By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – In the southwest part of the city, residents like to get involved in the community.
That’s how Ward 6 City Council two-term incumbent Mike Bryan describes having three other candidates trying to take his place in Tupelo government.
“I feel like Ward 6 has a lot of active citizens who want to serve,” said Bryan, owner of an insurance agency and the second-longest serving council member.
While he has plenty of reasons why he thinks voters should keep him in office, three opponents – comprising the most candidates in any council race in Tupelo – keep telling residents why it’s time for him to go.
In the May 7 Republican primary, Bryan will face Tom Hewitt, 74, a lay pastor and owner of the Verona-based landscaping company Small Jobs Co; James “Mickey” Jenkins, 62, a retired firefighter, former Lafayette County supervisor and current school bus driver; and Wayne Chrestman, 35, an independent insurance adjuster.
If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes cast, a primary runoff between the top two candidates will be May 21.
With no Democratic opponent in the general election, the Republican primary winner will represent Ward 6 on the City Council. Paying $16,932 annually, Tupelo City Council members work to set policy for the city and approve recommended appointments from the mayor to commissions and boards.
Bryan cites his conservative fiscal approach and experience and recognition on the state level through organizations such as the Mississippi Municipal League. He said interacting with other cities in the state helps Tupelo find best practices and bring them home.
With goals of helping the city grow through good schools, neighborhoods, parks and transportation, Bryan said he’ll keep encouraging city leaders to find ways of improving Ward 6, even while helping other parts of Tupelo.
“We can’t stop focusing on west Tupelo and focusing on other areas while Ward 6 continues to grow,” he said.
Elected to serve as a Lee County election commissioner in 2012, Ward 6 candidate Chrestman was unable to take office after learning that redistricting had moved him out the district where he was elected. That’s when he decided to run for city council.
If elected, Chrestman said he’ll focus on reining in Tupelo’s issuing of bonds, a common practice municipalities use to pay for long-term projects. He also believes the city shouldn’t dip into its rainy day fund and wants to better represent younger, middle-class residents.
“I don’t feel like younger people in the city my age are very represented,” he said.
Making his second attempt to serve as a councilman, Hewitt has participated in community and city organizations and committees for years. He said he’ll bring a “spoonful of common sense” to decision making on the council.
Part of his approach will include trying to limit the proportion of rental property in the city. As for the neighborhood redevelopment initiative on West Jackson Street, Hewitt said he wants to wait to see results there before pursuing similar efforts in other parts of the city.
Hewitt also said having a new representative for the ward can bring new ideas.
“I’m a firm believer in term limits for any political office,” he said. “In most cases, the only way you can do that is by voting different people into office.”
Among all candidates vying for the Ward 6 council position, Jenkins has the most government experience. He retired as a captain from the Oxford Fire Department after 28 years of service, served on the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors and worked as a fire inspector and trainer at the University of Mississippi.
Currently, Jenkins finds value in making sure students get to school and back safely on the bus he drives. His campaign focuses on the importance of bringing more jobs to the area, helping improve neighborhoods and schools.
“I know a lot about how government operates,” Jenkins said.
Also a fiscal conservative, Jenkins said voters will get a deal by electing him – he won’t accept the full salary given to councilmen. If he did, extra income would affect his state retirement.
“I’ll save the city some money,” he said.
Ward 6 Q&A
1. What relevant experience and personal qualifications would you bring to the Tupelo City Council?
I am currently serving my second term as your voice on the Tupelo City Council. I am a small business owner who was born and raised in Tupelo, and am an active member of First Baptist Church, serving as a deacon and Sunday school teacher. I graduated from both the Mississippi Economic Council Leadership Mississippi Program and the Jim Ingram Community Leadership Program Lee County. I have completed all three levels (Basic; Advanced; and Professional Development) of the Mississippi Municipal League (MML) Certified Municipal Officers Program. I have served on the MML Board of Directors four years; Legislative Committee three years; Health Committee two years; and Youth Committee one year.
My experience as an insurance adjuster has given me a greater understanding of negotiating contracts, which would enable me to negotiate contracts for the city fairly. My desire is to help the people of Ward 6 reconnect with their city government. I have extensive experience in assisting people communicate their needs. I will use this experience to aid citizens in voicing their concerns to city officials. Tupelo is in need of fiscal leadership. Our current officials have made financial decisions that are detrimental to the city’s interest. I have extensive experience in money management and removing unnecessary expenses from fiscal budgets.
I served on Board of Directors of several organizations working with other individuals to accomplish goals. I have many years of experience of dealing with and working within budgets from a few thousand dollars to millions of dollars. Managing companies to accomplish goals through being efficient and responsible.
Serving as a Lafayette County supervisor, working for the city of Oxford, and working for the University of Mississippi, I’ve seen extraordinary population increases. I have fresh ideas to make our city thrive, rather than dwindle. I will be an ambassador for our great city. I will meet my constituents face-to-face instead of only seeing them at council meetings. I will seek continuous improvement and excellence in every aspect of my position.
