By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Tupelo’s two black City Council members questioned Mayor Jason Shelton’s selections for two department-level positions, saying more women and minorities should have top leadership positions.
Shelton spoke to the council Monday for the first time since he decided to nominate both current interim department heads to permanently serve in the jobs for the rest of Shelton’s four-year term.
City Council members will vote on Alex Farned as director of Parks and Recreation and Chuck Williams to lead Public Works, both white men.
Council members have no direct role in selecting individuals for department-level positions, but the mayor’s choice must receive majority council support.
Nettie Davis and Willie Jennings voiced concerns privately with Shelton in recent months about not appointing more women and minorities as department heads. Both council members attended recent interviews for Parks and Recreation director. Among the four finalists, a black candidate currently employed as director of Parks and Recreation in a north Mississippi city interviewed.
Farned has worked for the city for 12 years, currently as athletic director, one of four deputy director positions in the city department. He also has a master’s degree in sports administration.
Davis and Jennings said Monday they felt the African-American candidate had more experience.
Shelton conducted no interviews for Public Works director, deciding Williams should stay in the position. Jennings questioned why Shelton didn’t choose Susan Morris, assistant director for the department, who applied for the job. Williams has worked as traffic control supervisor.
“Making it to the number two position doesn’t mean you’ll be number one,” Shelton said. “But it doesn’t mean you won’t.”
Shelton said both nominations reflect the best candidates for the position.
Among Shelton’s 15 appointments in October for department heads and administrative-level positions requiring council approval, Bart Aguirre is the city’s first Hispanic police chief and Willie Allen is the first black city court judge. Other appointments included Kim Hanna as city clerk and Cassandra Moore, an African-American, who both held those positions under former Mayor Jack Reed Jr.
Shelton also appointed BJ Teal to lead Development Services, but she resigned in October.
Davis, current City Council president, the first African-American and woman to hold the position, said Shelton should make appointments reflective of the city’s demographics.
“So many minorities worked very hard for Jason,” Davis said of Shelton’s election to mayor this year. “We figured we’d get another minority department head.”