September 19, 2019 10:20:58 AM
On Tuesday, the Starkville Board of Aldermen passed its 2020 budget... eventually.
Unable to establish a quorum at the scheduled 5:30 meeting which was called when aldermen could not reach an agreement on adopting a budget with a 1.5 mill increase, just three of the city's seven aldermen showed up on time.
Ward 3 Alderman David Little, who was returning from a trip abroad, had a flight delay. Ward 7 aldermen Henry Vaughn said he was ill and could not attend. Ward 1 alderman Ben Carver said he chose not to attend because he believe the decision should be made by the full board. Vice Mayor and Ward 6 alderman Roy A. Perkins offered no explanation for his absence.
With at least one more aldermen needed to establish a quorum, Mayor Lynn Spruill rescheduled the meeting for 9 p.m., allowing Little time to get back to town. Carver also attended the 9 p.m. meeting and the budget, and the tax increase passed by a 3-2 vote, with Ward 2 alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4 alderman Jason Walker and 5 alderman Hamp Beatty providing the deciding "yes" votes.
Ultimately, the city was able to conduct its business, but the way it arrived at the conclusion is disheartening.
Board members have an obligation to attend meetings and cast votes. In fact, they are paid to perform those roles. But it goes beyond that, board members represent the people in their neighborhoods, and when they are not present and participating, those residents do not have a voice in the decisions that are made.
We understand that there are sometimes circumstances that may prevent a board member for attending a meeting. But those should be rare, especially when something so important as a tax increase is on the table.
When faced with a difficult, perhaps unpopular decision, board members have three legitimate options. They can vote yes or no or they can abstain. They are given the opportunity to explain why they are choosing from among those options.
Simply not showing up shouldn't be an option. It only serves to break faith with their constituents.
Citizens have an expectation that the people they select for these positions fulfill that obligation.
There can and will be disagreement on the merits of issues brought before these boards. But there should be no disagreement about whether or not a board member should show up and accept the responsibility entrusted into them.
Whether it's an elected position or a board appointment, those who choose to serve need to embrace the commitment that accompanies that role.
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4. Editorial cartoon for 10-21-19 NATIONAL COLUMNS