Local Elections

Published on May 27th, 2021 | by Jenna Mason


The Race Is On: Q&A with Candidates for Mayor of Oxford, Mississippi, Robyn Tannehill and Brandon Pettis

Robyn Tannehill (Incumbent, I)

1. Describe your background and connection to Oxford, Mississippi.

Oxford is a much different place than when I arrived in 1988 as a student. I have watched Oxford change and grow over the past 33 years and have been blessed to experience Oxford from several different perspectives: a student, a newlywed, a city employee, a small business owner, a volunteer, a parent with children in the Oxford Public School System, a member of the Board of Aldermen and now, as Oxford’s Mayor.

Robyn Tannehill (I), incumbent, candidate for Mayor of Oxford, Mississippi, 2021.

Upon graduating from the University of Mississippi in 1992, I was privileged to work in the University of Mississippi’s Public Relations Department before being named assistant director of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation.

I had the pleasure of serving the City of Oxford and promoting Oxford as a tourism destination as executive director of the Oxford Tourism Council for several years. During my tenure we conceived, organized, and conducted the First Annual Double Decker Arts Festival.

In 1998 I established a marketing, advertising, and public relations firm known as The Tannehill Agency. I sold that business to a larger regional marketing firm in 2000 and worked there as senior vice-president. After the birth of our second child in 2002, I made the decision to become a full-time mother and community volunteer.

I have served as City of Oxford Alderman-Ward 2, President of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce, President of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, Co-Chair of the $30M Oxford School District Bond Referendum Campaign, President of Bramlett Elementary School PTA, Mississippi Municipal League Board of Directors, Three Rivers Board of Directors, Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi, CREATE Board of Directors, Move on Up Mississippi Board of Directors, #ListenFirst Leader, Junior Auxiliary Member, Economic Development Foundation Board of Directors Ex-Officio Member, Campus Search Advisory Committee, Commission to Redesign the State Flag, and am a founding member of Christ Presbyterian Church.

It has been my honor to serve Oxford as the Alderman of Ward 2 from 2013–2017 and the past four years as Mayor.

2. Why did you choose to run for reelection?

I am running for Mayor of Oxford for a second term. Some of my closest friends have asked me why? The answer is simple: Oxford is my home. I started a business here. I started the Double Decker Arts Festival here. My children were born and went to school here. My children and I were surrounded by the love of this community while my husband served our country in Afghanistan. I love this city, county, and the University of Mississippi. I love the people here. I love our school systems. I believe this is one of the greatest small towns in America, but there is work to be done. I want to continue to build an Oxford that is more equitable, sustainable, and resilient than what got us to this point.

3. How do you define strong leadership?

Strong leadership is the ability to share a vision with the people around you that inspires them to do more, dream more, and become more. Strong leaders are compassionate consensus builders who are able to make one hard decision after another and communicate vision, plans, and ideas clearly.

4. What are your top priorities should you be elected/re-elected?

My administration has covered a lot of ground over the past four years. There is still much work to be done. We will continue to address our challenges head-on with an open door, open mind, and open heart. The issues we have invested in for the past four years and that we will continue to address are listed in detail on my website robyn4mayor.com. They include Investment in Infrastructure, Planning for the Future, Supporting Local Businesses, Building Partnerships, Affordable Workforce Housing, Community Policing, Improving Government Efficiency and Communication, Protecting our Neighborhoods, Emergency Preparedness, Empowering Others, Quality of Life and Arts and Culture.

5. How do you plan to address community concerns about affordable housing in Oxford?

Affordable housing has been a conversation in this community for as long as anyone can remember. We are victims of our success in many ways, and that shows up glaringly in real estate prices. Over the years people have decided that they want the charm of a small town without having to sacrifice hip restaurants, cool coffee shops, and lively streets of a bigger city. This is when Oxford’s affordability began to fade. This has been good for business—more hotels and restaurants means more jobs—but now our hometown is facing the same issues facing urban centers around the world. Our goal is to foster smart growth in the city without pushing the workforce to the fringes.

