Despite Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker’s pleas for openness and transparency on an impending sidewalk and ordinance review process, his proposal creating a seven-person review committee and shaping its goals died in a 5-2 vote Tuesday.
Only Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard supported his plan.
Walker’s proposal came after aldermen previously tasked Community Developer William Snowden with the comprehensive review in October. That initiative, led by Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn and Ward 3 Alderman David Little, came about after Wynn said she received numerous complaints from developers.
The ordinances, she said last month, place unfair burdens on those willing to develop property within the city.
Although the city initiated the review, the board failed to set a scope or vision for the process, a fact Walker hammered upon numerous times Tuesday. His proposal set two main goals: a review of the codes’ language, processes and procedures for redundancies, conflicts and user-friendliness; and the research of overlay zones and similar alternatives to balance ordinance requirements to their context within the city based upon existing and future land-use designations.
Walker argued Tuesday that the city cannot expect a fair review when Snowden received little instruction and must keep his bosses, the board of aldermen, happy with his report. The Ward 4 representative also stumped for allowing outside reviews by comparable municipalities, a recommendation outlined in his report.
“What are we afraid of? Are we concerned about being a transparent board that keeps the public’s interest in mind, or are we looking to do backroom deals?” he asked the board.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver alluded to “loaded committees” in the prior term that produced tailor-made results for the sitting board, saying aldermen should give Snowden the benefit of the doubt for producing a fair, unbiased review. Maynard then said Snowden could be tasked with forming the committee outlined in Walker’s proposal, and Walker said he was willing to take the compromise as long as the motion carried. Little then hinted at possibly supporting the change before Wynn outlined the history of her motion from a brief prepared statement.
Despite little board support, the proposal did find one public proponent. In a letter delivered to aldermen prior to their discussions, Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory said the city’s ordinances could benefit from a non-partisan, non-biased review, one in which involves individuals familiar with development processes.
“The Partnership Executive Council supports the proposed Starkville Ordinance Review Committee, and we challenge the mayor and board to look beyond politics and controversy, and focus on the betterment and advancement of our community,” her letter stated. “This committee will allow stakeholders of the community from both sides of the issue weigh in on and compromise with a detailed scope and a focused goal of reviewing these extremely important pieces of city policy.
“This is a proven, transparent approach to policy planning, and with a sincere focus and effort from committee members, will allow a positive process of input with community consensus,” Gregory’s letter continued. “We urge you to put politics aside … rather than placing the burden on city staff that will ultimately become the target of partisan politics.”
Walker offered to table his proposal if the board would extend the February report deadline until March, but the measure failed by the same 5-2 margin that would defeat his original motion. The report was originally slated for December, but Snowden is absent on sick leave.
Walker also found himself at odds with the board Tuesday over subcommittee appointments.
Bonn Camp, a Ward 4 resident and son of former Mayor Dan Camp, was named to the Starkville Board of Adjustments and Appeals after aldermen originally blocked the matter. Camp, a licensed contractor, was the only applicant for the open Ward 4 position.
Without discussion on the matter, the board originally denied his appointment by a 4-3 vote. Walker took issue with aldermen, asking if they would like to scour his ward for appropriate candidates since they did not trust his recommendation. Mayor Parker Wiseman intervened, saying ward-specific subcommittee appointments are usually supported by the board if an alderman feels the appointee will serve his or her ward to their fullest capabilities.
After a brief discussion about possibly Camp recusing himself in the future if any business related to his father comes before the board, Little changed his vote to a “Yea,” and the matter passed 4-3.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.