Shelton to name department heads beginning in August

Tupelo stockBy Robbie Ward
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Beginning Thursday, department heads for the city of Tupelo will be on the watch list.

Mayor Jason Shelton has said he will make announcements beginning in August related to city department head nominations.

With the newly elected mayor evaluating 10 of the city’s appointed department heads, some observers of city government have increased scrutiny of department heads’ actions. For example, Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton didn’t attend an agenda review or the City Council meeting last week. Others in the police department attended on his behalf.

What could that mean?

And what about development services director BJ Teal’s house up for sale? Where will she go?

While interest remains high in leaders Shelton will select for his administration, he and current department heads agree that no one should draw conclusions based on coincidences.

Carleton didn’t attend the meetings because he took the week off to travel out of town. As for Teal’s house, she and her husband plan to downsize to a property easier to manage.

“We’ve planned on this for months,” Teal said.

Shelton, Tupelo’s first Democratic mayor in nearly 30 years, isn’t shocked by speculation related to his looming decisions, especially after recalling his experience campaigning for mayor.

“I wouldn’t put any stock in rumors,” Shelton said. “I don’t know a single one I heard during the campaign that was true.”

While no department head has indicated a desire to leave his or her job, historically, new mayors make personnel changes to help shape their administrations, tailored to specific goals. Shelton’s primary campaign theme involved retaining and recruiting more middle-class families to the city. He also mentioned how the city’s commercial and residential codes seemed too restrictive.

With Tupelo’s mayor/council form of government, the mayor nominates most department level employees for City Council approval. After the council approves them, department heads serve at the will of the mayor.

Exceptions include department heads funded through more sources than city tax dollars, said Tupelo city attorney John Hill. Boards and commissions and authorities hire positions such as Josh Abramson, executive director of the Tupelo Airport Authority, and Todd Hunt, director of BancorpSouth Arena.

Among current department heads Shelton has authority to nominate, the median salary is $76,610.

Appointment of department heads is one of the most important decisions during a mayor’s four-year term, said Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute of Government and an expert on municipal government.

“The new mayor of Tupelo has a heavy executive responsibility given to him by state statutes,” Wiseman said. “I wouldn’t want to undertake that without qualified department heads who are loyal to doing the best job as possible.”

Department heads also can appear symbolic for administrations when mayors want a leadership team reflective of the community. When former Mayor Jack Reed Jr. shaped his administration, he asked the City Council to elevate personnel director Cassandra Moore’s position to a department-level position, making her the only African-American to lead a city department at the time.

Based on Shelton’s political support in majority black city wards and the Tupelo’s changing demographics, more racial diversity among city department heads seems natural to political observers.

Members of the black community in Ward 4 literally organized an impromptu parade for Shelton on election day, while Councilwoman Nettie Davis, now council president, campaigned for him.

Data from the 2010 Census showed the black population in the city of 34,546 had increased by more than 31 percent from a decade earlier, to 12,709.

“It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see more than one African-American department head,” Wiseman said.

Until Shelton announces his decisions on department heads and his other appointments, city employees and others continue to wait. Shelton, an attorney, also will decide how legal work for the city is handled.

The law firm of Mitchell McNutt and Sams has contracted with the city of Tupelo to handle legal work for 36 out of 40 years since 1973. Hill, a member of the firm, said he would like that to continue. Like department heads with the city, he waits for Shelton to make up his mind.

“There’s been some talk but I don’t think a decision has been made,” Hill said.

  • Just Wondering

    Mayor Shelton should really look at this Mr. Abramson with the airport. They let the previous guy go for lack of confidence and still have confidence in this guy with all that’s happened out there. Come on Tupelo leaders?!?

    • Tupelo_Guy

      I agree. They should hire Terry Anderson back. Since Mr. Abramson took the job, the airport has been in bad shape…losing money.

  • Cornballer

    Ha! Although it looks as if the airport is a complete mess with this UAM deal, there’s no way Anderson gets back in, nor should he. He dynamited, collected the remains, burned, then took a dump on the ashes of that bridge a while back. Never mind his tangential rants about the airport here on DJ whenever anything remotely close to an airplane or airport is mentioned. I’m sure he’d do a perfectly fine job as an airport manager somewhere, it just doesn’t need to be around here.

  • fairorright

    Cornballer, it sounds like you were part of the ashes. What was it; illegal operations taken down by the feds,poor service or safety record or just ignorance?. Facts and truth are hard to stomach by those that live by deception, rhetoric and misrepresentation.

    The facts sure indicate that the current Board as well as the Director needs to look for another airport to ruin. Sometimes burning graft and deceit is better than the tsunami left by conflicts of interest, deceiving leases and fees and a horrendous safety record. Even the recent audit couldn’t produce “year end trial balances that reconciled to the provided financial statements.” I’m sure Mr. Pickering will find this tsunami to be in violation of sound operations for a public airport. Tupelo citizens are becoming more informed of the truth, Cornballer, and so should you.

  • Just Wondering

    Can someone please explain why the airport has to pay for repair that has been caused by these people bringing in these huge planes. If I have a car wreck my insurance company would be paying for damage done to someone else’s property? If I rent an apartment and I damage it, who do you think the landlord will hold responsible? Just Wondering.

    • fairorright

      can stop wondering when an audit is completed on the airport’s leases,
      budgeting and accounting statements. Universal Asset Management (UAM) currently
      holds a Lease that contains rent far below a normal rent for a facility worth $6-7M.
      Words like discount and abatement are used to artificially inflate the
      accounting statement. Standard airport rates and fees were either not used or
      excluded. The same applies to the Leases that the other private companies have.
      Airport Improvement Program entitlement
      grants were used , according to the Director in an interview, to make the first
      improvements to the UAM leased grounds. That’s in violation of FAA Assurances for AIP grants. UAM also uses space well in access of
      their lease agreement. UAM also doesn’t pay the $500 fee per landing that’s
      part of the airport’s rates and fees structure. And when is the Airport
      Authority going to increase UAM’s rent for these leasehold improvements. That
      same point applies to the Fixed Base Operator management company, AMS. These
      are leach operations and the public is the “sugar daddy.” It’s time for the
      Mayor to hold TAA accountable, Just Wondering.

  • Poorcityworker

    Really hoping Mayor Shelton will do some drastic changes at Public Works its crazy how that lady runs things got a man as director but this lady runs it whatever she says goes. Really sux working in her little playpen. She shows favortism toward her little snitches maybe just maybe Mayor you will do some changes!!

    • Cambric

      This sounds like Mark or Tom. Look, guys, if you got off your lazy butts, you wouldn’t have problems with her. Unlike the half-asleep department director, Sid Russell, Susan has some gumption and tries to make sure the taxpayers get their money’s worth.


        We received a call from Mark. He says that neither he nor Tom wrote the comment written by “Poorcityworker” 2 days ago.