Aldermen approve SPD temp. move amid controversy

Austin Montgomery
Staff Writer

The Starkville Police Department finalized all of its temporary locations for when the department's current headquarters gets renovated after aldermen approved a vacant space in City Hall, while forgoing an additional private space at Tuesday's board meeting.

Aldermen approved spending just over $23,000 to prepare the vacant second floor space in City Hall for SPD command staff and administrative personnel in a 4 to 3 vote. Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard, Vice Mayor-Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Henry Vaughn voted against the motion.

The motion paves the way for adding electrical infrastructure and air conditioning to the 2,300 square foot space from the information and technology fund and the municipal building fund in the city's budget. The space will be SPD's sixth temporary location across Starkville with additional sites at two substations on Long and Louisville Streets, Starkville Fire Department Station 5, the annex at the Starkville Sportsplex and storage space at Synergetics.

Following the vote, aldermen shied away from occupying an additional seventh space—1,000 square feet of commercial office space at South Park Plaza on Louisville Street—after property owner and former city employee Lynn Spruill previously offered the space to SPD at no additional cost to taxpayers aside from utility costs.

Spruill speculated over social media during the meeting that the city's decision to forgo the prospective donation was political in nature. She previously worked as the city's chief administrative officer from 2006 to 2013. Aldermen voted to fire Spruill in 2013, citing no reason for the firing. Mayor Parker Wiseman vetoed the firing at the time, but aldermen voted to override the veto.

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn, Ward 3 Alderman David Little and Vaughn voted against the in-kind donation, a donation which Wiseman speculated could have translated to an around $15,000 contribution to the city. Spruill recently had a tenant vacate the commercial space and offered it to the city after learning of the ongoing search for temporary SPD spaces.

Wynn cited Spruill's filing of multiple Mississippi Ethics Commission complaints against the board as a reason for voting against accepting the space. In April, a preliminary MEC ruling found city leaders violated the Open Meetings Act in January 2015 following an executive session meeting relating to a city employee's job performance and possible misuse of city funds. No action was taken following the preliminary ruling.

Perkins said emphatically before the vote approving the sixth additional space was "strictly a business decision," and spoke passionately in favor of Spruill's offered space. He reiterated the move would have come at no additional cost to the city.

SPD will occupy the City Hall space for 10 months, and move in from June 29 to July 1. Construction will begin mid-July, and be completed by April 2017. Requests for contractor proposals will come later this month, and a notice to proceed on the project is expected to be issued in July.

The project pressed ahead May 3 after aldermen voted 5 to 2 in favor of a 1-mill tax increase to net the needed $2.4 million in the project's overall $5.4 million budget. In April, city leaders asked state legislators for assistance, but the appropriations request was denied, prompting the tax increase. The increase will come off the city's tax roll after debts on the project are satisfied.