TUPELO – Improving customer service, increasing ways Tupelo government helps small businesses, revitalizing neighborhoods and keeping more residents informed with decisions impacting their lives are now all priorities for the city’s elected officials.
Those decisions were set on Saturday during a goal-setting session between Tupelo City Council members and Mayor Jason Shelton. The leaders laid the groundwork for the next four years of improving the community for current residents and encouraging others to move in.
City leaders said the gathering achieved more than just allowing them to set goals together for the next four years and beyond. Away from tense budget discussions and regular city council meetings, they had a change to hear what each others values the most.
Outside of the retreat, Shelton faces opposition from a City Council majority on his idea to create an in-house city attorney. He said the retreat helped distance him and others from issues that separate and focus on shared priorities.
“We might not always agree on what should be done, but every person in that room cares deeply about the city of Tupelo and bettering our city,” Shelton said after the retreat. “I think one of the benefits of the retreat is developing ways to communicate with each other and get an idea of what each member is passionate about.”
The goal discussion follows up the two-day retreat last month at Tombigbee State Park. Saturday’s meeting at Itawamba Community College’s new health building in Tupelo included all city elected officials except Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan, who also missed most of one of the days during the August retreat.
Shelton campaigned earlier this year on attracting more younger, middle-income residents to the city while retaining existing residents. He said each goal agreed on during the weekend fits into his overall desire to help the city’s population grow.
Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan said he found benefit in city leaders finding common ground on “fundamental” concerns facing the city. Common themes from the meeting included improving the local government’s responsiveness toward constituents through better customer service such as more communication, a more conciliatory approach and accountability.
“If you have a constituent with legitimate complaints and they’re getting ignored, they’re either going think the city isn’t responsive or consider moving somewhere else,” Bryan said.
Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings left the retreat with optimism that more attention will focus on revitalization of city neighborhoods beyond the current West Jackson Street project, a nearly $3 million redevelopment effort.
“I want to concentrate more on neighborhoods and be more proactive,” Jennings said. “I want to find out what can we do to keep people from moving.”
Jennings, Bryan and other council members said the city should begin to prioritize neighborhoods for future redevelopment efforts, aiming for the city to invest resources in them before the West Jackson Street project ends.
Not all of the ideas involved long-term and significant use of taxpayer dollars. Ward 5 Councilman Buddy Palmer suggested opening the front entrance to City Hall and placing someone near the entrances to direct visitors to the appropriate office.
City Hall’s front entrance closed a few years ago after someone entered the building with a gun. Afterward, a metal detector and a police officer now greet visitors at the back entrance to the building.
“That’s a pretty immediate goal we can take care of,” Palmer said.
Another goal is building a new police station during the current four-year term. City leaders said they will continue to refine goals and look at ways to achieve them.
Staff at Mississippi State University’s Stennis Institute will likely revisit the group in a year to check on success toward reaching its goals.