Published on June 1st, 2017 | by Brittain Thompson0
Oxford General Election on June 6: Ward 2 and 6 Aldermen to be Decided
Considering the explosive nature of politics in the headlines, it’s refreshing to see what many are calling a boring election cycle for Oxford, Mississippi. There is no mudslinging, no photos being dug up from college years, and no debate over what the core issues are.
On June 6, the general election will be held to decide who fills the seats of Wards 2 and 6. Contesting the Ward 2 seat are Paula Shanks (D) and Mark Huelse (R). Mayor Pat Patterson is not running for reelection, though with former Ward 2 alderman Robyn Tannehill running unopposed, the seat was awarded by default to Tannehill.
Paula Shanks, a native of Oxford, has local family ties that date back six generations.
“I am simply concerned about the explosive growth in Oxford and that [is what] prompted me to run for office,” said Shanks.
Mark Huelse moved to Oxford in 1991 for an engineering job in Batesville; at the time housing in Oxford was more affordable than Batesville. When offered a promotion in 2001 that would have him traveling the world, Huelse discussed the opportunity with his wife. They came to the decision that Oxford was where they wanted to be and he began working with his wife at her company, Something Southern.
“Some people want to move all over the world, but we love Oxford,” said Huelse.
Huelse has worked closely on Vision 2037, Oxford’s current growth plan. He has served as the City of Oxford planning commissioner, vice-chair of the City Ordinance Review Committee, and chairman of the Oxford Square Alliance.
In 2017, the voter base is not concerned over metered parking or beer sales. Oxford wants their elected officials to address the rapid growth and lack of affordable housing the town is experiencing.
“Twenty years ago I was involved in the grassroots movement known as Vision 2020,” said Shanks. “At the time Oxford had a population of about ten thousand. Now here we are in 2017 and the population has already doubled. The new Vision 2037 projects that in twenty years the population will double again.”
While that bodes well for every construction company in the region, it places a strain on those who already call the Velvet Ditch home. In the Old Oxford district around The Square cut-through traffic, as well as student living, has raised concerns among many of the residents.
“A concern in my ward is that college students are moving into homes, but the trash is not being maintained and there’s too much noise,” said Shanks.
This likely sounds familiar to anyone who has seen Neighbors, and the problems are not exaggerated. As prices go up, students and service industry workers will live wherever they can afford. These homes offer the opportunity of lower rent by having more rooms to split and are in close proximity to entertainment and work.
Contesting the Ward 6 seat are the incumbent Alderman Jason Bailey (R) and Wayne Andrews (D).
Andrews is the current director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. His duties there require he manage staff, funding through grants, donations, and memberships, as well as overseeing the planning of the year-round festivals and events that the arts council puts on.
“We moved to Oxford because we wanted to be a part of a community” said Andrews. “We wanted to know our neighbors and be involved.”
Bailey, who has served as Alderman for Ward 6 the last five years, is a native of Oxford. Having seen Oxford grow from infancy to the booming tourist and culture hub of the state is a definite advantage. He was here when Ole Miss stopped playing games in Jackson, Mississippi, and condo development took off in the early 2000s.
“I think it’s a testament to the previous leaders,” said Bailey. “They had the foresight to see what Oxford could be.”
Community action is at the core of Andrews’ platform. He wants to inspire his constituents to not just have faith that their alderman will bring change, but to help them bring about their own change.
“We have to look at the process. By the time something hits the alderman’s desk it’s probably done,” said Andrews. “Not because of collusion but because of how policies are made. That’s why we need people on the ground serving in committees and voicing their opinions. So I think part of my campaign is about alerting people to where it all happens, how you can be involved, and that you don’t have to wait for the alderman meetings on Tuesdays.”
With the growing population, traffic congestion on main roadways is a concern. Though road construction is currently in development, the officials and candidates are already working on strategies to reduce the time you have to spend on the road.
The flagship project for this is what are referred to as neighborhood stores. These are small shopping areas similar to the development across from Skymart or the commercial area in front of Faulkner Flats.
“We can’t move the roads, but we can move where the cars are going,” said Huelse. “These stores won’t replace going to the box stores, but rather than driving through traffic you can just stop in and grab your toilet paper or soap.”
As Oxford becomes more and more desirable as a place to live, housing costs rise.
“There’s no one silver bullet to this issue,” said Bailey. “It’s going to take a lot of work from a lot of different people. To me a good leader is someone who gets the smartest people in a room together and they work on a solution. It’s not about me saying okay this is how it’s going to be.”
The spike in prices over the years has been forcing more and more Oxford residents to nearby towns such as Water Valley where they can stretch a dollar much further.
“We need what is referred to as workforce housing,” said Andrews. “Service is the fastest growing industry in Oxford, and those people need places to live.”
Huelse believes the market, if development is properly managed, will balance itself out and bring lower rent prices.
“There are always more students, but I think we’re going to hit a saturation point, [some student living developments] are having trouble filling up already,” said Huelse.
For residents of Ward 2 and 6, this election does not come down to cut and dry beliefs. Voters need to research and educate themselves on each candidate as fully as they can, because this general election comes down to who you think can safely grow your community. The neighborhood where you read on your porch, grill out, and raise your children will be directly impacted by your alderman.