By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Jim Newell stunned city politics with a letter Friday, announcing his immediate resignation as the Ward 3 City Council member.
Newell won re-election to a second four-year term last summer and did not give formal notice of plans to vacate his council seat.
Newell said late Friday night he sold and moved out of his 1511 Audubon Drive home Wednesday and relocated his family to Saltillo’s Northridge subdivision.
“I could have stayed on the council because I own another property in Ward 3,” he said about his Winwood Cove condo. “But I chose to do the right thing, because that other property would not have been my permanent address. I wanted to do the right thing and resign.”
Newell continues to direct the respiratory care technology program at Itawamba Community College and also teaches government classes at the college.
“It has been a great privilege to serve the citizens of Ward 3 for the past five years,” Newell said in his letter that went to the council and mayor. “I would like to offer my support for this current administration and council. Best of luck for the remaining length of your term.”
Ward 4 Councilwoman Nettie Davis said she had a conversation with Newell at City Hall on Friday where he mentioned strong concerns about Ward 3 neighborhoods deteriorating and didn’t see concern from local government.
“He’s deeply concerned about south Tupelo and felt like it needed more attention,” said Davis, who said she considers the former councilman a friend.
Newell has repeatedly voiced concerns during his terms about lack of code enforcement and wanted city action to help protect declining residential areas. However, he said Friday night his resignation had nothing to do with deteriorating neighborhoods.
Newell, a Republican, had expressed optimism since the new term began in July 2013, commenting how his vote seemed more valued compared to his previous term, when he often was on the losing side of 6-1 votes. He also seemed to appreciate Mayor Jason Shelton, a Democrat he endorsed during the election a year ago.
However, recent months revealed Newell’s concern with the city’s direction. During an interview with the Daily Journal on June 26, Newell said he and Shelton disagreed on just a single issue – protecting neighborhoods related to code enforcement and blight.
“He wants to do selective code enforcement,” Newell said of Shelton.
The mayor has said he believes residents in east Tupelo would move outside of the city if faced with strict enforcement of residential codes and ordinances. However, Shelton has denied accusations of lax code enforcement.
On Friday, Shelton offered only positive comments about Newell.
“He has been a strong ally and a trusted adviser,” Shelton said in a press release. “I have the utmost respect for Mr. Newell and he will be greatly missed on the Council.”
The City Council will determine the date of a special nonpartisan election to select Newell’s replacement at Tuesday’s meeting. The election will take place within 55 days. Each candidate must collect 50 signatures of registered voters.
Council President Mike Bryan said he appreciated Newell’s conviction during their five years serving together.
“I feel like he was working for the best interest of his ward, in his opinion, with each vote,” Bryan said.
News of the councilman’s resignation surprised residents of Ward 3 and opens the field for candidates interested in serving.
Liz Dawson, Newell’s opponent in the 2013 Republican primary, said she likely will not seek the position.
“As of right now, no,” she said. “But it’s a lot to think about.”
Election law related to filling a vacant Tupelo City Council position.