The softer side of Jon Milstead

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal


TUPELO – Jon Milstead’s work has Lee County leaders and residents talking, even if they don’t know who he is.
Some of his most recent projects include the Tupelo Reinvestment Plan and the Downtown Tupelo master plan, which includes the three-lane configuration of Main Street.
Milstead is the director of planning at the Community Development Foundation. He also has taken on the role of special projects coordinator for the organization.
Because of his job at CDF, the 33-year-old has been positioned many times as the spokesman for the projects, often defending them at public meetings and City Council sessions.
Many times those meetings become heated, yet Milstead has been lauded by various leaders for his ability to remain calm and on track.
“I realize that it’s bigger than me,” he said earlier this month, while eating fruit-flavored frozen yogurt covered with fruit toppings. “Our problems and solutions go beyond my personal interests. Working with different municipalities, we’re all in this together and we work as a team.”
Milstead works with the Council of Governments in Lee County and has planning-related responsibilities for nine municipalities, plus Lee County. Altogether, he interacts with about 60 elected officials, in addition to other city administrators and employees.
“When we come to differences, I try not to take it personally,” he said. “That’s a big part of my job – If something doesn’t work, let’s back up and try again. I’m a firm believer in not overlooking problems.
“So often, it’s easy to overlook problems and act like they don’t exist and move on,” he said. “We can’t afford to do that in Tupelo and Lee County and continue to be as successful as we’ve always been.”
The Okolona native has a vested interest in a successful future for Tupelo and Lee County because this is where he wants to raise his children.
He and his wife of 11 years, Alicia, relocated their family from Nashville in 2007. Alicia is a school teacher – she’ll teach Spanish at Shannon High School in the fall – and his two older children go to school in the Tupelo Public School District. His youngest daughter will too, when she’s old enough.
He credits his family and his faith as two major reasons for his ability to maintain his cool under pressure and the public criticism of plans.
“I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but I believe my relationship with Christ has a lot to do with keeping me engaged in the right attitude,” he said.
He signs his work emails with his name and Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.”
“I do my best to live by this verse,” he said.
He’s also a fan of exercise. He jogs in the morning with Alicia.
“Some guys get up and run four, five miles,” he said. “I envy those people. I can’t quite do that.”
He stays busy with his kids too. He rides bikes with them and his family has frequent play days at Fairpark. He also likes to play golf and spend time with his family at Pickwick, joking that it is one of the only places he can get away from work.
“There’s bad call service up there,” he said with a laugh. “I leave all my stress at Pickwick.”
He also relies on his wife for emotional support and help outside of work.
“She has to take care of me at home,” he said. “I depend on her greatly. I couldn’t do it without her.”
Right now, Milstead said his life is more tilted toward work in the work-personal balance, but he hopes to get more involved outside of work in the next five to 10 years.
One of his goals is to go on more mission trips.
Yet, he doesn’t see his work life changing much in the next five to 10 years.
“I love what I do,” he said. “It’s tough some days but I love it. I have a phenomenal staff that I work with.”
He does have some long-term projects and efforts that he’d like to see Tupelo and Lee County tackle. They include:
* A regional light rail system, using existing infrastructure, to provide commuter service from more rural areas to job centers in Lee County.
* A countywide greenway system to connect parks and points of interest in Lee County.
* A partnership with Tupelo, North Mississippi Medical Center and the universities to bring medical students to Tupelo as part of specific residency programs. Plus, he sees tremendous opportunities for redevelopment of the area surrounding the hospital.
* More involvement from churches in Lee County to address the issues that are the “root causes of our community problems, which is primarily the breakdown of the family. Our public schools are a fantastic resource in Lee County but they are constantly affected by the spiritual and social health of our community. We all have a responsibility in this respect.”
carlie.kollath@journalinc.com