Opinion: Answering the question is always right

Steve Rogers
Staff Writer

Some friends and I were talking last week about the Starkville Board of Aldermen’s vote to deny a permit for a Gay Pride parade. I told my friends it was a unique tourism promotion decision by the board.

My friends gave me a puzzled look, similar to what a puppy dos when it sees something new that it doesn’t understand.

“By voting it down, the board has attracted all this attention to the city. You can’t pay for the kind of publicity it’s gotten. So when it reverses itself or a court orders it to issue a permit, instead of a few dozen people, the parade will attract hundreds, if not more, from all over the place. And with that will come counter protesters. It’s one of the smartest tourism promotions I’ve ever seen. I wish I’d thought of it,” I told my friends.

Again, that funny, quizzical look that says, “Are you kidding me?”

Finally one of them said, “They’re not that smart!”

I agree. But I won’t get into the idiocy of the Starkville aldermen’s decision. Enough already has been said about it and will continue to be said of it.

I was more interested in what would happen if the group were to apply for a permit in West Point.

From a technical standpoint, the rules are a little different. In West Point, the police chief — Avery Cooks currently — is the chief decision-maker over who can have a parade and under what conditions. In fact, the city’s permit form is pretty specific, going as far as to say the chief “shall” have certain authorities.

When I texted the chief about his thoughts, his response was not surprising.

“If the city board says it’s OK, it’s OK,” the chief said.

Funny thing is city leaders already had suggested the decision was up to the chief. When asked if the Board of Selectmen would have to sign off, City Manager Randy Jones was diplomatic, “Not necessarily.”

I tracked Mayor Robbie Robinson down at a local coffee shop, where he was trying to have a few quiet moments with a long-time friend. I won’t go into detail about his response but in a nutshell, the mayor, a veteran of years of politics, social differences and everyday “stuff” said if the issue were to come to the city, he’d likely recommend the chief make sure the permit is in order and plans are covered appropriately and then tell no one.

If the issue came up, he’d recommend the Selectmen do nothing other than quietly allow the event.

I can’t quote him exactly because we were talking coffee, history and other things as well, but in a nutshell he said it’s better sometimes even when an issue might offend your religious, spiritual or moral senses it’s smarter to hold your nose and nod your head or say, “Aye.”

The country wasn’t built on one side’s view, was his general consensus. In fact, he recognized that trying to narrowly define our society isn’t smart of anyone. I couldn’t agree more.

But I’m pretty sure the mayor was glad when I left.

But the fact remains, the difference between racism and bigotry is a narrow one.

Because the mayor doesn’t actually have a vote, even if he does have influence and is a good guide, I e-mailed each of the Selectmen asking their thoughts on the Starkville aldermen’s decision and what they would do if a similar permit were sought in West Point.

I used the e-mail addresses listed on the city Web site, which I am told are current and accurate.

More than 24 hours later, I got nothing. Crickets. No thoughts, no opinions, not even a “No comment.”

And if the city hadn’t just spent considerable time and energy gathering information about the best ways to connect some of the selectmen with their constituency and then paying for it, it would be less of an issue.

So the fact some of them have taxpayer-funded devices and didn’t respond is of some concern.

That leaves us with two choices, either the selectmen didn’t get the messages, which is easy enough to confirm, or they wanted to dodge the issue and ignored the message.

I suspect the latter was the case. And while holding their nose and saying “Aye” is the best decision, ignoring the public is not. Answer the questions and address the issues, regardless of whether it's whether a Gay Pride parade is OK or the best way to clean out a ditch. People deserve an answer.