Forum scheduled ahead of special election

An open forum scheduled for next week will provide local residents with information to help them decide how they will vote in a May 3 special election.

That special election will determine the fate of a tax levy that amounts to nearly a third of the property taxes Tupelo residents pay to the city.

The forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday at Cit Hall in the City Council chambers on the second floor. Voters will have an opportunity to educate themselves about how Major Thoroughfare Program money will be spent if the program wins renewal at the ballot box next month.

A presentation will detail the proposed Major Thoroughfare Phase VI priorities and local citizens will be able to ask questions.

Out of the city tax rate of 32.47 mills, 10-mills goes toward Major Thoroughfare.

Those 10-mills must be renewed at a special election every five years and will once again go before voters on May 3.

Ahead of that vote, officials are working to make sure Tupelo residents have access to information about how the money would be used over the next five years.

Officials are also making the round of local civic clubs, neighborhood associations and other organizations to spread the word about the upcoming vote.

Estimates say a 10-mill levy would yield about $20 million over the next five years. Officials want to spend 25 percent – or $5 million – on maintenance of current major thoroughfare roads as well as “major collector” roads.

The remaining $15 million or so would go to numerous new projects. Go here to see the full list of new projects as well as streets that would be targeted for maintenance.


Absentee voting begins for special election

Tupelo voters, you can now cast an absentee ballot for an upcoming city election on the renewal of a tax that supports local road projects.

Absentee ballots may be cast at the tax office on the first floor of Tupelo’s’ City Hall ahead of the May 3 special election.

You can vote there during normal workweek business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. City Hall will also be open from 8 a.m. until noon on the two Saturdays before the election, April 23 and April 30, to facilitate absentee voting.

The May 3 vote revolves around only one issue: the renewal of a 10-mill tax levy that funds the Major Thoroughfare Program.

The renewal goes before voters every five years and those voters have chosen to support the tax five times now.

If it wins favor again at the May 3 election, the 10-mill levy is expected to produce about $20 million over the next five years and would fund various construction and maintenance programs.

Chief Financial Officer and City Clerk Kim Hanna also reminded voters that ID is needed to cast a ballot in Mississippi, a provision that was not in force the last time a Major Thoroughfare election was held.

“I’m sure most people have voted in other elections since the ID law went into effect, but we just want to remind everyone that they do need to bring one now,” Hanna said.

Here’s the list of projects that would be funded if the program is renewed

The election ballot should look something like this.

Tupelo audit documents

The Tupelo City Council received the annual audit on Tuesday. This audit, which examined the city’s records for the fiscal year that ended last September, offered good marks for the city’s financial health. I wrote about the audit here for the Daily Journal, but the full audit can be found here for those of you who want to see the actual numbers (and there are a lot of them).

You can see the FY2014 audit here and the FY2013 audit here.

“You’re in good to excellent financial condition,” said Greg Jarrell, an accountant with the firm that conducted the audit, while speaking with the City Council. “I hope you don’t take that for granted. Let your people know this is a good report.”

Mayor Jason Shelton was pleased with audit.

“This validates our belief that the city of Tupelo is very strong financially and that we continue to live within our means,” Shelton told council members Tuesday.

The mayor highlighted several facts about the city’s financial condition: general fund debt is decreasing, the city’s net position is increasing, there have been no tax increases during Shelton’s administration and the reserve fund remains strong.

“The things we are doing as a council and an administration seem to be working,” said the mayor.


(Greg Jarrell, above, an account with the firm that audited Tupelo’s books, speaks to council members Tuesday afternoon)


Tupelo City Council to hold called meeting

Tomorrow, March. 29, the Tupelo City Council will receive the audit for the most recently completed fiscal year – that would be the fiscal year that began October 2014 and ended September 2015. Here’s the full agenda for the council meeting as provided by City Communications Director Leesha Faulkner. A work session will follow the council meeting.


A special meeting of the Tupelo City Council is set for 4 p.m., Tuesday, March 29, in Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall.
The agenda for the meeting is :
• Approval of FY 2015 City of Tupelo Audit
• Review/Approve Daybrite Roof Project Contract
Additionally, a City Council work session will follow the special meeting at 4:15 p.m. The item for discussion is an update on General Obligation Bonds.


Audio from Mississippi Supreme Court candidate

Judge Bobby Chamberlin of the 17th Circuit Court District announced his candidacy yesterday for the Mississippi Supreme Court. The full story is online here but I’ve  posted below some audio from my interview with Chamberlin following his Thursday morning press conference.

This first clip is in response to a question about why he wants to leave his current post and seek a seat on the state’s high court.


Chamberlin was a Republican lawmaker in the state Senate from 1999 until 2004. In this next clip, he discusses why he thinks that legislative experience is an asset.

This next clip has a little more on his Senate career. I asked him whether his legislative record might prove problematic for the judicial post he’s seeking. For example, he will be on record as supporting certain policies and positions.

Finally, Chamberlin discusses his judicial philosophy. He talks a bit about “activist judges” and judicial restraint.


