Walnut mayor facing challenges, leaving footprint in first term

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

WALNUT – The unexpected is routine in the life of Walnut Mayor Vicki Skinner.
When a water pipe burst and flooded city hall with a couple of inches of water recently, it was a massive inconvenience for her and other staff who work in the building.
But like so many other challenges Skinner has faced in just over two years in her first term of office, she assessed what had to be done and got to it, calling on the right people to tackle each part of the job.
When Skinner celebrated her 49th birthday recently, you could expect the wife and mother of three would have gotten plenty of experience in crisis management in her busy household.
Her husband is Joe Skinner, who commutes to work at FedEx in Memphis. Their children are 20-year-old Stacy, a student at Northeast Mississippi Community College; Joel, 18, just graduated from Walnut High School in the spring and starts at Northeast this semester; and Jeff, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Chalybeate who plays baseball.
“Between board meetings and ball games my schedule gets pretty interesting,” Skinner said.
When Skinner took office in January 2010, she became possibly the first female mayor in Tippah County. Before then she worked for her parents, Mack and Donna Johnson, in their Johnson Lumber Co. business and also drove a school bus.
Skinner may have natural skills that she draws on when a crisis affects her city.
In observing and talking with her, Skinner comes across as a low-key, calm individual, the kind of person you’d like to have in charge in an emergency.
Or maybe the person Skinner is now was honed by her 20 years as a member of the volunteer fire department, first responder and trained EMT.
“We’re 20 minutes from an ambulance, so it makes a lot of difference here on the north end of the county,” she said. “We work fires, wrecks, extrications, medical emergencies, lost child situations.”
Skinner became tearful as she recounted how her EMT training was critical in a situation close to home.
“I got to help my grandmother when she had a stroke about nine years ago,” Skinner said. “I cleared her airway, and she lived 11 days.”
Running for office appealed to her “just to help make a difference,” Skinner said.
Make a difference she has.
The first grant Skinner wrote brought the city $100,000 to construct Kidz Town playground, a gratifying accomplishment.
“We only had six people sign up as volunteers for the build, but more than 100 showed up to work the first day,” she said. “I love going up there now and seeing the kids having a safe place to play.”
The recent incident with water all over the floor in city hall was a minor drip compared to an eight-inch water main break that immobilized the city for about four days in early 2010, just weeks after she took office.
That crisis was soon overshadowed by tornadoes that touched down in communities all around Walnut in May 2010 and brought significant flooding and wind damage to the city.
“Our drainage system is caving in and we’re waiting for approval on several small FEMA grants, but it’s already been two years,” Skinner said. “We have a couple of residences with back yards caving in and every rain it gets worse.”
At the same time some infrastructure projects are moving along very well.
“We’re working on Phase 2 of extending our sewer system out to the city limits,” she said. “It’s in the area that was annexed 13 years ago, and we expect completion in a couple of months.”
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com