OUR OPINION: Citizen volunteers can guide redevelopment

The objection of a slim majority of the current Tupelo City Council to a long-standing citizen-led, nonprofit corporation assuming responsibility for redevelopment of a blighted neighborhood along the West Jackson Street corridor undercuts the city’s longstanding policy of allowing private-sector, expert, volunteer leadership to direct redevelopment policy and action.

The stance of four council members – Willie Jennings of Ward 7, Nettie Davis of Ward 4, Jim Newell of Ward 3, and Mike Bryan of Ward 6 – fails to acknowledge decades of trust-building and effective delegation between elected leaders and citizen-led panels.

The Neighborhood Development Corporation is “staffed” with nominated and approved members whose private-sector experience and expertise is provided free of charge for the city in just such situations as the redevelopment of the West Jackson neighborhood.

The corporation is comprised of bankers Brent Waldrop and Chip Ashford, BancorpSouth; Chris Rogers and B.B. Hosch, Renasant Bank; Thomas Mize, M & F Bank; Bill Robertson, BNA Bank; Jeff King, Community Bank; and Charles Russell, Trustmark Bank.

Three non-banking members of the board are Chairman Duke Loden, Ellen Short and George Taylor.

The rationale of the four opponents of delegating authority to the talent-rich NDC board on the $2.9 million project, they say, is a sense of responsibility for allowing anyone not on the council to make decisions about the money.

To the contrary, the responsible course is to entrust the NDC board, as intended, to move ahead with the project, reporting fully to the council. The board, after all, has in its roll a professional appraiser, real estate professionals widely experienced in sales, development and redevelopment of properties, plus financiers who have successfully handled much larger sums.

The Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, a creation of a past City Council, has overseen successful development of Fairpark with very little controversy.

There’s no compelling reason to keep the NDC tightly tethered, including gaining council approval for routine matters. Micro-management is not necessary nor advisable for this undertaking.

The West Jackson Street project is off to a solid start, and there’s no reason to abruptly rein it in with time-consuming and potentially irksome restrictions too easily turned into political manipulation.

The council played a strong role in starting the project. Now, turn it over to the citizen professionals who have volunteered their time and experience to bring it to completion and others like it down the road.

NEMS Daily Journal

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