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Legal opposition over city hall plan ongoing

March 3, 2013

Local attorney Charles Yoste confirmed he has filed a petition to the Mississippi Supreme Court to reconsider its dismissal of an appeal regarding the city of Starkville’s municipal facility construction plan.

Yoste, representing Starkville resident William McGovern, said he filed the petition two weeks after the Court officially denied the appeal Feb. 6.

A panel consisting of Chief Justice William L. Waller Jr. and Associate Justices David A. Chandler and Ann H. Lamar dismissed McGovern’s motion to strike the Dec. 18 ruling 14th Chancery District Judge Jim Davidson Jr. issued in favor of the city on the grounds that the appeal was not filed until Jan. 9, two days after the Jan. 7 deadline.

After a majority of the Starkville Board of Aldermen authorized an $8 million lease-purchase payment option to fund construction of a new city hall and renovation of the current city hall to be converted into an expanded police station, McGovern filed an objection to Oktibbeha County Chancery Court and an appeal to the Mississippi Ethics Commission on the grounds that the board violated open meetings laws.

After the objection was heard Nov. 1, the MEC issued a final order to the board Dec. 7, stating it had violated three sections of state code and mandating the board and its committees to refrain from further violations. In the order, MEC Executive Director Tom Hood stated the board violated Miss. Code Section 25-41-11 by failing to maintain minutes of a board retreat where discussion of the municipal complex plan was held and said the board also violated Miss. Code Section 25-41-13 by failing to post notice of the board retreats. Further, Hood found the city violated Miss. Code Section 25-41-5 when its municipal planning and audit and budget committees failed to prepare minutes and provide official notice of their meetings.

Davidson said in his judgment the role of a chancery court was not to determine the wisdom or to second guess the actions of a governing body.

“This Court cannot, likewise, impose its own opinion about the necessity of the project or the merits of the law itself,” Davidson stated. “Based on the issues presented … the Court finds that the due process requirements of law have been met; that taxpayer citizens had all the information available to them and ample opportunity to become informed; that the alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act are collateral and have no bearing upon the ultimate decision…”

Shortly after the board learned of Davidson’s ruling, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins — a dissenter of the municipal construction funding plan — moved to rescind all previous board action pertaining to the public-private partnership and launch a bond referendum for a $3.5 million police station to be voted on during the upcoming June 4 city election date. A majority of the board rejected his motion.

Mayor Parker Wiseman said the city filed a response to the petition Tuesday and said he believed the Court would render a decision within the month.

“The Court typically handles motions of this nature pretty quickly, so we expect to hear the court’s ruling sometime soon,” Wiseman said.

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