David Little told The Dispatch this morning he drew guidance from a sermon Sunday before abstaining from a board of aldermen vote Tuesday to permit a Starkville Pride parade.
The city, facing a federal lawsuit for previously denying the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual advocacy group’s parade permit, had recently learned it would be responsible for paying its legal fees — and possibly the plaintiff’s — if a vote to reconsider didn’t allow the event.
In a text conversation this morning, Little said a sermon his pastor Chip Stevens delivered at First Baptist Church resonated with him. He said he continued to pray about it and the answer became clear.
“I ultimately decided that abstention was an option to end the potential monetary liability exposure for the city so that we could move past this divisive issue and tend to other positive pressing matters moving forward,” he said.
His abstention was crucial, as a 3-3 vote on the matter allowed Mayor Lynn Spruill to break the tie Tuesday in favor of the parade, which is planned for March 24 downtown.
Little, since initially helping a 4-3 majority shoot down the parade request on Feb. 20, had kept his reasons close to the vest prior to Tuesday.
He said today that by abstaining, he wasn’t caving to public pressure, and he had received several calls, emails and text messages both for and against the parade in the time since the board’s first vote.
“I … learned on Friday that the city’s (legal) liability policy (with the Mississippi Municipal League) was not going to afford coverage for a defense in this litigation or any damages such as plaintiff attorney fees due to certain policy exclusions,” Little said. “That, in my mind, was a game-changer to some degree in that it was city funds that would be liable for ongoing legal fees and potentially damages, which would include plaintiff legal fees.
“I had a hard time with the idea that city funds would be required to pay defense costs and potential damages if awarded,” he added.
Little said he understands his decision may generate some blowback, but he believes he made the prudent choice.
“I learned a long time ago any time you have more than a couple of people in the room, it’s very hard to please everyone,” Little said. “I am sure there are some who disagree with how I handled it, but I slept fine last evening.”
Attempts to ‘slip past’ aldermen
Still, Little said in Tuesday’s meeting he felt aldermen weren’t properly informed about what the Pride parade was before the board’s Feb. 20 session. He said he was out of the country when some aldermen gathered for a Feb. 16 work session, where the parade was first placed on the consent agenda — which would have allowed approval for the permit without further discussion.
Two of the three other aldermen who voted against the parade, Ward 1’s Ben Carver and Ward 7’s Henry Vaughn, also were absent from the work session. Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins was present, but Little contended he may not have known what the Pride parade was.
Little said he felt Mayor Lynn Spruill and city staff tried to hide the true nature of the Pride parade.
“At first blush, I thought this matter was intended to be slipped by the board, and my initial thoughts were later confirmed,” Little said. “This is disappointing and frustrating.”
Little reiterated his frustration on that point while talking to The Dispatch, saying he was “very disappointed” in the city’s Community Development Department and Spruill for not better informing aldermen.
Spruill, during Tuesday’s board meeting, said she had no intention of hiding what the parade was from aldermen.
“I certainly did not attempt to slip it by you,” Spruill said. “I did not realize that a Pride parade was something that was not recognized as a Pride parade for the LGBT community. That may be because I have traveled rather extensively and recognized that that’s the reference.”
Sistrunk said she was surprised by the vote to the extent that any board member could vote any way on an issue. But she said she wasn’t surprised that Little reached what she called a reasonable decision.
“I always found Alderman Little to be a reasonable person who’s going to look at things from an arm’s length perspective,” she said.
Walker, before the vote, said the city had an economic decision to make, rather than simply a moral one. He said the city was almost certain to lose the lawsuit, and the costs of the $3,200 in-kind services to allow the parade would pale in comparison to the possibly tens of thousands of dollars the city could rack up in legal fees defending itself in court.
Walker, like Sistrunk, said he comes to board meetings never knowing what to expect from other board members. He said he was fine with Little’s decision to abstain.
“He abstained, and that was what his conscience told him to do. I’m OK with that,” Walker said.
Carver declined to comment after Tuesday’s vote. Perkins and Vaughn couldn’t be reached for comment.
Spruill, who has been a vocal supporter of the parade, said she was pleased with the night’s outcome, but hadn’t necessarily expected it.
“I hadn’t pre-judged,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was prepared to either vote or call it as it came down the pipe.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.