STARKVILLE – They look like a dad and two sons. But they aren’t, and they’re about to get down to some serious political scrapping to win the Starkville mayor’s job.
– Dan Camp, 67, the current mayor who said until recently he wasn’t running again.
– Matt Cox, 39, a one-term alderman with plans to change things.
– Parker Wiseman, 28, a well-known Starkvillian who’s come home to make things happen.
These three Democrats’ first hurdle is to win the Democratic nomination. The winner faces a general-election opponent, Republican political newcomer Marnita Henderson.
The issues are simple, and they’re complicated.
They’re about energy and style and momentum.
Seeking a second term, Camp says he’s ready for anything. Bring ’em on.
Cox and Wiseman say they’re ready for the challenge.
Cox reportedly has been a thorn in Camp’s side as an alderman with his own ideas about how to do things.
“A lot of really great things are happening here,” says Cox, “not because of City Hall, but in spite of it,” an obvious reference to Camp.
“This is our time,” he notes, saying he’s the right man for a new time with promise all around.
Wiseman, who grew up in Starkville, says “a large part of who I am” comes from his hometown, and he wants to be part of its future.
He says his graduate education in North Carolina gave him “a glimpse of what cities in Mississippi aren’t doing that’s being done elsewhere.”
“I want to bring that back here.”
When he’s criticized with claims he isn’t a full-time mayor, Camp bristles and says during the past four years he’s missed only one day at the office and only one board meeting.
Wiseman and Cox pledge to be a full-time mayor and question whether Camp’s full attentions have been on City Hall as his business interests have prospered.
Camp is known internationally for his Cotton District residential and commercial development just east of downtown.
Camp counters that his sons handle the business these days and his full sights are on the Oktibbeha County seat.
Perhaps the largest continuing political controversy is the one that brought former school teacher Camp to the mayor’s office four years ago: the need for a new municipal complex for City Hall, police and courts.
A citywide vote on the issue failed by less than two dozen votes.
The continuing need for the facility is one issue Cox, Wiseman and Camp agree on.
Camp says he’s got a plan to build it without any citizen vote or bond issue to pay for it.
Wiseman and Cox just say they’re ready to get it done. Both see the facilities situation as worse than four years ago.
Cox proposes to bring community interests together to talk about options.
He predicts an election to decide its fate. He also predicts the facility may wind up near Old Highway 82 to spur investment in “a tired area” of town, although he’s promising not to abandon the old City Hall downtown.
Wiseman supports a 10-year capital improvement plan to build the finances for long-range needs.
“I’ve seen the frustration of it,” Wiseman notes of the controversy. “It’s symbolic of our inability to push ahead as a community.”
What do townspeople say are the hot-button issues?
“I have no idea,” Camp said seriously last week.
Cox and Wiseman agree people want good quality of life, good jobs and good schools.
They also promise to bring the region’s leaders together to maximize every locale’s attributes for the benefit of all.
Cox wants Starkville to take the lead with a new regional industrial mega-site, ready for the big fish when it comes along.
Wiseman supports a regional approach to economic development, saying “if we look at the Golden Triangle as a unit, you can see all the things in a Tupelo or a Meridian.”
He promises to begin conversations with leaders across the region.
Wiseman also said he’s especially focused on establishing a vision for the undeveloped areas of town, such as land around the Highway 45 bypass.
“I don’t think we have a clue right now,” he said about the city’s leadership.
Camp counters with his success in the Cotton District, saying he knows what economic development is all about.
Good management of the city’s finances tops all three candidates’ lists to talk about.
Wiseman, an attorney with a master’s degree in public administration, says he’s seen how other successful cities do things and wants to bring new approaches to Starkville’s budget process.
He also wants to govern “better, cleaner and more efficiently,” which he says starts with setting long-term goals and being accountable for getting there.
Cox, the board’s budget chairman and an economics major, says he’s got the experience to hit the ground running. He’s concerned the city doesn’t do employee performance evaluations to measure what’s getting done.
Camp hardly restrains himself with praise for his own financial abilities, saying his biggest achievement as mayor is the $1 million he created by managing the money better through higher-yielding overnight investment accounts.
“I feel like I’ve done an excellent job managing the money,” Camp notes. “You can’t do anything without money.”
Growth a focus
Developers recently announced plans to build the $213 million Cotton Mill Marketplace project for residential and retail business between Camp’s Cotton District and the Mississippi State University campus.
It’s the buzz around town, with prospects for 1,000 jobs and new places to spend money by people who have to drive to Tupelo or Tuscaloosa for similar shopping experiences.
Is Camp running to make sure his interests are advanced with the Cotton Mill’s completion?
“I don’t have any problem with that,” he admits. “This project could transform this community.”
Camp touts his leadership for Cotton Mill, an expansive water-line program, road extensions, and his plans to build a new police station without a public vote or bond issue.
He says it’s taken him three years to figure out the nuts and bolts of city government, all the while making an impact for the schools, for financial management and savings, and growth. He says he sees the big picture.
“I’d save the city another three years by running again,” he laughed.
All three candidates recognize the city’s continued growth, even in tough economic times. And they say they understand how important momentum is.
Cox takes credit for spearheading Starkville to become the state’s first smoke-free community. He wants more sidewalks, expanded recycling programs.
The marathon runner also wants to promote a healthier community, starting with school children.
Camp promotes himself as a big-idea kind of guy, recognized decades ago for the architectural innovation of the Cotton District, despite his not being an architect.
“I’m sure I’m full of four more big pictures,” he joked at the prospect of a new four-year term.
Wiseman sees a big picture, too, with strong feelings his hometown should be doing more to work with the region’s other towns. He says while each city lacks all the necessary attributes for economic development, that together they have what it takes.
He also touts Starkville’s schools but takes it a step farther with a desire to open dialogue with county and community leaders about good schools for all Oktibbeha County’s children. While he says it’s not legally or politically practical to combine city and county schools, he thinks improved educational offerings for all children is crucial for their futures, as well as for regional development and jobs.
They all agree on the importance of safe and strong schools.
Cox says he wants to help raise up a new middle class to fill the void between the city’s highly educated, who populate the medical and university fields, and low-skill workers.
Camp, a former long-time school board member, doesn’t hold back his praise for the city’s schools.
But he chafes at the suggestion he’s overseen four years of contentious government, with public differences between himself and the Board of Aldermen.
“That’s pure BS,” the blunt-speaking officeholder fairly shouted. “I built consensus for virtually everything that made sense.”
Cox embraces their differences. “He has made a career and international reputation of being a rogue. That can be a real asset, but a reputation built on going it alone may not bring the skill sets to bring people together.”
And Wiseman rebuffs suggestions he’d use the mayor’s win for future political ambitions.
“I don’t have a 10-year plan,” he joked. “It’s the ultimate to serve a community I love – an opportunity to do good.”
Contact Patsy Brumfield at (662)678-1596 or patsy.brumfield.@djournal.com.
Patsy R. Brumfield/Daily Journal