People told me when I was elected Mayor that the City of Oxford never received its share of Federal or State funding. I naturally thought Oxford had been turned down for Federal and State funding. To the contrary… I quickly learned quickly that Oxford had not been told ‘no’ – but rather the City of Oxford had not asked for our share of these funds. It became evident to me that we needed a concerted effort to work with our Federal and State leaders to benefit our community.
Oxford is a town of 25,000 taxpayers, but we serve closer to 50,000 with students and workforce each day and hosting 100,000-200,000 people on event weekends. There are not many communities like Oxford in Mississippi – a small community with a large university. This brings unique funding challenges for infrastructure and growth. One of the reasons I ran for Mayor of Oxford is that I recognized we could not continue to operate as a small town. While serving as Alderman, I knew that we need to build relationships that would allow me to tell Oxford’s story: Oxford truly is a small town with big-city problems.
Lobbying for our community on the State and Federal level has impacted our ability to have a seat at the table and share our needs. It is not a quick process but my administration has begun to see the fruits of our labor.
Partnering with our Federal Officials and National Organizations
I have traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, Congressmen Trent Kelly and Michael Guest, and staff members of Congressman Bennie Thompson and Congressman Steven Pallazzo.
I have met with Vice-President Mike Pence, members of the White House Staff at the White House and representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies and am proud to announce that this year we received $1.7M from the Army Corps of Engineers to be used for water infrastructure. This fills a huge need because we have to increase our water supply to our ever-growing community. I am so thankful we will be able to do this without raising taxes!
In 2018, SmartGrowth America selected me to speak on Capitol Hill on behalf of the First & Main Coalition of nearly 100 local elected officials from small and mid-sized towns and cities. Knowing that every community has a “First & Main” (just like our North Lamar Boulevard & Jackson Avenue), promoting the vitality of these places is key to America’s prosperity. We carried the message, “[w]e need reliable federal partners to support our homegrown efforts to rebuild our downtowns, restore our economies and improve opportunity for everyone.”
Through my involvement with SmartGrowth America, I was one of 30 local leaders from across the nation who assisted in developing and rallying around “Blueprint for Prosperity” to let Congress and the White House know that we need to help our cities succeed. I was proud to be the only female. I had the opportunity to brief representatives from congressional offices and had meetings with members of Congress and their staff, federal agencies, and key White House officials to help them understand how the Federal Government can continue supporting local communities.
I was honored to be asked to speak again in Washington, D.C. at the 2018 LOCUS Leadership Summit: Rebuild America’s Neighborhoods that brought forward-thinking real estate developers and investors together with local elected officials and transportation/land-use planners. These are all people who have an interest in creating sustainable communities, and we met together discuss challenges we have encountered and share ideas on how to overcome these challenges.
In 2019, I was invited to the Tom Tom Summit and Festival in Charlottesville, Virginia to participate on a panel and podcast entitled, “An Honorable Profession”. The Tom Tom Foundation champions innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship in America’s hometowns. It was a great honor to be included with so many great community leaders in this event.
Most recently, I was honored to be selected as one of 21 elected officials nationwide to participate in the inaugural class of The Active People, Healthy Nation Champions Institute to collaborate with leaders from across the country in promoting strategies to create safe travel ways for all users including: pedestrians, cyclists and transit, as well as motorized vehicles. Transportation funds have become extremely competitive – for Federal and State dollars – so it is critical for the City of Oxford to continue to find creative and cost-effective solutions to transportation issues in our community. I believe that the knowledge share from national experts will translate into innovation in our transportation system and also help reinforce a holistic transportation system in our community.
Partnering with State Officials
One of the things that I have worked hardest on the last three years as Mayor is developing relationships with State officials. When I took office I found that most statewide elected officials were not Ole Miss people, and the perception in Jackson is often that Oxford has plenty of resources and does not need help. Oxford is often the victim of our own success in many ways.
At the beginning of my tenure as Mayor I found that most other cities in Mississippi we were competing with had lobbying firms. We hired a lobbyist and got to work with our local legislators. I have travelled to Jackson regularly during the last three Mississippi Legislative Sessions to visit with legislators and committee chairs to share our challenges and successes. Our efforts have been successful, and we can quantify the success we have had. Oxford received $4.75M over the past two years to be utilized for road infrastructure.
Serving on the Commission to Redesign the State Flag in 2020 was perhaps one of my greatest honors. I am so proud to have been a part of this momentous process and humbled to have been appointed by Speaker Philip Gunn. I was even more excited to see how the Mississippi electorate overwhelmingly approved the design we put forward.
Each of these opportunities allowed me to learn much more than I shared. Each of these visits with our leaders in Jackson and in D.C. helped me establish trust and relationships that are now translating into honest dialogue and assistance for the City of Oxford. Experience counts.
My administration has partnered with the University of Mississippi over the past four years on many projects and events. We jointly host our State Representatives and State Senators along with our Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House to educate them on our challenges, and thank them for their contributions. We have partnered with the University of Mississippi to bring the staff members of our U.S. Senators and Congressmen to Oxford to show them first-hand the challenges we face. Most recently, we hosted Dr. Deborah Birx, Coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Partnerships with TVA, the Walton Family Foundation, the Heartland Foundation, University of Mississippi Student Organizations, The Tallahatchie-Oxford Missionary Baptist Ministerial Alliance and others have helped to build relationships across our community. During my administration the City of Oxford established the Commission on Police Transparency that began meeting in October. There are plans to establish other Commissions to help us move our community forward in the coming years.
As your Mayor, I will continue to tell Oxford’s story and find creative ways to build partnerships that provide funding and assistance. I will also continue to host conversations that will help us develop deeper connections as we address our growing needs.