Tupelo meeting draws grassroots crowd – and solutions

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A citizen-led meeting on Tupelo’s revitalization drew more than 100 people and a divergence of ideas about how the city must tackle its mounting problems.
But a clear solution eluded the group, which had been called to the Link Centre in a grassroots effort by resident Jim Newman.
Newman wants everyday people – not politicians or business leaders with potential interests – to devise an alternative to the revitalization plan currently on the table.
During the two-hour meeting in which anyone could take the microphone, more than a dozen residents offered their views and suggestions. Many blamed the school system for driving middle-income families out of the city and into the suburbs.
Some said teachers needed more pay, others said parents needed to take more responsibility for their children at home. And others said teachers needed more support from school administrators when it came to classroom management.
“I think we all concur schools are the No. 1 problem, but the City Council cannot handle the school problem,” said Mike Stiles, a resident of Tupelo for 50 years.
City Council members, some of whom attended the meeting, had previously noted the public school district’s role in Tupelo’s middle-income decline. The plan before them, however, focused solely on strategies the city itself could implement.
Called the Tupelo Neighborhood Reinvestment Plan, the roughly $14 million proposal called for a series of strategies like offering residents home-improvement grants, low-interest home loans and free college tuition. It recommended higher business fees for landlords to pay for more code enforcement.
Several participants spoke out against the plan, calling it a government handout that will burden Tupelo with debt.
“I don’t think just spending money is going to solve our problem,” said former Mayor Ed Neelly.
A few residents, including Newman, did offer alternative strategies, including: open a math and science school inside the former Church Street Elementary School building; build a new public library before building a new aquatic center; conduct a scientific study of former residents to determine their reasons for leaving and create a solution based on their responses; require city of Tupelo employees to live inside the city; open a vocational high school; build a new retirement community south of the medical center; crack down on code violations.
A few strategies in the current plan also made the list: capping the percentage of rental properties in Tupelo, charging landlords higher fees and offering a home-improvement grant.
People interested in joining Newman’s effort can visit his website for updates and meeting announcements at www.tupelocitizens.com.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com