For the second time this year, Starkville aldermen voted behind closed doors to ask District Attorney Scott Colom to review a potential criminal case against a former city employee.
Details about the situation are unknown as aldermen would not comment on Tuesday’s almost two-hour executive session, but the board emerged with a series of personnel actions targeting the city’s sanitation department: Aldermen unanimously rejected Sanitation and Environmental Services employee Courtney Ross’ April 10 resignation letter and terminated his employment immediately, then voted 5-2 to tender a potential case against Ross to Colom’s office for consideration of prosecution.
The board also voted 5-2 to suspend Sanitation and Environmental Services Director Emma Gandy without pay for five business days beginning Wednesday.
City documents show all three actions were motioned forward by Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 3 Alderman David Little opposed the split vote involving transferring the potential case against Ross, while Carver and Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker voted against Gandy’s disciplinary action.
The action against Gandy marks at least the second board-authorized suspension of the sanitation director this term. In 2013, the board suspended her for 10 days without pay following an almost three-hour executive session discussion involving a grievance filed by a sanitation worker.
Tuesday’s vote comes after aldermen last month asked Colom’s office to review a potential case against former Starkville Police Department Officer William Thrasher. It is believed Thrasher struck a pedestrian while patrolling in either Ward 6 or 7 in February, but city officials have not confirmed the incident on the record.
Thrasher resigned his post in March and does not currently face any criminal charges.
Although the specifics about the incident involving Ross are unknown, Perkins made multiple allusions about potential wrongdoing and the lack of city rules governing purchase controls Tuesday.
Specifically, Perkins instructed Personnel Officer Navarette Ashford to develop a new policy regarding purchasing and asked City Clerk Lesa Hardin if all of the claims docket’s associated purchases were made legally.
Perkins said he wants a proposed policy to be presented to the board for review May 2 and include “strict checks and balances, strict accountability, strict oversight and ways and means that all uses of purchase orders are in accordance with state law and guidelines.”
He also asked that Ashford’s policy draft include a penalty provision for those employees who violate it in the future.
Numerous personnel issues have emerged since the board took over in 2013. That year, the board effectively fired former Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill at the outset of the term, then former Municipal Court Clerk Debra Wood resigned her position three months later after aldermen gave her the choice to quit or be fired. Also, former Starkville Police Chief David Lindley abruptly resigned his post at the end of the year after he was placed on indefinite administrative leave as the city investigated a traffic incident involving his wife.
In 2014, aldermen placed City Engineer Edward Kemp on six-month probation following a two-hour executive session involving him and developer Clayton Richardson.
Aldermen also rejected former Officer Jeremy Akins’ 2016 resignation letter and fired the three-year SPD veteran after a resident complained about how he was detained in an incident at Sitel and how the officer reacted to being placed on administrative leave.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch