City sheds layer of transparency with Spruill's firing

July 27, 2013 10:46:32 PM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


One key job function of the vacant chief administrative officer's position remains unassigned by the Starkville Board of Aldermen: A prior board resolution made Lynn Spruill's the city's primary point of contact for Freedom of Information Act requests. 


After aldermen forced the tenured administrator out of office, the board set a precedent by delegating one of her job functions internally - City Clerk Taylor Adams will now prepare meeting agendas on at least an interim basis - but city representatives failed to assign information requests to a specific employee or the mayor.  


The board only delegated the agenda responsibilities Tuesday and did not name an interim or announce a timeline for filling the position. Previously, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said he hoped CAO applicants would have a background in economic development, but the board did not discuss the position's future job scope or requirements. 


"I hope we're going to come back to address things," said Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker in reference to job functions which were not delegated by the board. Both he and Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard sought to reappoint Spruill with an evaluation period so new alderman could review her job performance at a later date. 


"I don't know what the next step is since nobody has said anything to me," he added. "I'm hopeful the next event is to move us forward." 


A resolution establishing compliance procedures with the Mississippi Public Records Act was passed by the previous board after the legislature amended state law in 2010. The city's resolution named the CAO position - Spruill - or "appropriate designated representatives" of Starkville as primary points of contact for FOIA requests. The resolution does not identify which city employees are appropriate representatives. 


The mayor's position, according to the resolution, is only tasked with appeals for denied records requests. 


The Dispatch filed numerous FOIA and informal information requests with the city this year and received prompt compliance in each instance from Spruill. Future requests are expected to flow through Mayor Parker Wiseman's office and through the city clerk. 


In this year's election cycle, most incumbents and candidates campaigned on increasing city government transparency. 


The board forced Spruill from her position Tuesday by overturning Wiseman's veto of the matter. Aldermen originally supported Carver's July 2 motion to not reappoint Spruill and "have her clean out her office" with a 5-2 vote, but Wiseman issued his promised veto a week later. 


Nineteen public commenters blasted aldermen for almost an hour before the board formally pushed Spruill out of her job Tuesday. Those speakers called the board's action and how it handled the entire situation embarrassing, demanded accountability and supported the embattled chief administrative officer's dedication to Starkville over two administrations. 


Residents also hammered aldermen for not answering their phone calls since the situation developed earlier this month. Similar statements were posted to the Dispatch's website. 


Public outcries even sparked a rally on City Hall's front steps before the meeting. In that gather, state Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville, called upon aldermen to make amends with the public and not force Spruill out of office. 


As in its July 2 meeting, the board neither offered public comments on why it choose to remove Spruill, nor held closed-door discussions on personnel matters. Carver, who filed the original motion to oust the chief administrative officer and override of Wiseman's veto, did say he "prayed about it" and "made his mind up years ago." 


"This is what the Lord wants me to do," Carver said Tuesday before the board's vote. "We have the right under state law to craft and create ... the team we want to work with for the next four years. I hope as a community, we can move past this. You'll see great things in the next four years. The sky isn't falling." 


Carver's July 2 and Tuesday motions were supported by Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn, Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn. Carver, Perkins and Vaughn all served on the previous board which gave high marks to Spruill for her job performance. 


The previous board also opted to reappoint Spruill and all other Starkville department heads in 2009 with 90-day review periods. Each city employee was formally reappointed with little opposition after the evaluation ended.  


Only Personnel Director Randy Boyd was reappointed with a 90-day review period on July 2. 


Perkins also personally honored the former chief administrative officer with the city's Employee of the Month award in June 2011. In that meeting, he called Spruill "a perfect choice" for the award and said she always performed her work in an exemplary manner.

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