By NATHAN GREGORY
A first public hearing on Starkville’s redistricting process will be one of three held at the board of aldermen meeting today.
The proposed plan on the table, named Plan 3, evens out voting population numbers in each of the city’s seven wards. The plan also achieves a less-than-10-percent deviation from the ideal number of 3,413 in each ward, which is a requirement set forth by the United States Department of Justice. Golden Triangle Planning and Development District has overseen the redistricting process.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said he likes the current plan because it not only meets standard requirements but does a good job of keeping together areas of shared interest.
“I think Toby (Sanford, GTPDD GIS manager) has done an excellent job adhering to the guidelines set forth by the Department of Justice for redistricting and working with the members of the board to present options,” he said.
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said while it makes her ward larger geographically, the plan is effective in evening voting population numbers in each ward.
“There is a lot of territory where it’s very lowdensity as far as people, but it’s a large geographic district … I think no matter how it’s drawn, you’re going to get concerns of that sort,” Sistrunk said. “They’ve made a good effort to keep neighborhoods together (and in) keeping board members and committee members in their current wards.”
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins said he also feels confident in Plan 3.
“Based on my review … it appears to be a plan I can support. The plan appears to comply with the consent decree from Federal Court and meets the legal requirements,” Perkins said. “I also am of the opinion that Plan 3 will win approval from the United States Department of Justice, which is extremely important.”
A second public hearing on amending the city’s sidewalk ordinance to mandate sidewalks in the sidewalk development area and exempt areas that are not conducive to pedestrian traffic will also be held. Wiseman said the proposed amendment may also be voted on later in the meeting.
“Tomorrow night is a second public hearing, which under city policy makes the ordinance available for adoption,” he said. “Given the way discussion has progressed so far, it looks plausible that the board might be in a position to act on it.”
The board will also hold a hearing regarding the repeal and replacement of the city’s building and electric code. The city currently operates under the 2003 International Code Council and 2005 National Electric Code guidelines.
“What triggered the need to adopt the new version of the code is the State Fire Ratings Bureau requires that you stay within two editions of the code, (which is) issued every three years. When the 2012 code was issued we would have fallen three editions behind,” Wiseman said. “(Last year), the board commissioned a task force to evaluate the best options for moving to a newer edition of the code and after many months of meetings, that task force agreed to move forward with the 2012 code. The electric codes are paired with the building codes, so the 2011 NEC code is paired with the 2012 ICC code,” Wiseman said.
The board will also hear from Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill regarding the idea of creating a finance department containing the office of the city clerk. In the board’s e-packet, Spruill said a positive outcome that would come from implementing the change is enhanced transparency in municipal government affairs. The report comes in light of current city clerk Markeeta Outlaw announcing her retirement from the post effective June 1.
Sistrunk said the organizational changes to the department would be advantageous for the city in the future.
“Markeeta did an excellent job and I’m truly sorry that she’s leaving us… The thing we will have to address is how that office functions while there isn’t a city clerk in place,” she said. “I think going forward, as you look at communities in Mississippi that we consider to be more progressive, the city clerk’s office has transitioned from one that focused on day-to-day operations … (into) taking a broader role in the function of the city, having more of a variance in administration — not just managing the day-to-day operations but looking forward and providing a resource for the government body in decision-making.”
Perkins said the board as a whole needs to review each application for Outlaw’s eventual replacement and strive to find a candidate that shares her ability to promote the best interest of the city.
“Our current city clerk has done a very immaculate job. Markeeta has a very vast knowledge base. It’s unfortunate we’re going to lose someone of her caliber. She is a very exemplary public servant, and she did everything she could to promote the best interest of the city of Starkville. I told her that I would like to see her stay her term out, but I respect her opinion,” he said. “I hope we can get a very well-qualified city clerk who is going to do an exemplary job and who is going to be fair in all dealings with the board. This selection does not need to be made by a committee. The entire board needs to look at every applicant. This is a very important position.”
The board will also consider a matching funds resolution for a Community Development Block Grant application through the Mississippi Development Authority. If approved, the city would receive state funding that can be used to make improvements to a ditch on Carver Drive that has drawn numerous complaints from citizens that have commented on its deteriorating condition.
Figures in the board’s e-packet have the total cost of the project at $802,555.61. The application deadline is May 18.
Wiseman said while city engineer Edward Kemp is still finalizing the numbers, he believes the city’s total match contribution would be approximately $300,000.
“The vast majority of that would be in-kind services the city work force would provide for that project. Only approximately $85,000 of the total match would be an actual monetary cost the city would have to pay,” Wiseman said. “There is approximately $60,000 that was budgeted last year and has remained reserved for this project, so it leaves in the neighborhood of $25,000-35,000 not previously budgeted that would be the city’s monetary cost if the grant was awarded.”
The meeting will start 5:30 p.m. in the Starkville City Hall courtroom.