Incumbent Davis of Ward 4 faces candidates ready for change

By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Ward 4 Tupelo City Council candidates give voters choices between two political newcomers who believe they can do the job better than an incumbent who has represented the area for a dozen years.
All Democrats, the winner of the May 7 primary election will face no opposition in the general election. Three-term Councilwoman Nettie Davis, 71, a retired art teacher and community activist, will face Mark Hardin, 46, a Columbus special education teacher, and James Matkin, 30, an armed security guard for Loomis.
The ward is one of two majority-black wards among the seven council seats. Its population is nearly 60 percent black. It runs along Highway 45 from the northern city limits to the BNSF railroad and includes the older neighborhoods Park Hill, Pinecrest, Highland Circle, part of the Gravlee, the residential area around Rankin Elementary School and the eastern section of the Willis Heights neighborhood. Most of the downtown business area and The Barnes Crossing Mall area also are included in Ward 4.
While sitting at a Park Hill neighborhood green space for which she helped secure funding, Davis discussed how the land was once neglected by the landowners. Davis worked with city officials to design the green space and then helped fundraise to turn it into a reality.
As the first black woman to serve on the City Council, Davis said her knowledge of city government and success with helping improve the area make choosing her for another term an easy choice.
A few streets away, Gumtree Park was rededicated earlier this year, an effort Davis helped lead about eight years ago. With $850,000 in park upgrades, it included a new playground, 200 new trees, a renovated concession stand and better parking. The new amphitheater was even named after the three-term councilwoman.
Davis said improving parks and supporting redevelopment projects for neighborhoods throughout the city will bring a strong return on the public investment.
“I work hard as a councilwoman to bring neighborhoods back throughout the city,” she said.
After rattling off drainage projects and other completed projects in Ward 4, Davis said she isn’t finished. She wants to see Tupelo find a way to bring public transportation to the community, helping poor, elderly and other residents get around without having to drive.
While the incumbent continues to campaign to serve a fourth term, both of her opponents say the time has come for someone else to serve the area.
Her opponents also support bringing public transportation to the city, continuing redevelopment of neighborhoods and have other ideas about how to help improve Tupelo.
“In four years, I hope to have built trust with the people of Ward 4 by being accessible,” said Hardin, a black pastor.
Hardin returned to Tupelo a year and four months ago and he said he returned to an area that needs greater improvements and believes he’s the best person to make them happen.
With plans to hold ward meetings four times a year in different locations, Hardin said he’ll devote much of his time listening to what residents want to see in their ward.
While currently commuting to Columbus each day, Hardin said he would stop working out of town to focus on being a “full-time” city councilman. His platform includes giving tax breaks to businesses in Ward 4 who employ residents living in the area and also granting tax cuts to rental property owners who rent to new residents.
He also believes more should be done for youth in the area.
“When it comes to more parks and recreation activities, we need to make this area more accessible,” he said.
The third candidate for Ward 4, Matkin, who is white, believes he can find enough support to win in the majority-black ward to win. He said his desire to help improve Tupelo’s public schools, help find solutions for empty commercial buildings in the city and encourage middle-income, younger residents to locate in Tupelo fuel his campaign.
Matkin sees improving areas of jobs, neighborhoods and schools as the winning formula for the city’s future. He wants to help increase the amount of owner-occupied properties and give more residents reasons to continue living in the city.
He said he wants the city to focus on recruiting more technical and factory jobs and capitalizing better on the medical industry. He also fears development outside of the city will continue to lead to lost tax revenues and population.
Matkin said he and other residents in the ward are ready for someone other than Davis to represent them.
“Tupelo has given her the time and hasn’t seen the changes they want,” said Matkin. “I don’t believe anybody should stay in office forever.”

Ward 4

Contact info:
(662) 842-5506
Age: 71
Family: Married, two children, two grandchildren
Education: Carver High School, Tupelo; Fisk University, Nashville; Bennett College, Greensboro, N.C.; B.S. in Art. Graduate work, Mississippi State University
Occupation: Retired teacher; professional artist.
Community activities: Tupelo Civic Improvement Club; Golden Circle Civic/Social Club; Kissia Clifton Temple 671; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. (Founder of Nu Sigma Omega Chapter, Tupelo; NAACP; Past member, National Council of Negro Women; Coalition of African-American Organizations; IMPACT; UNCF (Lee County) George Washington Carver Alumni Association; Alcorn State Alumni Association (Associate Member); St. Paul United Methodist Church; Lay Delegate, United Methodist Conference; Park Hill Neighborhood Association; Committee for King Celebration; board member, Fuller Center for Housing.

Contact info:
(409) 656-1238
Age: 46
Education: B.A., American Baptist College; Master of Divinity, Houston Graduate School of Theology; Lamar University AA certified special education teacher
Occupation: Retired military chaplain; teacher, Columbus Public Schools
Community activities: Volunteer tutoring, family Christian counseling, Omega Psi Phi Inc.

contact info:
(662) 397-4845
Age: 30
Family: Married, one child
Education: A.A. in History, Itawamba Community College; University of Mississippi
Occupation: Loomis armed transport guard
Community activities: Northeast Mississippi Birthing Project

Ward 4 Q&A
1. What relevant experience and personal qualifications would you bring to the Tupelo City Council?

