By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – The Tupelo City Council appears poised to reject Mayor Jason Shelton’s budget during his first year in office related to creating a position for an in-house city attorney.
Shelton has promised to veto any attempt by the City Council to require the first-term mayor to keep Mitchell, McNutt and Sams, a law firm that has handled legal services for the city for 36 of the last 40 years. A majority of the City Council does not support Shelton’s effort to create an in-house city attorney position.
Shelton frames the discussion as trying to save the city taxpayers by paying a single attorney $90,000 annually to work exclusively with the city instead of paying an outside law firm.
Council members Markel Whittington of Ward 1, Lynn Bryan of Ward 2, Buddy Palmer of Ward 5 and Mike Bryan of Ward 6 oppose the mayor’s proposal to go with the in-house attorney. Nettie Davis of Ward 4, Willie Jennings of Ward 7 and Jim Newell of Ward 3 side with the mayor.
“It’s mind-boggling that the interests of a single law firm is being put above the interests of the taxpayers,” Shelton said during budget meeting today.
The City Council will hold a special meeting Tuesday to approve the budget, required by state law to be passed by Sept. 15.
Whittington said he opposes the in-house attorney proposal since it increases city personnel costs, Mike Bryan said he doesn’t think the change would save money, Lynn Bryan said the council must have input on who the mayor wants to hire in the position and Palmer said he needs more information before the can support the proposal.
Whittington said he would support the position if the mayor reduced overall personnel costs, which hover at round 65.6 percent of the city’s total proposed budget.
“We can’t stop growing something until we stop feeding it,” he said.
If Shelton vetoes a budget passed by the Council, a supermajority of five members could override it. The first-term mayor said he will not allow the impasse to show down city government by not funding the next fiscal year’s budget, which begins Oct. 1.
“We just may not have a lawyer to start the budget year,” he said.
Read more about this in tomorrow’s edition of the Daily Journal and online.