Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton offered a bit of a shocker last weekend when he announced he would not seek a third term heading up the city. Next year’s mayoral race will not include an incumbent.
Traditionally, when an incumbent announces the intention not to run for reelection, it usually ends up a horserace to fill the position. Tupelo’s next mayoral campaign could end up being just that but, so far, no one has announced a run for the mayor’s office – at least publicly.
On Tuesday, Shelton sat in his City Hall office and explained his decision to vacate the office. Most of that decision, it turns out, boils down to William, his baby, who is due in two weeks. “I’ve always wanted children,” said the 44-year-old Shelton who has been married to the former Jessica Wallace for the past year. “We plan to have more children.”
Besides being a father, Shelton plans to resurrect his law practice that has been dormant the past eight years while he oversaw 450 full-time and 550 part-time and seasonal city employees. He said the family’s old law office at the corner of Spring and Jefferson streets, unoccupied for years, needs repairs before he can move back in.
“I have enjoyed being mayor but I’m ready to get back to practicing law,” Shelton said, explaining that he will have to rebuild his general law practice “a little bit of everything from the ground up. And I will take care of my dad’s estate, liquidate some properties.” His father, well known attorney Jimmy Doug Shelton, died in 2017 at the age of 80. “I probably wouldn’t have run for reelection in 2013 if I had known I had to close my law office.”
Jason Shelton, a Democrat, will not likely leave the political arena though he has no immediate plans to run for any office. He has been an outspoken opponent of the current presidential administration: “I am aware that campaigning against Donald Trump is not the politically expedient thing to do in Mississippi but I think that would not have hurt my reelection (chance). My record will stand.”
His record includes several crises, the latest of which is the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Shelton early on initiated masking and closure orders for the city; he realizes those were not universally popular actions but said his concern for public safety easily outweighed political expediency. Other negative events included the killing of Antwun Shumpert by a Tupelo police officer, the killing of Tupelo police officer Gale Stauffer by a bank robber and the 2014 tornado that destroyed a portion of north Tupelo.
“The most rewarding for me has been crisis management,” Shelton said. “I’ve gotten to see how much a person in elected office can help the city.”
Shelton admitted to being “disappointed with the negativity outside of the job itself.” He said attacks by friends of 20 years or longer on social media have been disheartening. Another recent disappointment has been the pandemic’s effect on what should have been a banner year of celebrating Tupelo’s 150 birthday: “We passed the largest budget in the city’s history for 150th events but now that money is going to other things,” he said of coronavirus prevention measures undertaken.
Financially, Shelton said, Tupelo is in good shape despite the loss in sales tax revenue virtually every municipality in the United States is facing. That, however, could change: “Tupelo, so far, is faring much better than other cities but, if this continues into the fall, it could go south in a hurry,” he said. Shelton pointed out a couple of positive accomplishments during his tenure, including the construction of a new police headquarters and the Tupelo Aquatic Center, recognized as a premier facility, one of the best in the South.
“He’s been an excellent mayor, a really fair person who has tried to be inclusive,” Councilwoman Nettie Davis said of Shelton. She added that while several people have privately shown an interest in running for mayor, none have yet announced publicly they will seek the position.