• Teacher, Tupelo Public Schools, 30 years
• Professional artist, life
• Councilwoman, city of Tupelo, 12 years
• Graduate of Leadership Lee Institute, CDF
• Board member: Habitat for Humanity, Convention & Visitors Bureau, Downtown Tupelo, Main Street, TRA, Tupelo Heritage Trail Enrichment Program
• Member of Mississippi Black Caucus of elected officials
• Executive board, Mississippi Democratic Party
• Initiated: Communities Forward Festival; Sun Valley Community Garden; Community Neighborhood Association banners
• Attended Police Academy, in Knoxville, Tenn., to be introduced to Community Oriented Policing
• Strongly supportive of the Tupelo Public Schools in helping our educational system to be the best in the nation.

My work habits as a chaplain, pastor and teacher have given me leadership skill-sets that are built from learning and believing in teamwork. I bring a listening heart and a listening ear for the city and ward that I desire to serve. I bring a gentle voice to speak for the ward and a courageous mind to reach for bold changes of excellence for all of Tupelo. As the All-American City, we are known for making all the necessary changes. Growth is change and change is growth!

I served my country in the Marine Corps and took from my time there a sense of duty, honor, and commitment. I feel that an elected official is dedicated to the city and his constituents. If an elected official cannot stand up for what his neighbors/constituents tell him they want or don’t want, then he should not have run for office.

2. Name the top three goals/projects that you will pursue if elected.

1. To be a model city.
2. To become aggressive in helping our city to become inclusive of all races of people, supporting all neighborhoods in developing their communities to their highest potential, promoting development of housing for the middle class, eliminating blight and supporting a public transportation system.
3. To continue supporting quality of life in our city, initiating projects and ideas that include the interest of all citizens.

1. I will pursue more affordable housing and initiate a placement program to help lower income residents become successful homeowners.
2. I will explore the possibility of expanding neighborhood revitalization and redevelopment by expanding tax incentive initiatives for homeowners who participate in a neighborhood revitalization program, including owners of rental properties who participate.
3. I will explore how we can make Ward 4 more small business-friendly, including designating certain parts of the ward as Enterprise Zones, where small businesses would get tax credits for providing jobs and employing qualified individuals who live in the Ward.

The city has an abundance of service industry jobs and needs to focus on bringing higher-paying production-type jobs back within the city limits.
Public transportation is needed and will play a role in aiding many in their search for jobs and help keep the city’s older children out of dangerous traffic while they try to get to stores or other areas of the city.
Taking the schools to superior levels not just up to standards. We need a school system that is not only the best in the state but a model for the rest of the country.

3. The 2010 Census showed stalled population growth and median income in Tupelo compared to northern suburbs. How should city government help retain and recruit middle-class residents?

Strongly supportive of the Tupelo Public Schools in helping our educational system to be the best in the nation. To support the development of affordable housing for residents of middle and moderate income levels. Make neighborhoods stronger, creating safe and healthy environments. Provide family-oriented activities for all age levels, through our already implemented task forces in Tupelo. Continue supporting Tupelo Public Schools.

I believe my idea about providing tax incentives for neighborhood revitalization is a good idea. I also think there is a large number of potential homeowners whose credit score falls just below the qualification level. I would be interested in beginning a lease/purchase pilot program for these types of individuals with certain guidelines and maintenance standards attached.

When people settle in our area they weigh many factors; the schools, the state of neighborhoods, and taxes are among the most important. The city needs to push the schools further; and one way we can do that is by partnering with local four-year schools to better prepare our students. The neighborhoods should be better maintained; either with enforcing current codes or by neighborhood-based initiatives. The city could be more progressive with taxes. High taxes, usually, are the reason I hear from people who have moved out of or refuse to move into the city.

4. Tupelo has begun taxpayer-funded neighborhood redevelopment initiatives. Do you support continued action and expansion of these projects?

I strongly support the Neighborhood Redevelopment Initiative, and I voted for funds to be allocated for neighborhood improvements in the West Jackson Street Area. This initiative is an excellent way to utilize taxpayer funds and will strengthen deteriorating neighborhoods and make them safe and vibrant. There are other neighborhoods in our city that need immediate attention. I will continue to support positive projects for our entire city.

I do. And as I stated, I favor expansion of the neighborhood redevelopment initiatives by providing expanding tax incentives.

The neighborhood redevelopment initiatives are key to moving Tupelo forward. Outstanding neighborhoods are fundamental to attracting middle-class residents and keeping the ones we have. These funds should be spent wisely and only after making sure that all of Tupelo’s neighborhoods will benefit from these initiatives and not only certain areas.

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