TUPELO • A local musician had just finished playing a medley of classic 80s rock songs at a campaign event in the back of Steele’s Dive on West Main Street when Lee County Supervisor Todd Jordan took the stage to thank around 75 of his supporters gathered there that night.
The first-term county official's message on stage to his supporters was brief: continue to spread the word to get him elected to Tupelo’s top office.
But Jordan couldn’t let the event end without a pointed jab at the outgoing mayoral administration.
“Another group I want to thank is the police department that have come tonight,” Jordan said that night. “I also had a few firemen here earlier, and I appreciate that. Hopefully, at some point you’ll get a little more support than you’ve had.”
This has been one of several subtle digs Jordan has made at outgoing Mayor Jason Shelton’s administration throughout the course of his campaign, with the overarching theme of promising to manage City Hall personnel differently than Shelton.
Jordan, 50, expanded on these comments about local law enforcement to the Daily Journal, saying that he believes any time the Tupelo Police Department experienced an issue over the past eight years, it seems Shelton “takes the reins” from the police department leaders.
He used the recent incident involving Wesley Wells, a prominent local businessman who was briefly detained a by the police department, as an example.
“I thought the police chief should have made a statement regarding what happened,” Jordan said. “Again, it goes back to, in my opinion, hire people that you’ve got confidence in. After the police had made a statement or made their investigation or suspended them without pay because of whatever policy, I think then the mayor comes in and gets involved.”
Former Tupelo athlete turns to local politics
Jordan is a native of the All-America City and graduated from Tupelo High School, where he was on the football team, in 1989. He attended Mississippi State University from 1989 to 1993 and was a quarterback and a punter for the university’s football team. After graduating from college, he played for the San Antonio Texans in the Canadian Football League for a brief stint.
He returned to Tupelo in 1995 and started a pressure washing business. In 2006, he started working for Tommy Morgan, Inc. as a real estate agent, where he remains employed.
In 2019, he began his career in local politics by defeating incumbent Lee County supervisor Tony Roper.
In his nearly year-and-half as a supervisor, Jordan has faced consequential decisions. He was the only supervisor to vote against instituting a mask mandate for county-owned property, rejected calls to relocate a Confederate monument in downtown Tupelo and joined other supervisors in asking for the power to place a countywide sales tax increase on a ballot for voter approval.
County politics intrudes on mayor's race
Lee County owns the local jail, not the city of Tupelo, but Jordan's foray into city politics has injected the issue of the jail into the municipal race.
County supervisors recently proposed asking Lee County voters - including Tupelo voters - to approve a countywide sales tax increase. Supervisors made clear that they intended to fund a new jail with this additional revenue.
The Mississippi Legislature decided not to give the county the authority to hold such a referendum after the House of Representatives did not consider the necessary bill.
Jordan has walked a thin line, defending his decisions as a supervisor on the sales tax proposal while taking criticism from some city politicians who argue that a sales tax increase would put local businesses at a disadvantage
If elected mayor, Jordan pledged to work with both city and county officials to fix problems at the jail. He has encouraged people to visit the facility if they are on the fence about supporting a replacement.
“I think you just have to get people to realize that there’s an issue,” Jordan said of the jail. “Look, the jail is something that 80% of the people of Lee County will never see. It’s not something that you want to spend money on, but just like a lot of other things, it’s a necessity.”
Simmering controversies at Tupelo Police Department
The Tupelo Police Department has been a lightning rod for controversy for multiple mayoral administrations, ranging from a deputy police chief pleading guilty to misdemeanor offenses and former police officers suing the department over racial and sexual discrimination.
Jordan said he would attempt to curtail the difficulties in the department by supporting efforts for the officers to receive more education and training and to try and connect citizens more with the police department.
“I think we obviously have to educate or keep educating our citizens that if you get stopped, cooperate,” Jordan said. “I think if you look at most of — especially what you see on TV or in the paper — most of what you see escalates because the suspect is not cooperating.”
Choosing key department heads
Police Chief Bart Aguirre has confirmed his intent to retire before a new mayor begins his term, and several other key administration figures are rumored to be considering that same.
That means that next mayor is likely to have several key vacancies to fill, while also having the power to replace other departments heads who may want to stay on.
“There will be some type of interview process, and I will try to put an interview committee together,” Jordan said.
Jordan declined to identify who would sit on these proposes committees, which would have a hand in filling publicly-funded jobs, but did say he would select people with knowledge of the relevant departments.
The next mayor will also inherit a number of ongoing efforts to encourage the construction of affordable housing, one of the top issues voters have indicated they care about this election cycle.
City leaders last month hosted a ribbon cutting event for subsidized housing units in an area on Ida B. Wells Street.
The construction of those housing units was the first of a projected three phases planned by current City Hall leaders. The next proposed phases center around constructing of more affordable housing units at different price points, but it will be up to the new administration to retain those plans, or chart a different course.
Jordan said he would want to put a freeze on housing plans until he brings in outside experts to pore over them.
A real estate agent for Tommy Morgan Relators, Jordan did commit to evaluating the different properties owned by the city to see if they could be sold to developers to construct housing units at an affordable market rate.
Other priorities for Jordan include attracting young families to the area, making the city a destination for weekend trips and studying how other cities have managed their growth.
With only days remaining until the primary, Jordan received about $23,500 in campaign donations since the first of the year and has spent around $9,000, according to campaign finance reports. His campaign currently has around $21,000 in cash on hand.
Jordan faces Tupelo City Councilman Markel Whittington, who has served in city government for 12 years. Whittington is running as a pragmatic candidate with extensive knowledge of city government, who has pledged to continue to grow Tupelo responsibly if he’s elected mayor.
The winner of the GOP primary will compete against Tupelo attorney Victor Fleitas — the only Democratic candidate in the mayoral race — in the general election on June 8.