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Miss. Supreme Court denies municipal appeal

February 11, 2013

Starkville officials were notified Monday that the Mississippi Supreme Court granted the city’s motion for expedited dismissal of an untimely appeal of its municipal facility construction plan.

A panel consisting of Chief Justice William L. Waller Jr. and Associate Justices Ann H. Lamar and David A. Chandler dismissed William McGovern’s motion to strike the city’s motion and rendered the city’s motion for expedited hearing of the case moot.

In December, 14th Chancery District Judge Jim Davidson Jr. ruled in favor of the city’s $8 million lease-purchase plan to use certificates of participation as a funding mechanism for construction of a new city hall and conversion of the current one into a renovated police station.

A motion for the plan passed last June after lengthy debate between members of the Starkville Board of Aldermen by a 4-3 margin.

Shortly after McGovern filed an appeal of Davidson’s ruling to the high court on Jan. 9, Starkville City Attorney Chris Latimer filed the motion to immediately dismiss the appeal, contending that the deadline to file an appeal expired Jan. 7. Latimer also contended that McGovern failed to file the bond necessary to satisfy jurisdictional requirements.

According to the agreement, the city will use a combination of budgeted funds, retired debt and projected increasing future sales tax revenue to make monthly payments for the first three years of the contract before phasing out tax revenue as a source after 2015. Once the 20-year-payment plan is satisfied, the city will take ownership of the facility.

Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said groundbreaking of the new facility will begin “as soon as it is physically possible to do so.”

“It’s an exciting time for us as we look to break ground and move forward with building projects that are going to meet the facility needs of the city for a generation to come without raising taxes,” Wiseman added.

Shortly after the board’s authorization of the construction payment plan, McGovern filed an objection to Oktibbeha County Chancery Court and an appeal to the Mississippi Ethics Commission. After a Nov. 1 hearing, Davidson in his judgment refuted McGovern’s allegations that the board violated the Mississippi Open Meetings Act and left relevant sections in the contract blank. Davidson said the open meetings complaint could only be properly determined by the MEC and while he agreed the blank sections of the contract could create suspicion of impropriety, they do not make the contract illegal. He said the board would have been better served by clarifying the certificates of participation procedure and the blank sections of the contract directly to the public before authorizing the contract.

McGovern, represented by local attorney Charles Yoste, was the sole listed complainant in each appeal, but Davidson noted in his ruling that 347 other objectors joined McGovern. 

Two weeks after McGovern and city representation held the hearing before Davidson, MEC ruled the city violated three sections of state code in failing to keep minutes for public meetings, provide proper notice of meetings and strictly comply with the Open Meetings Act and ordered the board of aldermen to refrain from further violations.

After Davidson’s ruling was made known to aldermen, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins moved to rescind all action pertaining to the certificates of participation and launch a bond referendum for a $3.5 million police facility at the board’s Dec. 20 meeting. The board rejected the motion.

Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas, a vocal proponent of the construction plan from its early stages, said he was pleased with the court’s decision.

“With the hard-earned taxpayer money spent on litigation to defend this case, we could have done some good things like pave roads … yet we’ve been defending a lawsuit. There are disputes that are justifiable and needed … but when you’re fighting issues that are brought up because it’s one person’s opinion versus the other, I’m glad we don’t have to spend any more hard-earned taxpayer dollars on this at the Supreme Court level,” Dumas said. “This is not about (McGovern and his fellow objectors.) This is about the city of Starkville and the fact that we can move on with a project that, once completed, 99 percent of the city residents will be proud to call home.”

Calls to McGovern went unanswered as of press time.

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