Public officials are both leaders and servants for their community. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The care of human life and happiness is the first and only legitimate objective of good government.” To work in city government is to love the city and its people and to serve the people according to their needs. The citizens of a city, then, are responsible for caring for themselves in addition to their neighbors. We, the editorial staff of The Reflector, do not believe our city government has acted with this overarching principle in mind over the past few months. Members of the Starkville Board of Aldermen displayed a pattern of making public decisions without the public at large, and we do not condone this kind of decision-making.
The recent repealing of the equality resolution passed in January. of last year was a decision made by the board behind closed doors. The public was not aware of the meeting until after the fact, and it is reported not all aldermen were even present. We believe the offending members of the Board of Aldermen are thus guilty of violating the Open Meetings Act. This decision, which affected the public, was made by officials who have not sufficiently explained their actions. It doesn’t make sense to citizens of Starkville that the same board which passed the equality resolution for the non-discrimination of the LGBT community would find the need to secretly undo its work. Some reports have stated the sole reason the aldermen repealed the resolution was to avoid litigation. While this may be a legitimate reason to repeal the resolution, it does not excuse the board from making this decision without the public’s knowledge. We find it frustrating that we are left to hypothesize the real reasons for the board’s actions.
There have been incidents in the past that may indicate this behavior is a pattern of our city officials. In 2010, a complaint was filed about technicalities of the board not properly recording public meetings. The Columbus Dispatch reported a complaint that “claimed some or all of the seven-person board made decisions outside of the public purview in regard to a February 2014 school board appointment.”
The actions of the board imply a refusal to deliberate with a public audience, leave the public to speculate about the board’s decisions and reflect poorly on the city of Starkville and Mississippi State University. How can any citizen be expected to trust an official who makes a decision without giving any explanation?
The Board of Aldermen are elected officials chosen by the people in the community. Because these officials were given their positions by the people, it is the responsibility of the people to hold all officials accountable. We recognize the board has been operating on closed-door meetings on a regular basis; therefore, we also accept the responsibility that we have not held our officials to the highest standards of ethical behavior.
We are the public. We have a voice, so let us no longer be silent.