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Aldermen rap ‘secrecy’ by school board

May 3, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

At a meeting of the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night, two aldermen issued statements opposing the Starkville School Board’s decision at their April 20 meeting to not immediately disclose actions taken in an executive session.
In addition to these statements by Aldermen Roy Perkins and Jeremiah Dumas, the board also appointed a redistricting committee for the city of Starkville, with the seven aldermen and Mayor Parker Wiseman as voting members and Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill and City Clerk Markeeta Outlaw acting ex officio.
In an executive session of their own, the board also chose not to pursue an appeal in the Ball v. Starkville case and to authorize the signing of the city’s contract with Diversified Lenders to purchase Incode Software from Tyler Technologies.
The statements came after School Board President Pickett Wilson said April 21 that Superintendent Judy Couey was on “indefinite leave” after the executive session, only for Couey to resign April 27.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy Perkins said the school board’s secrecy reflected badly on the city and on the aldermen who appoint four out of the school board’s five members. Mississippi law requires the school board to announce decisions made in executive session immediately after the meeting reopens to the public, Perkins said, and as an alderman and attorney, he advises the board to follow that law.
“It was not good government for the chairman to cite approval of the minutes as the reason not to announce the actions taken at the meeting,” Perkins said. “Speculation and conjecture are what you are left with when you are operating from the position of ignorance and misinformation. From the dissension over the decision regarding uniforms to the significance of the mayor’s decision to veto the school board appointment, any issues that cause discord within the community about the effectiveness and operation of our school system must be minimized and handled with great sensitivity.”
When Dumas issued his statement, he said he agreed with Perkins.
“The stated platform on my campaign card was, simply, ‘Quality of Life,’” Dumas said. “The first item listed under ‘Quality of Life’ was improved public schools. I understand and appreciate the processes afforded to a public board to discuss matters dealing with personnel, litigation, and land acquisition in executive session. However, as a concerned citizen, I do not like the misuse of this power to further distance the issue at hand from a concerned citizenry, much less when these issues relate to the safety and education of my children.”
When the board voted to appoint the city’s redistricting committee, there was some debate about which city officials would be on the committee, and which would not.
“I initially put this on the agenda as creating a committee,” Wiseman said. “However, to open discussion, I will say that in hearing from different board members, it seems like there may be such wide interest in this topic that it might be something the board might consider handling by committee of the whole board, just meeting in a series of work session.”
Sistrunk then made a motion to appoint Outlaw, Spruill, Wiseman, all seven aldermen and the municipal election commission chair to the committee. However, Wiseman pointed out that members of the municipal election commission are always compensated for their time. When Outlaw confirmed there was no budget to pay for the chair to join the committee, Sistrunk removed the chair from the proposed committee and moved to appoint it again.
Then Perkins objected to Outlaw and Spruill being voting members of the committee.
“They can be there as staff support,” Perkins said. “It’s nothing I pose strenuous objection to, nothing controversial.”
Sistrunk, however, amended her motion again to make Outlaw and Spruill ex officio members who would attend the committee’s meetings but not vote. This time, the motion passed with none opposed.

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