Tupelo council tables vote on special election

Tupelo’s City Council halted plans this week to formally fix May 3 as the date of a special election on the renewal of the Major Thoroughfare Program’s funding, but this delay only amounts to a minor bureaucratic stumble.

A few days ago, I reported that the City Council would during its meeting this week probably approve a resolution ordering the date of the Major Thoroughfare Program special election. That didn’t happen, and here’s why.

The Major Thoroughfare Committee has recommended May 3 as the special election date. In council work sessions at which the subject has been discussed, council members seem amenable to that date.

Everything is still on track for that vote to occur on May 3 but a minor hiccup occurred in the process of setting up all the pieces correctly.

When a city council orders a special election by resolution, the election cannot be any less than 21 days from the date of the resolution’s approval but also cannot be any more than 30 days after the date of the resolution’s approval, according to state statute (Miss. Code 23-15-859 to be specific. See searchable Mississippi Code index here).

The City Council agenda for Tuesday’s meeting (March 15) indicated that a resolution to order the election would be considered. However, the desired May 3 date was more than 30 days after Tuesday’s date, a fact City Clerk Kim Hanna and City Attorney Ben Logan noted during a council work session Monday.

If the council approves the resolution ordering the election at its first meeting in April, the statutory requirements will be met, Hanna said.

The council subsequently voted Tuesday night to table the motion that would order the election and will take it up again later, presumably at the first April meeting.

The Major Thoroughfare Program is funded by a 10-mill tax levy that voters must choose to renew every five years.

If approved, the 10-mill levy would generate $20 million over the next five years for new road construction and maintenance.


Total cost of D.C. trip

As I reported here Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton and City Council members attended the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference last week (the conference website is here).

At the time, the trip receipts hadn’t been totaled and officials estimated the total cost to the city for travel expenses at about $12,000.

All expenses have been tabulated now, according to Communications Director Leesha Faulkner and the bill comes $16,420.87.

That amount includes airfare as well as conference registration, hotel costs and the per diem for Mayor Jason Shelton, Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis, and four council members. The per diem was $56. The conference was three days, with two travel days.

Per diem rates paid are regulated by the state and differ depending on the location (so if the council had gone on a trip to Jackson, the per diem would have been different).

In the article linked above, Shelton said the cost of the trip is justified because of the potential for the city to benefit from lobbying efforts undertaken while at the conference. Check out the audio below to hear Shelton’s comments.


Major Thoroughfare Program renewal vote documents

At tomorrow’s Tupelo City Council meeting (agenda here), expect the council to set May 3 as the date for a vote on renewal of the Major Thoroughfare Program tax levy. Every five years, a proposed renewal of this 10-mil levy goes before Tupelo voters at a special election. Something like this is what the special election ballot would look like.

If approved, the 10-mill levy would generate $20 million over the next five years. About $15 million would go toward new road projects, like road widening, and about $5 million toward maintenance of roads that already exist.

The council previously approved the new road projects that would be funded with this money, as well as the roads that would be targeted with the maintenance money. See that priority list here (scroll down to exhibit list at end of the linked document).




Audio from Trent Kelly’s primary victory

As reported in my story here, incumbent Rep. Trenty Kelly of Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District easily won the Republican primary Tuesday night. Below, you can listen to a short clip from my interview with Kelly on Tuesday night about his victory.

In November’s general election, Kelly will face Democratic candidate Jacob Owens, a 24-year old political newcomer who lives in Oxford and works at an architectural firm in Tupelo. Kelly’s congressional website is here and his Twitter account is here. Owens doesn’t have a website right now, but his Twitter account is here.



2015 elections bring flurry of legislative challenges








JACKSON — Between the 1995 statewide elections and the 2011 elections, there were three challenges to legislative election results.

The recently completed 2015 statewide election has resulted in three legislative challenges, matching the total of the previous five election cycles.

Of course, the state Constitution gives the legislative body the authority to decide such challenges.

So early in the 2016 legislative session, the House must decide two election challenges and the Senate has one challenge to decide.

In the Senate, incumbent Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, is challenging her loss to former incumbent Bob Dearing, D-Natchez.

In the House, Republican Mark Tullos of Raleigh is challenging his loss to District 79 incumbent Bo Eaton, D-Taylorsville. The Tullos/Eaton contest, of course, ended in a tie, but the incumbent captured the seat by the drawing of straws, as is mandated in state law.

Also in the House, incumbent David Myers’ 144-vote victory is being challenged by Tasha Dillon. What is interesting is that Myers defeated Dillon in the District 98 (Pike and Walthall counties) August Democratic primary instead of the November general election. But apparently, a candidate also can challenge to the House party primary results.

In all three instances, the losing candidate is claiming irregularities in the voting process resulted in their defeats.

The two chambers have the option to seat a candidate or order new elections.

In the aforementioned three previous challenges, the legislative body seated the candidate who had the most votes twice and in one instance ordered a new election because of alleged irregularities in the voting process.

Not in recent memory has a legislative body seated a candidate, other than the declared winner, without a new election.