Knowing it would require creative, progressive policies to address affordable workforce housing, we formed a bipartisan coalition, including developers, corporations, advocacy groups, and community members, to work together on several fronts to address the need for more affordable housing. The Oxford Housing Commission has worked to make affordable housing a reality since the formation of its executive committee in February 2019. In May of last year, the Commission held an Affordable Housing Summit to get community input.

As elected public servants, it is a top priority to enact policies which are sustainable for the City but which also result in creating a healthy and safe place to live for our citizenry. I pushed to get an Affordable Housing Incentive Ordinance passed in 2019. This ordinance provides incentives including waiver of city development review fees, waiver of bonding requirements, waiver of tree mitigation fees, wavier of building permit fees, and waiver of utility connection fees, to name a few. I strongly believe that it is our responsibility to make the affordable housing a realistic possibility for developers. Incentives are based on the number of affordable units developed. Oxford is the first community in Mississippi to adopt an affordable housing incentive ordinance.

As a result of these efforts, and the initiative of a local developer of affordable housing, support equaling $15 million in funding via federal tax credits was granted to support the construction of 96 new rental homes at zero direct cost to local government. All units were reserved for people who earn at or below 60 percent of the area median income. Further, all homes were offered to the public as “lease to own” with the developers committing to counting every dollar paid toward the lease as an eventual down payment toward the home.

Incentives, primarily in the form of reduced city fees contributed to this effort. Public-Private partnerships are a key to progress in this community.

In 2017, as our Board made plans for annexation, we focused on annexing undeveloped property in order to make affordable development—residential and commercial—a possibility in Oxford. Before our annexation, the City of Oxford was approximately 16 square miles and 22,000 residents. We annexed an additional 10 square miles but only 3,000 additional residents.

In 2020, we have had to be creative and flexible to produce results, particularly in affordable housing, but we are going to have to be even more so in 2021. As Mayor, I will continue to try to foster a service-oriented government where development is facilitated to the maximum extent limited City budgets will allow, and, as the private sector struggles as it is now, City staff will have to remember that all the more.

6. How will you address Oxford’s infrastructure as related to its rapid growth?

In partnership with Lafayette County and the University of Mississippi, my administration developed the LOU Transportation Plan that was adopted in 2019.  This is an in-depth guide to Oxford’s transportation needs and plans to be implemented over the next 25 years, and allows us to prioritize City of Oxford’s needs together and seek funding with a unified voice and plan.

Oxford’s transportation infrastructure remains one of the greatest challenges for our growing community. I am so proud of the improvements that have been realized over the past four years with the completion and opening of two major thoroughfares: George G. “Pat” Patterson Parkway (connecting West Oxford Loop to College Hill Road) and F. D. “Buddy” East Parkway (connecting Sisk Avenue Extended to Highway 6 and Highway 334).  Instead of waiting on MDOT to improve the intersection of Highway 7 and Sisk Avenue, the City of Oxford partnered with a local developer and utilizing the City’s first Tax Increment Financing (“TIF”) Program completed three roundabouts in 55 days making access to schools, businesses, and the Oxford Conference Center much easier. Other transportation projects including a roundabout at South Lamar Boulevard and Belk, and the realignment of Office Park Drive and Azalea Drive were completed.  There are numerous projects in the planning stages and others on the drawing board, we will continue to push forward in securing funds for future roads.

My administration has secured $4.75M in funds from the State Legislature over the past two years that will be utilized to update the intersection of Highway 7 and University Avenue. The project total will be approximately $9M. We will continue to work with MDOT and our State Legislature to find ways to get this project moving.

I have met with officials from the Mississippi Department of Transportation about expediting road projects to help the growing need in our community, but they have insisted that they do not have the funds. With MDOT funds nonexistent and Federal funds diminishing for road projects, I am committed to finding creative ways to finance future road projects.

While our 20th-century transportation grid was designed around the automobile, 21st-century cities must embrace an integrated approach to public transportation. Oxford has done this well. Our Oxford University Transit System is incredibly effective and successful carrying more than 1 million passengers each of the past four years.

Sidewalks and bike paths are important to our future needs in moving people from place to place.  We will continue to consider all means of transportation as Oxford grows.

Oxford has many infrastructure needs both above ground and underground. Our sewer and water systems are aging and in need of major upgrades to support the number of people in our community. We have been blessed to have had both good leaders and adequate funding to repair and replace it over the years, but we are still in need of extensive upgrades.

Over the past four years, water and sewer upgrades have been facilitated across our community—from upgrades at several of our water treatment plants, sewer rehabilitation and extensions, new lift stations, and extending water and sewer to new water tanks at the old Whirlpool location and in Oxford Commons. We were proud to secure $1.7M from the Army Corps of Engineers to help with the costs of these projects.

In addition to infrastructure improvements, capital improvements including the new Ulysses “Coach” Howell Activity Center, the Parking Garage, the Armory Pavilion, and turfing of fields at mTrade Park have been completed over the past four years.

It is astonishing to look back over the past four years and see that more than $72M in new infrastructure, facility upgrades and capital improvement have been completed!  We have been busy, but our work is not done.

7. What is your position on city revenue and taxes post-pandemic, specifically property taxes?

We were encouraged to receive our tax revenue information this month which reflects sales for the month of March and see large increases. For the month of March, our sales tax is up 44% from taxes collected in February and up 49% from March 2020. Our 2% Food and Beverage tax is up 52% from February and up 67% from March 2020. Our Hotel/Motel tax is up 47% from February and up 54% from March 2020. We are open for business and moving in a positive direction!

As we begin budget meetings at City Hall this week, we are very conscious of staying within our budget without raising property taxes. Our goal this year will be the same as it has been in the past: to operate as efficiently and frugally as possible to provide our citizens with the best services possible at the lowest cost possible. Post-pandemic that will require creativity commitment to tightening our belt, but we are committed to not raising taxes.

8. Why should Oxford residents vote for you on June 8, 2021?

Experience matters—both life experience and career experience.

I have been blessed to experience Oxford from several different perspectives: a student, a newlywed, a city employee, a small business owner, a volunteer, a parent with children in the Oxford Public School System, a member of the Board of Aldermen and now, as Oxford’s Mayor. Each of these roles has prepared me for this position.

My experience, leadership abilities, and vision for the future of Oxford demonstrate that I am the most qualified candidate for the job.

Kyle Davis (R)

Kyle Davis (R), candidate for Mayor of Oxford, Mississippi, 2021.

Editor’s note: Kyle Davis doesn’t have a campaign website or any social media. Despite our research, the only contact info we could gather on Davis was through Mississippi’s Election Commissioner. We attempted to contact Kyle Davis for this Q&A and unfortunately, all attempts were unanswered.

After The Local Voice #372 Election Issue was released on May 20, 2021, Kyle Davis sent TLV an email saying, “A great opportunity presented itself in the last two weeks for me to contract with Koch Industries (Colonial Pipeline) after the recent attack as one of their Cybersecurity Engineers. This was sudden and unexpected, but the opportunity could greatly benefit my family and career and I just can’t turn it down on the off chance I would be able to beat Tannehill, unfortunately.” 

More information on Kyle Davis’ withdrawal from the Mayor Election can be found here.

Brandon Pettis (I)

1. Describe your background and connection to Oxford, Mississippi.

Born here at the old Baptist Memorial Hospital in 2002, Oxford and Lafayette County have been my home for 18 years and 11 months. I graduated from Oxford High School a year early, not by any higher intelligence, but by hard work, because that is what I believe in.

Brandon Pettis (I), candidate for Mayor of Oxford, Mississippi, 2021.

I was also a member of the award-winning Oxford High School Marching Band and student council for some time throughout my tenure at Oxford High. I made the decision pretty early before I’d made it to high school in 8th grade to graduate early and even started thoughts on what I’d study when I made it to college at the time.

