By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – With 35 years experience as a salesman, business owner Fred Pitts has just more than two weeks to convince voters to buy into his vision for Tupelo.
Business associates, friends and family say Pitts, 70, has selling in his blood. A key quality to successful salespeople is that they need to believe in what they sell.
An owner of two businesses for years – one selling office equipment and supplies and another storing business supplies and equipment – Pitts said he “hasn’t retired,” even if he did sell one of them before he was elected to the City Council four years ago.
He loves the experience of interacting with customers and finding ways to surpass expectations. He said part of his satisfaction with sales is knowing he wasn’t born with a knack for it.
“I’ve taught myself to be a good salesman,” he said. “It didn’t just come to me.”
That’s why Pitts believes he’s the right man to run the city as mayor, a position that pays $92,242. With incumbent Jack Reed Jr. deciding not to seek re-election, Republican Pitts will face Democrat Jason Shelton, 37, an attorney.
If elected mayor, Pitts would be responsible for running the city’s day-to-day operations and making appointments to commissions, boards, authorities and other groups. He would also place items on the City Council’s agenda.
“I think many of the same attributes of being a good salesman work in politics,” he said. “I’ve got to sell the majority of the council on an idea.”
BELIEF IN TUPELO
Pitts, who grew up in Jackson and graduated from Mississippi College, says his desire to be mayor stems from believing in Tupelo and wanting to help the community continue to thrive. He wants young families to move to and stay in the city to experience the same appreciation for it that he and his wife, Carol, have had since moving to Tupelo more than 40 years ago.
“We came here in 1969 and fell in love with the city in the first week,” said Pitts, who still lives in the same house he bought when his young family moved to town.
Acknowledging that he doesn’t have all the answers to challenges facing residents and city government, Pitts said he wants to create more ways to interact with constituents. To help connect, Pitts said he will set aside times once every two weeks where anyone can meet with him in City Hall to discuss anything city-related.
“I think of it as something like ‘coffee with the mayor,’” Pitts said. “We’ll try to live-stream it online and even let people text questions.”
Other residents in the city say they see Pitts’ love for the community through his activities. A longtime member of the Kiwanis Club, Pitts has participated in fundraising and leadership roles on the local, regional and national level.
Duke Loden, a commercial real estate broker and also a longtime member of Kiwanis, said he knows Pitts would serve Tupelo well as mayor.
“He’s got an interest in community service and helping children,” said Loden. “Fred’s always been in leadership in our community.”
By most accounts, Pitts should have an easy sell with voters. He’s the only candidate in the race who has served in elected office – he currently represents Ward 2 on the City Council and has served as council president each year in office, something unprecedented for the city.
Pitts and the current administration have helped bring calm to city government previously known for conflict and tumult between the mayor and council and among council factions. He has tried to help usher ideas supported by Reed through the City Council.
While Mayor Reed hasn’t publicly endorsed Pitts, Jack Reed Sr., a longtime community advocate and business owner, said the councilman is his choice for mayor.
“He’s a good friend,” Reed Sr. said. “He’s also going to follow up with the things he and Jack worked together on.”
Pitts also has history on his side. Tupelo voters have picked Republican candidates for mayor for more than three decades.
With a nearly perfect attendance record for City Council, department head and neighborhood association meetings, Pitts will never get accused of not showing up.
However, some critics of Pitts say he is personally brusque. Pitts acknowledges hearing criticism that he sometimes appears rude or arrogant.
Pitts can occasionally seem peeved at others who aren’t aware of information he knows. About three weeks ago at a candidate forum at Traceway Retirement Community, he seemed shocked by a question from a resident.
“What is the city doing to bring more bike paths?” the retiree asked.
“Where have you been for the last four years?” Pitts responded, turning his head away from the man. “Wow!”
Then Pitts explained how much funding the city has allocated to sidewalks and bike paths, along with grant opportunities the city continues to pursue.
Tupelo Major Thoroughfare Program Chairman Greg Pirkle, a longtime friend and fellow choir member with Pitts at Calvary Baptist Church, said he appreciates the candidate’s passion for making Tupelo better. Pirkle believes in Pitts’ leadership and ability to find solutions so much that he made a financial contribution to his campaign.
However, he also acknowledges Pitts isn’t the best politician, that he can say things that unintentionally rub people the wrong way.
“He’s a leader, but not necessarily a politician,” Pirkle said. “But I see that as a strength.”
Whatever the reason, the mayor’s race has tightened and Pitts’ supporters are anxious about the June 4 general election. The state Republican Party has identified Tupelo’s mayoral election as one of the top four priorities for this year’s municipal elections, something unusual in recent memory.
State GOP chairman Joe Nosef attended a fundraiser for Pitts last week and vowed to contribute other resources closer to the election. Other statewide Republican leaders are expected to appear in Tupelo on Pitts’ behalf.
Pitts has acknowledged that the election seems closer than he’d anticipated but said he will do all in his power to convince voters to elect him mayor.
His campaign pitch is simple. He understands and appreciates Tupelo and wants to help keep it special for future generations.
“I have a family – kids, grandkids. I can relate to young families and understand what they’re going through or will go through,” Pitts said. “I have the experience and the wisdom to be open-minded and level-headed in issues with the city.
“I know what it takes to advance Tupelo.”
Fred Pitts, Republican
INFO: (662) 844-6163
FAMILY: Wife, Carol M. Pitts; two sons, two grandchildren; three stepgrandchildren
EDUCATION: Mississippi College.
OCCUPATION: Self-employed/Safestore of Tupelo Inc.
COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES: Past president of Tupelo Kiwanis Club;
Kiwanis district foundation; Safeguard Business Systems Board
of Directors. Past Kiwanis lieutenant governor, past Kiwanis
trustee. Member of GumTree Museum of Art, Lee County Friends
of Library, Yocona Area Boy Scouts, Tupelo Community Theatre,
Tupelo Ballet Company, Community Development Foundation; All-
America City team who won for fourth time; Excel by 5 Coalition.