Opinion: The Great Sturgis Garage Sale Kerfuffle

The Sturgis Board of Aldermen met last week for its monthly meeting (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

The board room in the Sturgis Town Hall isn’t big. In listening to conversations about the capacity of the room, it can hold roughly 33 people.

But last Tuesday night, it was standing room only as several people showed up to the often under-attended meeting. The majority of those in the board room were there primarily to express their disapproval of an ordinance recently passed by the town’s Board of Aldermen concerning how those living in the city limits can conduct yard sales.

In short, the new regulations require a paid permit to hold a yard sale/garage sale, while putting limits on how often they can be held. Holding a yard sale now carries a $25 price tag, and permits can’t be issued more than once every 90 days.

Innocent enough, right?

What is fascinating to watch as this storyline plays out is the intensity by which the public seems to disapprove of the ordinance as it stands. Judging solely on the optics, an uninformed citizen reading Facebook comments would think the town’s entire governing body was up to something crooked.

“Absurd ! Doesn't sound like they thought this one through! A person can't buy a permit but every 90 days?” one Facebook comment read.

Another said “Just sounds like bull**** to me. Dumb shot (sic) just because someone it trying to make a dime. The people who voted for this should be ashamed this really a big problem for this city really. Glad I don't live there.”

The latter comment followed the same trend as many of the others online who disagreed with the small town’s decision: they don’t live there.

Sturgis Mayor Billy Blankenship took the brunt of frustration - like a champ, I might add - from the handful of people who attended the meeting solely to voice their opposition to the decision, which was passed unanimously by the Board of Aldermen in early January.

Blankenship made an eloquent argument for keeping the debate civil, while underscoring the notion that the entire Board of Aldermen (including the mayor) ran unopposed in the last election. Townspeople had a chance to speak out against the ordinance before it was signed into law, but no one took advantage of the opportunity, plain and simple.

He called the comments on social media “shameful,” and told those in attendance “If you have a problem, come sit in a board meeting and find out why we can’t do something.”

Right on, Mr. Mayor.

At least one person did answer, “That’s why I’m here,” and that person should be commended for participating, at the very least.

As a proponent of civic engagement, I can’t praise Blankenship enough for taking this stance and for trying to meet citizens in the middle with talking about potential exemptions to the ordinance. In a specific order, those are the two most important things a mayor is supposed to do: listen, then act.

Blankenship inherited a less-than-ideal situation, saying the town hasn’t run a balanced budget in 25 years and overspends the roughly $20,000 it brings in each year. This isn’t an isolated problem for the town of Sturgis, but one facing scores of small towns and communities across the country.

In a small town with a razor-thin budget, every penny helps, but that isn’t the point of this editorial. Rather, involvement in local politics - even by something as simple as voting - is the best way to effect change in the world around you.

I believe the lack thereof is what is truly wrong with modern society, when someone vehemently argues and name-calls on social media, then fails to show up to a public meeting when the chips are on the table. It’s weak at best and lazy at worst.

Again, I applaud the Sturgis Board of Aldermen and the town’s mayor for how they handled criticism, exhibiting empathy and a firm willingness to meet in the middle without fully compromising its principles and decisions.

Also, I encourage the people of this small corner of Oktibbeha County to participate in the process before throwing around complaints on social media.

Yes, as an American, you do have a right to be a keyboard-bound, armchair political activist, but when you really get down to it, you are part of the problem.

- Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of either paper, or their staffs.