By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – A day after Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton stressed unity, community and togetherness, at least two City Council members struggled with civility.
A key theme in Shelton’s State of the City speech Monday involved the community, city staff and elected officials working together to achieve goals.
Two council members’ heated discussion with raised voices after a work session Tuesday suggests it won’t happen without tensions along the way.
Council President Nettie Davis of Ward 4 and Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan appeared in intense discussion inside the council chambers after the work session discussing plans for a new police facility and plans for public transportation.
“Lynn Bryan is a loose cannon,” Davis said after Bryan had left the room. “I’m a little upset by this.”
Before the work session ended, Bryan raised his voice in frustration after discussions shifted toward planning another work session this week to continue discussion on a new police facility. Mayor Jason Shelton and Davis met with other council members on Friday to discuss details about the police capital project and to mention concern about Bryan and other council members not voting to immediately fund two tourism projects at a recent meeting.
Bryan said toward the end of Tuesday’s work session he preferred to discuss the police capital project after he’s had more time to get up to speed on the project. Davis didn’t seem impressed with the councilman’s request.
“I’m going to talk to Lynn just like he’s one of my students,” said Davis, a retired Tupelo Public School District art teacher.
“You spent all of my time talking about something else,” Bryan said, referring to Friday’s meeting.
The council will have a work session Thursday to continue discussion on the police facility but Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis said another work session could be scheduled in early March.
Bryan told the Daily Journal by text message after he left City Hall that he would not comment about Davis’ comments after he left the room.
“I didn’t hear what was said,” Bryan responded. “If she said that, I don’t believe it had relevance to the discussion.”
Davis introduced Shelton as he prepared to deliver his speech Monday and offered praise afterward. The city’s first black council president often mentions a desire for city officials and the community in general to work together.
“Unity is my number one thing,” Davis said shortly after the speech ended.
Shelton and the City Council have served together about eight months of the four-year term.
Shelton traveled to Jackson on Tuesday and for a meeting today with Gov. Phil Bryant and did not attend the discussions in City Hall. However, reached by phone less than a half hour after the two council members vented frustrations, the mayor clarified what he intended by stressing togetherness and unity in his speech.
He specifically mentioned the council’s 5-2 vote on Feb. 4 to temporarily suspend a combined $250,000 toward a planned replica Vietnam Wall Memorial at Veterans Park in east Tupelo and support for upgrades at the Elvis Presley birthplace. Bryan and other councilmen said they wanted to explore the possibility of Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau paying the costs.
“Obviously, something changed the day of the meeting, and I did not so much as receive a phone call,” Shelton said.
Shelton said he hopes city leaders can unify in ways that make achieving shared goals possible.
“We’re all on the same team,” he said. “My election was a solid example of rejecting the negative politics that you see in Washington and Jackson.”
Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell said before Tuesday’s meeting that he supports unity but has seen a rift in the council and believes the mayor should work to repair the divide.
“We’re coming to the end of the honeymoon phase,” he said.