Sardis board calls tourism special meeting
Sardis Mayor Pro Tempore Michael Price called a special meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen for Monday afternoon to discuss the potential hiring of a tourism project manager for the city.
Also scheduled to meet about noon on Monday were the three members of the Panola Partnership’s Board of Directors on the hiring committee for the new position.
Two Sardis City Board members and Mayor Lula Palmer, along with the Partnership CEO Joe Azar and two board members will make a recommendation to the full Sardis city council for the post.
Both meetings were scheduled for after press deadlines for this edition, and will be reported in Friday’s edition.
The potential hire set off a firestorm of political discussion last month when it was reported that former Southaven Mayor Greg Davis had applied for the position. Resumes for the Partnership position were supposed to be kept secret, but Davis’ name was leaked to media outlets.
The tourism project position, expected to pay about $35,000 a year, was designed to be funded by an agreement between the Partnership and the City of Sardis.
Sardis, as a member of Panola Partnership, gives 15 percent of its total tourism tax (hotels, food, etc.) to the economic development organization based in Batesville.
An additional 35 percent of the city’s tourism tax was to be used in funding the new position, but the willingness of the Sardis alderman to earmark that extra money is now being questioned.
Although neither Azar, nor the members of the Sardis board on the hiring committee would comment on the record, it is believed the Partnership’s representatives, along with Palmer, will vote to recommend someone other than Davis for the position.
Contacted Monday morning, Azar said he was under no direct pressure from his board or anyone else to steer clear of the embattled Davis, who made statewide headlines for almost four years after being convicted, and subsequently exonerated, on a litany of charges brought by prosecutors for alleged embezzlement and misuse of public money during this 16-year term as mayor of Southaven.
Davis’ penchant for economic development was credited for much of that city’s explosive growth in the 1990s and later.
Meanwhile, vice mayor Price – who was not on the hiring recommendation committee – has firmly voiced his support for Davis.
“The thing is we want to use every tool available for the development of business and industry in Sardis,” Price said. “Some of us just feel like Mr. Davis has great qualifications and the special skills we are looking for in that position.”
Price said he fears the Partnership members who seem to be in opposition to Davis are reacting to pressure from the community because of Davis’ controversial past, and not considering the most qualified candidate.
He said the special meeting called for Monday would give the Sardis aldermen an opportunity to consider the official recommendation from the hiring committee.
“We will wait to see what they recommend, but if we are not satisfied there will be other options discussed,” Price said.
Those options include the possibility of hiring Davis to work directly for the City of Sardis, presumably in concert with the efforts the Partnership are already putting forth on the city’s behalf.
Sardis alderman Tommy Rayburn, who is part of the city’s representation on the hiring committee, declined to comment about his personal choice for the position until the two meetings Monday afternoon were completed.
He would not offer his support for Davis outright, only saying, “He did have a really good interview.”
Azar said the hiring committee will continue its process, despite the veiled threat from the Sardis city council to directly hire Davis.
“Nothing has changed from the Panola Partnership’s position,” Azar said. “We are continuing the process of recommending the most qualified candidate for tourism project manager.”
Azar said he is anxious to have the process come to a close and someone working on behalf of Sardis and all of Panola County soon.
“Sardis has amazing potential based on its location and lots of other factors,” Azar said. “My office will continue to do what we always have and that is working hard to bring new business and industry to Panola County while focusing on support of what is already here.”
Recruitment, retention, and expansion of business continues to be the backbone of the Partnership’s efforts in the county, according to Azar.
The economic development leader said his office would be willing to work closely with Davis should another candidate be chosen by the Partnership, and Davis hired by Sardis directly.
“We will absolutely work with anyone that is trying to help Sardis rise to the potential we believe is there,” Azar said.
“I’m excited about seeing Main Street, Lee Street, and Hwy. 51 bright and shiny again, and something the whole county can be proud of,” he said.