By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – For decades considered the wrong side of the tracks by many people in the city, east Tupelo now has two men working hard in the quest to represent it for the next four years.
Registered voters of Ward 5 have a choice between Jonny Davis, 48, an incumbent who has worked hard to connect the eastern part of the city to the rest of Tupelo, and Buddy Palmer, 72, a retired grocer whose property has been annexed by the city twice.
The part-time city council position pays $16,932 annually and works with the six other council representatives to set public policy for Tupelo. Included in the position is approving or rejecting many members recommended by the mayor to boards and commissions.
Davis and Palmer both say they are best qualified to represent the area that covers most of east Tupelo, once a stand-alone municipality, along with newly annexed areas north of Highway 78 such as Deer Park and Indian Hills. The city ward includes Veterans Park and an Itawamba Community College campus.
Both men have been involved in the community in different ways through their adult lives. Davis and his wife, Sherry, a biology instructor at ICC, have focused on helping improve public schools through the years by serving in leadership roles in parents organizations. Palmer has coached youth football and baseball and served on a handful of city boards, including the planning committee and parks and recreation board.
Inside Johnnie’s Drive In near East Main Street recently, Davis explained the value of the Major Thoroughfare Program construction project that’s arrived to the roadway. He said it is much more than a taxpayer-funded project that will ease traffic congestion in the area and include biking and walking paths connecting downtown the Elvis Presley’s birthplace. With a history of feeling slighted by leaders in City Hall, Davis sees it as a symbolic connection between the east side of the city and the rest of Tupelo.
“We’re all in the same boat rowing in the same direction,” he said. “If we don’t row together, we’ll all sink.”
The project is funded through a combination of city and federal funding.
Also with the current City Council, $12 million was allocated to build a new aquatic center at Veterans Park, a facility currently located at Rob Leake City Park in Ward 2, an addition to east Tupelo that both Palmer and Davis support.
Receiving the most new residents from the recent annexation, many people in the area want to feel confident the city will provide full public services in a timely matter. As part of the annexation plan, the city of Tupelo allocated more than $21 million for water, sewer and other related annexation costs.
Living in an area recently annexed, Palmer said he’s the natural candidate for annexed residents to support, suggesting that many residents opposed to the annexation originally wouldn’t support the incumbent.
“To annexed people, annexation happened during his term,” Palmer said. “I think it would be good to have a representative who lived in that annexed area.”
While the state Supreme Court sided with the city of Tupelo in 2012 in the court case with Lee County, city officials filed petitions to annex 16 square miles in 2008, before Davis began serving on the council.
Discussing annexation, Davis said his opponent seems to mislead and has the wrong approach.
“One difference between my opponent and me, I feel like I’m speaking to unify and my opponent is speaking to divide,” Davis said. “We’re not going to stand on the sidelines with city services. I want it done immediately.”
Another difference between the men is Palmer said he wouldn’t have publicly issued a statement for the previous Tupelo Public School District superintendent, Randy Shaver, to resign. Members of the city council, including Davis, called for him to step down, and he followed their advice and resigned in April 2011.
Davis said he stands behind his decision to call for new leadership, along with all other decisions he has made as councilman.
“I can justify why I have voted the way I have for the last four years,” he said. “I have never voted against my conscience or constituents.”
For Palmer, he said his many years running the grocery store, Palmer’s Big Star Supermarket, taught him how to work with others and solve problems.
“In the grocery business, you have to be a diplomat,” he said.
JONNY DAVIS, R (INCUMBENT)
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Family: Married with two sons, one granddaughter
Education: Tupelo High School, Itawamba Community College, University of Mississippi
Occupation: Private property management
Community Service: Current Tupelo City councilman, Ward 5; Major Thoroughfare Committee; Commercial/Residential License Commission; Veterans Park F-105 Thunderchief Jet Project Committee; Association for Excellence in Education, president; Presley Heights Neighborhood Association, president; Lawhon Elementary School PTO, president; TPSD Parent Council, president; Lawhon Elementary School Long Range Planning Committee, chairman; TPSD School Redistricting Committee, chairman; founding member, the Parents Campaign; volunteer: Regional Rehab, Boy Scouts; Helping Hands Food Pantry; First United Methodist Church Children’s Ministry; NRA charter member Golden Eagles; Who’s Who Worldwide Business Leadership member
BUDDY PALMER, R
Contact information: email@example.com
Family: Married with two sons
Education: Tupelo High School; Mississippi State University, marketing degree
Occupation: Retired small business owner, Palmer’s Supermarket
Community activities: Coached Tupelo Parks & Rec football for 10 years (Lawhon Colts); sponsored Tupelo P&R baseball teams (Palmer’s Supermarket); served on boards/committees: Tupelo Parks & Rec, Planning Committee, Museum Board, Affordable Housing; member, Presley Heights Neighborhood Association
