Wiseman's veto hammers aldermen over transparency

July 10, 2013 10:01:22 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman took to the offensive Tuesday, hammering aldermen over transparency issues in his veto of Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill's abrupt removal from office. 


A copy of the veto obtained by the Dispatch shows Wiseman took the board to task for failing to discuss Spruill's job performance or the reasons behind relieving the city administrator. The mayor stumped for Spruill, saying "at minimum, she deserves to be informed of why she is being fired." 


Four aldermen - Lisa Wynn, David Little, Roy A. Perkins and Henry Vaughn - supported Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver's July 2 motion to fire Spruill without any closed-door or public discussions on her job performance. 


Aldermen cannot act on the veto until at least Friday, but Wiseman and the entire board are expected to travel to the Gulf Coast sometime this weekend for next week's Mississippi Municipal League conference. 


Two aldermen could request a special-call meeting to deal with the veto before the board's July 23 meeting. If the July 2 vote holds, the board will have the required five votes to overturn Wiseman's challenge. 


Spruill is expected to retain her job until the matter is settled. 


Wiseman's two-page veto called aldermen's handling of the matter and lack of open discourse a disservice to citizens. 


"While the reasons to retain Lynn are abundant, I have yet to hear a single reason to terminate her from a single member of the board of aldermen. Nevertheless, a five-member majority of the board has voted to terminate her without a word of explanation. Conducting the business of the public in such a manner is a disservice to the citizens we serve," Wiseman's veto states. "I believe strongly that Lynn has earned an opportunity to continue to serve the city. At minimum, she deserves to be informed of why she is being fired." 


Minutes show the city's move to fire Spruill contradicts how the previous board of aldermen, which included Carver, Perkins and Vaughn, handled 2009 appointments. In July of that year, the board unanimously voted to reappoint her and 12 other key city positions to their jobs with 90-day review periods. The entire staff was formally rehired with minimal opposition three months later after aldermen went to an executive session to discuss personnel matters. 


Wiseman had yet to work with Spruill in her capacity when he came into office in 2009. In his veto, he said the review period allowed him to support her reappointment and suggested a similar provisional period should have been offered so incoming could fairly judge her job performance. 


Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker and Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard voted against Carver's July 2 motion after both suggested new aldermen were in no position to relieve city employees since the board's first meeting marked only the second day of the new term. Four of the seven Starkville aldermen were elected to office in May. 


"A brief evaluation period left no doubt in my mind that Lynn is an asset for the city of Starkville. Four years later, my opinion is unchanged," Wiseman said in the veto. "Furthermore, I would not have taken issue with the board beginning this term with a 90-day evaluation period for department heads." 


Following the board's action, city officials expressed concerns over the potential CAO candidate pool because of the position's pay rate. A 2012 salary study conducted by Mississippi State University's John C. Stennis Institute of Government shows the position earns $61,169 annually, an amount which falls well below the position's mean average of $133,465. 


The survey polled similarly sized municipalities in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to determine average salaries for 54 unique municipal government positions. Of the positions queried, 42 Starkville jobs pay less than the mean salary listed by municipal respondents. 


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 includes additional income for his work with the city's electric department. On the county level, Oktibbeha's administrator, Don Posey, ears $134,111. He has served in his role since 1996. 


Wiseman previously called the pay disparity a significant budgetary issue. 


"Lynn's unyielding desire to see the place where she was born and raised do well is perhaps her most important qualification to serve as chief administrative officer. Not only does she often work well into the night, seven days a week, but she does so for a salary that is shockingly low," Wiseman said in his veto. "The benefits the city of Starkville has received from her talents and her devotion are readily apparent. Operationally, Starkville provides services that are among the highest quality in the state on tax rates that are among the lowest in the state. Additionally, Lynn has worked to make Starkville a leader in accessibility, accountability and transparency." 


Wiseman's veto laid out several of Spruill's achievements, including: implementing the first 311 hotline in the state for 24-hour access to city services; organizing a performance measurement program to gauge city services; and compiling local laws into a modern, online code of ordinances. 


A graduate of Starkville High School, Spruill served in the Navy and commercial sector as a pilot before becoming mayor of Addison, Texas. The town would eventually name a local park in her honor. Spruill also holds a master's degree in public policy and a juris doctorate. Her Starkville company, Spruill Property Management, owns numerous locations throughout the town.

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch