TUPELO • The Elvis Presley Birthplace is offering a $1,000 reward for information about the theft of the word "Elvis" from the "Elvis Presley Birthplace Museum & Chapel" sign over Memorial Day weekend.
The theft comes one week before the Tupelo Elvis Fest, an annual event for fans and tribute artists to celebrate the life and music of the King of Rock 'n' Roll, is set to kick off on June 9.
And this isn't the first time the sign has been vandalized.
Dick Guyton, executive director of the Elvis Presley Birthplace, said all of the lettering was stolen from the sign around three months ago. It cost about $3,200 to replace it that time, but he's not sure exactly how much it will cost to replace Elvis' name.
Guyton said this particular case of vandalism is the first of its kind for the local tourist attraction.
"Over the years, we've had small amounts of vandalism, but nothing of this manner," Guyton said. "And we just want to try to stop any future vandalism as fast as we can."
The sign is on Elvis Presley Drive, a public street, so the Birthplace has no surveillance cameras placed there.
"We hope that somebody will come forward and let us know who's doing this stuff so we can get some restitution from them," Guyton said.
JACKSON • Mississippi legislators can do business the easy way or the hard way if they revive the state's initiative process that was recently invalidated by a state Supreme Court decision.
The easy way would be to adopt the same process that Mississippi has used for decades, tweaking it only to resolve a problem pointed out in the court ruling.
The hard way would be to open the process for lots of debate that could muck up an already complex system and make it even more burdensome for citizens petitioning to put issues on the statewide ballot.
The biggest area for legislative mischief could be in increasing the number of signatures needed on petitions.
The initiative process is in Section 273 of the Mississippi Constitution. It requires initiative organizers to gather a number of signatures equal to 12% of the total votes for all candidates in the most recent election for governor.
Legislators could make the initiative process harder by either increasing that 12% margin, or by keeping the same percentage but applying it to the state's turnout for the presidential election, which is traditionally higher.
In 2019, for example, 884,911 votes were cast for all candidates for governor; 12% of that is 106,189.
In 2020, Mississippi residents cast 1,313,759 votes for all candidates for president; 12% of that is 157,651.
Legislators could also tighten the timeline. Organizers now have a year to gather signatures, and most initiatives never make it to the ballot because organizers fail to get enough people to sign. A shorter timeline would make the effort even harder.
The Supreme Court heard arguments about the initiative process because that was the central focus of a lawsuit that sought to block a medical marijuana proposal.
Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler sued the state days before the 2020 general election, arguing that Initiative 65 was not properly on the ballot.
Butler opposed Initiative 65 because it would have limited cities' ability to regulate the location of medical marijuana businesses, but her court arguments had nothing to do with zoning. Instead, her attorneys questioned the validity of the signature gathering process.
Mississippi requires initiative sponsors to collect one-fifth of their petition signatures from each congressional district. The process was set in the 1990s, when Mississippi had five districts. The state dropped to four districts after the 2000 census because of stagnant population, but legislators ignored attempts to update the initiative requirements.
Recognition of the five districts/four districts problem is not new. The state attorney general issued a legal opinion in 2009 saying initiative sponsors should collect signatures from the five old districts.
Butler's attorneys argued that because Mississippi has four current districts, it makes no sense to use the five old ones. They also said the constitution creates a mathematical impossibility: With four districts, more than one-fifth of the signatures must come from each.
State attorneys argued that congressional districts have multiple purposes. They are used to elect members of the U.S. House, but the current or old districts are also used for choosing members to some state regulatory boards.
A majority of justices agreed with Butler in the May 14 ruling.
Before the that Supreme Court decision, Mississippi was one of the 24 states with an initiative process, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
About 1.3 million people voted in Mississippi in November, and more than 766,000 of them voted in favor of the medical marijuana proposal. That's about 10,000 more residents than voted the same day for then-President Donald Trump, who easily won in Mississippi despite losing his race for a second term.
More than 200 supporters of medical marijuana protested last week near the Mississippi Capitol and the state Supreme Court building, and many of them also marched past the Governor's Mansion. They demanded that legislators create a medical marijuana program, and that the state revive its process for citizen-led initiatives.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is the second in a series highlighting the candidates running for Tupelo City Council. Additional entries will run throughout the week.
TUPELO • The incumbent’s record and the newcomer’s promises of a fresh approach are major themes of the campaign to represent Ward 2 on the Tupelo City Council.
Incumbent Councilman Lynn Bryan, a Republican, is running for a third term. Bryan, 58, owns a construction company.
Challenger Demetra Tubbs-Sherer, a Democrat, is running for public office for the first time, hoping to unseat Bryan. Sherer, 39, is a real estate agent for Tommy Morgan Relators.
As he did in his re-election campaign four years ago, Bryan is touting the city’s accomplishments during his tenure in office, including more money spent on road repairs, blight removal and parks and recreation.
“The city of Tupelo is better than it was eight years ago, but we have room to go,” Bryan said. “I’m running for re-election again so we can complete the task.”
Sherer is building her bid for office around promises to involve citizens more deeply in the work of local government.
Her campaign, which involves “boots on the ground, knocking on doors, doing the hard work,” will be a model for how she’ll help govern, Sherer said.
“I just think there are some things that need to be changed, and those things that need to be changed are being accessible, being available being reachable, and teachable also,” Sherer said. “I am going to give you my very all all the time and make sure I meet the needs of my neighbors.”
