Lynn Spruill: A practice that's got to stop

July 25, 2014 10:35:44 AM

Lynn Spruill -

 

On the agenda of Tuesday, July 22, 2014, was a payment for Carver Drive. Alderman Perkins voted against paying for that work already accomplished on his ward's most significant project. Joining him was Alderman Vaughn. Why? 

 

The payment of the bills of Starkville must be voted on by the board of aldermen. It is called the claims docket since it has on it all of the bills (or claims) by businesses who have provided goods or services to the city. 

 

Perkins and Vaughn have been in lock step against paying the city's bills since around November, 2012. There have been a couple of exceptions by Alderman Vaughn, but those of us regularly attending the board meetings figure he just occasionally forgets and votes yea by accident. 

 

What made this particular set of "Nay" votes interesting is that it was only 1 page with 13 items on it. The largest expenditure on the page was for $150,903.70 for the contractors working on Perkins' pet project, Carver Drive ditch. 

 

The claims docket is usually a thick document with all manner of payments on it, from Wal-Mart purchases to utility bills to insurance. It is the obligation of the board of aldermen in Starkville's form of government to approve those payments. Do the elected officials read that document line by line? Probably not. They put their trust in the city clerk staff and vote to approve based on that. On occasion there have been questions raised by aldermen about certain expenditures. Those expenditures get explained and generally the claims are approved with or without the questioned payment. 

 

Aldermen Perkins and Vaughn have never in an open session of the Board of Aldermen stated their reasons for denying payment to those who have placed their faith in the city that it will meet its obligations. I always assumed they don't want to take the time to study the details. That's not a good reason, but it is a reason. This past meeting shot that theory down. I figure that even they could get through the 13 items on the one page. 

 

Perhaps they just don't understand their jobs, though Perkins has been on the board for over 20 years so we know he fully understands his obligations. Until 2012 he lived up to that particular obligation. 

 

Since this behavior started back in November of 2012, one might infer they don't trust the past two city clerks, or maybe they decided they just don't want the liability for doing what the citizens hired them to do. That liability stems from authorizing a claim that should not have been paid. The State of Mississippi says that legally the board members are financially liable if they pay a claim in error. But Perkins approved paying those claims for some 18 years prior to 2012. 

 

What has changed in the past two years that has caused Aldermen Perkins and Vaughn to go from voting to approve to voting against the claims docket? It isn't a frivolous question because if there is something that shouldn't be paid then they have a fiduciary obligation to alert their fellow board members of the irregularities. If they don't think that the taxpayers' dollars should be spent then they need to say why. There is also the ability to pull the questionable payment from the claims and vote against it by a separate action. 

 

Out of curiosity, I checked with the city of Columbus and was told that it was a rare occasion when someone voted against paying the claims presented to the city council. I also checked to see if this was a practice that was often used around the state and found no evidence of such. 

 

If I were a fellow board member, I would want to know why my peers were acting in a way that discredits the city of Starkville and the entire board. If there is something flawed about the payments, then I would hope that they would share those issues so we could get it right.  

 

This practice needs to end. Now.