A pair of items at Tuesday’s board of aldermen meeting highlighted what aldermen say is a need to reevaluate some of the city’s special event policies.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins voiced strong opposition to a condition of an event where the famous Budweiser Clydesdales will visit Starkville on April 19. Perkins took particular issue with free beer samples being available at the event in Fire Station Park, which is city property.
Perkins said there’s nothing in the city ordinance that allows for alcohol to be distributed for special events.
“I don’t know what your lawyer is going to tell you, but I certainly feel that I am correct,” Perkins said. “I would challenge him to show me anywhere in the ordinance that allows for free beer samples. The city of Starkville needs to follow the law. For some reason, I’m kind of getting the impression here that the city wants to put itself above the law.”
City Attorney Chris Latimer said Perkins’ assessment was correct, and that the issue would likely need to be addressed legislatively — through an amendment to the city’s ordinances — “as soon as possible.”
Ward 3 Alderman David Little pointed to other events, such as the annual crawfish boil in the Cotton District, that have served alcohol.
“They’ve also served alcohol at various events on Main Street, as recently as the Souper Bowl,” Little said. “I’m just wondering, have we been out of compliance all this time, city attorney? I thought the special events were the mechanism that allowed that. I guess I was wrong.”
Latimer said the Clydesdale is the first application he could recall that specifically referenced dispensing alcohol on a public property, such as a park. Still, he said the city’s special event policy does not specifically allow for alcohol, but it’s become a custom and practice in the city through the years.
But, Latimer said, the board could approve the Clydesdale event as an exception to the ordinance and fall back on “home rule authority,” as long as the vendor is properly licensed to distribute alcohol.
“Home rule authority says that unless there’s a constitutional provision in the state constitution, or a state statutory provision that says the city can’t do it, then the city can do it,” Latimer said.
Jennifer Prather, director of tourism with The Partnership, told the board Tuesday the organization has partnered with Mitchell Distributing for the event, and state Alcoholic Beverage Control and city permits have been properly obtained.
The board approved the event request on a 5-2 vote, with Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn opposing.
After the vote, Little moved to call for the first of two public hearings at the board’s next meeting to amend the city’s ordinance to address alcohol at special events. That vote also passed 5-2, with Perkins and Vaughn opposing.
Special event policy
Earlier in the meeting, aldermen also approved tasking the Community Development Department with reviewing and updating the city’s special event policy. The vote came 5-2 in favor, with Perkins and Vaughn opposed.
The discussion came on the heels of the Starkville Pride parade, which the city ultimately allowed after a protracted battle that grabbed national headlines and garnered a federal lawsuit.
Little, who introduced the matter, said he’d recently spoken to City Planner Daniel Havelin about plans from a few years ago to update the city’s policies for special events. Little said increasing costs of in-kind services is one thing he’d like the city to possibly look at finding ways to better control event applications.
“As we grow and become more and more of a destination town, we’re going to get more and more requests for this kind of stuff,” Little said. “We need to consider what’s good fiscal policy.”
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said she’d like to see an easier, more streamlined process, and for the city to perhaps look to what other cities have done as examples.
Perkins, however, said he only wants Latimer to work on a review of the policy, instead of the Community Development Department.
Perkins said he wants much stricter limits on in-kind services. He also said he didn’t want the city closing streets downtown, except for perhaps the Christmas parade.
“We don’t need to have any in-kind services — the taxpayers can’t afford that,” Perkins said. “This policy does not need to be looked at — I don’t want to hear from no non-lawyers. … I don’t want to hear a non-lawyer trying to give me, an attorney, some advice.”
Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller said he thinks it is appropriate for the Community Development staff to be involved, because any revisions will ultimately have to pass through the board of aldermen.
Mayor Lynn Spruill agreed, and added that looking to other cities for ideas — which Perkins also opposed — is reasonable.
“I think the community development staff is currently up to this task,” she said. “And when it comes to looking at what other cities do, it’s perfectly appropriate because we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. If there are things that work for us, then that’s fine. If there are things that don’t, then don’t use them.”
In other business, the board approved Sumner Davis to the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District board on a 6-0 vote, with Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker recusing because his wife works for the school district.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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