Neighborhood parks will always have a special place in William Jerome’s heart.
He fell in love with his wife, Patti, at Phillip Leach Rotary Park in Southaven. His son, Patrick, learned to ride his bike at Central Park and became a civil engineer as a result of watching the large earth moving equipment at work when the park was being constructed.
Jerome, who grew up in Horn Lake but moved to Southaven in 1991, represents Ward 3 on the Southaven Board of Aldermen. He’s excited to see the city’s parks enhancement plan begin to take shape and all of the improvements being made, especially to the city’s smaller neighborhood parks.
“Neighborhood parks are very near and dear to me,” Jerome said. “I fell in love with my wife at a park. We would walk to that park and sit for hours and talk. So it means something to me to maintain our parks and have a comprehensive plan in action.”
Jerome was the guest at the July 7 meeting of Southaven Rotary Club where he spoke about the parks improvement plan, road projects, and other progress underway in the city.
Southaven Board of Aldermen in June approved a plan to spend $14 million over the next four years to enhance the city’s parks using money that will be collected from the Pennies for Parks tourism tax that was recently extended by the Mississippi legislature.
The plan includes adding trails and pavilions in neighborhood parks, replacing the roof at Snowden Grove, parking expansion at the Arena to accommodate a growing volleyball program, adding LED lighting at Snowden Grove, building eight new tennis courts at the Snowden Grove Tennis Complex, converting four tennis courts to pickleball courts, installing new black vinyl fencing at Snowden grove and Greenbrook parks, and resurfacing the parking lot at Snowden Grove and Greenbrook.
“I believe just about every park is going to be touched in one way or another,” Jerome said.
Jerome told the Rotarians that Southaven Police Department is now fully staffed thanks to a 5-year expansion plan which included the largest pay raise in the city’s history. He said he will always vote to support the needs of the city’s first responders.
“Right now we have the third highest paid entry level police officers in the Metro area,” Jerome said.
Jerome also highlighted several road projects that are underway or about to start which include widening Getwell Road south to Star Landing and the Pepperchase Drive extension.
“That should ease some of the congestion we are having on Highway 51,” Jerome said. “There is so much truck traffic. Church Road is getting as bad as Getwell Road.”
Jerome said Mayor Darren Musselwhite has also done an excellent job of paving the city’s streets. While there will always be residents who are frustrated because their street needs paving, Jerome said the city has to balance the need to maintain the city’s most heavily traveled streets first over the lighter traveled neighborhood streets.
“The city has a well-crafted list that it works off of,” Jerome said. “Sometimes you have to tell people no. It’s going to get paved, but it might not be this year. Everybody’s road is always the worst road. So I think we’ve been doing pretty well with that. The mayor does a really good job about being aggressive and getting a lot of that paving done.”
Jerome said he’s also excited to see the renovation work progressing on the BankPlus Amphitheater at Snowden Grove which should be ready to host concerts again in the fall.
The city approved spending $9.8 million to expand the seating capacity and for other improvements that will help the venue attract more concerts and bigger acts.
“You need 10,000 seats to make it work for some of the artists to play there,” Jerome said. “So they have taken out the grassy area and have added all new seats now, new restrooms, a VIP area and lounge area for the bands. It’s going to make it a lot nicer. It will be a destination, especially with Silo Square being there. You’ll have some new hotels there to stay at overnight and will be able to walk and go to a concert.”
The amphitheater project will also complement the county’s plan to spend $35 million on expanding the Landers Center. The project includes a six story luxury hotel, free-standing restaurant, and 70,000 square feet of convention and event space.
The Landers Center is located in the city’s “Metro District,” a special planning and zoning district along the I-55/Church Road interchange which Jerome said will attract even more investment in that area.
“It’s going to be a destination,” Jerome said.
Jerome said while there aren’t a lot of empty buildings left in Southaven, the city’s economy remains strong and will continue to attract more businesses like Google, Medline Industries, and Spectra Laboratories.
“We are still seeing growth and business coming in,” Jerome said. “I’m a small business kind of guy. So hopefully we will still maintain a climate where people will come here and start a business, especially considering we haven’t had to raise taxes in many, many years.”
When asked what the Rotary Club can do to help improve Southaven, Jerome said instead of calling code enforcement on a neighbor whose grass isn’t being cut or whose home may not be as well maintained as it needs to be, to volunteer to cut the grass or ask if there is anything they can do to help.
“I’ve spent many hours cutting grass,” Jerome said. “Sometimes people just need help. I have a good relationship with our code enforcement officers. Usually if I see a property in my ward that has an issue, a lot of times I will just go and cut the grass. It may be someone elderly who has lived there for 40 years and for whatever reason they can’t cut the grass. So rather than go through the condemnation process and charge them $250 to cut the grass, maybe just ask them if they need a little help. So I would like to see more of that.”
Jerome, who retired in 2019 after spending 32 years active duty working with the Tennessee National Guard, said he loves living in Southaven.
“I’ve travelled all over the southeast and people would ask where I’m from. I would tell them Southaven. They would say, ‘oh that’s that place with all the ballfields,’” Jerome said. “You would be surprised at how many people travel here to use those ballfields. It’s become a big part of our identity.”
Jerome said he was enjoying being retired and never thought about getting in to politics, but was approached to run for alderman. He’s quick to point out though, that he considers himself a public servant and not a politician.
“It’s new to me,” Jerome said. “But when the opportunity came up, it was more about the opportunity to serve. My favorite commandment has always been love thy neighbor. And I love doing that. But I will tell you, I’m not a politician. I’m too honest. My wife tells me I’m not smart enough to lie. But I do like to be a voice for people who don’t have a voice, and I do like to bring new ideas to organizations. I just love the area I live in.”