Two candidates are vying for the Republican nomination for New Albany mayor in the primary election next Tuesday, April 6.
Incumbent Mayor Tim Kent, age 64, is challenged by Chuck Garrett, age 69, a retired public school administrator.
The winner of the Republican primary will face James Dean, the only candidate seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor, in the June 8 general election.
All Four Wards will vote at the Community Center at 307 Wilson St. Absentee ballots may be cast at city hall until 5 pm today and until noon Saturday. City hall will be closed Good Friday.
Mississippi law gives mayors limited powers.
Like most municipal governments in Mississippi, New Albany has a “weak mayor form of government.” As with most cities, the New Albany mayor has no vote on the city board, except in very rare occasions when he may vote to break a tie vote by the, aldermen. Long time observers of local, city government say New Albany mayors have had to vote to break ties just “two or three times” in the last 40 years.
Mayors under the “weak mayor” system have limited administrative authority over city operations, but may only act in accordance with specific orders by the city board.
Thus, mayors of New Albany and similarly organized Mississippi cities are able to lead by encouraging consensus and promoting good opportunities as they come along. They can listen to and support ideas submitted by citizens or others.
Mayors do have a specific role in recruiting and recommending candidates for city department heads and other key positions, which may then be approved and hired by the board of aldermen.
Incumbent Mayor Tim Kent began his service as New Albany mayor in 2005.
Education and sports career
Kent is a native of New Albany and graduated from W. P. Daniel High School in 1975.
He attended the University of North Alabama (UNA), where he was a was a star outfielder on the Lions baseball team.
After earning his bachelor’s degree at UNA in 1980, Kent had the opportunity to play professional baseball with the Kansas City Royals organization. He reported to a Royals minor league training camp in Florida. Coaches evaluated Kent’s skills, and told him he had a shot at making it to the major leagues – if he played several years in the minors, learned and improved.
“It was tempting to a man in his early 20s, but I decided it was a pretty long shot,” says Kent. “I’m grateful to the Royals for giving me the opportunity, but I have never regretted my decision to leave camp and go to work in the real world.
Kent became a licensed insurance agent for Liberty National (now Globe Life) Insurance Company. He was a producing agent for Liberty for 12 years.
Then, when in his mid-30s, Tim Kent made a major career change: He attended the police academy, graduated, and became an officer with the New Albany Police Department (NAPD) in 1994. He became an investigator for the NAPD and worked there until he was elected mayor.
Style and accomplishments as mayor
Most people who live in New Albany recognize it is greatly changed from when Kent became mayor in 2005.
Kent’s leadership style has been one of one of recognizing and maximizing opportunities.
Take, for example, the Toyota plant locating in Union County. Toyota announced in 2007 it would build its plant here. Everyone knows the heavy lifting on that major deal was done by then Governor Haley Barbour. It was Barbour who made several secret trips to Tokyo and oversaw the work of dozens of state and local officials that resulted in the Toyota announcement in February 2007.
Tim Kent was one of many local officials in three counties who played their assigned roles in bringing about that game-changing Toyota investment in northeast Mississippi. One of the key skills practiced then by many local officials was that of keeping a closed mouth — not “spilling the beans.” In fact, Toyota was also considering locating the plant across the river from Memphis in Arkansas. By most accounts, the Arkansas option was killed off when a guy who owned some of the land in Arkansas could not resist bragging to his friends about the big deal he was about to pull off. Word got back to Tokyo, the Arkansas option died and the plant came to northeast Mississippi.
Becoming the supplier of electrical power to Toyota
As soon as the announcement was made, Kent acted quickly to assure that the city-owned New Albany Lights, Gas, and Water (NALGW) would supply electricity to the new plant. A huge new substation was built at the west end of the Toyota property. Toyota today is NALGW’s largest customer, a fact that helps keep the rates low for every utility customer NALGW serves.
Securing the railroad right-of-way for Tanglefoot Trail
During Kent’s second term as mayor, he became aware that the old Illinois Central Railroad had abandoned its 130-year-old right-of-way, 44 miles long between New Albany, and Houston, Mississippi. The mayors of Ecru, Pontotoc and Houston were not interested. Kent asked then city attorney Bob Carter to “bank” the entire 44 miles under the federal program that allows abandoned railroad rights-of-way to be taken over for recreational use.
