By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Back in March, Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr. flipped through his crammed schedule trying to find time to visit one of his sons out of town. Looking at his work planner, he responded to his wife, Lisa, in his trademark calm, conciliatory voice.
“Things will be different in four months,” he said.
Reed, 61, leaves office at the end of the week after serving a four-year term. Mayor-elect Jason Shelton and the new City Council will be sworn in on July 1. Reed will return to work at this family business full time.
When he ran for office, the longtime civic leader said he tried to look at the experience at a job interview. He talked about his visions and goals for the city.
Many of his conversations, speeches and discussions lately could be considered his “exit interview.” He talks about successes and challenges for the city and optimism for the future.
After serving about 10,000 hours in the role of mayor, the man who introduces himself as “Jack Reed, Tupelo, Mississippi,” while visiting out of town still believes in the city’s ability to solve challenges facing the community through residents’ contributions.
“The really big successes of moving Tupelo forward have not been through the city government,” he said. “But through the private sector.”
Reed has appointed more than 60 citizen volunteers to commissions, boards and other roles in local government. He considers that his human assets legacy.
However, his other achievements during his administration an effort focused on improving quality of life in Tupelo, the economic center of Northeast Mississippi.
In short, Reed has tried to come up with actions that helped Tupelo be attractive for more people to want to live, work and enjoy themselves in the city. He leaves office with measurable actions that will help judge his effectiveness in public service.
He speaks about his administration in the present tense, like a leader still trying to achieve his goals before the job ends. For Reed, he wanted to help make Tupelo a “cool” place where people want to live and work.
For his administration, he set five “visions” when he decided to run for mayor:
• Create good jobs and a strong economy.
• Build consensus in all areas.
• Strengthen neighborhoods and beautify public spaces.
• Make Tupelo known as a center of lifelong learning.
• Make Tupelo the state’s healthiest city.
“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel with these things,” he said recently at his office. “I’m just making sure we have quality-of-place things happen.”
Throughout his term in office, Reed’s actions have revolved around making people want to live in Tupelo compared to Oxford, Birmingham, Nashville, or even neighboring smaller communities.
In his 13-page report he read during his last City Council meeting on Tuesday, Reed named many accomplishments achieved during his time as leader.
Tupelo was named an “All America City” for the fourth time. Blue Cross and Blue Shield named it the healthiest city in the state. The police department received national accreditation, and the fire department was named best in the state by the Mississippi Burn Foundation.
Reed touts construction of a new aquatic center in east Tupelo and other projects in the city while keeping city government in strong financial shape. The recent completed audit for Fiscal Year 2012 showed a city with $20 million in reserves ($18.2 million wasn’t set aside for anything) after $29.8 million in annual expenses and $32.1 million in revenue.
For the first time, the city works with a five-year capital budget, helping plan out priorities for big-ticket, longer-lasting expenses like fire trucks.
The city created a Tupelo Reads effort to help encourage literacy and also helped spearhead giving each newborn leaving North Mississippi Medical Center the book “Goodnight Moon.”
While time will help decide his administration’s legacy, Reed said he has tried to help residents come together for the benefit of making Tupelo better for current residents and future generations.
Unity, a theme stressed for years in Tupelo – has been key to Reed’s time in office. He entered office following an administration and council with a reputation for bickering and confrontation. Reed has actively worked to help smooth relations with city council members and within Tupelo.
A symbol of his success for bridging different sections of the community was displayed when a black minister sang the song “If I can help somebody” as a tribute to Reed and outgoing City Council members Fred Pitts and Jonny Davis during the last council meeting.
Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis, one of two black council members and the longest serving on the current council, organized tributes also.
“He’s been a mayor that people in the community can support,” Davis said.
Critics and challenges
While trying to bridge unity gaps in the community, Reed has been associated with some divisive issues, including the rehiring of Robert Hall, a former deputy police chief who was previously found guilty of misdemeanor accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice by information in connection with his releasing a hit-and-run suspect in May 2006. Hall, who is black, received support from the black community, while many in the city believed the conviction made him unsuitable for service, despite his 20 years of service.
Hall resigned in 2007 after Board on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training denied him a law enforcement certificate.
“The was certainly the most disappointing situation,” Reed said.
The outgoing mayor won’t be accused of shying away from new ideas to help distinguish Tupelo from other communities. Reed raised eyebrows while seeking solutions for a city facing stunted growth, blighted neighborhoods and questions about discipline in schools.
Reed embraced an “All-America City” plan that included paying a portion of college costs for a limited number of Tupelo Public School District graduates attending their third and fourth year of public colleges and universities in the state. He also supported the city offering a limited amount of down payment loans for people seeking to buy a house in Tupelo, helping match federal programs offering full home loans in nearby communities.
These ideas didn’t pass council approval, but Reed remains confident the city must continue to find innovative ways to convince people to choose Tupelo as home.
“I’m not going to stick my head down in the sand because I’m afraid of being shot at,” he said.
Instead, Reed pressed forward with a pilot neighborhood redevelopment project in the West Jackson Street area, parts of which have struggled with crime and a gradual switch to rental property.
After the City Council approved about $3 million in redevelopment funding for the project, intended as a model to be replicated throughout tired neighborhoods in the city, council members pushed back when asked to allow a committee comprised of bankers, real estate agents and other professionals to have freedom to make acquisition and property negotiations with the money.
Last week, Reed and the council reached a compromise that allows the committee to spend up to $250,000 before getting permission to spend more.
Back to business
In a week, Reed will return to working the family business selling Mississippi State University College World Series T-shirts. As he packs his office in City Hall, he’ll take a TNA wrestling championship and other mementos and reminders of achievements during his four-year term.
While trying to accomplish serious business for the city, Reed said he’s tried to show that it’s all right to take time to smile and have a good time at whatever he does.
“I don’t like to take myself too seriously,” Reed said recently, standing close to his wrestling belt.
While losing his title of elected official soon, Reed said he’ll keep his role as engaged resident.
“I enjoy the role of a private citizen trying to put back into the community,” he said.