By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mayor Jack Reed Jr., delivering his State of the City address, on Tuesday urged Tupelo’s residents to renew the collaborative spirit that has produced the city’s long-term progress as well as celebrate commitments and achievements of the past year.
Reed cited every city department and its employees for singular achievements during the past year. Representatives of every department’s workforce were on hand, part of an overflow crowd of 600-plus at BancorpSouth Conference Center.
Reed didn’t shy away from ongoing tension over public schools and neighborhood revitalization issues, telling the audience, “Our choices are clear: On the one hand, we can do nothing positive, just criticize others; or we can do nothing positive for fear of being criticized by others – or – on the other hand, we can enjoy the camaraderie of other service-inspired citizens and find our place to pitch in and make things better.”
Reed, commenting on the school situation, cited several points for optimism:
* First, the system soon will have a new superintendent. “We’ve had an excellent response from qualified people who are excited about Tupelo and accepting our challenges,” he noted of the applicant pool.
* Second, the latest high-profile school personnel issue, the firing in October of Tupelo High choral director Calvin Ellis, “will soon be settled, one way or the other, and we can all move on – whichever way it goes – with grace and understanding how excruciating these episodes are for all.”
* Third, Reed said he is encouraged because the community still cares enough about the success of schools to voice concerns, and that “school board members are proactively reaching out to our community, and that many members of our community who care just as much, (but are not part of a new concern group) are coming forth to show their support.”
He urged all involved to “treat each other with respect and with the courage and humility to admit that we may not have all of the answers but that we are bonded together by our common love of our city’s children and their success. I believe we will see improvement soon.”
Reed said should the city receive a favorable judgment from the annexation case before the Mississippi Supreme Court, “we are ready to respond to it.”
He praised the work of the City Council in approving $600,000 a year for five years to make a “real difference in core neighborhoods. You can expect an announcement in the very near future that will show you what a smart investment this will be.”
He praised the city’s Finance Department for devising plans to recover from recession-related revenue losses without a tax increase and for the refinancing of city bonds at a savings of $1.6 mlllion.
The budget passed by the council this year, he said, “is a balanced budget, with no plans to utilize our $16 million reserve fund for daily operations.” This was done by reducing the city workforce from 474 to 452, allowing employees to receive a 3 percent pay raise, their first in three years.
Parks and Recreation, he noted, served 350,000 program participants in 2011.
The lack of passenger service threatened at Tupelo Regional Airport, he noted, “has been our biggest macro-economic challenge.” He called airport director Josh Abramson a “terrific new leader” who working with the Community Development Foundation had “turned what was going to be a $1.8 million loss into a $300,000 investment in bringing in a new company, United Assets Management and their jet recycling operation, and 100 new engineering jobs, to replace the Air National Guard who left this year to relocate to their new $30 million facility.”
He added, “Our biggest challenge in maintaining commercial air service is an environment where Delta Air Lines no longer wants to service airports our size … We see this as a valley in the landscape of commercial air service in Tupelo. … We are working with our delegation in Washington to fight for this every day.”