Mayor Jack Marshall will ask the Tupelo City Council Tuesday to approve North Mississippi Medical Center President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jeff Barber to fill the Tupelo Public School Board position vacated last month by Billy Crews, president and publisher of Journal Publishing Co.
Marshall said Crews’ resignation, which came two years into his five-year term, left the board with a lack of business and management experience. Crews said he resigned from the board because work and other community projects made it tough for him to serve on the board.
“Mr. Barber brings to the board an element that is very critical at this point,” Marshall said. “That element is his vast management and business background.”
Barber has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Houston. He is CEO of Tupelo’s 650-bed North Mississippi Medical Center, the state’s largest hospital and the nation’s largest rural medical center.
He also oversees four community hospitals, four nursing homes and nearly 20 family medical clinics in north Mississippi and northwest Alabama. The health system employs about 4,300.
The 51-year-old has three daughters. Two have already graduated from high school, while the youngest will be a freshman at Tupelo High School this fall.
Barber said he has had an interest in public education for some time.
“The public education system is one of the most important assets in a community because it shapes and forms the community,” Barber said. “What it produces determines the overall success of the community. Because of my position in the community, I have had an opportunity to see the need for an educated workforce. It’s what drives our mission.”
Barber’s wife, Jackie, has a master’s in education and has been previously involved in all levels of public education, from the primary level to the junior college level.
If appointed, Barber said he is unsure what issues he would work to tackle first.
“I really feel I need to go through an orientation session before I can understand the priorities of the district,” Barber said. “I need to learn about the specifics of the issues.”
School Board vice president Dr. Charles “Skip” Robertson applauded the mayor’s decision to nominate Barber to the post.
“He’s an excellent administrator at the hospital,” said Robertson, who is a pediatrician at the hospital. “He and I have talked in the past about public education. I like his ideas. He is very supportive of public education and understands its importance to the community. He’s a good choice.”
One possible obstacle to Barber’s confirmation is the fact that he has lived in Tupelo for only 16 months, moving here from Baton Rouge, La.
But Marshall said that shouldn’t be an issue in Tuesday’s vote.
“He would offer some fresh ideas to the community in part because he is fresh blood,” Marshall said. “Although he’s only been here a little over a year, he has jumped right into the community and is very active. Everywhere I go, I see him. He seems to be very accepted within the community. In this case, I felt like the length of time in the community might be a factor, but it’s not the most important factor.”
Tuesday’s regularly scheduled Tupelo City Council meeting is set for 6 p.m. at the City Hall Annex on Court Street.