Rutledge reflects on his 12 years as mayor of Pontotoc

PONTOTOC – Bill Rutledge says that after 12 years as mayor, he’s leaving the city of Pontotoc in good financial shape and with vastly improved infrastructure.
Rutledge will end his tenure Monday, passing the gavel to his neighbor, Jeff Stafford, who outpolled him in the Democratic primary.
Formerly the city’s director of public works, Rutledge led an administration whose advances began with the city services that are least visible but most missed when they don’t work.
“My whole background has been in utilities,” he said. “I knew coming in we had to increase our fire protection, water supply and wastewater capacity.”
The city has a new treatment plant that can serve far into the future, new elevated water tanks and parallel water lines that ensure sufficient supplies even for firefighting.
During Rutledge’s tenure, Pontotoc consolidated most of its departments in a converted warehouse, built a more accessible police station, added a fire station and laid plans to relocate the old one.
Other advances include an annexation in the fast-growing commercial corridor along Highway 15, completion of the Sportsplex’s first phases and the attraction of new businesses such as a planned Holiday Inn Express and a CVS pharmacy.
Some progress came at a high political cost, including a ban on smoking in public places and a general cleanup effort.
“There were a lot of areas of blight in Pontotoc,” Rutledge said. “We worked hard on putting some codes in place to protect the people of Pontotoc and their future.”

Tragedy and advantage
The most indelible aspect of the Rutledge years began when a tornado killed six Pontotoc residents and devastated much of the city in 2001. For months afterward, the mourning, cleanup and other aspects of recovery dominated life here.
“I believe that brought us closer together as a community than anything else could have,” he said. “We worked as hard as anybody could, and there were so many volunteers.”
Community spirit wasn’t the only silver lining. The tornado secured tornado sirens, shelters and portable generators, and some residents got help to build better homes than they’d had before.
Rutledge stopped just short of saying the tornado was almost a blessing. “If it hadn’t been for the loss of lives…,” he said, his voice trailing off.

New roles
Rutledge will start a new job as a trainer with Mississippi 811, the utility consortium that helps keep farmers, contractors and even do-it-yourselfers safe by marking pipelines, cables and other underground utilities in advance of any digging.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “It’s still public service work; it’s all about public safety.”
Rutledge and his wife, Wanda, an insurance agent, will remain in Pontotoc, but he will keep a low profile while Stafford acclimates to the mayor’s job.
“I don’t want to be a deterrent,” Rutledge said. “He’s my mayor, too.”

Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal