Editor's View: Why I'm Not Voting, But Why You Should

SDN Editor Ryan Phillips

I want to preface this column by saying after only a few short weeks of living here, I haven't registered to vote as a Starkville resident. I didn't feel it would be fair that I have a say in municipal elections with such a limited knowledge of the place and people.

For now, I am electing to remain a paid observer, in order to cover the election season with as much personal detachment and objectivity as possible. This isn’t to say I don’t vote. I have participated in every election since I first registered. But being new to town and holding the position of the SDN's editor, I am sitting this one out.

That being said, the first candidate forum featuring several running for the Starkville Board of Aldermen from Wards 1 and 2, raised many important topics and gave voters insight into the approach each candidate will take.

Each candidate should be applauded for having the guts to participate in a public event, especially in a day and age where congressmen serving at the national level tend to shy away from personal interaction at the local level. I am honest when I say I was slightly disappointed in the absence of Ward 2 Alderman and independent candidate Lisa Wynn at the event, primarily because I live in Ward 2. But she was previously elected to the position, so I’m sure she knows what she’s doing.

The Starkville-Oktibbeha Voter Education Initiative and Greater Starkville Development Partnership should also be commended for hosting the event, along with those planned for the future. If the next two are anything like the first, Starkville should count itself lucky to have people that care enough to organize it.

Of the myriad issues that often send me ranting to whoever will listen, business was bound to come up at the forum.

Alderman Ben Carver, the incumbent from Ward 1, briefly touched on an issue that I have already written several columns about, which is the need for increased manufacturing and the well-paying blue collar jobs that come with it. It’s a conversation that desperately needs to be had at city hall and discussing it with an election on the line is a great way to gauge the priorities of the electorate.

The economy in Oktibbeha County is tailored to a transient population, with low-paying retail jobs making up the lion’s share of employment opportunities in the local economy. Not everyone is qualified to make $80,000 a year teaching quantum physics at a major university, but few options are had outside of the MSU campus and the menagerie of law offices, boutiques and sweet shops that fill downtown.

A college town can make the mistake of focusing its economy on big job-driving universities, but those without a college education should have comparable employment with a livable wage and it is the job of elected officials to make sure that happens.

Like Carver said, I do believe our greatest challenge is filling out Starkville’s industrial parks - especially the latest proposal that has generated so much debate. Those elected in the coming months must make it a priority to bridge the gap and help grow the middle class in Starkville, or risk widening the gulf between upper middle class MSU employees and lower income residents living on unpaved roads annexed into the city limits.

I urge those voting to press their candidates to expound upon and make clear their approach to business. Since the city already seems to be at odds with MSU - as many candidates have said - it can’t afford to burn more bridges with the business community.

Another often-overlooked issue discussed at the forum was management of the Starkville Municipal Airport. Candidates had conflicting answers on the issues, with little provided in the way of concrete action or understanding, which could be indicative of the problem facing not only the local airport here, but other small-scale municipal airports.

Ward 1 candidate Christine Williams gave what I thought to be the most down-to-earth response on the subject, saying, “We have to figure out as a community, what that airport does, and why it’s important to our community, if it’s important to our community.”

It’s easy and makes for a good sound bite to say the city and all of its operations are on the right path, but I feel having a common sense approach to the airport would only serve to boost the local economy. Considering the airport has struggled to keep an operator and recently lost its Hertz Car Rental facility, saying that everything is going swell is just seeing the issue through rose-colored glasses.

Airports should be built and run with an attitude driven by expansion, which deflates the argument that our local facility is good as is.

A functional and efficient municipal airport with more than the basic offerings can also be used as a recruiting tool for the aforementioned manufacturers who are wary about setting up shop in Starkville. A growing city needs a launching point for executives looking to invest, but with too little time to drive across the country.

Short flight taxi services are also increasing in popularity, and who’s to say the future couldn’t bring something like that to a busy college town like Starkville? The tourism possibilities really are endless.

As election day nears, I encourage all of our readers to attend the next two forums on April 10 and April 19. It is crucial for you to be engaged and vote … even if the editor of your local daily newspaper chooses not to.