A YEAR IN THE BOOKS: Spruill reflects on first year in office


Mayor Lynn Spruill stands in front of City Hall on Tuesday, which marked a full year since she was sworn in as the city’s first female mayor (Photo by Ryan Phillips, SDN)

By: 
RYAN PHILLIPS
SDN EDITOR

An old cliche says that “it’s lonely at the top.”

But the view of buzzing storefronts in downtown Starkville from the top-floor mayor’s office in City Hall is one of the best vantage points to see a town in the midst of change and growth.

Mayor Lynn Spruill’s office is decorated with several festive Mississippi State cowbells and her desk is overflowing with the city’s business. Resting against the wall on the floor is a portrait of the massive crowd at the 2018 Bulldog Bash, which was held in the city’s downtown for the first time ever during Spruill’s first year in office.

Spruill sat down with the Starkville Daily News on Tuesday, which marked a full year since she was sworn in as the city’s first female mayor - a milestone she does not take lightly.

With her signature large Sonic Diet Coke mixed with Diet Dr. Pepper, Spruill reflected on her first year holding the city’s highest office.

LOOKING BACK

The first year in office went by quickly for Spruill and was not without its bumps in the road as she and the Board of Aldermen addressed several major and contentious issues in a short span.

“It did go by really fast, but we’ve done a lot and packed a whole lot in that time that it feels like longer,” Spruill commented on the year. “When I was doing this before (as mayor of Addison, Texas), I realized time flies, but that has to do with getting old, too.”

When asked about her proudest moment, she pointed to the $7 million bond issue by the Board of Aldermen for the industrial park, but boasted that the funnest accomplishment has been the street piano on the city’s Main Street in front of the Starkville Community Theatre.

The old piano, donated to the city by Jim McKell, has since been painted to feature a yellow octopus and a sign saying “Play Me.” 

The piano has become a popular attraction downtown and music can fill the air at any time of day.

Spruill said taking an unconventional approach to boosting the arts community had been overlooked in the past, which she hopes to remedy with concepts like the street piano and murals.

“The piano was such a surprise how much everybody loved it and responded to it, so if we can harness that type of energy and do it throughout the community in a positive way,” she said. “Music is powerful, it’s fun and really is a unifying source.”

Her efforts to show support for the arts community are sure to continue and she plans to take what she has learned in the past year and use it to find ideas for future projects.

She then pointed to installations like the recent mural on Lampkin Street painted by local artist Joseph MacGown to underscore the state of the city’s flourishing arts community.

“I can’t draw a stick, but there are people who are so talented in this community and I want to see that kind of stuff start to blossom, you know, serendipity, you walk down the street and who knew it was there,” she said. “I want the university to come back and do another mural on the (Restaurant Tyler) wall, too.”

DIFFERENCES

On numerous occasions, Spruill has praised the previous administration of Parker Wiseman.

But looking back on her short time in office, she alluded to a couple of accomplishments that changed the way the city conducts its business.

“I think we’ve had a buy-in from the board on things like consent agendas, which the previous administration was not able to get,” Spruill said about streamlining the process during Board of Aldermen meetings. “I think the work session is certainly one of those, I still think there is value to that.”

While not every new policy has gone smoothly for the first-term mayor, the role of the office has been modified slightly to one of facilitator, according to Spruill.

“I’ve tried as mayor to stay out of more stuff and put more stuff on the board because I think there are things I’m perfectly willing to say was my idea and take the heat for, but for the most part, letting them take that lead on things,” she said.

Spruill previously served as the city’s chief administrative officer beginning with the Dan Camp administration and running through Wiseman’s first term, but said now that the office doesn’t exist, it raises the premium put by each alderman on individual projects they would like to see come to fruition.

She said this could be seen with interest shown from individual aldermen, including Ward 4’s Jason Walker, who has shown a vocal interest in the city’s parks; Ward 5’s Patrick Miller, who has taken the lead on the city’s residential parking ordinance and Ward 2’s Sandra Sistrunk, who keeps watch over the city budget.

“You just have to keep pushing,” she said. “The residential parking ordinance is one, cleaning up our ordinances for the architectural review for the code change is another we need to push along. It takes time, it takes people and is just one of those things you need to keep nudging and (being a facilitator) is one of the roles I fill in this.”

Spruill admittedly doesn’t like to dwell on things that could have been, but did reflect on one thing she would have done differently during her first year.

After pausing a moment to think, Spruill reflected back on the city’s first gay Pride parade, which received widespread attention when the Board of Aldermen voted it down this past spring before turning around and approving it with a second vote 4-3 with Spruill serving as the tiebreaker.

She said the problems all boiled down to issues of communication with those on the Board of Aldermen.

“I was chastised for not telling them about the Pride parade and I did not since it wasn’t something that I had initiated,” she said. “I didn’t think it was something of my mind to do. I should have known better but beyond that, that’s not who I am, I don’t dwell on that kind of stuff, I compartmentalize it and move on.”

COMING UP

With her first year in the books, Spruill said there will be at least three big issues for the city to address in the coming year.

These include a potential annexation, the construction of a new sports facility and infrastructure improvements to the city’s aging water and sewer systems.

To make these three projects come to pass, though, Spruill said the Board of Aldermen will need to be on the same page and the community will need to support the efforts that will ultimately improve their quality of life.

“The sewer, the water improvements are going to take a rate increase and the implementation of the sports facility is going to take a tax ad valorem increase,” she said. “I think enough members of this board are willing to make this happen, but we’ve got to follow through on our promise. If we are going to raise this 2 mills, 3 mills and it’s going to go out there, we’ve got to show something coming out of the ground and show something of value.”

Spruill also expressed optimism for what the recent success of Mississippi State athletics could mean for the future of Starkville - a local economy that depends on tourism dollars generated by events.

“When I grew up here, we were kind of the SEC jokes, we never won football games,” Spruill said reminiscing on MSU athletics. “This whole (Dak Prescott) thing I got to experience. I watched that occur and to feel that, I had never felt it, Starkville had never felt it. It was amazing, so fast forward to today and the things we’ve been experiencing.”

An endearing memory that will always stand out in Spruill’s mind is the victory of the MSU Women’s Basketball team over powerhouse UConn in the first round of the 2017 Women’s Final Four.

She attended the game and sat for over an hour after the final buzzer sounded and said she would never forget the experience and what it meant for her city.

“All of that plays to the energy with the mural on the wall, the energy that comes with that can’t be underestimated,” she said. “You’ve got to acknowledge what that does. That sense of community and university.” 

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