By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Outgoing director of Tupelo’s Department of Development Services, BJ Teal, has left City Hall.
As of Tuesday, city planner Pat Falkner assumed duties as interim director for the city department, Mayor Jason Shelton said.
Last week, Teal confirmed her resignation and said she would work through this week and then use leave time until formally ending employment with the city on Nov. 18.
Discussing her resignation with the Daily Journal on Thursday, Teal said she had a difference of philosophy with Shelton and was discouraged by his intentions not to proceed with neighborhood redevelopment efforts similar to the current West Jackson Street project that involves using city tax dollars to purchase real estate and sell it to private developers. Teal also said she didn’t feel that she had city support.
Former Mayor Ed Neelly hired Teal in 2008 as special assistant to the mayor for planning development and was nominated as department head by former Mayor Jack Reed Jr. as director of Development Services. She was renominated by Shelton earlier this month for the position that pays $74,675.
Shelton has said he favors city redevelopment efforts limited to tax credits and abatement incentives. In his campaign for mayor earlier this year, Shelton criticized the Department of Development Services, saying it should be friendlier to the public, particularly in code enforcement.
In discussing Teal’s replacement, Shelton said he wanted to add a focus on economic development to the position.
Shelton said Teal’s public comments last week had no role in her leaving work at the city sooner than planned. “Not in my opinion,” he said.
He would not discuss whether the decision to change Teal’s last day at City Hall was his alone or was discussed with her.
“What was discussed pertaining to personnel is not something subject to being quoted in the newspaper,” Shelton said.
Teal has declined to comment further.
The Daily Journal filed public records requests on Monday for text messages and emails between Shelton and Teal from Oct. 23 until Saturday. City Clerk Kim Hanna, the official custodian of public records for the city, said Tuesday she did not have access to Shelton’s text messages since he made them from his personal cellphone.
However, Leonard Van Slyke, a Jackson-based attorney who advises the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information, said Shelton’s text messages should be treated as public information.
“If he’s doing the public’s business on the phone, the texts should be public,” Van Slyke said.
The number for the personal cellphone Shelton uses to text, email and call is listed on city of Tupelo letterhead with contact information for other city elected officials.