COUNCIL OKS CITY HALL FUNDING PLAN

CATEGORY: ALD Tupelo City Council

AUTHOR: MOULDE

COUNCIL OKS CITY HALL FUNDING PLAN

By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Tupelo City Council Tuesday voted its intent to issue $9 million in bonds to fund a new City Hall complex, although some members contended the city is building a financial burden for “our children and grandchildren.”

The council voted 6-3 to begin the funding process for the proposed three-story, 60,000-square-foot City Hall complex that would consolidate all city offices except the Public Service Department’s and Water & Light Department’s maintenance and storage facilities.

In other action, the council narrowly rejected a proposal to stop payments to newly hired “interim deputy police chief” C.C. Privette. City Attorney Guy Mitchell advised council he believed Mayor Jack Marshall had the authority to hire Privette, a Tupelo chiropractor, and the council had no authority to block his salary.

The proposed City Hall, to be located in part on the old fairgrounds property along Main Street between Commerce and Fronts streets, will enhance that area of downtown and spark movement on the city’s downtown master plan, said Jack Reed Sr., chairman of a citizens task force formed in 1994 to study the city’s space needs.

Current city facilities, dating back 66 years and spread across much of downtown, are inadequate and it is financially unfeasible to renovate them, Reed said the task force found. “We think this will really do so much for the city, and for development of that property,” Reed said. “We expect real development to come out of this from the private sector. It has enormous potential … to change things in Tupelo, Mississippi.”

Council President James Williams called the structure “quite imposing” and Ward 6 Councilman Perry Thomas labeled it “a wonderful addition” to downtown. City officials said no tax increase will be needed to pay off the bonds.

But Ward 2 Councilman Sims Reeves, who termed the building a “Taj Mahal,” argued the project would add to an unacceptable debt for the city with other bond projects looming.

Reeves was joined in his opposition by Ward 3 Councilman Smith Heavner and Ward 5 Councilman Tommy Doty, who noted that a petition bearing 1,500 signatures of city voters could force a referendum on the bond issue.

At-large Councilwoman Carolyn Mauldin countered that the same arguments had been raised when the city built the Tupelo Coliseum.

“Now see what it’s doing,” she said of the entertainment center’s success. “A city is never going to be out of debt if it is going to grow.”

Hiring fracas

Voicing some bitterness, Marshall defended Privette’s appointment to the $40,000 police post and accused some council members of not being on the “team.”

“My intention was to help the police department. Do any of you not want to help the police department?” he asked.

The mayor also called the press “stupid” for news story references to his longtime friendship with Privette.

Marshall said he naturally appointed a friend he “could trust to tell me the truth.”

“Can you not believe (acting Police Chief Jerry Crocker) if he tells you something?” asked Council President Williams, who urged the mayor to rescind the appointment.

“Yes, I can,” Marshall replied.

Department problems?

Privette was hired to straighten out problems at the department and has made “significant accomplishments already,” Marshall indicated, although he mentioned no specifics.

The mayor said Privette was in fact “a consultant” and predicted his job would be completed in six months or less.

“I guarantee you we’re going to wind up with the finest police department anywhere,” Marshall said.

Privette was originally named “police commissioner,” but the title was changed after council members complained a new department slot had been created without its approval. Privette ostensibly now fills Crocker’s former post.

Despite its 4-4-1 vote rejecting a salary cutoff, council members overwhelmingly voiced displeasure with the hiring process.

Mauldin, who abstained, complained that the council had not previously been told of problems within the police department. The mayor repeatedly called the department a model for the state, she noted.

“I don’t have a problem with you hiring a friend if you go about it in the right way,” Mauldin said. “We’ve got every right to question some of this.”

Voting to block Privette’s salary were Reeves, Doty, Williams and Heavner. Opposed were Thomas, at-large Councilman Paul Eason, Ward 7 Councilman Danny Barrows, and Ward 4 Councilman Steve Mayhorn.

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