Tupelo leaders still see unity possible

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Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Tupelo City Council members gather at last week's meeting. Unity is a common goal among the members and Mayor Jason Shelton.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Tupelo City Council members gather at last week’s meeting. Unity is a common goal among the members and Mayor Jason Shelton.

By Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Instead of an apology note, Councilman Lynn Bryan brought Nettie Davis, a retired teacher, a red apple.

Davis, Tupelo City Council’s president, admitted feeling upset by Bryan raising his voice during their conversation after a work session last week. They disagreed, and he took it personally.

Davis returned to the council chamber in City Hall to see the apple and a smiling Bryan. All signs of disagreement gone, Davis welcomed the nutritious fruit.

“He was real pleasant,” she said. “Maybe that apple is a sign of unity.”

Togetherness, community and unity emerged as key themes in Mayor Jason Shelton’s State of the City speech last week. Davis often speaks of unity as a top concern for Tupelo and its leaders.

But unity can be elusive in politics, especially when deciding how to spend limited resources throughout a city divided into seven political wards. Sure, most elected officials agree on general notions of city revitalization and economic development, but details can get messy.

Even basic things divide the council, like agreeing on a shared definition of unity or belief it’s a good thing.

“Sometimes polarization is healthy,” said Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell. “As long as it’s tied to policy and not a personal attack, debate is healthy.”

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Tupelo Mayor Jason Shleton held his first State of the City address on Monday, and he stressed unity.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shleton held his first State of the City address on Monday, and he stressed unity.

Most council members have unity in their belief that disagreement is necessary in their positions. Most of them don’t want to agree all of the time, even Davis.

“What I want is when we disagree to come together to a happy medium and make a final decision without a lot of chaos,” she said.

Markel Whittington of Ward 1 said his idea of unity involves respect for each other and listening when others speak about the city’s business. He supports a council cautious of spending tax dollars.

“If we act on behalf of the taxpayers, that’s going to show a lot of unity also,” he said.

Councilman Mike Bryan of Ward 6 found monthly meetings with Shelton, a Democrat, since the term began in July have revealed more similarities between the two men then than the Republican first thought.

“I think we agree on more things than not,” he said. “But we don’t take it personal when we disagree.”

Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings said his idea of unity involves allowing each person to speak his or her mind and finding something they can all support.

“Sometimes you might not support it all but can go along with it,” he said.

Among council members, Buddy Palmer may be in the minority with his belief that his job is to support the mayor.

“I think we should look at his goals and do all we can to help him in a unified manner,” he said.

But Palmer said he’ll listen with courtesy to his fellow council members if they disagree with him.

Back to Bryan, who said he will work on losing his cool, he still looks forward to future disagreements, just more civil in tone.

“If we’re not arguing about something now and then, this city has problem,” he said.

As for Bryan’s apology gift to Davis, he hopes it worked.

“I gave her the apple, and I think we’re friends again,” he said.

robbie.ward@journalinc.com