By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Decades after performing on the same stage as a fourth grader in the Christmas play, Jason Shelton stood there again Monday to officially become Tupelo’s new mayor.
For many friends and family watching him on stage, seeing Shelton begin his four-year term as mayor didn’t come as a surprise.
He had lots of friends growing up and enjoyed getting to know people, winning elections in student government in junior high.
“He’s always been a leader, even at a young age,” said Art Dobbs, who attended kindergarten through high school with Shelton before also attended college with him at Mississippi State University.
Friends, family, community leaders and elected officials shared in the day that represented a new beginning for city leadership. One of the youngest mayors in Tupelo history, the 37-year-old attorney, the first Democrat elected to the office in nearly three decades, enters city leadership on a mission to make Tupelo a place people want to live, work and enjoy themselves.
With each member of the City Council also sworn in at the elementary school, Shelton plans to find unity in local government in a place that had struggled with attracting more residents in recent years. The 2010 Census showed the city having nearly flat growth while surrounding areas grew at a much larger pace.
“There’s nothing wrong with Tupelo that can’t be fixed with all that’s right with it,” Shelton said during the swearing in ceremony.
Pledging to work with the business community, city workers and others to increase quality of life in the city, Shelton said he’ll focus on helping the city improve as a regional shopping, business and living center.
“I’ll do everything in my power to promote our city and make Tupelo continue to be an All American City,” he said.
The public swearing in was the second for each Tupelo elected official on Monday. Each was sworn in earlier to make sure Shelton’s meetings with city employees and the council members meeting during an agenda review for today City Council meeting was appropriate.
“We did it just out of abundance of caution,” Shelton said during the morning at his office.
After the swearing in, people gathered for a reception at the Elvis Presley birthplace, also in east Tupelo. City employees and elected officials mixed with other citizens interested in appreciating a day of new energy and celebration. Local performers sing, while people of many different ages, races and interests mingled and burgers from nearby Johnnie’s Drive In.
“Everybody is somebody today,” said Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis, smiling as she passed through the crowd. “The crowd’s very diverse.”
Sitting outside at the gathering with her sister and niece, Janice Anthony recalled Shelton and her son playing together as young boys. Having known him for years, Anthony looks forward to what the new mayor has in store for the city.
“He has an energy right now that Tupelo needs to move forward,” she said.