What’s ‘negative’ debated in Tupelo’s Ward 3

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Ward 3 Tupelo City Council candidates Liz Dawson and Jim Newell just can’t agree on the definition of “negative.”
She says he’s so negative.
He says he’s conservative and responsible.
“If that’s the way she defines negative, then I guess I am,” said Newell.
“You can be responsible and conservative without being totally negative against everything,” Dawson said.
Heading into the May 7 Republican primary race, each of the candidates feels positive that voters should cast ballots for him and her. With no Democratic opposition in the general election, the primary winner will be elected to a four-year term.
The city ward stretches from the central part of Tupelo near Crosstown and includes neighborhoods in the historic downtown, Gravlee and Mill Village, along with Lee Acres and Audubon. The ward also includes the commercial and medical areas along South Gloster and Green streets and extends south to the recently annexed Summit subdivision near Verona.
Dawson, 54, community health director at North Mississippi Medical Center, said she’ll bring a different tone to the position than the incumbent. Newell, 59, director of respiratory care and American government instructor at Itawamba Community College, says Dawson might not call him negative if she had his insights into the issues.
Newell doesn’t dispute that he voted against the Fiscal Year 2011 city budget, opposed building a new aquatic center that could cost up to $12 million in east Tupelo and continues to vote against parts of the city’s $2 million redevelopment plan for blighted property along West Jackson Street.
However, Newell said he didn’t vote against those efforts as a contrarian or to be negative. He said he opposed the projects and budgets since they tapped into the city’s reserve fund or required long-term spending through bonds.
“I may not be so sure if she knows the real issues,” Newell said. “I have consistently voted against using rainy day reserve funds in a difficult economy.”
Like the majority of the current City Council members, Dawson said she supports those projects. With a campaign theme of “Your positive new voice,” Dawson hopes to tap into aggravation within Ward 3 related to Newell’s “negativity.”
“I think he’s viewed many times over as being consistently negative,” she said. “I want everything to have a positive approach.”
Newell counters by saying accusations against them that he’s “negative” are, in fact, negative.
“It looks like she’s attacking me personally,” Newell said.
He even says his slogan, “To make Tupelo better,” is more positive than that of his opponent. “I’m not pointing a finger at anybody,” he said.
As for why he deserves another term in office, Newell say his knowledge of government and experience practicing it gives him a leg up on Dawson.
While supporting stabilization of aging neighborhoods, Newell’s preferred method is through increased code enforcement. Newell also says he supports continued efforts to secure funds for South Gloster Street for beautification projects and wants to help the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society secure private and public funding for a new shelter.
Dawson said her priorities include making Tupelo the first choice for people looking to live in the area, along with encouraging healthier lifestyles and fostering a spirit of continual improvement. She’s served as co-chair and current chair of the Mayor’s Healthy City Task Force.
Even after the election, Newell and Dawson may have plenty of opportunities to discuss what’s best for their ward and the city. They live a few houses down from each other on opposite sides of Audubon Drive.
“I can see his house and he can see mine,” Dawson said.
robbie.ward@journalinc.com

Ward 3 Q&A
1. What relevant experience and personal qualifications would you bring to the Tupelo City Council?

DAWSON:
I bring a background rich in servant leadership and continuous improvement experience. I can provide positive leadership to Ward 3 and Tupelo to use our strengths as a foundation to improve the things we do well and prioritize our opportunities for improvement to address the most pressing needs.

NEWELL:
I have represented the citizens of Ward 3 on the Tupelo City Council for the past four years. I have been a scholar of public policy and administration for the past 20 years, teaching American, state and municipal government, with strong proven understanding of political systems. I have directed one of ICC’s major health care programs for the past 28 years. I have served the college in many leadership positions, committees, and task forces, which have provided leadership, organizational and effective communication skills. I believe that my experience and background can best serve the citizens of Ward 3.

2. Name the top three goals/projects that you will pursue if elected.

DAWSON:
1. Make Tupelo an attractive residential choice by improving schools, infrastructure and amenities of our city.
2. Enhance Ward 3 and the city to foster local civic pride and encourage healthier lifestyles.
3. Foster a relentless spirit of continuous improvement in the city of Tupelo.

NEWELL:
1. I want to continue the renewal that is occurring in the South Gloster district. Over the past four years, we have seen significant growth in infrastructure. My goal would be to secure funds to improve beautification, which would help attract more growth.
2. To fund a full-time code enforcement officer for the neighborhoods of Ward 3. Many of our neighborhoods are aging. I want to continue to help stabilize these neighborhoods through stronger and more visible code enforcement.
3. To assist with funding (private/public) with the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society to build a new animal shelter.

3. The 2010 Census showed stalled population growth and median income in Tupelo compared to northern suburbs. How should city government help retain and recruit middle-class residents?

DAWSON:
By working to improve each neighborhood in the city through diligently monitoring the housing category ratios in the city, improving the opportunities for early childhood development to elevate our children’s performance in school and working diligently to improve existing infrastructure.

NEWELL:
I believe that most median income family’s major concerns are our public schools and affordable mid-size housing. I believe that the school system issue has been addressed. We have begun to see great improvements under Dr. Loden’s leadership. Secondly, builders tell us that due to the excessive building codes in the city, that they can’t make a profit when building homes in the 1,800-2,000-square-foot range. We need to work with the builders, to find a solution, in order to be able to recruit and build more affordable median income family housing.

4. Tupelo has begun taxpayer-funded neighborhood redevelopment initiatives. Do you support continued action and expansion of these projects?

DAWSON:
We have to be neighbors helping neighbors and neighborhood redevelopment initiatives that improve the quality of life for our citizens should be a significant part of the strategic plan that will move Tupelo forward.

NEWELL:
I am opposed to using reserved “rainy day” funds to purchase dilapidated properties in this uncertain economy. The city can’t afford to purchase all of the substandard housing that would be required to redevelop many of our neighborhoods. I recently voted against spending over 2 million dollars from reserve funds for the Jackson Street project. We need to be promoting private investment incentives and attempting to find urban renewal grants to assist with these projects. I strongly support improving neighborhoods; however, I am opposed to using city reserve funds to accomplish this goal.