Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn talks during Tuesday's board of aldermen meeting. Vaughn sharply criticized the city's efforts on annexation and to build a new park. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
May 22, 2019 10:21:46 AM
Henry Vaughn had some grievances to air at the beginning of Tuesday's board of aldermen meeting.
Vaughn, who represents Ward 7, opened the aldermen comment period at the start of the meeting by blasting a series of initiatives the city has undertaken, from its annexation plan to efforts to build a new park.
Specifically, he leveled criticism that the annexation initiative is a racially motivated ploy targeted to diminish African-American influence in the city.
"When this is done, there's gonna be some redistricting," Vaughn said. "We know this is all about drawing the lines to make wards unequal -- to make the first five wards stronger and to make 6 and 7 weak."
Wards 1-4 are represented by white aldermen, while 6 and 7 are represented by black aldermen. Ward 5 does not currently have an alderman, with Patrick Miller's resignation last month. Miller is white.
Mayor Lynn Spruill, speaking to The Dispatch after the meeting, said she was "disappointed" that Vaughn said her desire to move forward with annexation is based in any racial bias.
"Annexation is, to me, nothing more than an opportunity for the city to grow and taking in areas that are already enjoying the proximity to the city without being responsible for some of the costs of the city," Spruill said. "Redistricting will come whether we annex or not -- it will come with the 2020 census."
Aldermen received an annexation study report with projected demographics for the city and the annexation study area earlier this year. The report, compiled by Mitch Slaughter's urban planning firm, Slaughter & Associates, said Starkville's current population, based on the 2010 census, is 59.6 white, 34.6 percent black, and 5.7 percent other. Combined with the annexation area, the city would be 60.2 percent white, 34.1 percent black and 5.8 percent other.
At a February meeting, Slaughter said recorded demographic shifts in the 2020 census are likely to be larger than those brought about by annexation.
Vaughn further claimed that the city has ignored issues, like stormwater flooding, in wards 6 or 7, while responding to the same problems when they occur down South Montgomery Street, which is a majority white area in Ward 3.
Spruill said she tries to treat all areas of the city fairly.
"I have made every effort to be fair and responsive to all parts of town, whether it's north, south, east or west, and I'm disappointed he feels that way," Spruill said. "Aside from that, all I can do is continue to be supportive of projects throughout the community."
Vaughn also criticized the city's efforts to build a new multi-million dollar recreation facility at Cornerstone Park on Highway 25. The city is holding an election for residents to vote May 30 on a 1-percent increase to its restaurant and hotel/motel sales taxes to fund the park.
Cornerstone would add tournament ready sports fields. The Sportsplex, located at Lynn Lane, also has baseball, softball and soccer fields, and there are baseball fields at McKee Park.
"Why is it so urgent for this baseball park when we can just upgrade the parks we've got?" Vaughn asked. "We can redesign the parks we have and get them up to standard, and will not need a multi-million dollar park that would not benefit the majority of the people."
Vaughn cited the low number of black players in professional baseball -- Major League Baseball has reported that about 8 percent of its players are black -- and questioned how beneficial the park would be for the city's black population. He further questioned what the park would do for the city and its residents at-large.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker contended that the new park, if built, would draw more people to town through hosting more tournaments. In doing so, Walker said, those people would spend money in Starkville, which would drive up the city's sales taxes and lead to more money to address other issues.
"If we start having the number of tournaments we think we are capable of hosting, similar to this weekend where we're having 40 teams -- if we start doing that about 10 to 20 times a year, that number is going to be increased, adding to our general fund balance approximately $250,000," Walker said. "That's a mill. That's a mill that we would otherwise have to add to your property tax to be able to take care of the streets or drainage. It's additional money."
Still, Vaughn said he feels the city focuses too much on revenue and, in his opinion, tries too much to be like other cities like Oxford, Tupelo and Ridgeland.
"This is Starkville where I was born and have lived for 66 years, and I'm very proud to live in Starkville," he said. "I don't care what they do in Oxford. I don't care what they do in Ridgeland. We can't follow every other municipality. That's not going to work."
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