Shelton ponders department heads

Tupelo stockBy Robbie Ward
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mayor Jason Shelton will not have an opportunity to nominate one city department head to formally join his administration.

A day after presenting his department’s upcoming budget to the Tupelo City Council, public works director Sid Russell made an announcement to retire, sharing the news with his staff of about 60 employees on Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, Russell presented to City Council members a budget for the 2014 fiscal year totaling less than the current year’s budget. He also mentioned saving 11 percent in expenses since he moved his department to a four-day work week and how the department eliminated a quarter of its staff and still maintains high productivity.

“He was not asked to retire, resign or anything like that,” Shelton said Wednesday. “We certainly appreciate all of his service and many years to the city.”

Russell’s last day as a city employee will be Oct. 16, giving the mayor time to fill the position. Russell began working with the city more than 25 years ago as an equipment operator and worked his way up.

This retirement comes before Shelton has selected any of the 10 current department heads to keep their jobs, something he said he’d begin doing this month. Informally, Shelton has said he’ll keep the city’s financial department heads – City Clerk Kim Hanna and Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris.

All other department heads have voiced interest in keeping their jobs. A new position Shelton wants to create in the new fiscal year is an in-house city attorney. City Council members haven’t indicated whether the position, if approved, would be considered a department head position.

Shelton has requested the City Council set the in-house attorney salary at $90,000 annually, making it one of the highest paid positions in Tupelo city government.

The median salary among current department heads is $76,610.

The mayor said he will focus on the finalizing the city budget with the City Council, required by state law by Sept. 15 and now plans to nominate his department heads in early October.

“These decisions are more important to be right than quick,” Shelton said.

Previous Mayor Jack Reed Jr. nominated department heads on Sept. 14, the first year of his term.

City Council members have questioned Shelton about when to expect nominations but haven’t received clear answers. Councilman Mike Bryan of Ward 6 brought up the topic during the recent city retreat and during a previous council meeting.

Johnny Timmons, head of Tupelo Water & Light, has worked for the city for nearly four decades, half of that time as department leader. He acknowledged the time between a new administration taking office and when department leaders receive nominations as a time of uncertainty. He said he always looks forward to the mayor nominating and the City Council confirming department heads.

“You can get 100 percent focused on your job then and not have the unknown hanging over your head,” Timmons said.

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  • DoubleTalk

    Here is another example of disconnect between City officials and the public they are suppose to serve. Those making policy, laws, codes etc enjoy a much higher guaranteed salary and benefits and as a result make these decisions based on their financial level instead of the average citizen. Does their job warrant such salaries ? You decide.

    The average citizen has the unknown hanging over their head yearly, some weekly. It is a bad feeling I am certain, yet they go to work and give it their best for much less pay and benefits.

    I would hope the new Mayor will keep and/or hire Dept heads that have a connection with average folks. Know how they live daily, know the struggles they endure and above all haven’t adopted the attitude of this is my kingdom, you are my serfs.