July 8, 2013 9:57:25 AM
Carl Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
Three aldermen who chose to fire Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill Tuesday voted to reappoint her and 12 other key city positions back to their jobs with three-month review periods in 2009, city minutes show.
The board's most recent action falls out of line with the 2009 motion as new and sitting aldermen fired Spruill outright and only reappointed personnel director Randy Boyd with a 90-day interim provision.
Four aldermen -- Lisa Wynn, David Little, Roy A. Perkins and Henry Vaughn -- supported Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver's motion to fire Spruill Tuesday without stating any reason or attempting to move the board behind closed doors to discuss her job performance.
Carver, Perkins and Vaughn supported reappointing department heads on a provisional basis in 2009.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard voted against the matter Tuesday after both suggested new aldermen were in no position relieve city employees since their first meeting marked only the second day of the board's term. A majority of the seven-person board of aldermen were elected in May.
Aldermen did go behind closed doors in October 2009 before formally reappointing Spruill and a number of other key city positions with unanimous votes. Only City Engineer Edward Kemp's reappointment met opposition, a vote in which Perkins cast the lone "Nay" vote.
A veto against the board's action is expected sometime this week, Mayor Parker Wiseman confirmed Sunday. Aldermen could then ask for a special-call meeting to address the mayor's challenge or delay action until the board's second regularly scheduled meeting in July.
If Tuesday's vote holds, aldermen will have the required five votes to overturn any challenge. Spruill is expected to retain her job until the matter is settled. Both Walker and Maynard are expected to hold their positions against Spruill's termination.
Calls to four of the five aldermen who ousted Spruill went unreturned last week, and Little declined to comment on the matter when reached by the Dispatch.
Board records also show Perkins presented Spruill with the city's employee of the month plaque in June 2011. The award, which at the time Perkins said he paid for, recognized Spruill for her job performance and leadership.
Perkins called Spruill "a perfect choice" for the honor and said she always performed her work in an exemplary manner.
"This employee has been a tremendous and a valuable asset to the great city of Starkville. This wonderful employee is very dependable, resourceful and knowledgeable, and has an impeccable character and integrity," he said in 2011 before presenting the plaque to Spruill. "This employee has been a great public servant ... and has made many contributions to the progress and welfare of our city. (We) sincerely appreciate and thank this employee for (her) perseverance, commitment ... and professionalism."
Since Tuesday, Spruill says she's received numerous messages and phone calls of support from close friends and Starkville acquaintances. She has communicated with the five aldermen who chose to fire her, but Spruill said those emails were about other city business and not the board's decision.
"Was I treated fairly? That's the one thing I've gotten feedback on (from supporters). They thought the way it was done was mean spirited. I can't argue with that. Being told to clear out your office in 24 hours was pretty rough, and many people said it came across as unkind," she said. "(Without board discussion on her job performance) it may sound like there was wrongdoing on my part, and that to me is a hurtful thing. If there were issues with wrongdoing, they should have taken that up in executive session.
"I would love to have the opportunity to prove I have value to board members, the administration and the mayor, and to be supportive of department heads and the city as a whole," Spruill added. "I hope our aldermen will reconsider."
Transparency, economic issues
Many of the newly elected Starkville aldermen campaigned on platforms of providing a more-transparent administration, Walker said, but the board's action lacked any apparent motivation or reasoning.
"We're not off to a good start," he said in reference to transparency.
Since the five aldermen refuse to discuss the personnel move, it is unclear how the board - especially the two aldermen who had not worked with Spruill on a long-term basis - reached their decision to relieve the city's second in command. After Tuesday's meeting, Carver said his four years on the board provided him enough time to evaluate Spruill's job performance. He declined to further comment on the matter.
"There were no conversations in that meeting, yet they made their decision without cause. No one has communicated to me the reasoning behind their vote," Walker said. "I'm not sure if this is a personal vendetta or something beyond that, and it's definitely unclear at this time. From what I've been told, Lynn went above and beyond in her work when dealing with each previous alderman."
Although Carver did not return Dispatch phone calls, he did tell another local media outlet he hoped to bring in a new CAO with a working background in economic development.
Starkville already contracts with the Joe Max Higgins-led Golden Triangle Development Link for economic development initiatives, and the county is represented by former Mississippi Development Authority Chief Financial Officer Joey Deason. The city also hired William Snowden, the former Tuscaloosa, Ala. director of planning and economic development, as its director of community development in February. Other economic and community development agencies in Oktibbeha County include the Greater Starkville Development Partnership and its sub-groups: the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority, Starkville Main Street Association and Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Walker said the need for more economic development officials was an empty call. The CAO position, he said, should entail making sure the economics of the city are stable and moving, not economic development itself.
"That position, in my opinion, is not a direct economic development position. To me, it's a position of a city manager. We have the top economic development person for the city - the mayor - and then we have Snowden, Deason, OCEDA, (GSDP CEO) Jennifer Gregory, SMSA, Higgins and the Link," Maynard added.
City officials previously expressed concern in finding a viable CAO replacement with Spruill's accomplishments and caliber. She served as CAO during Wiseman's first term and under former Mayor Dan Camp's administration. Spruill, a former U.S. Navy pilot, previously served as mayor of Addison, Texas, a community which named a park in her honor.
If the board's will is carried out, the city is expected to delegate her job responsibilities internally until a new hire is made.
"The next step going forward is to sit down and review what the board as a whole wants out of that position. As large as our city is and with all the different aspects we have going on, I think that position and the mayor's position are two distinct jobs. You need that CAO position to handle the day-to-day operations of the city, while the mayor's position needs to be more bigger picture and focused on new opportunities," Maynard said. "My vote (against firing Spruill) will hold. I believe we owe it to all city employees and department heads to review their performance (before terminating their jobs)."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch