By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – The City Council did an about-face Tuesday and decided not to postpone voting on confirming a local businessman to lead Tupelo’s development services department, a day after the group decided to wait until all council members could be present.
The council voted unanimously to approve Shane Hooper, 44, as development services director. Councilmen Jim Newell of Ward 3 and Mike Bryan of Ward 6 did not attend the meeting.
The council agreed Monday to postpone the vote but decided to vote on the position Tuesday to ensure the group could make the hire this month.
Newell has said he would have voted against the hire, saying the nominee didn’t have enough experience related to city enforcement and other critical duties of the department. Hooper enters a top role in municipal government without holding a full-time government job since his Marine Corps service in 1997.
Owning an educational services company and working as an insurance salesman comprise the bulk of the new department head’s professional experience. A Saltillo resident, Hooper plans to move to Tupelo.
The council’s vote appoints a permanent director for the department responsible for planning, code enforcement and other issues related to land use and regulation. BJ Teal resigned in October when she and Shelton had philosophical differences.
Shelton said the new department head earning $73,000 a year also will focus on economic development efforts to complement the Community Development Foundation, the organization responsible for luring business and industry to Lee County. Hooper recently was appointed as chairman of CDF but will vacate the position since the organization prohibits public officials from holding officer positions.
“He’ll be a visionary, particularly with issues we’re facing now,” Shelton said.
Minutes after formally voting to hire Hooper, he joined city leaders in executive session to discuss progress with the West Jackson Street redevelopment project.
“There’s a lot of work left to get done,” Hooper said. “I’m excited and ready for the opportunity to serve.”
Among Tupelo’s nine department head-level positions, Hooper will be the second black leader in City Hall. Shelton said race wasn’t a factor in his nomination but provides an additional benefit related to diversity among local public leadership.