By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The day after learning voters elected him Tupelo’s next mayor, Jason Shelton had about 350 text messages and 35 missed calls on his personal cellphone.
Along with congratulations, many people want the new mayor’s time and attention for issues they care about.
As the soon-to-be mayor prepares to take office in about three weeks, he has started to change priorities from politics to preparing to govern. As part of this, the 37-year-old Tupelo attorney will balance juggling his time between leaving day-to-day activities of his law firm and beginning his transition to City Hall.
Shelton has a busy schedule ahead with his business – Shelton and Associates – and the city. He plans to have another attorney in place by the end of the week to manage the firm while he serves in public office. He’ll also begin this week the long process of meeting with people throughout Tupelo and beyond as the mayor-elect.
Shelton said he’s ready for the time management balancing act of many conversations and topics in a short period of time.
“Stress has been a part of my daily life since I was very young,” said the 37-year-old Shelton. “I knew about all of this when I signed up for it.”
He said clearing off his legal schedule will help him focus on more of the public’s business. During the political campaign for mayor, Shelton was criticized for his law firm suing the city days after he qualified to run for mayor. The case involved a child injured on city property at Ballard Park. Shelton said resolving conflicts of interest between his law firm and the city will be relatively easy for civil cases such as this one.
“Those, you withdraw and get out of them,” he said. “They’ll just have to get another lawyer.”
As for criminal cases, Shelton said his firm will work to resolve as many as possible before he takes office and will help those likely to drag out transition to other attorneys.
With a whirlwind of meetings in the coming weeks, Shelton said he doesn’t have a specific person helping with his transition. However, he has already said some of his first appointments will be with Gearl Loden, superintendent of the Tupelo Public School District, and Neal McCoy, executive director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“I campaigned on the promise of retaining and recruiting young working families to Tupelo,” Shelton said. “That’s going to be my primary focus as mayor.”
To help with that overall theme, Shelton will assemble his team of department heads within the city to meet that goal. He said any talk of replacing current department heads at City Hall is premature. He said he plans to meet with city employees to address needs and issues related to the departments and positions.
“There’s no timetable, and no set decisions have been made,” he said. “I’m not going to make any decisions until I’ve sat down with them and had a face-to-face meeting with everyone involved.”
As mayor, Shelton will make nominations to each of the department head-level positions in city government. After the City Council approves individuals for these positions, they report directly to the mayor. Shelton will decide to keep leaders from Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s administration or select some others for the jobs.
Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said an incoming mayor such as Shelton should recognize the importance of department heads chosen in his administration.
“If they mess up, it’s going to be his job to clean up,” Wiseman said. “He wants to be very careful with those positions.”
Mayor Reed said he will help make the transition from his administration to Shelton’s smooth. Having spoken with Shelton during the recent political campaign and after Shelton was elected, Reed said they’ve exchanged phone numbers and will meet periodically leading to the end of his term.
“I’m going to give him a breakdown of every department and where they stand, along with projects in progress,” Reed said. “I’m looking forward to helping him in any and every way I can.”
Similar to his political campaign, Shelton said he plans to begin his role as mayor by a lot of listening to different people who represent various perspectives. But after listening, Shelton said he’ll formulate a plan and put it into action.
Specifically mentioning McCoy and Parks and Recreation Director Don Lewis, Shelton said he wants to enhance what the city does to attract more people.
“Both of them are going to need naps by the end of my term,” he said.