By BRIAN HAWKINS
Surveys submitted by residents who took tours of City Hall last Friday and on Tuesday show they believe new municipal government facilities are needed.
City officials made public copies of all the surveys submitted by those taking the tours, which were organized by the Municipal Complex Advisory Committee to give residents an opportunity to view what the panel’s members described as cramped and deteriorating conditions in the more than 70-year-old building.
A combined 21 people took the City Hall tours on Friday and Tuesday, but only a few completed the surveys to give of their impressions of the building and its condition, said Mayor Parker Wiseman late Wednesday.
The City Hall building, located at 101 W. Lampkin St. across from First Baptist Church, was originally constructed as a National Guard Armory in 1939 and donated to the city in 1968.
All the surveys submitted following the tours stated that new municipal facilities were definitely needed, particularly to present a more professional image of Starkville’s municipal government, give city departments — particularly the Police Department and Municipal Court — much-needed space and to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The current City Hall is not ADA-compliant, and some areas of the building are not accessible to the disabled.
Concerns were voiced about lack of secure holding areas for inmates in both the Police Department and Municipal Court, particularly with regard to public safety.
Here’s a rundown of some of the survey comments about City Hall:
• “Much more space and improved conditions are badly needed.”
• “I think the city definitely needs newer, larger and use-appropriate facilities... A facility should provide accommodation for citizens with disabilities. This is a big problem. A newer, larger facility seems long overdue.”
• “Do not renovate this building. The city needs a new facility to meet the needs of our city. We are placing people in danger daily with Municipal Court. I’m highly in favor of a new building to meet the progress of Starkville.”
• “An adequately sized building designed for growth...” is needed. “It should be located in or near downtown. Aesthetically, it should be designed to reflect the pride we should take in our city.”
• “Not enough room to provide proper air of professionalism needed.”
• It is “unacceptable that City Hall that creates and enforces rules and regulations does not meet code standards.”
• “The city has outgrown its facilities. The city’s facilities are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even though the city employees strive to meet the needs of the city’s handicapped citizens, the fact remains that those citizens lack meaningful access to many of the city offices. Also there are many safety issues in the building, including outdated electrical wiring, which presents a serious fire hazard.”
“A new facility needs to be built in order for the city government to function effectively. A new city hall needs to be located in a central location — preferably in the downtown area. In a city that lacks public transportation services, a central location is of vital importance.”
Over the last decade, the core of the municipal complex debate has focused on the need for facilities for the Police Department and Municipal Court.
Those residents who took the tour and submitted the surveys had the following things to say about the SPD and court facilities (some survey responses were similar, so not all were quoted):
• “Separation of the Mayor’s Office and other city services from the Police Department is acceptable, but both should be accessible. This means both should be located within the traditional urban core. If separated, the Municipal Court should be located within the PD.
• The Municipal Court is “unsafe and insufficient. There is not separation between the public and parties involved in a trial. Records are not kept in a secure way... Not a very dignified space.”
“The Police Department is clearly trying hard to make effective use of cramped and outdated facilities.”
• One respondent noted multiple concerns about the Municipal Court, including lack of a secure prisoner holding area, no private areas for client-attorney meetings, lack of security cameras and the only handicapped accessible entrance to City Hall being through the courtroom.
“Prisoners sit along a wall, just a few feet away from the courtroom audience, including family and friends of victims and non-prisoner defendants and statutory violators. ... There are not any private attorney consultation areas. This a major ethical concern, with its potential for violating attorney-client privilege.”
Regarding the Police Department, that same respondent noted the sharing of small office spaces with no storage, “mold and dust concerns throughout the building,” lack of room for “secure police evidence storage,” inadequate bathroom facilities, an insufficient officer briefing room and potential fire hazards from outdated electrical wiring.
“For example, people who are being booked for a crime needing to use the restroom are escorted past the evidence and narcotics lockers and must go up three steps. If they are being booked for intoxication charges, there is a serious risk of injury.”
• “Our Police Department deals with negative issues/people all day as a service to our city and citizens. They need a positive ‘refuge’ to be able to go in order to keep morale up among our police force.
“This completely unfunctional process of booking people and no 24-hour holding cell creates an unsafe environment and keeps officers processing paper work instead of being back out on the streets.”