TUPELO – When the Tupelo City Council and Mayor Jason Shelton meet in less than two weeks for a city retreat that includes determining goals for the next four years, chances are high many of the top issues will sound familiar.
When Tupelo elected officials held a retreat for goal planning 71⁄2 years ago, top concerns among council and mayor included code enforcement, affordable/desirable housing and neighborhood stability and beautification.
Many of these same issues resonated during the recent city election a few months ago.
Council President Nettie Davis, the longest serving member of the council, said she’s not surprised to hear the same challenges and concerns faced today also were faced during former Mayor Ed Neelly’s administration in 2006.
“Some of those goals are hard to accomplish and it takes time,” she said.
The second-highest-ranked long-term priority – to complete a new comprehensive plan – was adopted in December 2008. However, City Council approval is still needed to update the city’s development code.
Former Mayor Jack Reed Jr. tried to convince the council to pass it during his last meeting in office, but it fell short by a single vote.
With issues like code enforcement in declining neighborhoods and neglected rental property, just finding money to pay for a project doesn’t always solve the problem.
“It takes real visionary leadership on the part of elected officials to effectively tackle these long-term problems,” said Jerry Emison, a Mississippi State University public administration professor whose doctorate is in city and regional planning. “It takes political courage.”
In 2006, Neelly held a housing summit to face issues of deteriorating neighborhoods and affordable housing. Then the city created a housing commission whose chief recommendation was hiring a full-time housing director to oversee improved housing efforts. That resulted in the hiring of BJ Teal, current department head of Development Services in city government.
During Reed’s administration, the city developed the West Jackson Street redevelopment effort, which includes demolishing and improving some properties mostly concentrated in the 1100 block of West Jackson Street.
Many City Council members have said the West Jackson project should be the beginning of redevelopment efforts throughout the city. Neighborhood issues likely will be a prime focus during the city retreat Aug. 22-23 at Tombigbee State Park.
Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell said he expects code enforcement and neighborhood improvement to remain top priorities among the leaders. He sees the retreat as a way for the council members and mayor to find common ground and channel their energy and focus for the next four years, hoping results will convince more middle-income families to call Tupelo home.
“That’s what I’m hoping to come out of the retreat,” Newell said.
But coming up with the goals is just the beginning. Then council members and Shelton have to find agreement on how to achieve the goals.
“It’s very easy to say things, but those plans are nothing if you don’t carry them out,” Emison said.