OUR OPINION: Tupelo needs pragmatic policy innovation ahead

By NEMS Daily Journal

Momentum continues building in Tupelo’s mayoral campaign, a race that has turned into one of the most competitive general election contests for the city’s highest office in several decades.
Ward 2 Councilman Fred Pitts is vacating his City Council seat to run for mayor on the Republican ticket; Jason Shelton, an attorney, is the Democratic nominee, not that national party issues, whether Democratic or Republican, have any significant role in moving Tupelo forward during the next four years.
Pitts, 70, and Shelton, 37, in the main have stuck to substantive local issues in the campaign leading up to the June 4 general election. Two forums featuring questions posed by unaffiliated questioners have defined some differences, especially on strategic policy and investment in neighborhood renewal, including purchases of blighted property and eventual resale in the private sector.
Shelton opposes property purchase reinvestment on grounds of expense, while Pitts supports the policy, as he has during the current term on the City Council, where he serves as president.
That issue holds singular importance because the redevelopment championed and adopted by Mayor Jack Reed Jr., with support from Pitts and others, comes as a response to a shift by many young adults away from living in the city and to suburbs, a standstill in median income growth and disturbing neighborhood blight.
Those issues, it should be noted, while not purely partisan, became problematic under Republican administrations. Tupelo, since 1973, has had one Democratic administration in 40 years.
However, Democrats held some council/board of aldermen seats during that span, suggesting Tupelo’s most publicized problems spiraled through bipartisan inaction, neglect and failure.
Tupelo’s problems are not partisan; they are civic: Failure of community leadership to understand issues and failure to act.
The beginning of action to reclaim momentum and make up lost ground has been bipartisan, but not necessarily unanimous.
Partisanship isn’t the answer to Tupelo’s problems. Nor is reflexive opposition to prudent public investment in the city’s renewal. Passion for the city and pragmatic initiatives breaking out of ineffective convention must be the route forward.
Early in May, about 3,800 people voted, 2,050 less than in the 2009 primaries, 18 percent of the 22,000 eligible voters in Tupelo. That abysmal turnout is not an indication of either high interest or high confidence in what candidates in either party offered. A strong turnout Tuesday can energize the agenda moving forward, regardless of who wins.