By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton’s first days in office brought many new experiences to City Hall, including a lesson in irony.
A week before Shelton took office, he told a group of well-wishers that he’d bring more accountability to city government during his first week. He promised to announce a task force on accountability, establishing specific and measurable indicators of priorities in his administration.
On the campaign trail, Shelton said this task force would annually calculate and report progress on each goal.
The week passed with Shelton meeting city department heads, hiring his first employee, attending City Council meetings and greeting the public at the July 4th celebration at Fairpark.
But the week ended with no announcement of the accountability task force.
“It’s one of those things of learning first-hand how government works,” Shelton said. “I’m not ready to release it to the public.”
Shelton has started to learn how running an energetic mayoral campaign is different from getting his administration up and running. On the campaign trail, he could make quick decisions without worrying about consulting with anyone beyond informal advisers.
That’s not the case with running the city. With this task force, he realized he needed to define what exactly it should achieve and make sure it examines parts of city government beyond his campaign promises if he wants City Council members to support it.
For the first-time elected officeholder, Shelton, 37, an attorney, said he’d rather hold back on the timing of a promise than make public something not completely thought out. He’s also not making a prediction on when to expect a public announcement creating the task force.
Shelton said his first-week experience has reminded him of something important for a person with many demands in city government.
“It’s just as much a lesson in time management,” he said. “Even the best ideas have to fit in with the obligation of this job.”
Shelton joked about how much he has begun to appreciate flow charts and organization of local government.
Aside from this hiccup, Shelton looks at his first week in office as a good start to taking office. He started the week with a public swearing-in ceremony and then held an open house at City Hall to try symbolize the openness the public should expect from his administration.
During the City Council meeting, Ward 4 councilwoman Nettie Davis received applause for fellow council members supporting her as council president. Immediately following, Davis led the council and audience in applauding Shelton attending his first meeting with the group.
The council meeting was the first in a while without a single dissenting vote.
“We had a great first week,” Shelton said. “It’s hard to get the smile off of my face.”
Entering his second week, Shelton will focus less on celebration and pay more attention to communicating with city departments and employees changes that reflect his promises during his campaign, which focused largely on improving quality of life in the city to attract and retain more young families and professionals.
Shelton will continue his process of determining which department heads will remain in his administration and which areas to change, including internal reorganizations within departments. He plans to begin making these decisions public in August.
“It’s important that department heads reflect things I campaigned on and this administration’s goals for the next four years,” Shelton said.
For starters, he promised a city government friendlier toward businesses and less caught up in red tape and regulations. Shelton will meet with employees in the Development Services office, which includes code enforcement.
“We’re going to be a little nicer to our citizens,” he said. “I’m not anti-code enforcement, but at the same time I represented at least one business that told me they were closing because of the way they were treated by the city.”
Shelton declined to name the business.
Changes related to code enforcement with the city will include no longer issuing citations to business owners in front of customers and reaching out to businesses more through courtesy phone calls and other efforts before issuing citations when violations exist.
“It doesn’t do us any good to have the best codes in the world if we run everybody out of town,” Shelton said.
As for other priorities, the mayor said he has already started to push for revisions to the city’s nightclub ordinance adopted earlier this year, regulations many restaurant owners have criticized as overreach, and to continue former Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s efforts to create a “quiet zone” along railroad tracks throughout the city, involving upgrades to crossings that allow trains to blow horns only during emergencies.
As he pushes to advance his agenda and priorities with the City Council, Shelton said they’ll likely plan a retreat to work on forming shared goals, building relationships and learning how each city department operates.
“To have success in this office, it’s important to have consensus and work with others,” he said.