2. Name the top three goals/projects that you will pursue if elected.
1. Continue to make sure we utilize the best smart growth practices to enhance our schools, housing, transportation, parks, recreation and infrastructure.
2. Staying in touch with my constituents by holding regular focus-group sessions in Ward 6, especially on issues that will have a direct impact on Ward 6 and the city.
3. Continue to work with the business community and mom and pop businesses along with local, state and national leaders to retain current jobs while creating more and better local jobs. A strong economy is key to growth and prosperity for its citizens.
1. Get the city’s spending under control.
2. Restore the rainy day funds to a safe level.
3. Reallocate funds to improve our roads which will promote growth while restoring downtown to former traffic patterns.
1. Working with other Council members to set policies that will keep city government manageable, efficient and responsible to the city’s residents.
2. Along with my other Council members taking a hard look at contracts and franchises given to out side vendors to make sure that the residents of Tupelo are receiving the best deal possible.
3. Continue those policies that have made improvements in Tupelo.
1. Continue to improve traffic flow in Tupelo.
2. Pursue dynamic industries for better job opportunities.
3. Continue to improve our educational systems.
3. The 2010 Census showed stalled population growth and median income in Tupelo compared with northern suburbs. How should city government help retain and recruit middle-class residents?
There are several keys to building a strong city where people want to lay down roots. The first is a fiscally responsible city with low taxes. This can be achieved with smart, conservative use of the taxpayer’s money. We must stop borrowing and raiding the rainy day fund. Next is pride of ownership. We need to stop apartment building and start building affordable housing. This can be achieved by cutting red tape and regulations on contractors so that they can offer competitive housing prices. Cutting the red tape and regulations on new and existing business will help create new and better paying jobs. A strong school system is vital. I will work with Dr. Loden and the school board to make sure our school system is among the best in the nation. Finely, there needs to be a quality Parks and Recreation department to provide fun and safe activities for the whole family.
City government should increase tax incentives to companies who will relocate or expand to Tupelo and freeze property taxes to decrease the tax burdens on middle class families for five years.
Again, working with my fellow council members to make the city of Tupelo people and business friendly, while maintaining reasonable standards. It is most important for the council to set policies that enable business to open and flourish, as well as making Tupelo a city that people recognize as great place to live and raise a family.
• Restructuring taxes
• Get rental property from 40 percent to 25 percent
• Affordable housing and incentives for first-time homebuyers
• Continuous improvements in our public school systems with constant checks and balances
4. Tupelo has begun taxpayer-funded neighborhood redevelopment initiatives. Do you support continued action and expansion of these projects?
I support limited use of taxpayer money to fund neighborhood redevelopment initiatives and expansion of these projects. In my opinion, this can be better handled by the private sector. The city is not in the real estate business – that is job of developers. However, it is the cities responsibility to provide a business-friendly environment while protecting the interest of its citizens. I will consider support of continued action and expansion of these projects on a case-by-case basis based on the results of the current projects.
I do not support continued action or expansion of the initiatives because it is not inclusive of all Ward 6 residents and households.
Those that have begun must be carried out to completion. As they go forward the council should keep a close eye on how it is working out and in what ways does it improve the city and how it would be advantageous to the taxpayers and the city if continued.
Some of my constituents in Ward 6 have expressed using existing tax revenue to revamp undesirable neighborhoods in the city of Tupelo would benefit all residents; however, to increase taxes would not be appropriate.
MIKE BRYAN, R (INCUMBENT)
Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Family: Married with three daughters
Education: Tupelo High School, ICC, Mississippi
State, Kennedy Western and The Institute
of Business and Finance.
Community activities: Actively involved in the
leadership of our community through my
church, Tupelo Public Schools, where my
daughters attend, CDF, The American Red Cross, and various
other community organizations.
Occupation: Small business owner – insurance agency
WAYNE CHRESTMAN, R
Contact info: email@example.com
Family: Declined to state marital status
Education: University of Mississippi
Occupation: Independent insurance adjuster
Community activities: Wesley United
TOM HEWITT, R
Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Family: Four grown children, seven grandchildren,
Education: High school and college in North
Occupation: Self -employed and Pastor to a
small Presbyterian Church.
Community activities: Involved in several civic clubs and church
organizations; Safe, Inc., former board president; Tupelo Planning
Committee for eight years
JAMES “MICKEY” JENKINS, R
Contact info: email@example.com
Family: Married with six children, 13 grandchildren
Education: Water Valley High School, Modesto
Jr. College, Northwest Community College; National
Fire Academy; Mississippi State Fire
Academy; firefighting courses from University
of Mississippi and Oklahoma State University.
Occupation: Retired Lafayette County supervisor;
retired captain of the Oxford Fire Department;
former fire inspector/trainer at the University of
Mississippi; currently a school bus driver for the Tupelo Public
Community activities: The Orchard; Thomas Street Neighborhood
Association; National Rifle Association; Master Mason,
Shriner and Eastern Star