Interviewed by Leslie Criss
Photographed by Shelby Prestage Miller, Steel Magnolia Photography
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton has served as the leader of the city’s administration since 2013. Shelton has garnered national attention for decisions made early and at the local level to keep the citizens of Tupelo/Lee County safe from the spread of COVID-19. He recently took time to answer a few questions for Invitation magazine.
Q: As mayor of Tupelo, did you ever dream you would have to address anything like this recent health crisis?
A: When I first ran for mayor in 2013, dealing with natural disasters, civil unrest and global pandemics certainly was not on my radar. I ran primarily focused on recruiting young families to Tupelo and helping to enhance the quality of life for our citizens and guests. Our team has been battle tested over the past several years, and I could not be more proud of the men and women that I get to work with on a daily basis.
Q: To what philosophy or other leaders did you look when devising the plans for Tupelo to follow during this time?
A: One of the good things about being in city government is that you do not have to reinvent the wheel. Particularly in dealing with COVID-19, we were able to see what was happening in other countries and other parts of the United States before it got to Tupelo. We looked to the doctors and scientists and implemented the policies here that were working in other places.
Q: From your perspective, how have the citizens of this city and surrounding cities in northeast Mississippi handled this crisis?
A: At first it was unfortunate that more of our citizens and political leaders did not take this seriously, but as it has progressed we have seen it taken more seriously by almost everyone. I think the people of our area are resilient and are handling it as well as anyone in the world.
Q: You will soon be a first-time father. Do you think that has affected the way you have thought and led during this crisis?
A: Absolutely, the fear of my wife contracting this and passing it to our unborn child has occupied my mind every single day. I have been extremely restricted in any type of social interactions. We cancelled travel plans for a spring trip to Europe in January because of the spread of COVID-19. I am fortunate that she is a nurse practitioner and can give me insight on health matters.
Q: What are your hopes for northeast Mississippi as we come out the other side of these dark times?
A: If there is a positive, I hope it can be that we develop a deeper understanding that we are all one people; that the entire world is connected and that the things happening here impact people all over the world and the things that happen on the other side of the world impact us right here in Tupelo. I hope that we can all develop a greater sense of empathy toward our fellow human beings.