BY EMILY LE COZ
TUPELO – Seven months after winning approval to create a new high-level city position, members of Tupelo's Housing Commission found the person to fill it.
Commission members selected B.J. Pebworth-Teal to become the municipality's special assistant to the mayor for community development. Mayor Ed Neelly on Monday said he approved of the selection, and details of the hire are to be finalized within the next week or two.
Currently a designer and project coordinator for a Prattville, Ala.-based remodeling company, Pebworth-Teal has more than 20 years experience in community planning. She headed the departments of planning, engineering, construction codes and GIS for Florence County, Ala., and also worked for Collierville, Tenn., as director of the departments of economic development, planning, engineering and construction codes.
“She basically oversaw the growth of Collierville,” said commission chairman Lawrence Deas.
“We interviewed a number of candidates and they were all impressive in their own ways,” he said. “We just thought she had the combination of ample experience and fresh ideas that could help transform Tupelo into a better place for all of us to live.”
The citizen-based Housing Commission came up with the idea of the new city position late last year. The goal, members said, was to turn the Planning and Community Development Department – now mainly responsible for code enforcement – into a comprehensive team of professionals dealing with both enforcement and quality of life.
As a special assistant to the mayor, Pebworth-Teal will work directly for Neelly but oversee all aspects of community development, including neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation and housing development.
Pebworth-Teal also will land higher on the flow chart than current Planning and Community Development Director Pat Falkner – and all other department heads – and could recommend changes within the Planning Department, if necessary.
Falkner will keep his title and oversee day-to-day operations of the department, including code enforcement and the issuance of permits, Neelly said.
He said Monday he hadn't been notified the position was being filled.
It's not clear where inside City Hall Pebworth-Teal will work or when she'll start in her new role, but Neelly said it will happen as soon as possible and that he will find her a suitable office space.
Pebworth-Teal did not immediately return a call for comment.
“I think that her strong suits are her experience and education,” Neelly said. “She has very wonderful people skills which will be extremely important in communicating with and getting along with the City Council, the developers, contractors, builders – everyone in general.”
Pebworth-Teal graduated from Auburn University with a degree in architecture. She also is a certified building inspector.
Neelly established the Housing Commission upon the recommendation of the Housing Task Force, which he also created. Its purpose is to study and recommend ways to bring more desirable, affordable housing to the city and improve quality of life.
The group, which has nine volunteer citizen members, meets monthly. Its first major task was to hire a full-time city employee to concentrate on the housing mission. That will be fulfilled when Pebworth-Teal starts her work.