Opinion: Putting the ‘work’ in work session

Ryan Phillips

SDN Editor

It’s been roughly a year since Mayor Lynn Spruill and a newly-elected Board of Aldermen began holding Friday work sessions ahead of regular meetings on Tuesdays. 

The concept has been contentious, received criticism from some on the board who question its efficacy and has presented yet another partition separating competing factions on the board. 

At Friday’s work session, only the mayor and three aldermen were in attendance: Ward 2’s Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4’s Jason Walker and Ward 5’s Patrick Miller. These are the faces that typically frequent the informal meetings, with sparse to moderate attendance from the others who were absent Friday. 

I personally, and from a newspaper standpoint, respect the concept and think it is beneficial to not only help city leaders get in front of the issues on the agenda for the upcoming meeting, but to also give the community additional access to their elected officials while providing transparency to the process of representative democracy at the local level. 

I do acknowledge that all of the city’s seven aldermen have day jobs and other projects taking up their time during the week, so it is understandable that attendance and interest has been somewhat shaky in the first year of the Spruill administration. 

But I do hope the aldermen will continue to give it a chance and work to refine the concept to best meet the needs and schedules of everyone involved. After all, each alderman and the mayor were elected to do this sort of thing and any making the argument that they don’t have the time should probably reconsider holding elected office. 

The debate is going to come up soon, possibly Tuesday, and I urge each alderman to come prepared with questions and concerns, but above all else, with potential solutions. 

I thought Friday’s work session was informative, with Dr. Jason Barrett of the MSU Extension Service presenting his hypothetical findings concerning potential changes to the city’s water and sewer rates, the revenue from which could fund much-needed infrastructure improvements. 

But when I called Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A’. Perkins, who was not in attendance Friday, I found that he would be going into Tuesday’s meeting without having heard any of the possible scenarios. 

This is in no way saying the vice mayor dodged the meeting intentionally, because he is a busy man both on the campaign trail running for Chancery Court judge and practicing law. But I think this isolated instance begs the need for a fresh dialogue among the Board of Aldermen to figure out the most effective approach for these meetings from an attendance standpoint.

It’s been a year, so opening up the lines of communication on the issue of work sessions could be healthy for our aldermen.  

Now consider this. Work sessions are held at noon on the Friday ahead of regular meetings, with the idea that a Friday lunch hour should be fairly open for all of the elected officials and other city administrators. 

The meetings are normally brief - at least compared to regular meetings - so I think the possibility of changing up days and times could help instead of casting off the concept altogether. 

For all I care, work sessions could be held at 8 a.m. on Saturday mornings or the Monday before the regular meetings. But it can be frustrating when little feedback is kicked around. 

Instead, work sessions seem to be viewed as an ineffective nuisance by some. If that is the case, those city officials should speak up and offer solutions to improve the concept or work to meet others in the middle to find a common ground for the people they serve. 

That’s what you were elected to do, right? 

I leave you with a quote from State Rep. Cheikh Taylor, who said something at the community legislative forum the other night that I think offers a solution to the aforementioned problem of elected officials more interested in holding a title than taking action with it. 

“Vote your interests,” he said. 

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 reflect the views and opinions of either newspaper or their staffs.