November 20, 2013 10:07:00 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Richard Hilton, Greater Starkville Development Partnership Executive Committee chairman, said he and other board members authorized and support a letter commissioned by GSDP CEO Jennifer Gregory urging aldermen to create a transparent, community-involved ordinance review committee after she was verbally scolded by Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn on Tuesday.
Wynn used Tuesday's Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting to publically attack Gregory by accusing her of using the Partnership to promote her own personal opinion. Gregory was absent from the meeting at the time of Wynn's attack but arrived during public comments to defend herself.
Gregory's letter, on behalf of the Partnership Executive Committee, supported Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker's failed resolution to create a seven-person committee, comprised of aldermen, developers and community advocates, to review the city's sidewalk and landscaping ordinances. Wynn, whose original motion tasked Community Developer William Snowden to oversee the review without clear goals or scope, joined Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 3 Alderman David Little, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn in defeating Walker's proposal earlier this month.
Wynn said Tuesday she was concerned about the letter because it did not contain signatures from Hilton or other executive members.
"I was informed that these were not the official views of the executive council, according to Mr. Hilton," she said. "I respectively request that, in the future, Mrs. Gregory not use her title in the Partnership to convey her opinion on Partnership letterhead to this board."
When contacted by the Dispatch after the meeting, Hilton said his board was "emphatically in favor of a non-partisan approach to looking at ordinances," and that he supported Gregory's letter and action.
As CEO of the Partnership, Gregory drafts numerous letters, memos and statements reflective of the organization's and board's views.
"I want the public to know that the committee was supportive of that approach. There's nobody I'm aware of that was opposed to Jennifer appearing before aldermen to make that request," Hilton said. "The Partnership is for economic development. If there's a process to take a look at ordinances in a non-partisan way, that's what the Partnership wants, and that's what the executive committee was recommending that aldermen consider. If all concerns are put on the table and looked at, and we can come up with amended ordinances that are good for everyone, then everyone wins.
"It's not a mandate to do it; the Partnership can't mandate anything," he added. "If it was offensive to some, then I apologize."
Gregory, alerted by live tweeting of the meeting and text messages from attendees, arrived in time to defend herself during public comments.
"I am outraged about the false allegations, and I am confident that any and every GSDP executive council member will confirm that there was unanimous support for that measure. I also have confirmation from (Hilton) that he was misrepresented in Alderman Wynn's comments," she said. "I would like the public record to please reflect the truth. This is absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable for a community member to be called out on false allegations or an opinion."
Wynn stuck to her original message after Gregory's comments, saying Hilton said the letter was "not the official opinion of the executive council," and refused to apologize.
"If Mr. Hilton will issue me a statement citing that I will be more than happy to 'woman-up' and apologize to you and the partnership, but until then my letter that I read tonight will still stand. Again, if that is the case, what I would advise you to do: have them to sign the letter along with you, because -- guess what -- they left you out by yourself."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch