December 31, 2013 10:45:43 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
For better or worse, there was nothing status quo in Starkville in 2013.
From school consolidations to a seismic shift in city politics that claimed a well-regarded city administrator as a victim to the abrupt depature of two police chiefs to progress on the much-delayed Mill project, 2013 was a year of change.
A look at the Top 10 stories of the year:
1: Starkville-Oktibbeha County school consolidation
Since HB 716, the Starkville-Oktibbeha County school consolidation bill, was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant this spring, a seven-member group, known as the Commission on Starkville Consolidated School District Structure, met 13 times to discuss, coordinate and develop recommendations on how to successfully join Oktibbeha County School District and Starkville School District into one unified system in 2015.
The committee agreed on Dec. 23 to seek up to $20 million in state funding for new campus construction projects needed to logistically join the two school districts, and will also ask lawmakers for legislation allowing a reverse referendum to procure local funding for renovations.
Lawmakers tasked the group to create a transparent, public-involved model for future state consolidation efforts. Merger proponents say a unified school system is needed to provide equal education for all Oktibbeha County schoolchildren.
2: Aldermen oust city's CAO, city experiences numerous personnel issues
2013 saw several key Starkville officials leave their respective positions -- whether on their own accord or not. Days after taking office, the new board of aldermen voted to not reappoint former Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill to her job and ordered her to clean out her desk the next day. Mayor Parker Wiseman issued a veto, but his move was overturned by the board. Aldermen never gave clarity or reasoning behind the move.
In October, former Starkville Municipal Clerk Debra Wood quit her job after aldermen gave her the choice to resign or be fired after an extended closed-door session. Community Developer William Snowden, who joined City Hall in February, resigned his post in December after the board granted him six weeks of health-related leave.
The CAO and community developer positions remain unfilled.
3: Lindley police dynasty ends amidst controversy
A significant law enforcement shake-up occurred at the end of the year when David and Georgia Lindley, two of the three police heads within Oktibbeha County, tendered their resignations.
Former Starkville police Chief David Lindley resigned Nov. 26 after aldermen placed him on administrative leave and launched an internal investigation surrounding a slight car wreck his wife had 10 days earlier. The officer who oversaw that accident's investigation was also disciplined by the board in an undisclosed manner.
Georgia Lindley, Mississippi State University's police chief, then resigned on Dec. 20 after she was charged with driving under the influence the previous day. Arrest reports state Georgia Lindley registered a .13 blood alcohol level.
Former SPD Capt. John Outlaw was named interim city police chief, while Assistant Mississippi State University Police Chief Kenneth Spencer will lead his respective department as the school evaluates its leadership structure.
4: Wiseman earns second term; board experiences significant turnover
Incumbent Parker Wiseman staved off an intra-party, primary challenge from former Alderman Mary Lee Beal and defeated GOP candidate Dan Moreland to secure a second term as Starkville's mayor. The three mayoral candidates traded punches on a variety of issues - transparency, capital improvements, sidewalks and jobs - but Wiseman coasted to an easy June 4 win against Moreland, who expanded the Republican electorate by a small percentage in comparison to the last municipal race.
Significant rollover from primary and runoff elections, however, significantly changed the composition of the board of aldermen. Only three aldermen from the prior board - Ward 1's Ben Carver, Ward 6's Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7's Henry Vaughn - held their seats, while Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn defeated former Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, and Ward 3 Alderman David Little ousted former Alderman Eric Parker. Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker beat challenger John Gaskin after a protracted legal battle, while Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard ran unopposed.
5: Link secures first Oktibbeha County economic development successes
A contract for economic development enticement came to fruition in 2013 as the Golden Triangle Development Link landed the first two significant investments for Oktibbeha County.
In October, C Spire announced it would construct a $22 million data-processing center at Mississippi State University's Thad Cochran Research Park, a facility that will be the third of its kind operated by the company in the state and one of only 52 in the U.S. with a Tier 3 or 4 certification given by the Uptime Institute. Officials announced a month later that BSP Filing Solutions, a filing and folder products manufacturer, signed a lease for operations at the George M. Bryan Airport. That move represents a #1 million investment.
Combined, the two initiatives are expected to create 30-45 jobs.
6: City hall project survives legal challenges, moves forward
A legal challenge against Starkville's process to fund and construct a new city hall and renovate its current operating space for police usage survived a protracted legal battle earlier this year.
The Mississippi Supreme Court dismissed an appeal made by resident William McGovern this spring after an Oktibbeha County Chancery Court judge dismissed a bill of exceptions attempting to block the city's usage of certificates of participation.
Officials unveiled renderings of the new facility in April, a day after McGovern died of natural causes.
Construction efforts should last about a year.
7: Increasing costs, employee raises force Starkville millage increase
Starkville aldermen approved a significant tax hike, a 1.98-mill increase, in September to help tend to rising costs, a long-overdue pay raise for its employees, departmental requests, outside contributions and funding for city hall construction.
Aldermen first planned to raise taxes by almost 3 mills during budget season, but the board decided to siphon funding from vacant city positions, delay a Starkville Police Department hire and move monies around to satisfy a Starkville Parks Commission budgetary increase.
The city's plan to construct a new base of operations took flak from a number of aldermen, but funding for its debt service was previously accounted for and would have been covered without a tax increase.
8: OCH transaction rumors swirl after offer emerges, financial adjustments made
The fires of a potential hospital sale again were stoked in 2013 when the Tennessee-based, for-profit system Capella Healthcare offered Oktibbeha County $45 million upfront for a 50-year OCH Regional Medical Center lease.
The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors acknowledged the deal over the summer but did not attempt a state-mandated financial assessment needed to complete a hospital transaction.
OCH executives would go on to implement cost-saving measures - pay and work hours reductions - in October to offset rising expenses and lower reimbursements for health care services. The hospital's Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget projects almost $1.5 million in operating income after administrators cut $2 million from operating expenses compared to the previous year.
9: Mill project moving forward after IHL, NPS approval
The long-awaited Mill at MSU development received a green light in 2013 after numerous agreements were rubberstamped by various organizations.
In November, Golden Triangle developer Mark Castleberry confirmed the project received a verbal, conditional approval from the National Parks Service for Cooley Building renovations, which stood as one of the final hurdles left to clear before construction begins. The State College Board authorized Mississippi State University a month prior to sell a portion of its property for a hotel and lease the Cooley Building for transformation into a conference center.
The project is also expected to develop mixed-use parcels in the area near the Russell Street entrance to MSU into restaurants.
10: Budgeting issues emerge from park commission audit
An independent review of Starkville Parks Commission's Fiscal Year 2012-2013 found serious issues involving inadequate policies and procedures to monitor internal budgets of capital projects, the issuance of payments without board approval and budget overages on numerous line items.
SPC Chairman Dan Moreland found his organization at the center of criticism over how finances were handled with the development of the J.L. King Park Splash Pad, one of the first major capital projects by SPC while operating with autonomy from the city, and numerous late payments to Starkville Electric Department.
When issues were queried by the previous board of aldermen in June, documents showed SPC was estimated to owe about $180,000 in overdue fees and forecasted usage through the fiscal year. The department had also decimated its Fiscal Year 2013 improvement budget by late May. At that time, the $180,000 stream funded by the city's 2 percent food and beverage tax had $12.35 remaining for the fiscal year.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch