Wiseman vetoes City Hall usage restrictions

Staff Writer

Mayor Parker Wiseman issued a veto Monday after a resolution passed at the Jan. 5 Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting restricting City Hall use by civic groups.

The restrictive ordinance would have limited group access to the building—110 W. Main Street—to the exterior plaza, without foyer or restroom access on the first floor of the building.

The highly contested ordinance passed by a vote of 4 to 3. The four supporting the resolution were Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins, Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn, Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard and Ward 2 Alderman LIsa Wynn. Those opposed were Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 3 Alderman David Little and Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker.

"The resolution passed by the [board] on Jan. 5 prohibits the use of City Hall meeting spaces by outside groups," Wiseman said in a statement. "While it is understandable that rules and regulations must govern the use of meeting spaces in City Hall, it is counterintuitive that the most public building in the city should be closed to use by the public."

City Hall has two meeting rooms on the second floor of the building—one being a larger conference room—and the building also houses two smaller meeting rooms in the basement level of the building. The first floor holds an open foyer reception area that leads to a large Municipal Courtroom.

Those in supported the resolution cited security concerns over passing a restrictive ordinance. There is no security system in City Hall, according to Wynn.

"There are a lot of open desks [upstairs] all of our mailboxes are open there," Maynard said at the meeting. "The mayor's administrative assistant's desk is there. I personally think there are some security issues we would need to address before we consider utilizing that space for public use."

Wiseman pointed out that the Oktibbeha County Courthouse, the Greater Starkville Development Partnership and the office buildings of three local banks all host available meeting space for outside groups.

"If those public and private organizations are able to manage the security concerns associated with accommodating the public in their facilities, then I have no doubt that the city can as well," Wiseman said.

Other city facilities open to the public, like the Sportsplex on Lynn Lane, are available to rent out for group events. The complex utilizes a closed circuit television camera system and requires law enforcement be present during outside events, according to Starkville Parks and Recreation Director Herman Peters.

Before the Jan. 5 meeting, former Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk conducted a public poll via Twitter to ask users, "Should Starkville allow third parties to use the new City Hall public space for events with reasonable fees and conditions?" 30 of 31 respondents replied in favor of allowing outside usage of the building with "reasonable fees and conditions."

"To say that it's a security issue and people should not be allowed to use the space is shortsighted," Sistrunk said at the meeting. "It sells our city short."

Leading up to the vote on Jan. 5, Wiseman was outspoken in his support for allowing outside group access to the building. If the capitol building in Jackson could be open to the state's 3 million residents, a modified resolution allowing public access in Starkville could be passed, he said.

"City Hall is paid for by the public," Wiseman said in the statement. "It exists for the benefit of the public. Accordingly, our efforts should be spent in trying to maximize rather than eliminate public participation in the building. Therefore, I veto the motion to approve the resolution prohibiting third party use of City Hall meeting space."

The board could override Wiseman's veto with a vote of 5 to 2 in favor of overriding the mayor's action. The next meeting will be at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 19 at City Hall, 110 W. Main Street.