By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo city elections this year seem ideal for people who have problems multi-tasking.
With no primary opposition for either candidate in the mayor’s race, voters can focus all of their attention Tuesday’s primary election on City Council races.
With contested council races in six of the seven wards, Tupelo voters will determine how similar to the current City Council it will be for the next four years. Among incumbents, only Ward 2 Councilman Fred Pitts isn’t running for re-election, choosing instead to run for mayor.
During city elections four years ago, voters turned away three of the five incumbents who sought re-election to the council and elected two additional new members in wards where incumbents didn’t run again. The two council holdovers from the previous term – Mike Bryan of Ward 6 and Nettie Davis of Ward 4 – and the others on the ballot believe their records deserve another term. Predictably, their opponents say it’s time to give somebody else a chance to represent Tupelo residents.
Ward 7 incumbent Willie Jennings, a Democrat, is the only council member without an opponent. The only open-seat race is Ward 2, currently represented by Pitts, because he is running for mayor.
With all City Council races involving candidates in the same political party, winners of the primary will represent their wards for the next four years.
Tupelo City Clerk Kim Hanna said since all council races will be decided in the primary elections, voters should make sure they vote in the party primary with candidates seeking the office. Otherwise, they will receive ballots with only a mayoral candidate who will automatically advance to the general election and a member of an executive committee for the Democratic or Republican party.
Wards 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 will have contested Republican primaries, while Ward 4 will have a contested Democratic primary.
“Voters may want to look at sample ballots that will be posted at the precincts before they request either a Democratic or Republican ballot,” Hanna said. “We have only one race per ward in the primary election and that can be easily noted when reviewing sample ballots.”
With redistricting related to the 2010 Census and the annexation, some voting precincts have changed. Wards 2, 3 and 4 will have different voting precincts compared to four years ago. Wards 1, 5, 6 and 7 will keep the same precincts used previously.
Hanna encourages voters to review voter information cards mailed recently to all registered voters in the city. The cards included appropriate council wards and precincts for voters.
As for issues, candidates in most of the council wards have differing views related to current efforts to redevelop the stretch of property along West Jackson Street, intended to help encourage more middle-income families to live in the city. Some candidates believe the city should lead the effort for redevelopment while others say this should happen strictly through the private sector.
A concern for nearly all candidates is the continued improvement of the Tupelo Public School District. City Council members approve or reject school board nominees recommended by the mayor. The council also approves the city’s annual budget and sets policies for the city.
Candidates also differ on whether the city should have located the aquatic center currently under construction at Veterans Park or moved it to Ballard Park. With a price tag of up to $12 million, some candidates say taxpayers will pay too much for the facility, while others believe the public investment will more than pay for itself through tourism dollars brought into the community.
This will be the first election for recently annexed voters to vote in a Tupelo elections.
With Tuesday’s primaries, voters will choose among the following candidates:
• In the Ward 1 Republican primary, incumbent business owner Markel Whittington, 63, will face fireman and business owner Daniel Owens, 35.
• Republicans Lynn Bryan, 50, a contractor, and Tom Carr, 48, a full-time student and member of the Mississippi Army National Guard, seek the open seat in Ward 2.
• Republican Liz Dawson, 54, community health director at North Mississippi Medical Center, will try to unseat the incumbent in Ward 3, Jim Newell, 54, program director of respiratory care and American government instructor at Itawamba Community College.
• Ward 4 incumbent Nettie Y. Davis, 71, a retired art teacher and community activist, seeks a fourth term and faces in the Democratic primary Mark A. Hardin, 46, a special education teacher in Columbus, and James Matkin, 30, an armed transport guard.
• Retired grocer Buddy Palmer, 72, will try to unseat Jonny Davis, 48, a private property manager, in the Ward 5 Republican primary.
• In the race with the most candidates, in Ward 6, two-term incumbent and insurance business owner Mike Bryan, 49, will face in the Republican primary Tom Hewitt, 74, a lay pastor of a Presbyterian church; Wayne Chrestman, 32, an independent insurance adjuster; and James “Mickey” Jenkins, 62, a school bus driver and retired fireman.
In Wards 4 and 6, potential exists for a runoff election if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes cast. If necessary, it will be held on May 21.
Tupelo’s June 4th general election will feature Republican Pitts, 70, a businessman, and Democrat Jason Shelton, 36, an attorney. Incumbent Mayor Jack Reed Jr. did not seek a second term.