OUR OPINION: Council's biggest challenge remains

By NEMS Daily Journal

Two years ago, the composition of the Tupelo City Council changed significantly.
The first change was structural. The council had previously been nine members, seven elected from wards and two elected citywide. The at-large positions were eliminated after a successful lawsuit charged that they diluted minority voting strength, and the council went from nine to seven members with the 2009 elections.
The second change in composition was in the officeholders themselves. Of the seven council members elected in 2009, only two were veterans of the previous council. Three of the five incumbents who ran for re-election were defeated.
This change represented a community consensus that the previous council’s relationship with each other and with then-Mayor Ed Neelly had deteriorated to the point that city government was suffering. There was a desire among many voters for a fresh start.
How have these changes – structurally and in people – worked out as the mid-term milestone is marked?
Fears that the loss of council members elected citywide would result in a more parochial council – that there would be no one on the council with a citywide, as opposed to a ward-oriented view – have proved largely unfounded. Ward politics is always part of city governance, but it doesn’t appear to be any more so this term than in previous administrations.
As for council members’ working relationships with each other and the mayor elected with them, Jack Reed Jr., there have been bumpy spots but by and large it’s been better than the previous four years. Factionalism doesn’t appear to be as evident on this council as on the last one.
Clearly, year one of this administration was more congenial and productive than year two has been. That seems to be the way with political bodies. But the accomplishments so far in both years, detailed in the Sunday Journal, are not insignificant. Among them are the recent approval of the Main Street enhancement project, the Complete Streets policy that commits the city to better and more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood design, another phase of the Major Thoroughfare Program, progress on developing an Aquatic Center plan, and a reasonable Sunday alcohol sales ordinance.
Of course, the council’s challenges were made more difficult and complex when 2010 Census data revealed that Tupelo’s population and median income level had stagnated while communities around it grew. The measure of the success of the remainder of this council’s term will be whether it can craft a consensus soon on a policy response to that telling data. The inability to reach a consensus so far should only mean a redoubling of efforts because without concerted action, the negative trends will surely continue.
This mayor and council have done some good things for Tupelo in the last two years, but the coming months will go a long way in determining the ultimate success of this four-year term.