May 22, 2013 11:25:19 AM
Carl Smith - email@example.com
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins Tuesday called an upcoming, city clerk-led investigation of Starkville Parks and Recreation's budgeting and bill payments a political maneuver "intended to bring some desired results" for the June 4 general election.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman and GOP mayoral candidate Dan Moreland will vie that day -- the same day the report is due during a previously scheduled alderman meeting -- for the right to lead the city and its board in the new term.
The Moreland-led Starkville Parks Commission's Fiscal Year 2012 audit was at the center of board discussion Tuesday after new bill-paying issues emerged. Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas showed documents indicating the autonomous board maintained an overdue electric bill in the winter and also broke state-mandated, 45-day requirements for invoice payments.
Perkins insinuated that Wiseman and three board members -- Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey and Dumas -- approved the report and its due date in order to damage Moreland's election chances.
CPA Randy Scrivner, who also delivered the SPC audit to commissioners in April, told aldermen he was not asked by any city official to delay Tuesday's presentation to affect the upcoming election.
"This was the first available date I could have gotten here," he said. "We've gotten here later before."
Before Perkins' comments, Sistrunk said the June 4 target date was a quick turnaround "but very doable" since SPC budgeting issues have been discussed internally and examined by local media outlets.
"Regardless of who is in the position -- I'm going to call it as I see it -- I'm not going to sit here and allow no one person or persons to be crucified," Perkins said before the board deadlocked 3-3 to accept the audit as presented, develop an internal city investigation and set a preliminary report date. "The June 4 deadline is very arbitrary, very capricious and very unreasonable. What makes me speak so fervently about this -- I see through things -- is we have this election coming up. The most prudent thing, in my opinion, is to put this thing off until after the election. What's the urgency here?"
"These citizens on the Parks Commission are working hard, doing a good job, doing their very best, and I think they're doing a remarkable job," he added. "Look at what they're doing: They're good parks, they're run well, they're clean and there's good, proven leadership with our Parks Commission."
"We are shirking our responsibilities to the taxpayers by not following up on this," Sistrunk said toward the end of discussion. "It's incumbent on us to take taxpayer money and what's done with it very seriously. When we have an auditor sitting in front of us and saying there are weaknesses in areas, for us to call it political and not address it means we are shirking our responsibilities."
Dumas said the timing was unfortunate, but the city cannot wait to discuss major financial issues based upon when an election is held.
"I'm not an accountant, but I know when things are significant enough to be findings that are worthy of discussion at least," Dumas said. "I think there are issues. It can be political or not; I don't care. The fact is there are systemic issues that are shown here. The 2 percent (food and beverage) tax comes up for re-appropriation in 2015. The last thing we need to be doing is acting in this manner when we have $12 in a dedicated funding account of 2 percent money six months into the year. We have to prove success (for 2 percent reallocation). We need whatever internal controls we can get so we, as a governing body, can go back and get that money for (Parks and Recreation) again."
Perkins also took issue with one of the SPC audit findings. That report revealed Moreland issued an unauthorized $35,000 check to help pay for the department's J.L. King Splash Pad construction costs. The auditing firm issued a clean opinion for SPC in April, meaning no state statutes were broken. Perkins referred to SPC's autonomy Tuesday and said the department's financial issues should be resolved by its own board.
"It seems like this board is trying to micromanage the property, the matters, the things, the affairs that are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Parks Commission," Perkins told aldermen.
Local media also came under Perkins' scrutiny when the senior board member alluded to newspapers' under-coverage of a previous city ethics violation compared to SPC budgeting coverage. During his legal challenge against the city's plan to construct a new city hall and renovate its old facility for Starkville Police Department's usage, William McGovern filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission accusing officials of violating the state's open meetings law. The MEC ruled the city failed to strictly comply with the state's Open Meetings Act and warned officials about their actions.
Tom Hood, MEC executive director, told the Dispatch in November that the violations did not appear malicious and only seemed technical. Hood's recommendation asked the board to refrain from further violations, and Wiseman then said all city committees would be aware of state codes.
"Where was the media and the press when we got the final report that said the mayor and/or some members of the governing body failed to comply with the open meetings law when it came to a retreat and posting notice on some matters and things dealing with committee meetings?" Perkins asked Tuesday. "No highlight, no special emphasis was given then.
"Every time you get the newspaper -- I'm going to quit reading these papers -- every time you get one, it's always the Parks Commission, the Parks Commission, the Parks Commission," he said later in the meeting. "Don't call me for a quote because I don't want to talk to you, newspapers."
Since April, the Dispatch has printed three stories, not including today's articles, about SPC's FY 2012 audit.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch