Crenshaw Mayor

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 12, 2009

In Crenshaw, plenty of problems await ex-mayor

By Billy Davis

Crenshaw Mayor-elect Oscar Barlow, after being sworn in to office July 6, will oversee a broke town government in a once-quaint Delta community. 

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The police department, when it can keep officers, has few radios for them and sends officers out in old, hand-me-down cruisers.

The town’s fire department has enough volunteer firefighters but too-little equipment to pass around.

In Panola County, where one-fourth of the workforce is employed by industry, Crenshaw watched its sole industry, automotive hose maker Dana Corp., close its doors in the 1990s.  

What’s a mayor-elect to do?

“We are banking our success on finding grant money,” reported Barlow, 44, referring to state and federal funding that small towns often depend on.

“The resources are out there,” he said, naming U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson, and Thompson’s field representative Sam McRae, as a point man for help.

Barlow said he is also in contact with Rep. Travis Childers, the freshman congressman, as well as state agencies.

And those resources, if they’re found, may be Crenshaw’s best hope to recover. Most of the tax revenue Crenshaw brings in has been swallowed up by its long list of past-due bills for electricity and garbage service. When the tax monies pour in, they are gobbled up by sizeable payments to those vendors.

Before grant funds begin to flow, however, Crenshaw’s town government must first produce an audit of its finances, which is a routine requirement for a town’s grant submission.

“We’re now submitting the final audit numbers to the state for their approval,” reported Lygunnah Bean, a contracted consultant who has helped Crenshaw improve its finances.

That is also a task that outgoing mayor Sylvester Reed failed to accomplish in four years.

During Reed’s term, Crenshaw also got in trouble when it built substandard houses with a state grant it received from the Miss. Development Authority (MDA).

The powerful state agency, which oversees economic development, cut off future grants to the town until the houses, built for low-income residents, were fixed. Only in recent months have repairs been made.

In just a few weeks, Barlow will return to town hall after he handily defeated Reed, the town’s combative one-term mayor, in a Democratic primary.

Barlow, a town native, first entered office in Crenshaw as Ward 2 alderman. He then ran for mayor, and won, a year later. He served as mayor from 1993 until 2005, when he lost to Reed, a former Quitman County supervisor.

Barlow was born in Marks but grew up on South Avenue in Crenshaw. 

Asked by The Panolian to produce a list his plans for town government, Barlow rattled off several: review, update, and enforce town ordinances; clean up abandoned lots and demolish abandoned houses; and find a spot for the town’s first public park.

Topping the mayor’s goals, he said, is properly equipping police officers and firefighters.

Dollar General is said to be interested in locating to property outside Crenshaw’s city limits, and Barlow said recruiting the store, then annexing the property, also tops his “to-do list” for the town.

“Oscar’s biggest challenge is maintaining momentum. He’s got a lot to do,” said Bob Bryant, a Crenshaw resident who became a well-known critic of the outgoing mayor.

 Bryant supported Barlow during the mayoral campaign and, after the election, has offered Barlow his perspective about the town’s immediate needs.

“If Oscar doesn’t upset people along the way, then he’s not doing his job,” Bryant said of the mayor-elect’s plans for the town.

Bryant, citing an example of coming controversy said some citizens will be unhappy with the planned cleanup of private property – a much-discussed, long-avoided topic in town government. 

“People will be fine with the cleanup as long as it doesn’t touch their property,” Bryant explained. “But it’s for the good the town – the whole town. If some people get upset, then too bad.”

Stepped-up police enforcement also sounds like a good goal until more people in the small town are ticketed or arrested, Bryant also said.

When Barlow re-enters the mayor’s office, one of his first duties is addressing the police department – and not just its non-running cars and shoddy equipment.

Reed and town aldermen terminated Police Chief Daryl Linzy at a June 5 called meeting. A police officer was also terminated, and two more officers have since quit.

A town protected by too-few police officers now has even fewer. And now it needs a new police chief, too.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do – no doubt,” said Barlow of the town’s challenges.

“But the number one thing is we have got to work together and put the town’s interests over our own interests,” he said.