By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Mayor Jason Shelton stressed confidence in Tupelo’s high quality of life and stressed the importance of unity to achieve goals in his first State of the City address.
Shelton’s speech Monday highlighted achievements of city departments and employees, the sense of community in the city, the strength of the Tupelo Public School District and other positives of Tupelo.
“In the time I have been in office, I can say without a doubt that the city is moving forward in a very positive direction,” he said to the crowd at the BancorpSouth Conference Center. “But like all good cities and organizations, success is not something that happens without a great team working together toward a common goal.”
More than 400 city, community and business leaders and other residents attended the celebration of Tupelo’s present condition and heard the direction the mayor of nearly eight months plans during his four-year term in office.
Shelton provided what he described as “foreshadowing” during the speech spanning just under 45 minutes. He mentioned goals of citywide revitalization, increased quality of life and pay raises for city employees.
However, he offered few specifics on how the city will achieve these goals. He said timetables and details will emerge as he, city department heads and staff and City Council members continue to focus on key priorities.
“We’re working diligently and quickly on having formal plans,” he said in an interview with the Daily Journal before the speech.
Looming projects include citywide revitalization efforts and providing infrastructure for community and economic development projects. The City Council and mayor will meet today for a work session to discuss building a new police station and efforts to establish a public transportation system.
David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Community Development Foundation, said the speech helped point out the many obstacles and successes Tupelo has experienced in less than a year.
“For the first eight months of his term and all he’s been through, he’s done a good job,” Rumbarger said.
Shelton and other city officials responded to tragedy in December when a bank robber shot two Tupelo Police Department officers, resulting in the death of Sgt. Gale Stauffer and critically injuring Patrolman Joseph Maher.
Families of both officers attended the speech and received standing ovations.
Many residents donated food and other items and services to Tupelo police and other law enforcement as the FBI led the investigation that ended when the robber died during an attempted robbery in Phoenix, Ariz.
“When our officers came under attack, our community responded with a tremendous outpouring of love and support,” he said.
Before the shootings that stung much of the community, City Council members and Shelton had completed the fiscal year 2014 budget due in mid-September. In an early victory as mayor, Shelton convinced the council to support creating an in-house attorney position for city legal services, which an outside legal firm has historically handled on a contractual basis.
The balanced budget included no tax increase and didn’t dip into city reserves, a sign the local economy continues to rebound after struggling to emerge from lingering challenges of the recent national recession.
Councilman Willie Jennings of Ward 7 said early months of a new city administration usually involve elected officials learning dynamics of different personalities. He welcomed Shelton’s emphasis on unity.
“It’s going to take the effort of all of us as a team to come together as a team and be successful,” he said.
Council President Nettie Davis introduced Shelton as he prepared to deliver his speech. She said the mayor hit all the right notes.
“Unity is my number one theme,” she said. “His speech was very appropriate.”
Councilman Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 said he gives Shelton high marks so far. Supportive of the mayor’s goals, Bryan said healthy debate and discussion can lead to improved actions and plans.
“If we agreed on everything, no new ideas would be brought forth,” he said.