Ward 5 Q&A
1. What relevant experience and personal qualifications would you bring to the Tupelo City Council?
I am the best-qualified candidate, serving as the current Ward 5 city councilman and working for more than two decades volunteering on city committees and in the local schools. My experience and knowledge gives me a unique ability to continue progress in Presley Heights. My established relationship with Council members, department heads and employees offers the citizens of Ward 5 proven leadership to continue working hard for them every day. I worked to bring a balanced budget, higher quality of life, more projects and improvements, improved city services and the new Aquatic Center to our ward with no tax increases.
As a small business owner, I know how to work with people and realize the importance of staying within your budgetary limits. I will offer a unique perspective to the council, as I have lived in the city of Tupelo for most of my life, a resident of Ward 5 for more than 40 years and a resident of the newly annexed area for nine years.
2. Name the top three goals/projects that you will pursue if elected.
Continue my work to improve neighborhoods in our ward and the city through better streets, drainage and services available to citizens.
Continue my work to increase tourism in our ward and the city through improvements at the Elvis Presley Birthplace, Coliseum, Civil War and Native American sites, festivals and the new Aquatic Center at Veterans Park.
Continue my work recruiting businesses to our ward and the city.
Working on these three key areas will keep taxes low, quality of life high, and increase Tupelo’s presence as the premier destination to live, work, play and raise a family, while remaining the industrial and retail center of north Mississippi.
My No. 1 goal is to learn all I can about city government, and I am looking forward to this opportunity.
Another goal would be to work with the new mayor and council to make the very best decisions for all residents of Tupelo and to keep Tupelo’s “All-American City” tradition alive and well.
A third goal would be to work hard to ensure a smooth transition for our newly annexed citizens and that city services are provided them in a timely and informed manner.
3. The 2010 Census showed stalled population growth and median income in Tupelo compared with northern suburbs. How should city government help retain and recruit middle-class residents?
City government can retain and recruit residents by working directly with the private sector and being present and active in supporting this partnership. Many years of apathy and noncommitment from city government placed Tupelo in a difficult position. This apathy led to declining neighborhoods, underperforming schools, deteriorating roads, and lack of new and improved infrastructure, causing citizens to relocate. This relocation also caused an imbalance in housing rental property, further straining neighborhood integrity and causing declining home values. I have been steadfast in working/voting to correct this decline, bringing unprecedented improvements and projects to our ward without any tax increases.
There is no easy answer for this, but we must continue to provide our city with the following:
• Superior schools with adequate discipline policies in place.
• Low crime rate.
• Affordable housing.
• A clean and beautiful city.
• Great parks.
• Job opportunities.
• City needs to be fiscally responsible.
• Provide citizens with first-class services.
• Reasonable codes and ordinances that are enforced.
The city must address these and many other areas to attract and keep new residents.
4. Tupelo has begun taxpayer-funded neighborhood redevelopment initiatives. Do you support continued action and expansion of these projects?
I will continue to support public/private partnerships to improve Tupelo’s neighborhoods and property values, while attempting to decrease our overspent rental property percentage. A strong city requires every stakeholder, every tool, and every effort to maintain and improve the foundation of that city. No one piece of this corrective puzzle can afford to sit on the sideline and wait for someone else to fix the problem.
I bring the leadership skills, qualifications, experience, and willingness to continue the unprecedented growth in our ward. I will continue to work hard and fight hard for east Tupelo as your re-elected city councilman.
I will support re-development initiatives in “all” neighborhoods in Tupelo, when it pertains to providing better city services in that area (streets, sidewalks, lighting, enforcement of codes, etc.) that fall within the city’s budgetary limits. I will need more knowledge on “taxpayer funding” before I can make a further statement of support.