOP mayoral candidate in this year's election cycle.
A clean, unqualified position was issued in SPC's audit, 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 line items.
No state statutes were broken, CPA Randy Scrivner said in April, but new board policies are needed to prevent these issues from reoccurring.
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.
That year, aldermen voted to end the commission autonomy with a 4-3 vote. Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey motioned the action that day and was supported by Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins. Former aldermen P.C. McLaurin and Janette Self also supported Corey's motion, while then-aldermen Sumner Davis, Rodney Lincoln and Matt Cox cast "nay" votes.
Beal's ad alludes Wiseman's 2009 veto nullified any oversight which would have prevented the budgetary anomalies, but Wiseman's counters by saying she supported making the commission independent in the beginning.
The mayor and other sitting aldermen have called for an investigative period to begin in regard to SPC budgeting. A special task force could be created, officials previously said, but the board has yet to take that action. The city's FY 2012 audit is expected to be released later this month, and officials said that finding will be discussed at length.
The fight over the city facilities plans also re-emerged in Beal's latest ad. It follows up a previous attack in which she claimed Wiseman "took a dive" in regard to 2011's $8.5 million bond referendum which would have funded the construction of a new police station at the intersection of North Jackson Street and Miss. Highway 182. Her ad claimed Wiseman tried to force taxpayers to pay for the improvements - voters defeated the initiative 55 percent to 45 percent.
Beal originally supported the 2011 bond referendum, and said during Tuesday's debate she had a problem with the city's current plan. The on-going plan, which does not raise taxes, uses a public-private partnership to construct a city hall at the former Starkville Electric Department site and then renovate the existing city hall for Starkville Police Department's use.
Her new ad states Wiseman "found a way to go around taxpayers" and is "spending $6.7 million on new offices for himself" ... "plus the several million" to renovate City Hall for SPD.
Wiseman's ad claims Beal is attempting to deceive the public as she "was for the new city hall until she thought it would help her win this election to be against it."
The mayor hammered Beal on the issue during Tuesday's mayoral forum, and both Wiseman and Moreland found time to scrap over the issue that same night.
As for educational issues, Beal's latest attack claims Starkville "had no input on the eventual decision" by the state legislature regarding consolidation because of Wiseman's lack of leadership.
The Starkville-Oktibbeha school merger bill, HB 716, was originally void of any language asking for local input, but an amended version signed into law last month by the governor creates a seven-person committee tasked with exploring all issues surrounding consolidation. That committee would be comprised of three SSD-appointed members, a resident of the county and Oktibbeha County School District Conservator Margie Pulley. A representative from Mississippi Department of Education and Mississippi State University would round out the group.
The group's study is not binding toward consolidation efforts, and the bill still calls for both school districts to merge in 2015.
Wiseman's rebuttal also says Beal insinuates his leadership hurt SSD. MDE gave SSD an "Academic watch" rating at the beginning of his term, but now the school system is rated "Successful," the ad states.
Campaign allegations aside, Starkville aldermen appoint members to the SSD Board of Trustees. That board and school district administrators are the guiding force behind the city's public school system.
The winner of Tuesday's Beal-Wiseman race will face Moreland in the June 4 general election.
Starkville Voting Precinct List
National Guard Armory
Hwy 12 and Industrial
Wards 2 & 3
405 Lynn Lane
City Hall Courtroom
101 E. Lampkin St.
Fire Station No. 3
Hwy 389 and Garrard Rd.
Mt. Pelier Missionary
Baptist Church -
840 N. Jackson St.
108 W. Main St.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch