The Starkville Board of Aldermen was scheduled to interview the final candidates for a seat on the city school district”s Board of Trustees Thursday night, but instead delayed the appointment process due to questions over the eligibility of one of the candidates.
Candidate Ann Carr lives at 1108 Diamond Cove Lane, which is located outside Starkville corporate limits in Oktibbeha County, but in a portion of the county served by the Starkville School District. Eighteen percent of Starkville School District students and two school board members — Keith Coble and Bill Weeks — also live outside Starkville”s corporate limits, but within the school district”s boundaries, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins said.
Carr is one of four candidates still in the running for the seat Board President Dr. Walter Taylor will vacate when he retires March 6. Conflicting opinions from the Mississippi attorney general”s office dating back to 1981, however, left the Board of Aldermen leery to continue with the interview process until it receives a new, official opinion from the attorney general”s office on Carr”s eligibility.
Attorney general opinions from 1991 and 2004 say anyone can serve on the school board as long as he or she lives within the school district. An attorney general opinion from 1981, however, states that only two school board members can live in an area added on to the original school district, like the portion of Oktibbeha County added to the Starkville School District, regardless of the percentage of the student population living there.
“What we have here is three attorney general”s opinions with one saying one thing and two saying the other,” City Attorney Chris Latimer said Thursday night. “The legality of this is more confusing in that the attorney general”s opinion from 1981 is tighter factually. It fits these facts more than the other two do and, in the opinion of the law, the more specific the law is, it”s going to control the more general law, even if the general law is more recent.”
Latimer said he called the attorney general”s office Thursday and received an informal opinion in favor of the 1981 opinion, which would mean only two school board members can live outside corporate limits, and would make Carr ineligible to fill the seat. Latimer advised the board to request a formal attorney general”s opinion on the issue before proceeding any further.
“I want to be right more than I want to be timely,” Latimer said.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins made the motion to postpone the interviews and seek an official attorney general opinion before moving forward with the appointment process. The motion passed unanimously and aldermen hope to receive a new attorney general”s opinion before its next meeting, scheduled for March 2 at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.
“This is a very important issue, a very important matter to the board (of aldermen), a very important matter to the school system, a very important matter to the public, and we just need to make sure we follow the law,” Perkins said. “We don”t need any room for error. We need to be very cautious. We need to be very prudent. We need to make sure we take the correct legal course of action so we can follow the law …”
The remaining three candidates for the school board position — Walter Conley, Eric Heiselt and Susan Tomlinson — live within corporate limits.
During the first round of interviews Tuesday, candidate James “Cubby” Harris interviewed with the Board of Aldermen for the school board position and was invited back for the second round of interviews Thursday, but has since informed city officials he is no longer interested in the job.
Mayor Parker Wiseman apologized Thursday to the other three candidates in attendance and Carr, who was out of town and listened to the meeting via speaker phone, for the city”s failure to realize Carr”s eligibility issues.
“It is ultimately the responsibility of my office to ensure that nothing like this (happens),” Wiseman said. “I have no doubt the applicants that are here this evening, the applicant that is on the phone, the applicants that were there Tuesday night, that it is a very stressful process and the last thing I want to do is add any more stress by our office not properly processing all of the circumstances that surround the rules for applying.”
“In this instance, I accept the ultimate responsibility for the mistake that was made,” Wiseman continued. “I do ask everybody to understand that it was absolutely a mistake made in good faith.”