The Three Rivers Planning and Development District, of which Kent is a board member, took on the project and the Tanglefoot Trail opened in October 2013. The trailhead is in downtown New Albany and has become a much used recreational facility for people in northeast Mississippi and from around the country. Opening of the Tanglefoot was the key factor in “turning around” downtown New Albany. Few downtown retail spaces are vacant today and more are being made ready.
Credit given to team of key city workers
New Albany has gathered dozens of national recognitions and awards during recent years. Just last month Southern Living Magazine named New Albany “one of the Souths best small towns.” Last year the city was named “The Best Southern Small Town” by USA Today,
“Many, many people have contributed to the success New Albany has enjoyed in recent years,” says Kent.
Proud of team of key city workers
“One of the few actual powers a small-town mayor has in Mississippi is recruiting people for department heads and other key positions in city government,” the mayor said. While the board of aldermen must approve all new hires, the mayor has the role of recruiting and recommending key personnel.
“I am really proud of the exceptional team of city workers we’ve been able to put in place during my time as mayor,” says Kent.
Mattox hired to head NALGW
“Hiring Bill Mattox in 2010 to come here as manager of New Albany Lights Gas & Water was one of our best moments,” said Kent. “My respect for Bill, his ability and dedication, has grown every year since then – and I think most people in New Albany agree with me.
“Bill and NALGW are about to complete a brand-new $15-million wastewater treatment plant north of town without spending a dime of local tax money.”
Steve Coker’s service as fire chief
“In 2011 we were able to hire Steve Coker as fire chief,” said Kent. “Steve’s performance was amazing. Improvements in training and equipment under his leadership have resulted in major improvements in public safety. And New Albany property owners enjoy much lower fire insurance rates because of Steve’s work.
“When Steve had to retire last year to take care of his health, his long-time assistant chief Mark Whiteside was ready to take over. Mark Whiteside became chief and Mark Sides, who had also come up the ranks under Steve, became assistant chief.”
City marketing and development leaders
“In 2013 we hired Sean Johnson as the city’s first ever full-time marketing and tourism director,” said Kent. “Sean is a real marketing and public relations pro. He deserves much of the credit for the national recognition we’ve received during the last several years. He left in 2017 to do similar work in Houston, Mississippi. In fact, I understand he’s running for mayor down there this year.
“The board and I redefined the job a little when Sean left, and we hired Billye Jean Stroud to take on that role with the title Community Development Director. She was a key leader in developing our new city codes. Billye Jean and her assistant Tracy Vainisi have brought terrific creativity and energy to that work. They’ve really got it going on for the benefit of everyone in New Albany and Union County. They took the lead in renovating the Community Center, where we’ll be voting next week. The first ever Easter Parade and Easter Egg Hunt Billye Jean put together a few days ago was a big success.”
Streets and Solid Waste Department
“Johnny Payton was more than ready to take over as head of the streets and solid waste department when Wayne Treadaway retired in 2013,” said Kent. “Johnny is a really smart and talented leader. He motivates his guys and sets a pace of hard work. We don’t give the street department nearly enough funding, and I hope to see that improve during the coming years. Johnny and his crew do a remarkable job. Just think what they’d accomplish if we gave them enough money!”
Eric Thomas named code enforcement officer
“I’m proud of having recruited Eric Thomas as New Albany’s Code Enforcement Officer,” said Kent. “He brought a level of professionalism to that department which it had needed for years. He knows the building trades and treats everyone fairly and alike. Eric played an important role in developing our new city code.”
City Hall workers
“Our staff at city hall makes it possible for me to do my job, and I’m proud of the role I played in recruiting them,” said the mayor.
“City Clerk Frankie Roberts is bright, even-tempered and always professional. She took over after Ann Neal retired. Ann was a real pro, a tough act to follow and Frankie has measured up in every way.
“Susan Roberts, who retired last year, was my long-time administrative assistant. What an outstanding professional administrator Susan is! We all miss her.
“Maxine Bradley and Megan Kirk always give courteous and well-informed service to every one they deal with at city hall.”
Jill Smith at the Union County Heritage Museum
“I can’t take credit for hiring Jill Smith as museum director,” said Kent. “I think credit for recruiting Jill goes to former Mayor Walter Johnson. However, I do want to say how much I appreciate what she has accomplished. Jill has developed the Union County Heritage Museum into what I really believe is the best small-town museum in the country. It is one of New Albany’s greatest attractions.
