TUPELO – Voters this spring will select not just their wards’ next representatives, but the people who will set policy and procedure for the entire city.
Members of the City Council have legislative power over the municipality, giving them authority to create and change ordinances, raise taxes, adopt budgets, confirm mayoral nominations and approve contracts.
The current council has used its power to make a variety of sometimes-small, sometimes-sweeping changes since its term began four years ago. For example, it has:
- Raised taxes for the first time in nearly two decades.
- Approved a bond issue to build a new baseball complex.
- Enacted citywide smoking restrictions.
- Renewed the city’s residential waste-hauling contract with Waste Management and launch curbside recycling program.
- Hired an ethics consultant to study municipal personnel practices.
- Blocked the mayor’s nomination of a new member to the Tupelo Regional Airport Authority.
- Launched an attempt to annex county territory.
The next council takes office in July after a series of municipal elections. The primary election occurs Tuesday, with potential runoffs scheduled for May 19. The general election will be June 2.
Although the council currently has nine members, it will shrink to seven after the loss of its two at-large seats due to a recent court ruling.
“In a mayor-council form of government, the council passes general policy that the mayor carries out,” said Marty Wiseman, executive director of Mississippi State University’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government. “The mayor is already charged with the responsibility of handling dog issues and things like that, so the council can take up big matters – economic development and annexation issues … . They can set broader, more far reaching policies to advance the cause of the city.”
But a majority of council members must agree by vote before the group can do anything. And that’s not always easy, said At-Large Councilwoman Carolyn Mauldin, who is stepping down this year after having served four terms.
Mauldin said council members often disagree, but never so much as they have during the most recent term. She said it seemed that each person had his or her own idea of what the city needed and which direction it should go. In the end, not much was accomplished, she said.
“When you first come on board, you absolutely think you can change the world and you have these ideas when you get there,” Mauldin said. “But you can’t do anything unless you get the votes to do it. If you pool all your ideas together and work toward a common goal you can accomplish so much more.”
She suggested the next council get together with the new mayor and each department as soon as possible to share common goals and learn how each part of the city runs. That didn’t happen this past term, she said.
Ward 1 Councilman Dick Hill, who after two terms also is stepping down this year, said he followed a few simple rules to help best perform his role: He attended weekly department-head meetings and stayed informed of city business; he made himself available to his constituents; and he tried to think of the big picture when making decisions.
But he said he was surprised at how often politics intervened and hoped the next council could avoid some of the same pitfalls.
“I’ve never experienced being on anything quite like a city board and having the misperceptions and false perceptions about one another and the administration,” Hill said, “and the difficulty of working through that.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal