June 3, 2013 10:18:15 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
Tuesday, Starkville voters will go to the polls to choose a mayor.
Incumbent Parker Wiseman faces a stiff challenge from Republican challenger Dan Moreland. In recent weeks, Moreland's campaign -- thought to be badly damaged by a recent audit that showed sloppy accounting and budgeting practices in the Starkville Parks Commission -- has gained momentum.
Moreland, who serves as the SPC's director, had spent a couple of months trying to explain away the problem, mainly by blaming others. In recent weeks, his "team" has rallied. The real relevance of the audit, his supporters say, is not the damning evidence it produced, but the timing of the audit. Moreland supporters want voters to believe that the audit finding were released at a time to be most damaging to the Moreland campaign.
Let's do away with this nonsense right up front. The damaging part of the audit is what it says about how Moreland conducted the parks, no matter the timing. Nobody ever has to put out a fire that never started, after all.
Somehow, the Moreland campaign has managed to move on, and has benefited from the efforts of a surprising collaboration between the state GOP, its sister organization, the local Tea Party, and some of the black "leaders" in Starkville. Talk about strange bedfellows, huh?
The State GOP has rallied to Moreland's cause. Gov. Phil Bryant and U.S. Rep., Gregg Harper, both have endorsed Moreland. The state GOP held a fund-raiser for Moreland in late May.
The introduction of partisan politics into a municipal election is regrettable. The issues are complicated enough without introducing party rhetoric into a race for an office that rarely deals with partisan issues. Look, if the thorny subjects of abortion, gay marriage or immigration reform were going to be settled by the voters of Starkville, party politics would matter. But running the city of Starkville has nothing to do with such issues. It is for that reason that Moreland's battle cry of "I'm the Conservative Choice," is an empty call, designed to appeal to only those who are easily distracted.
Of equal concern, is the efforts of a trio of black Democratic aldermen who have crossed party lines to campaign for Moreland. Veteran aldermen Henry Vaughn and Roy A. Perkins, along with incoming alderman Lisa Wynn, have promoted the white Republican Moreland over the white Democrat Wiseman.
It makes sense only if you understand the real agenda, which is to consolidate power on the board under Perkins, whose zeal for power is both palpable and distasteful.
Moreland claims that voters should choose him because he is pro-business. He characterizes Wiseman as progressive (liberal) whose presence as mayor has had a chilling effect on the business community.
Such a charge might carry some validity if Moreland had any evidence to support his claim other than a suspiciously vague claim that some businesses were really fired up to locate in Starkville, but chose some other town simply because of the oppressive practices of Wiseman. The Moreland camp cries that the city has adopted oppressive ordinances that discourage business.
The evidence doesn't support that claim, though. Sales tax revenues are up during Wiseman's "reign of terror." In fact, virtually every economic indicator that can be measured contradicts Moreland's claim that Starkville businesses have suffered under Wiseman's tenure.
Give Moreland's suspect handling of the parks commission, the desperate attempt to obscure the real issues with partisan politics and the deplorable power grab that is being made by Perkins in his support of Moreland, the decision isn't really even about Wiseman's credentials.
For years, Starkville has been the butt of many jokes when it came to the relative merits of college towns. But that perception has been changing. Wiseman makes no apologies for asking businesses and citizens to accept their roles in enhancing the city's appeal to newcomers. Things like bike and walking paths and public transit do matter and the benefits far outweigh the costs. Wiseman has a progressive vision for the city. He need not make any apologies for that vision. It should be noted that he has never raised taxes or even mentioned the possibility of raising taxes. He has been a dynamic, responsible leader.
There are two candidates for Starkville mayor.
And one really bad one.
It has been said that the people generally get the government they deserve.
Starkville deserves better than Dan Moreland.
By any measurable standard, Parker Wiseman is clearly the only suitable choice.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]