July 9, 2013 10:22:27 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
As the drama unfolds over the future of Starkville Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill's firing by the board, officials have asked a common question: If aldermen do override a promised veto, how will the city fill the position with a candidate as strong as the former Addison, Texas mayor?
Officials, including Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard, are cognizant of the fact the position was one of many Starkville jobs shown to be underpaid in a 2012 salary study conducted by Mississippi State University's John C. Stennis Institute of Government.
The survey, coordinated by Stennis Assistant Director Jeff Markham, polled similarly sized municipalities in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to determine average salaries for 54 unique municipal government positions ranging from electrical lineman to police chief. Of the positions queried, 42 Starkville jobs pay less than the mean salary listed by municipal respondents.
Spruill's salary was set at approximately $61,169 -- previously reported at about $64,000 -- which is an amount that falls well below the position's mean average of $133,465.
Comparatively, Columbus Chief Operations Officer and former Natchez Mayor David Armstrong earns $73,206 annually, while West Point CAO Randy Jones makes about $80,000 per year. Jones' salary
also includes additional income for his work with the city's electric department. On the county level, administrator Don Posey earns $134,111. He has served in his role since 1996.
Both Alexander and Jones were sympathetic to Spruill's situation. Alexander said he often sought advice from Starkville's CAO on numerous occasions.
"If you were searching to fill position at market rate, there's a gap of over $60,000. That's a significant budgetary issue," Mayor Parker Wiseman said. "Any gap over $50,000 like that in an annual budget process is a major issue."
"We're going to have to take a strong look at that Stennis study as well as other peer cities in our region to find a competitive salary," Maynard said last week.
Wiseman has promised to veto the board's decision, but the action had still not been filed as of Monday.
Aldermen voted 5-2 Tuesday to fire Spruill and are expected to override the mayor's challenge by the same margin.
If the personnel decision holds, it is unsure how salary issues or the perceived political climate around the board will affect the pool of applicants.
The five aldermen who voted to remove Spruill - Ben Carver, Lisa Wynn, David Little, Roy A. Perkins and Henry Vaughn - have yet to comment on their votes or the reasoning behind them. No discussion on Spruill's job performance was held either before the public or behind closed doors Tuesday.
At least one alderman has publically stated a need for a new CAO with a background in economic development, even though the city contracts with the Golden Triangle Development Link for industrial enticement and utilizes the Greater Starkville Development Partnership's umbrella of organizations for economic and community development initiatives. Also, the city recently hired William Snowden, the former Tuscaloosa, Ala. director of community development, in February.
"For that amount of money, we're going to get a very poor economic developer," Walker said referring to the budget for Starkville's CAO position.
Combined salaries for the GSDP, Starkville Main Street Association, Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau and Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority and their associated support staffs account for $219,610, GSDP CEO Jennifer Gregory said. Benefits increase that amount by approximately $71,050. Aldermen set Snowden's salary at $75,000 in February.
Starkville, Oktibbeha County, OCEDA and the GSDP contribute a combined $350,000 annually to the Link for its services. The county is represented in Golden Triangle economic development initiatives by former Mississippi Development Authority Chief Financial Officer Joey Deason.
"From an economic development standpoint between our office and with Jennifer (Gregory), plus all the other city and county partners, I think we've got a good enough handle on economic development as we can," Link CEO Joe Max Higgins said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch