Tupelo Council seeks more openness

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – The City Council should allow anybody the opportunity to speak at its meetings regardless of their residency, most council members told the Daily Journal on Tuesday.
Their opinions contradict Tupelo’s current ordinance on citizens hearings, which restrict the public sessions to city residents.
The ordinance historically has been ignored – at least a dozen nonresidents have spoken in hearings during this administration alone. However, it was enforced this week by council President Fred Pitts.
Pitts denied former Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Terry Anderson’s request for such a hearing because Anderson lives outside the city. Pitts said it’s time to start enforcing the ordinance.
But most of his colleagues disagree. They voted Tuesday to allow Anderson his time.
“I think any person that pays taxes in the city of Tupelo – even if they live outside – should be able to address the council,” said Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington.
Others went further. Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis and Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell said citizens hearing should be open to anyone regardless of where they live, whether they pay taxes or if they own a business.
“Any and all public opinion should be welcomed by this council and administration,” Newell said.
And Davis urged consistency, saying she doesn’t “think it should take effect (just) when they don’t want people to speak.”
Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan said the current ordinance should remain but that the council ought to suspend the rules for nonresidents wanting a citizens hearing.
But Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis said the rules might need tweaking and he’d favor council discussion on the topic.
Pitts said he was in the process of examining the ordinance and that some changes might take place to ensure a fair and consistent process.