By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Despite criticism from within the Tupelo City Council of too few women and minority city department leaders, both nominees received unanimous support Tuesday.
Veterans in both city departments, Alex Farned with Parks and Recreation and Chuck Williams with Public Works have both served in interim roles in recent months, each earning Mayor Jason Shelton’s support to stay in the positions for the rest of his four-year term.
Council members Willie Jennings of Ward 7 and Nettie Davis of Ward 4, both black, criticized Shelton’s decision to nominate two white men to department head positions, instead recommending more women and minority leadership roles.
With these confirmations, Tupelo’s permanent department head and administrative roles requiring council approval are 80 percent white and 87 percent men. Census data from 2010 shows whites comprise 59 percent of the city’s population, 47 percent are men.
Jennings and Davis sat in during interviews for the Parks and Recreation director, both saying they felt a more experienced candidate, who is black, deserved for the position.
“I feel like minorities don’t have a really good chance in the city of Tupelo,” Jennings said during the council meeting tonight. “It’s unfair.”
Councilman Markel Whittington of Ward 1 also attended the interview sessions for Parks and Recreation and supported Farned’s selection as permanent leader.
“It was very fair and the best candidate won,” he said after the meeting. “The mayor did a good job.”
Shelton said he felt fairly certain that he would nominate Williams as head of Public Works and decided not to interview anyone else for the position.
Shelton responded to criticism from Davis and Jennings by saying he values diversity but also wanted to nominate the best candidates to the positions.
By nominating internal candidates, Shelton said he’ll look into personnel savings by not filing positions Farned and Williams occupied in their respective departments, part of an effort to benefit existing employees.
“I am also hopeful that the nominations will eliminate existing budgeted staff positions, which will aid cost-saving measures that will hopefully allow for citywide pay raises in the near future,” Shelton said.
Williams fills the Public Works position after Sid Russell retired earlier this year. Farned’s promotion comes after former Parks and Recreation director Don Lewis was promoted to city chief operations officer in October.
With approving these positions, development services has the only interim department head, City Planner Pat Falkner. BJ Teal, the department’s previous leader, resigned in October. Shelton said he may nominate someone for this position in January but said Tuesday he does not have a set time frame.