Most Tupelo candidates reveal their income sources

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

Three candidates for Tupelo City Council can expect to receive letters from the Mississippi Ethics Commission informing them of their failure to inform the public of their financial interests, a violation of state law, if they don’t file the paperwork soon.
While those candidates haven’t filed the required documents for candidates, four others filed the documents past the deadline.
Among the candidates who filed the annual paperwork late, Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis hadn’t filed the documents since 2009. While the state Ethics Commission often sends out notices reminding incumbents to file the form, Davis said it slipped past him.
“I’d say it was an oversight or misunderstanding,” he said when asked about the report on Monday. “I don’t want any of my constituents to think I’m trying to hide anything.”
Davis filed reports for 2010, 2011 and 2012 on Wednesday.
Required by state law of candidates, incumbents and appointed officials, information in the documents reveals their personal financial interests. The document requires disclosure of sources of income where they receive more than $2,500 per year, own at least 10 percent of business or value in one exceeding $5,000 or where the person is an employee, director or officer of a business.
While sources of income are required, income amounts are not.
Candidates are required to file statements of economic interest within 15 days of qualifying to run for office.
Charlie Mitchell, assistant dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi, said candidates and public officials disclosing personal income sources provide “basic transparency” by revealing any potential conflicts of interest between their personal lives and public service.
“When people offer themselves for a position of public trust, the public is entitled to know if they have any conflicts to keep them from doing the job they want to do,” Mitchell said.
Two other incumbents – Markel Whittington of Ward 1 and Nettie Davis of Ward 4 – filed the documents late after contacted by the Daily Journal, as did Ward 2 candidate Lynn Bryan.
Melony Armstrong of Ward 3, Mark A. Hardin of Ward 4 and Tom Hewitt of Ward 6 still haven’t formally disclosed their sources of income, state Ethics Commission records show.
When contacted by the Daily Journal, Armstrong said she would “look into it,” Hardin called it an oversight and Hewitt disputed his filing status.
“I did it over a month ago,” he said. “I went online and filled out the papers.”
The maximum penalty for not filing is $1,000. However, fines don’t begin until after candidates receive letters of delinquency from the Ethics Commission. Jonny Davis, who went three years without filing, never received a letter, and therefore wasn’t subject to the fine.
Chris Graham, assistant director and counsel at the Ethics Commission, said with so many candidates statewide seeking office, the office isn’t always able to track down candidates who don’t comply with the law and often depends on the public to identify candidates and incumbents who don’t file.
Missy Shelton, deputy city clerk with the city of Tupelo, said candidates received documents explaining which documents to file – such as statements of economic interest and campaign finance reports – when they qualified to run for office.
As for information in the documents, records show candidates receive income from a variety of sources, from ownership of businesses to state retirement. In the mayor’s race, Democratic candidate Jason Shelton listed income from his law practice, along with rental property and a liquor store he owns. Republican mayoral candidate and current Ward 2 councilman Fred Pitts owns the business SafeStore of Tupelo.
In Ward 1, Republican Daniel Owens reported owning the children’s entertainment business, Jump Tupelo, while incumbent Whittington, also a Republican, described his occupation as retail sales and listed himself as owner, employee or member of the board of directors of four Tupelo-based businesses.
For the open Ward 2 seat, Tom Carr Jr., pending medical retirement from the Army, listed income from the Veterans Administration. His opponent in the Republican primary, Lynn Bryan, receives income from his construction company.
Incumbent Ward 3 councilman Jim Newell works as an instructor at Itawamba Community College. His opponent in the Republican primary, Liz Dawson, works as the community health director at North Mississippi Medical Center.
In the Democratic primary for Ward 4, challenger James Matkin works as an armed security guard at the Tupelo security company, Loomis Armored Us. Incumbent Davis is a retired art teacher with the Tupelo Public School District and receives income from the state retirement system.
In Ward 5, Republican Jonny Davis, incumbent, owns a property management company, while his primary opponent, Buddy Palmer, who retired from running his grocery story in east Tupelo, is listed as an officer in the company, Palmers Inc.
Incumbent Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan, a Republican, owns an insurance company. Facing him in the primary election, James “Mickey” Jenkins, a retired bus driver for the Tupelo Public School District, receives income from the state retirement system and from Social Security disability benefits, while independent contractor Wayne Chrestman works for a Birmingham, Ala.-based insurance company.
Ward 7 incumbent Willie Jennings, who faces no opponent in the primary or general election, reported income as a landlord and painter.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com