By CARL SMITH
Following his previous commitment, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman vetoed a board order Thursday to remove the emergency access gate located at Douglas McArthur Drive and Stark Road.
Wiseman’s veto sets up a potential board override during the city’s next meeting on Oct. 16 unless aldermen deem it necessary to hold a special-call meeting in the meantime.
Although a supermajority — in this instance, five of seven votes — is required to override a mayor’s veto, a recent attorney general’s opinion states abstentions from a vote count toward an override. If a future override motion resulted in the same Sept. 18 vote breakdown, it would pass due to the opinion.
Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins said he will request that the override be placed on the Oct. 16 board of aldermen’s agenda due to the gate’s impact on public safety.
“I strongly disagree with the mayor’s veto, and I am very hopeful the board will have the necessary vote to override it,” Perkins said Thursday. “The issue is a matter of public safety. The board, in my opinion, showed very good leadership by taking the necessary and proper action to promote (public safety) of the citizens of Starkville.”
The Starkville Board of Aldermen passed a resolution to close portions of Maple Drive, Redbud Drive and Douglas McArthur Drive at the subdivision’s entrance on Stark Road in 1999. One year later, the board re-affirmed its denial of public access and explicitly reserved all vehicular access onto Douglas McArthur Road for emergency personnel. For more than five years, efforts to limit traffic to emergency vehicles proved ineffective, and the city installed a gate at the intersection.
“It is my personal knowledge in talking with … residents of Green Oaks that the gate in place has been sporadic in its operation. I’ve had more than one conversation with residents with personal knowledge that the gate has failed to work when emergency access was needed. The resident in question said the gate failed to operate on many instances,” Perkins said. “With that being said, we have a duty to take reasonable action to ensure emergency access. The emergency gate is sporadic in its operation. This type of failure creates a liability for the city in meeting (safety) obligations. Removing the gate will fully ensure that residents of Green Oaks will have as immediate of a response from police, fire and ambulance providers as the city can manage, given its resources.”
On Sept. 18, the board voted 3-2 to remove the gate and open Douglas McArthur Drive to emergency and city vehicles. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey and Perkins voted in favor of the measure, while Ward 1 Aldermen Ben Carver, Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker voted against it. Two city representatives — Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn — abstained from the vote.
“In the years following the installation of the emergency access gate, the law has been effectively enforced,” Wiseman stated in the veto.
“Based on the 13-year history of the issue, it is probable that if the gate was removed, non-emergency traffic through the intersection would again become an enforcement issue. Accordingly, I veto the order to remove the gate.”
Perkins said he reluctantly voted for the three-street closure in 1999 but attempted to re-open access less than 90 days later. That motion, he said, failed due to a lack of a board second.
“It is my understanding that city staff have been unable to locate any board minutes that authorize installation of the gate. I do not recall any board action that authorized any installation,” Perkins said. “These streets … they’re paid for by taxpayer dollars for (the) entire community. Even though we represent a specific ward, we represent the entire city. We have to reach beyond our geographic bounds. This is the first opportunity of any kind where we’ve had opportunity to improve emergency access since the streets were closed. I think removing gate would not disallow, interfere or impede any emergency (personnel). I wish the mayor had joined the majority of aldermen in showing leadership for the betterment city.
“Further, it is my opinion mayor has been inconsistent in his position on city matters. Point in question: when came to matter of ordinance allowing sale of alcohol on Sunday. The mayor said he was not going to veto matter even though there was community interest in having the matter vetoed (from) churches, pastors and community leaders,” he added. “The mayor said that was a board matter. Now, we talk about a public safety matter where (response time) counts, and we’re only talking about the removal of gate that has every rational basis for the governing body to embrace.”
On Sept. 18, Dumas abstained from the vote due to lingering legal questions. That night, he said it is “awful public policy to close roads” and he agreed they should have never been closed.
“On the emergency-access side, I’m still not convinced legally whether or not it would be best to open them,” he said in September. “Those are taxpayer streets, and they should be maintained as such, but I’m still not sure on the emergency side.”
Thursday, Dumas said he has yet to decide how to vote when called upon for an override, but he said he will not abstain.
A phone call to Vaughn went unreturned as of press time.