By NATHAN GREGORY
A Starkville man has filed a bill of exceptions appeal to Oktibbeha County Circuit Court against the city in relation to aldermen approving a 20-year lease plan for construction of a new municipal complex.
William McGovern, through local attorney Charles Yoste, submitted the appeal June 15. No date has been set for a hearing. A judge to hear the case has not yet been named.
Mississippi code section 11-51-75 grants citizens aggrieved by a municipal government’s decision to file an appeal within 10 days of the decision.
On June 5, board members approved the resolution to use a public-private partnership to address inadequacies in the city’s police and municipal facilities by constructing a $6.7 million city hall and renovating the current one to be used as an expanded police station. The measure passed in a 4-3 vote, with Aldermen Ben Carver, Roy A. Perkins and Henry Vaughn opposed.
McGovern said his intent is not to keep Starkville Police Department from having better facilities, but to allow an open, democratic process to take place.
“I’m all about having people decide in open elections what they want to do. This is in no way a reflection on trying to keep the police department from getting what they need,” McGovern said. “If the police could ever come out and say ‘This is what we need to be competitive and to solve crimes in Starkville,’ I don’t care what it is or what it costs. I would be 100 percent for it if you got to vote on it.”
The June 5 decision came eight months after a vote for a bond issue to raise property taxes and use those funds to construct an $8.45 million police facility failed to reach the mandatory 60-percent-plus-one-vote majority. Voters rejected the issue 55 percent to 45 percent. SPD Chief David Lindley supported having a vote on the issue.
A vote in 2006 on a bond issue for municipal improvements also failed despite almost reaching that majority than the 2011 referendum.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said City Attorney Chris Latimer will handle the case, with legal consulting provided by a team of attorneys from the Jones Walker firm.
“Our attorneys are confident that there is no legal issue with the action that the city has taken and that the bill of exceptions is without merit,” Wiseman said.
McGovern said the board forced the measure through and ignored the voters’ voice.
“If we got to vote on the justice complex and wanted that, that’s fine. But doing it like they’re doing it, I just believe in a democracy that if you do these things I just think there’s a right and a wrong way to do them. If you’re not going to do it the right way, you have a problem with me,” McGovern said. “I think the people ought to get to vote on these things and that’s what I’ve been for from the very beginning. If it were being done correctly I wouldn’t have any problem with it. I’m not a troublemaker; I just want the process to be done openly. If it’s done openly, I don’t care.”
The project will be financed through the issuance of certificates of participation. Once the city’s obligation to fulfill lease payments is met, it will own the facility.
The public-private partnership with Columbus-based West Brothers Construction does not involve any sort of ad valorem tax increase, Ward 5 Jeremiah Dumas said.
“It’s unfortunate that there are people against change so much that they’ll do anything to stop it, even in the event that it’s a great project that will not compromise their financial position one bit,” Dumas said. “I hope we can move through this process quickly and come to a solution that is in our favor so we can move forward and start breaking ground. I feel very strongly about the team we put together to work on this. These are some of the best folks in the state. We have good eyes looking at this thing. There’s no doubt that this is an unconventional way of doing things and not something you hear about every day, and I think the discomfort is in that.”
Ward 2 Alderman and vice-mayor Sandra Sistrunk agreed that the resolution as presented June 5 was legitimate and lawful.
“There were multiple attorneys who reviewed this from multiple points of interest,” Sistrunk said. “All of them advised us that the information presented at the board table was sufficient to withstand legal challenge.”
Calls to Yoste were not returned as of press time.