Tupelo’s voters endorsed a major change in method and leadership in the June general election, and after three months of the new administration led by Mayor Jack Reed Jr., a clearly improved atmosphere of cooperation, communication and collegiality is emerging in City Hall and in the structure of city government.
The five new City Council members (Jim Newell, Markel Whittington, Jonny Davis, Fred Pitts and Willie Jennings) all ran on platforms of better intra-council relations and cooperation with the mayor’s office, regardless of who was elected. They have been joined by re-elected incumbents Nettie Davis and Mike Bryan.
So far the campaign commitments have held sway from the mayor’s office and the council chamber.
Before, during and after the contentious and potentially divisive vote legalizing beer and low-alcohol wine sales on Sundays, all the council members pledged to remain cordial and focused on other long-term challenges. The 4-3 vote was preceded by strong arguments on both sides, but lingering animosity is not evident.
Divisions within city government reached such a level in the previous four years that minds often were closed even before preliminary plans were suggested on important issues and initiatives.
Mayor Reed, in an interview last week with the Daily Journal’s editorial board, said he has spent much of the time since his swearing-in talking directly and extensively with council members, department heads, county supervisors, and community interest groups representing Tupelo’s diverse population. Some of the meetings have been in City Hall; others have been in the neighborhoods and with organizations seeking the mayor’s ear and interest.
Reed said he has paid particular attention to addressing concerns within government about race relations, and has met twice with a group of African-American pastors who brought specific concerns to him, with an agreement from all involved to continue communications and work toward mutual goals.
Reed said he has made clear that he expects color-blind fairness and equity in hiring, promotion and conduct of business from every department. Intention joined with implementation – and quantifiable results – can solve many of the issues surrounding allegations of discrimination.
Reed also said he has met privately and confidentially with members of the Lee County Board of Supervisors in an attempt to find common ground – and an agreement – on Tupelo’s long-delayed annexation plans. We hope those conversations bear fruit, but if they do not, then the city should proceed to trial, as Reed said he supports.
Reed noted that the county has budgeted $500,000 in the 2010 fiscal year and the city $200,000 for legal expenses related to opposing and supporting annexation. Tupelo’s citizens and businesses, who also are Lee countians, pay a majority of the county’s taxes, in effect both financially opposing and supporting the annexation. The division is unsustainable.
Tupelo and Lee County must grow and prosper together, or not at all.
NEMS Daily Journal