Minorities want more municipal representation in Tupelo

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Since taking office in July, Mayor Jack Reed Jr. has filled six vacant, interim or newly created department head positions – but only one of those jobs went to a minority.
Now, several African-Americans say it’s time for that trend to stop. Five men and one woman asked Reed and the City Council on Tuesday for more minority representation among the city’s highest ranks.
Although most were cordial and complimentary of Reed and his administration, all said it’s time to get serious about equality in municipal hiring and appointments.
“It’s the thing we’ve been talking about year after year; the appointment of more blacks and hiring of more blacks in more areas of the city,” the Rev. Robert Jamison, president of the Lee County Chapter of the NAACP, said during an interview with the Daily Journal.
“We’re doing the same thing we did back in the 1960s.”
Reed told reporters during an afternoon press conference and again during the council meeting that he, too, believes Tupelo needs better minority representation and that he’s doing his part to achieve it.
“My first hiring decision was to hire the new executive assistant to the mayor, and the person I chose was Sally Williams,” Reed said. “I didn’t hire her because she’s black but because she’s smart and has a master’s in business administration … and has a great smile.”
He also noted that of the five Public Transportation Committee members, all of whom Reed appointed early in his administration, two are black.
But, Reed said, stacking the upper echelons of city government with more minorities will take longer than the six months he has been in office.
To further the effort, the Human Resources Department this month will start offering free classes to help city job applicants. One class will teach interviewing skills, another will help people complete job applications. Other courses will help applicants study for job-related tests.
In the meantime, Reed said, residents will just have to trust his hiring decisions.
Of the city’s 482 full-time workers, 90 are minorities – or 18.6 percent, according to the Human Resources Department.
That’s compared to 30.6 percent of minorities living in Tupelo as of the 2000 Census.
But the city hires only high school graduates or higher. Limit the pool to that population, and minorities account for about 19 percent.
Exactly how many minorities hold top-level positions is tougher to gauge because the term is subjective. Based on salary alone, though, minorities account for nearly 17 percent of city employees earning more than $50,000.
And they account for one-tenth of Tupelo’s department heads. Cassandra Moore, director of the Human Resources Department, is the sole minority among this group. She made department head status when chosen by Reed in September.
Department heads are top-level positions second only to the mayor in terms of salary and responsibility. And during Reed’s tenure, several of these positions came open or were held by interim directors.
To fill them, Reed made permanent a white interim director in Public Works and another white interim director in the Fire Department; he hired a white chief financial officer and appointed the former white interim CFO to become the city’s new clerk. He also hired a white police chief to fill that vacated position.
When the police chief hire was announced in December, Tupelo attorney Kenneth Mayfield said, it was the last straw.
“Initially, we had actually planned on opposing Tony Carleton as police chief,” Mayfield told the Daily Journal. “We relented in that and said that we would not oppose his going in as police chief, but we needed to address future positions coming up so that African-Americans are represented.”
The city’s next big hire will be Tupelo Regional Airport executive director, and Mayfield said it should go to a minority.
But Reed won’t make that hire. It’s the responsibility of the Tupelo Airport Authority to find and appoint its new director.
Reed does, however, get to choose the airport authority’s next member. The five-person board has had a vacancy since the premature departure of Carlisle “Smitty” Harris. Mayfield said that slot should go to a minority.
Despite the concerns, many of those who spoke said Reed will make a good-faith effort to hire and promote more minorities.
“I think change will happen during Jack’s watch,” said Jim Casey, an African-American whom Reed had appointed last year to the transportation commission. “Still, there is perception in the community that there is a lack of inclusion. There are blacks willing and able to serve, but they need to be asked and appointed to those boards.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Lynn Norris confirmed CFO
TUPELO – The City Council on Tuesday unanimously confirmed the appointment of Lynn Norris as Tupelo’s next chief financial officer.
Norris, who was present at the meeting, replaces interim CFO Kim Hanna. She had served for one year in that position and will now become the city’s clerk.
Previously, the jobs of CFO and city clerk had been combined into one role. Now they’ll be separate.