In Friday’s paper, Robbie Ward’s article on the City of Tupelo budget included the following quote by Mayor Jason Shelton: “It’s mind-boggling that the interest of a single law firm is being put above the interests of the taxpayers.”
Mind-boggling is for me, the councilman of Ward 2, having gotten no more than one hour of face time with the mayor in nearly 75 days of being in office. Not one meeting asking for my input on what the citizens of Ward 2 would like to see. Not one meeting on what my concerns are about the housing issues in Ward 2. Not one meeting on the long term plans for Rob Leake Park, the heart of the Joyner neighborhood, one of the most cherished neighborhoods in the city. Not one meeting to discuss the very issues that he framed his campaign around, the T.U.P.E.L.O. P.L.A.N.
Mind-boggling is floating a new approach to legal representation without providing a plan at all, whether it leans on all in-house representation, one firm representation, or a mix of both. In fact, the mayor, an attorney, has made the number one issue of this budget, the hiring of a new attorney. Not one councilman opposed to his budget has come out and said that they support our current legal representation as the sole alternative. All have clearly stated that they want more information on how it will work if implemented, how will the ever-growing personnel cost be addressed if we are adding in-house legal representation, and how is the mayor structuring this new position to ensure that the governing authority is receiving unbiased legal representation to all parties concerned. All of this being asked so the best decisions can be made on behalf of the citizens, the people we were elected to represent.
Mind-boggling is the tone of the mayor’s rhetoric and his personal dislike for our current legal representation. It has truly clouded his judgment in the budget process. Even more disturbing is the fact that the mayor has resorted to petty and untrue politically charged comments so early in his tenure, on an issue that is not pressing at the moment. His flat budget proposal was uninspiring at best, with only a handful of the city department heads even submitting budgets that show how they are organized, how they are equipped, and what they plan on doing within their department to become more cost efficient and productive. Additionally, they failed to address their long-range plans on making this city a better place to live and how they will be good stewards of the citizens’ money. Of the few that did, I personally commend Johnny Timmons for the exemplary budget that he submitted on behalf of the Tupelo Water and Light Department.
But even more mind-boggling is calling my integrity into question. This is unprofessional and completely out of line. With an ever flat stream of tax revenue, and escalating cost of personnel, supplies, and commodities, I have every right to demand that our tax dollars are budgeted and spent wisely, as does every other member of the council.
We have plenty of time to implement a plan for legal representation. What we don’t have time for is political rhetoric and a budget stalemate that will impact the city employees, our local vendors, and our lending partners. The mayor’s time would be better spent taking the time to address the council’s concerns on the pressing matters that this municipality faces, all of them, not just legal representation.
The mayor and council owe the citizens this, and the citizens should demand it.
LYNN BRYAN is in his first term as Ward 2 councilman for Tupelo.