A preliminary settlement agreement has been reached in Starkville Pride’s federal lawsuit against the city of Starkville and is now awaiting board approval, much to one alderman’s alarm.
Details of the settlement agreement have not yet been disclosed. City and Starkville Pride representatives met May 16 for a six-hour settlement conference, according to federal court documents. However, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins expressed concern to The Dispatch on Tuesday that the city may have to pay “several thousands of dollars” in the settlement for Starkville Pride’s attorney fees.
He also pointed to a motion to dismiss the case City Attorney Chris Latimer filed in late April. Perkins said the city should press ahead with it.
“Why are we paying attorney fees?” he said. “Just to make a case go away? There’s no basis for it. Go to court and argue the motion. I feel like if the city does that, we’ll win. We should win. I think we’ll win this. There’s no clear basis or any sort of basis to pay attorney fees.”
Mayor Lynn Spruill told The Dispatch she could not discuss the details of the agreement. However, she may call a special board of aldermen meeting Friday to review it. Spruill said a final decision on the meeting is still forthcoming, but if it’s called, it will be to discuss the settlement.
Latimer also would not discuss the agreement before aldermen meet about it.
Starkville Pride, a local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, submitted a request to the city to hold a pride parade in March to the city. Aldermen initially denied the request at their Feb. 20 board meeting on a 4-3 vote.
At the subsequent meeting March 7, Ward 3 Alderman David Little, who initially voted against the parade, abstained, allowing Spruill to break a 3-3 tie in favor of the parade proceeding on March 24 as originally planned.
In the intervening time, Starkville Pride filed a federal lawsuit against the city, claiming the city’s refusal — which was done without giving a reason publicly — was for content-based reasoning and violated the First and 14th Amendment rights of Starkville Pride’s members.
Starkville Pride’s lawsuit sought an injunction against the board’s initial decision, which aldermen reversed with the March 7 vote, and to have the city pay the group’s legal fees for the lawsuit.
Little told The Dispatch after the March 7 meeting it was unlikely the city’s legal liability insurance would pay those costs, and that played a role in his decision to abstain and allow Spruill to break the tie.
‘Why are we paying attorney fees?’
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said she could not discuss the settlement details. However, she said she hopes the board acts on it.
“I’d say that I hope the board acts on it as soon as possible, just because I’d like to have it finished and off our list of things that we’re dealing with,” she said. “But, until the board votes on this, it’s really just a proposal.”
Perkins, however, contends Starkville Pride is not entitled to have the city pay its attorney fees. He argued the group is not a “prevailing party,” which means it has not received a decree, judgment or order from the court granting relief.
Perkins further argues Starkville Pride received authorization before the originally planned parade date, with the approval of $3,200-worth of in kind services from the city. He said the group “wasn’t harmed” by the board’s decision.
“This passed before the scheduled date of the parade, so they got to do what they wanted to do,” Perkins said. “Not only that, but they had the assistance of our in-kind dollars. What happens if someone else comes here and the city does the same thing, denies the permit and approves it on reconsideration, but they file suit?
“This is a dangerous precedent if the board pays it,” he continued. “(The board is) determined to pay this money, in my opinion.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said he’s aware a meeting may be called on Friday to discuss the agreement. However, he said he doesn’t know any details beyond that.
Little, likewise, said he is not aware of the last development’s details.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker said he knew the settlement conference happened, but he is waiting for more details.
“I haven’t heard a hard number or anything that would be concrete, other than that the mayor thought it would be something we’d want to act on,” he said. “I haven’t heard the city attorney’s opinion on it yet. I’m still waiting to gather more information on it.”