'Rambling' Tupelo renewal effort to get focused

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The organizer of a grassroots effort to revitalize Tupelo praised the results of Tuesday’s kickoff meeting, but others doubted its early success.
Highland Circle resident Jim Newman’s gathering drew more than 100 people to the Link Centre to share ideas on the city’s future.
He said he’s now compiling a list of the suggestions put forth by residents and will call another meeting to develop a plan.
But though more than a dozen people spoke, few concrete suggestions emerged. Most participants instead aired grievances – about the public schools, the city’s current revitalization plan and about a lack of code enforcement.
“I didn’t think the meeting was very productive at all,” said City Council President Fred Pitts, who described the meeting as “a rambling for two hours of every complaint anybody has ever had in the last 20 years.”
Newman acknowledged some of the speakers got off topic but said it’s important to give everyone a platform. He also said he did hear some workable solutions to attract more middle-income families to the city. Among them were a plan to cap the percentage of rental housing in the city and his own idea of creating a math and science school inside the former Church Street Elementary School building.
The next step, Newman said, involves organizing a smaller task force of volunteer residents to examine the proposals and put together a solid plan to present to the City Council. That will be done through his website, www.tupelocitizens.com.
He asked for 90 days to complete the process. But council members already have a plan on the table. The Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan recommends four key strategies to clean up blight and entice families to live and stay in the city. It hasn’t passed, though, despite months of scrutiny and debate.
“I personally think we need to scratch the whole plan on the table and start over,” said Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell, who also attended the community meeting.
But Newell doubted the ideas put forth by residents this week could get council approval.
“I think there were some productive comments and then I think there were some that were not,” he said. “I left early. I couldn’t invest two hours to … listen to people ramble. If they want a citizens committee, then it has to be a smaller group of people focused on the issue.”