The resignation and retirement of Tupelo Development Services Director B.J. Teal, citing “philosophical” differences with Mayor Jason Shelton, further exposes a serious gap in long-range planning for neighborhood redevelopment, an inarguable necessity in the city’s situations with housing inadequacy and population stagnation.
Shelton has rejected as fiscally irresponsible the approach adopted by the previous City Council and former Mayor Jack Reed Jr. in the city’s purchasing of blighted properties for redevelopment and retail resale, except for saying he supports the West Jackson Street project in the Clayton/Chapman area.
Teal, who worked in code and development services during the terms of former mayors Ed Neelly and Reed, and until this week, with Shelton, was a key player in envisioning the West Jackson redevelopment. Teal previously served in similar posts for the much-larger city of Collierville, Tenn., and Florence County, S.C.
Policy disagreements within administrations aren’t unusual. When differences become untenable resignations often become an option.
Most worrisome in the situation as it stands is the absence of an alternative plan. What’s needed is more than a surmise in general terms as Shelton has offered about tax credits and incentives.
Teal was correct in characterizing Tupelo as sitting dead in the water for many years as neighborhoods deteriorated and middle-class housing became more an issue. The West Jackson project, however, while not a comprehensive solution, represents a robust start in the long-term process of revitalizing.
If not that method of reinvestment, what specific plan would Shelton and/or the City Council offer? Almost five years were required between a special housing/neighborhood commission and action to reclaim West Jackson, a largely post World War II neighborhood that has seen multiple generations of families live and rear children there. Its decline became acute during the past decade in terms of housing stock, crime, and property values, but it is seen as prime for renewal.
The City Council understands the problems Tupelo faces, and so does Shelton, but what is the new plan if the existing plan is no longer operative?
Tupelo can’t afford another long wait before a new action plan, or an expansion of the existing one, is fully launched.