Former Southaven mayor coming to Sardis?
Published 10:33 am Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Former Southaven mayor coming to Sardis?
By Jeremy Weldon
Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar confirmed Monday that former Southaven Mayor Greg Davis has applied for a tourism position based in Sardis.
Resumes for the new post, officially titled Tourism and Economic Project Manager, were due today.
At least three other resumes had been received as of press time Monday, but Davis is by far the most recognizable.
The former mayor is considered to be an economic development guru, mostly because of the phenomenal growth Southaven, and most of DeSoto County, enjoyed during his tenure as mayor.
While it was the business and population boom Southaven enjoyed under his leadership, it was Davis’ indictment on embezzlement and fraud, combined with sordid details of his personal life, that cost Davis his job and made him a household name in North Mississippi.
Davis was the topic of extensive media coverage when he was indicted on state charges of embezzlement, false pretense, and making fraudulent statement. He was convicted of the those charges in 2014 and sentenced to serve 30 months in state prison and ordered to make restitution of $17,000 to the City of Southaven.
The felony charges were the result of two issues – Davis’ purchase of a 2007 Ford Expedition that had been leased by the city for his use, and for “double-dipping” for gasoline he used from the city pumps and then filed for reimbursement.
During that tumultuous trial process, Davis was also accused of using city funds for a variety of expenses including for meals and alcohol. The most lurid of the accusations, though, came from a charge made at a Canadian sex shop.
Shortly afterwards, Davis admitted that he has a gay lifestyle. He insisted at the time that his personal life was never an impediment to his public life, and that his record as an economic developer proves his point.
After his 2014 conviction, Davis remained free on bail while his case was working its way through the appeal process. In June 2017, a Lafayette County Circuit Court jury found Davis not guilty on all charges, exonerating the long-embattled Republican.
The original conviction had been thrown out by the Mississippi Court of Appeals. At the time, Davis’ attorney, Steve Farese of Oxford, said the change of venue from DeSoto County provided his client with an opportunity for a fair trial.
Much of the prosecution’s first case against Davis was built on testimony from Southaven City Clerk Sheila Heath, who died of cancer and was not alive to testify at the second trial.
Prosecutor John Champion also said, at the time, that the change of venue hurt his chances for another conviction.
Davis has also settled all demands from the State Attorney General’s Office for repayment of questioned expenses.
Davis has returned to the private sector, working at Home Depot in Horn Lake for a time, before making a return to public life last year when he voluntarily helped the City of Horn Lake work on budget issues.
Earlier this year, Horn Lake’s Mayor and Board of Aldermen agreed to hire Davis as a city planner, but then rescinded their offer when the outcry from Horn Lake residents, including demonstrations at city hall, became too politically controversial.
In an interview with The Panolian, Davis said he has enjoyed a couple years of retirement and still manages a retail business in Southaven, but is also anxious to return to public service work, especially economic development.
“I believe I do have some skills and contacts that would be useful to economically underserved areas,” Davis said. “Sardis is one of those areas that have great potential for growth.”
Davis said the city’s proximity to Memphis and Oxford, combined with the natural attraction of Sardis Lake and John Kyle State Park, are promising assets for development projects.
When questioned about the other issues that have clouded his work in DeSoto County, Davis was forthcoming.
“Over the past seven years I have learned that people will throw whatever they can at other people to distract them from reaching their goals,” he said. “I hope that doesn’t happen in this case.”
Davis said he has real aspirations for Sardis, and if hired for the job, isn’t hoping to make the position just a stepping stone for further political offices.
“I have enjoyed the private sector, and at this time I do not foresee any political runs for any office,” he said. “But I’ve also learned to never say never.”
The advertisement placed by the Partnership in The Panolian says the position will be filled Wednesday, but will likely take a few days because Azar said all candidates will have in-depth interviews.
The committee that will interview the candidates and make a recommendation include Sardis Mayor Lula Palmer and two other city board members, along with Azar and two Partnership directors.
“This is a Partnership position and we will make a recommendation to the whole Partnership once the process is completed,” Azar said.
The new project manager will have an office in Sardis City Hall, complete with all the technology and resources needed to operate a tourism department.
Mayor Palmer would not discuss a potential hire, saying she “knew of” Davis, but has had no personal contact. “I can’t elaborate because we haven’t opened the applications yet,” she said.
One supporter Davis has on the Sardis board is Alderman Michael Price, who said he is excited about the new position, and hopes the hiring committee selects and recommends the former mayor.
“When he was serving in Southaven no one can deny that Greg Davis has made a major impact,” Price said. “That’s what we need here. Somebody with experience who can come in and develop all we have to offer.”
“Sardis is a jewel just waiting for a developer to come in,” Price said. “It’s a dream job.”
He, too, is aware of Davis’ past, but isn’t holding anything against the prospective hire.
“Jesus forgives, so why can’t we,” Price said. “Lord knows I would hate to walk around with everything I’ve ever done on my chest.”
“Look at Southaven,” he said. “The proof is in the pudding.”
For the Partnership’s part in the hiring process, Azar said he intends to have serious interview questions for all the candidates. Azar, a relative newcomer to North Mississippi said he is aware of one of the candidate’s legal saga, but doesn’t intend to let that interfere with the hiring process.
“I’m not going to say that I’m not concerned by what I’ve heard, but that’s what will be addressed in the interview, “ He said. “I have never met Greg Davis, but what I’ve heard doesn’t matter to me personally at all as long as it does not interfere with his job.”
Azar agreed that Sardis is a prime city for development. “One of the biggest things is to give Sardis a new look, whoever gets the job,” he said. “Main street, Lee street, and the highway (51) coming into Sardis need a facelift and whoever we hire will need to get that done right away.”
Additionally, Azar said Winchester’s decision to open a firing range outside Sardis in October is a step in the right direction.
“I have high hopes for Sardis,” Azar said. “I think there needs to be a zip line out at the lake, and from there maybe a water park. There is so much potential there it is a dream for an economic developer and project leader.”
Sardis Lake area development has long been on the city and county’s radar, but progress seemed to stall after the completion of the marina in the early 2000s.
The City of Sardis has a 50-year lease on 1,100 acres around the lake – prime for development.
It was unclear at press time whether the hiring committee will meet in Sardis tomorrow, other than to just receive the resumes and applications.