Growing agitation over Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins’ stance against utilizing consent agendas came to a head Tuesday when Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn scolded the mayor pro tempore for keeping board members, department heads and the public late into the night and attempted to change procedural rules for meetings.
Wynn — who did not refer to Perkins by name, only alluding to the alderman as representing a ward numbered “greater than five, less than seven and the sum of three and three” — presented a motion allowing consent agendas with a majority vote, but it died without a second after board attorney Chris Latimer said the move could expose the board to “legal peril.”
“Procedurally, the board can do it. I have tremendous concerns about the legal ramifications if the board does that,” he said. “I think if it’s challenged, the board will lose that challenge.”
Wynn then asked Latimer to elaborate on a conversation the two had about the motion prior to the meeting, but the board attorney halted the question by asking if the alderman was willing to compromise attorney-client privilege in public. She immediately withdrew her motion.
“The rewards certainly outweigh the risks of this,” Wynn said after she noted representatives from other cities at last week’s Mississippi Municipal League conference laughed at the length of Starkville’s board meetings. “We could have a two-, two-and-a-half-hour meeting and call it a night. It is about pitiful how the board of aldermen … is conducting meetings.
“By a majority, we can stop this nonsense tonight,” she added.
Consent agendas are built with pending motions, ranging from travel requests to minor purchases, and are approved in a single vote before aldermen move ahead with the day’s open agenda — items not reserved for the secrecy of executive session.
Any alderman can suggest an open session item be moved to the consent agenda, but it only takes one objection to block its placement on the list.
Starkville last used a consent agenda in May after Perkins agreed to not block proposals. Following that meeting, he said he would again favor handling all matters of city business one at a time at the board table.
“I’m not the bad guy,” Perkins said in May, noting his constituents want to hear the details of all business up for discussion by the board. “I have the right to represent the people in the best and fullest of ways possible. If we had more people like that in government, then government would be a lot better. If (other aldermen) feel like they need to rush, then maybe they need to reassess their situation and ask, ‘Is this job cut out for me?'”
Chastising Perkins indirectly as the “alderman who takes 30 minutes” to expound on issues and “speaks in the third person,” Wynn argued department heads should not be forced to work a full day and then remain at City Hall for hours off the clock.
Residents, she said, don’t want to wade into the minutia of each individual agenda item.
“We’re not trying to hide anything from the public, but my constituents — nobody wants to watch a board of aldermen meeting for five hours and talk about somebody being on the tree advisory committee,” she said.
Frustration with the lack of a consent agenda was also fueled by the board’s 3-1 vote on June 21 to accept a South Park Plaza office donation from former Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill for police operations. That motion was approved after three aldermen — Ward 1’s Ben Carver, Ward 3’s David Little and Wynn — left City Hall prior to the conclusion of the meeting.
The three board members, along with Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn, previously blocked the Spruill donation earlier in the month.
On Tuesday, Wynn referenced how board members “pulled one over” on the aldermen who departed the board table early because of the length of the meeting.
Vaughn and Wynn both opposed approving the minutes of the June 21 meeting, which contained the approved motion accepting the Spruill donation, after Latimer said failure to do so again would put the city in “legal peril.”
“It’s an accurate recitation of the official acts taken on the meeting in question. If there’s a debate or dispute about a particular item in the minutes, the appropriate thing to do is address that item rather than not approve (the entire minutes),” he said.
Vaughn said he would not vote for the minutes’ approval because information was missing from his packet. Wynn did not immediately say why she voted against the item but later brought up her frustration with how aldermen approved the South Park Plaza donation.
“Once a matter is duly passed and seconded, that matter is an official act. The law is well settled … that the board speaks through its minutes,” Perkins said. “I’m not understanding the basis of the objections coming from the north and south of this table.”
In other business, aldermen approved a process seeking new bids for Starkville Police Department renovations.
The board instructed architect Gary Shafer and SPD Chief Frank Nichols to discuss possible changes to the plan after the city rejected two bids that came in well over the project’s $5.4 million budget.
SPD renovations are delayed at least a month because of the situation, and aldermen could decide to scrap the plan, acquire land and construct a new building if estimates remain high.
Nichols told aldermen he was not comfortable with reducing the proposed renovation list.
Bids are expected to be presented to the board by Aug. 16.
Aldermen also expressed frustration with Shafer’s services. A Little-led motion severing ties with the architect was withdrawn before a vote took place.
After the meeting, Shafer said an East Mississippi Community College construction project, which he estimated at about $11 million, could have reduced the amount of bids received for the police station renovations.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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