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Aldermen quarrel over spending, street codes

December 7, 2011

After a heated debate between Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas and Ward 7 Alderman Henry N. Vaughn, the Starkville Board of Aldermen passed an amendment to allow subdivision developers to build streets in a single phase instead of being restricted to two-phase construction.
Before the amendment, crews could only complete the bottom layer of asphalt at the first phase of construction, and they would have to wait until houses were 80-85 percent complete before adding the top layer. The amendment allows crews to complete the road all at once, while still allowing them the option to build it in two phases if desired.
Before Vaughn and Dumas’ exchange began, the board was already deep in discussion of several issues, including the aesthetic issues one-stage construction could raise in the long-term. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver announced his intent to vote against the measure early; he said while one-stage construction is developer-friendly, it will become popular enough to cause widespread street issues.
“The city’s going to inherit streets that are already going to have problems from the start,” Carver said. “You’ll never again see that smooth, uniform surface for the first life of a street. We’ve got enough street issues here in this town that this is probably not going to help to add to them.”
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins said he, too, did not support the amendment. Ultimately, Perkins, Carver and Vaughn voted against the amendment but were outnumbered by all four of the other aldermen.
“My policies which are very conservative and don’t disturb the system if it’s not broken,” Perkins said. “The rules that are in place are fine. We don’t need to disturb them.”
Dumas then said the board needed to be careful about making assumptions about the amendment.
“I don’t think this board – anybody on this board, frankly – is expert enough to talk about the issues of street construction and engineering specs,” Dumas said. “I am concerned by the fact that we are throwing development under the bus when most of us on this board probably live in a development ... and growth and development is something we preach from this board as needing more of.”
Vaughn then said one of the largest issues on Starkville’s north side was development costs and infrastructure issues. He said the street code amendment was an example of the city going backward instead of addressing issues citizens repeatedly raise.
“Why do you want to fix something that isn’t broken?” Vaughn asked. “Mr. Mayor, you’ve been pushing things that aren’t broken, and the things that the city of Starkville needs, you’ve been relaxing on those things.”
Dumas then asked Vaughn why he believed the amendment moved the city backwards. Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman asked both aldermen to speak one at a time, and a quick exchange between the two aldermen followed.
Dumas asked Vaughn why he did not support development that could help Starkville as a whole. Vaughn then said the city still needed to address issues on the north side of town, including Carver Drive. When Dumas said the city was trying to do just that, Vaughn disagreed.
“No, you (aren’t) trying,” Vaughn said. “You keep making excuses.”
The two aldermen then began attempting to talk over one another, leading Wiseman to pound his gavel and call the meeting to order. He then gave Dumas a chance to respond.
“We had a sheet at this table that showed categorically how more infrastructure monies have been spent in Wards 6 and 7 than any other wards in this administration,” Dumas said. “So you want to tell us that we’re not trying to correct wrongs of previous administrations? This has been a contention with you for every meeting of the past two or three months. And so I ask point blank, how does this go backward when we’re trying to help development? And how can you sit at this table and tell us that this administration has not done more for those citizens in Wards 6 and 7 than any other administration in the past 20 years?”
Vaughn then asked Dumas to prove it, and he replied.
“We did financially, with considerably more monies being spent in Wards 6 and 7 than any other ward,” Dumas said. “It was here, and (as a) matter of fact, you got up and walked out of the meeting before any presentation was made. So how do you know that when you don’t exist on the table when those discussions are had?”
Wiseman asked them both to limit their tone and respect their fellow aldermen before Vaughn replied.
“When I walk out, I don’t want anything about the municipal complex,” Vaughn said. “I walked out for that reason. It was not on the agenda. And I was not fixing to sit and listen. Most of the money you spent in Ward 6 and Ward 7 is on the street overlays. It’s not for drainage, it’s not for the Carver Drive ditch, it’s not for the Westside Drive ditch and it’s not for Westside Drive. So most of the money that’s spent is overlaying streets.”

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