“I’m afraid I may have left several people out. If so, I apologize. My point is that many people deserve credit for the great quality of life we enjoy in New Albany. I am honored to serve with them and thank them for all they do every day to make things work and bring recognition to our city.”
Early Life and Education
Chuck Garrett was born in Booneville, Mississippi. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Memphis State University, now the University of Memphis.
Garrett earned a doctor of education (EdD) degree from Northern Arizona University, a public research university in Flagstaff, Arizona. He was a graduate assistant, teaching undergraduate students, and an assistant basketball coach during the two years he and his family lived in Flagstaff.
Chuck Garrett served as principal of Olive Branch High School in DeSoto County from 1991 to 2000
New Albany Superintendent of Education
Chuck Garrett was recruited by the New Albany city school board and came to New Albany as Superintendent of Education in 2000.
Unprecedented support for school bond issue, accomplishments as superintendent
During his first year as superintendent, Garrett helped lead a successful drive to sell $11-million in revenue bonds to finance school construction and renovation in the district.
The largest part of the bond proceeds were spent to build a new state-of-the art elementary school on Sam Barkley Drive in northwest New Albany.
A considerable part of the money went into improvements at the Middle School and High School.
The bond issue was approved by more than 80% of those who voted. In a state in which support for public education was already waning, a majority of that magnitude was considered unprecedented, not just in Mississippi, but anywhere in the United States.
Garrett was successful in recruiting some top administrators to the school system. Among them was Susan McClelland, now an education professor at the University of Mississippi and Chuck Poer, who was honored as Mississippi’s top principal while he was serving as principal of the new elementary school.
Resignation at New Albany, work at CREATE
Garrett resigned as New Albany Superintendent of Education in 2012 and accepted a position as Senior Education Consultant at the CREATE Foundation in Tupelo.
In lieu of ad valorem taxes, Toyota Corporation agreed to donate $50-million for public education in the three counties – Lee, Pontotoc, and Union – which made up the PUL Alliance, the entity that put together the deal for the land on which Toyota eventually built its manufacturing plant in Blue Springs on the south side of Interstate 22.
CREATE acquired land on the north side of I-22 on which it intended to build a state-of-the-art regional vocational school.
“It was going to be a showplace, one of the most technologically advanced career and technical schools in the country,” Garrett told NEMiss.News a few days ago.” “We had a plan for how we were going to build it.”
The plan included several million dollars in funding from the State of Mississippi, which was not forthcoming.
“It didn’t pan out. We didn’t get the funding,” said Garrett.
Switched focus to other programs at CREATE
When the technical school did not materialize, Dr. Garrett did other work for CREATE including “Imagine the Possibilities,” a program to expose eighth graders in the PUL Alliance counties to career opportunities that might be available to them.
A notice currently on the CREATE website says, “The Toyota Wellspring Education Fund (TWEF) at the CREATE Foundation has been the lead sponsor the last five years for an interactive career expo entitled “Imagine the Possibilities” that allowed 8th grade students in 17 Northeast Mississippi counties to learn about eighteen career pathways. In planning for the 2020-2021 school year, the decision was made in January 2020 to transition to 10th grade students.”
Dr. Garrett told NEMiss.News that he left his six year full time consultancy with CREATE “ after the contract ran out.”
During part of the last months of his CREATE contract, Dr. Garrett served as the part-time interim principal at New Albany Middle School.
After leaving CREATE, Dr. Garrett worked part time as a dance instructor for the Dance Studio in Tupelo, but said he left to compete in dance contests.
Garrett worked for one year as a part time assistant superintended for Dr. Michelle Bivens, superintendent of education for the Pontotoc city schools, and left that position after the contract ran out.
Decision to run for mayor of New Albany
Of his decision to run for mayor of New Albany, Dr. Garrett told NEMiss.News, “Initially, I believed that I had a skill set that would fit perfectly to serve the needs of New Albany. We have many people who are working hard. I want to support, coordinate and lead them in their efforts. I will provide enthusiasm and be a partner in their hard work. As I campaigned, I came to understand that we have many who simply want us to hear their concerns and act on them consistently and fairly. They want transparency. I want them to feel that City Hall is doing its best for them. I think that, together, we can help our city ascend and become a far better city.”mayor candidate, MS politics, municipal primary election, New Albany MS, Northeast MS news