Ward 2 is located in the west-central portion of Tupelo and includes the Joyner neighborhood, the Bristow Acres neighborhood, some of the Thomas Street area and the Wilemon Acres subdivision.
The general election between Bryan and Sherer is June 8, with polls open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Voter identification is required to cast a ballot.
In a recent forum with the Daily Journal, the two candidates offered their views on a range of issues, rarely clashing directly but offering different ways of approaching certain key policies.
Rising construction costs are worsening the city’s of Tupelo’s longstanding problems related to lower-cost housing.
Sherer highlighted the gap between those who qualify for subsidized housing and those actually able to afford much of the market-rate housing available. The people in this gap neither qualify for housing subsidies, nor are they able to afford to buy a home at market prices.
“We do need to get some answers about how we can combat that,” Sherer said.
Bryan pointed to the recent construction of subsidized housing on Ida B. Wells Street and said more such housing can be built through a partnership with the same developer.
Construction costs pose a significant problem, however, the incumbent said.
“Across the board in the city of Tupelo, there is no supply,” Bryan said. “The affordability of what’s being built just keeps being pushed out of the way.”
Bryan calls the appointment of a new police chief “a big deal” and said it’s likely the most significant issue a new mayor will face in the coming term.
Whoever that new chief is, Bryan said he wants to see the Tupelo Police Department more urgently emphasize community policing strategies and more stringent traffic enforcement in neighborhood areas.
“We’ve got a good police force,” Bryan said. “We need to get back to some basics.”
If she’s on the council that will choose whether to confirm a mayoral police chief nominee, Sherer said she expects a candidate who is “sympathetic to the community needs” and able to work amid differences.
“When I think of a police chief, I do think of someone who has the capability to deal with all walks of life, all ethnicities,” Sherer said.
In light of a declining statewide population and strong regional urban hubs, Sherer recommended detailed conversations with younger workers and new graduates to determine the best strategies to retain and attract these people.
Bryan lauded ongoing efforts by the city and economic development agencies to make the All-America City more vibrant and attractive to younger adults.
He called for the city to remain engaged with such efforts, even providing direct sponsorships to festivals and other events to make them viable.
“That way the word is out that Tupelo has a lot to do,” Bryan said. “We’ve got it, we’ve just to make it better.”
HOLLY SPRINGS • In her first State of the Institution address, Rust College President Ivy R. Taylor laid out her plans for modernizing the state’s oldest historically Black college and slow the decline in the school’s enrollment numbers.
On Tuesday, Taylor shared her goals over the past year and her vision for the the college including a new mission statement: “students for excellence and service in their communities and throughout the world.”
Among her top priorities is the reversal of a five-year decline in enrollment – from 1,004 students in 2016 to 636 students in 2020.
Leaders at the college plan to use student input and national data to improve the school’s academic offerings. In reflecting on change for the institution, Taylor prioritized listening sessions, where she met with faculty and staff members one-on-one to determine the need for new technology, programs and investment in physical and technology offerings.
Taylor said the school will launch a new health science degree in the fall and plans to restart its music major program.
The college is also partnering with the University of the Incarnate Word in Texas and the Cleveland–Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio, to help students pursue health science and law degrees.
The school also announced on Tuesday the Rust College + Ole Miss 3+2 Engineering Program, where students can earn a mathematics and engineering degree. Participants will spend the first three years pursuing a mathematics degree at Rust, alongside taking pre-engineering and engineering courses. Students will then enter the Ole Miss School of Engineering to complete the remaining courses needed to earn an engineering degree.
“It’ll give (students) opportunities that will be long-lasting and change generations of lives,” University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn Boyce said on Tuesday. “It will contribute to producing more STEM leaders in our state … and it will encourage engineers, and this is a big one for us at Ole Miss and one of the reasons we’re so excited to partner with Rust, to stay in our state, to help our state.”
Ole Miss Assistant Dean Marni Kendricks said the program will be a fantastic opportunity for an ambitious student for a high-demand career path. Dr. Don Cole, a retired mathematics professor and administrator at Ole Miss currently serving as an adjunct professor at Rust College, was instrumental in completing the curriculum mapping. Taylor described it as a “win-win” for both institutions and a move that will lead to more Black engineers.
“I think it’s going to be transformative and help us to attract students,” Taylor said. “(I) look at (this as) the opportunity to make students feel welcome at a smaller campus, make them feel supported and then still have access to everything Ole Miss has to offer.”
Taylor said the the school is also working on various improvements to the campus itself, including the college’s IT infrastructure, renovated dorms and a new welcome center.
Taylor also laid out her vision for the upcoming year. Rust College will implement a 5% pay raise for all faculty and staff in the coming year as part of their efforts to bring salaries up to market standards.
School officials are also exploring possible federal funding to help rebuild Mississippi Industrial College, with a draft plan to reuse that part of campus for an Ida B. Wells Social Justice and Interpretive Center.
Rust College will launch its first strategic enrollment management plan next fall, and will be searching for a new vice president for enrollment management to help with clearly defined goals and objectives to change enrollment trajectory. Upcoming sessions will be hosted June 16 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and June 22 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. via Zoom. Information will be available on the Rust College website.
Taylor is the institution’s 12th president and first woman president in its 155-year-history. With her first year as president behind her, Taylor said she’s looking forward to pushing the historic college into the future.
“As I conclude my first year of service to Rust College, I commit to continuing to work through the transition to ensure that we fulfill that mission because our students deserve it,” she said.