With city elections looming in May amid the start of the qualifying period for candidates, one veteran Hernando alderman, at-large member Sam Lauderdale, says he will not seek a sixth four-year term and has no other political plans.
Lauderdale gave straight-up answers when asked just before Tuesday evening's board session about some community buzz. "No," he said when asked if he was running for re-election. "No," he said when asked if he would be a candidate for mayor. Chip Johnson is seeking re-election as mayor, and so far has drawn one announced opponent, Tom Ferguson.
"I've been an alderman five terms, plus five years in all on the Planning Commission, and I think it's time for me to do something a little different," said Lauderdale.
A State Farm Insurance agent, Lauderdale has built a successful business at 11 West Commerce St., and as an aldermen he's established a reputation as a firm advocate of fiscal conservatism and, to pace city services, expanding the tax base by creating a business-friendly environment.
There's a time for all things, said Lauderdale, "and I think it's time for me to move on." He added, "I've learned a lot in my years on the board."
In neighboring Horn Lake, Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer said Wednesday that he is running for a second term. Latimer, a Horn Lake native was first elected in 2013.
"I'm really delighted to see this community is working together," added Latimer. Johnson, Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite, Olive Branch Mayor Scott Phillips are running again. Walls Mayor Patti Denison could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, the Hernando aldermen, driving hard to correct parking lot problems off Commerce Street across from Church Park, have instructed the property owner, Donald Breshears, to return to the board's Jan. 17 meeting with a specific time-line and step-by-step plan for repairs.
At the board's Dec. 20 session, aldermen learned of continued inaction on repair to the 2.86-acre parking lot that serves a shopping center, including Hernando's Post Office, and which poses hazards to pedestrians and motorists, say city officials and concerned citizens.
"The parking lot has been in a state of disrepair for many years now," resident Darla Mirth told aldermen at a public safety and welfare hearing on the lot. "The current state of the parking lot has improved slightly with limited repaving of some potholes. However, this effort has fallen short."
Mirth added, "My understanding is when private property becomes a menace to society, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen can enact certain remedies." She urged "appropriate governmental action" so she and other citizens can enjoy the shopping center's amenities "without damage to persons and vehicles."
Back in October, Breshears was taken to task by the board over substandard conditions at the lot, and a motion by Alderman Gary Higdon was passed telling Breshears to take several actions and report on progress at the board's Dec. 20 meeting. At this month's hearing, city Planning Director Jared Darby said an inspection of the lot on Dec. 19 showed no discernible progress.
Breshears told aldermen that he was aware of the deficiencies, but cash flow continued to confound his plans for upkeep and repair. He said his budget allowed about $4,500 monthly for such work, but estimates for a comprehensive fix are more than 10 times that, "so I can only do things in stages."
Back in October, he said he expected in the next two months to be able to "flare out" an existing asphalt repair, which created a lip posing a trip-and-fall hazard, and fill in potholes on the front of the lot. However, at the Dec. 20 hearing little or none of that had been done and Breshears said he had misunderstood what was required of him.
This time, Alderman Andrew Miller wanted to make sure Breshears clearly understood what he had to do.
Breshears is to make plans to address the following: drainage on the northwest side, or rear of the lot; unsafe conditions between the east side of the shopping center building and west side of the post office; trip-and-fall hazards on the front parking lot; and unsafe conditions on the back side between the building and car wash. At the Jan. 17 meeting, he is to present a time-line on when these corrections will be made.
At the suggestion of City Attorney Kenneth Stockton, Darby will send a letter to Breshears affirming the actions he is to take.
Mayor Johnson said he sympathizes with the pressures on a businessman such as Breshears, but added, "We're at a point now, where we just have to make that parking lot safe."
In other construction matters, the aldermen authorized the mayor to sign a preliminary engineering services contract with the Waggoner firm for pedestrian improvements to the historic courthouse square. The $357,500 project is being funded with a federal $286,000 grant through the Metropolitan Planning Organization, and a $71,500 city match.
Johnson said the project calls for two improved traffic signals on U.S. 51 that will have "countdown" pedestrian timers, and all crosswalks will have "traffic-calming" and other improvements. By making the square safer and more enjoyable for pedestrians, "we should see an increase in sales tax dollars by shoppers downtown," said the mayor.
A request for rezoning 2.98 acres on U.S. 51 in the Nesbit area, from A-R (Agricultural-Residential) to relatively rare C-1 (Neighborhood Commercial), was approved at the request of Judith Kendall. She plans to relocate there from Memphis her company, A to Z Advertising.
"The applicant is bringing a nice business," said Darby.
In a Planning Commission matter, aldermen named Keith Hawkins to replace retiring Chairman Randy Cobb.
"Randy's done a wonderful job; he's served admirably," said Johnson. "I hate that he's leaving, but I certainly understand it" after more than 15 years of service.
Henry Bailey is Contributing Writer and Copy Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 662-429-6397, Ext. 241.