After graduation I attended North West for one semester to study business and political science because my first choice was anesthesiology while I was still in high school and still full of choices on where I’d like to go with my life. I also got the chance to do various volunteer jobs across the city and meet many different people, it was through this that I noticed how we could all come together and how passionate people were about their respective causes of jobs.

For my second semester starting in January, Covid-19 had started to circulate and within months I found myself often working 12+ hours at a time, by choice, to afford the basic necessity of a home most months throughout this pandemic.

I had no time to focus on school, so I took a break when our political climate had also grown pretty bad and started to focus more on what formally became my campaign of Brandon Pettis for Mayor of Oxford, Mississippi.

Having grown up here in Oxford as a young black man who’s also a part of the large LGBTQ+ community I have always been interested in the history of our country and its inability to move past certain aspects that currently threaten our democracy as a whole.

I have experienced firsthand here in Oxford hate slander for being who I am and also police misconduct that many have seen this past year in other cities via social media.

As a black man, I have had to answer questions from my brother that I believe otherwise would not be asked by my equal, a white man, and defend myself in situations where it felt my life or livelihood was on the line.

I want to change this because we are all Americans, and we all should be afforded the same opportunities at every level.

2. Why did you choose to run for mayor?

I chose to run for Mayor not only because of the current political class but also the past 244 years of this country’s past that many refuse to address.

While those who have held office have ignored the citizens’ concerns, I am interested in the future of Oxford, America and our home Planet Earth.

Our current Mayor has not bolstered the economy for the entirety of her term or as we saw in the year of 2020, protected those that she swore an oath to protect and serve to the fullest of her ability.

I want to serve the citizens of Oxford in the ways our current Mayor isn’t capable of and that’s through hard work and innovative thinking.

To those who question my youth, my youth enables me to work alongside those who prop this economy up each and every day and I believe personally the Mayor’s job is one that requires much work alongside the citizens for the successes of the Local Government of Oxford.

Beyond that I am running to break the ideology that we are any different from each other and focus on moving this city forward into a bold new future.

3. How do you define strong leadership?

I define strong leadership by hard work and leading by example to educate those that I lead.

4. What are your top priorities should you be elected?

My top priorities should I succeed our current Mayor will be to address concerns regarding the economy and the affects the pandemic has taken on it.

I will work closely with other city leaders to bring jobs and affordable housing to our expanding economy while also working to get funding from state officials for my “Oxford First” plan that deals directly with the infrastructure of our city.

A special focus will be on the social status of our city and ways to make it more inclusive for everyone—I’ve noted how Oxford currently has an aura of not talking about certain things when they feel it doesn’t affect them and I personally believe that’s not okay.

To be silent is just as heinous as the act of certain crimes being committed.

There is unity in diversity and I believe wholeheartedly at the end of each day when every man and woman gets home, we are all American.

Oxford can stand as an example of forward movement and thinking for the rest of the cities across the country. Promoting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness each day is my number one priority.

5. How do you plan to address community concerns about affordable housing in Oxford?

As a college student with an apartment and family within city limits living in their own homes as well, rent is too high in Oxford all across the board.

The simple answer is to build more affordable housing through grants and open the city to more contractors that will be willing to work with tenants and city government to ensure low costs of rent as the Pandemic has taken a toll on our community.

My answer however is the reshaping of Oxford’s economy from top to bottom.

We must create and bring more jobs to this growing city and raise wages across the city as well. I believe it is essential in this race we face to not rebuild our economy, but to create it and set it on a path that will shatter glass ceilings for years to come.

Affordable housing can only be achieved when we first start paying our essential workers, that is, everyone who worked during the pandemic and currently works today in whatever respective field at whatever job. We are ALL essential to the process of our economy!

6. How will you address Oxford’s infrastructure as related to its rapid growth?

I want to work with city leaders to accommodate this growth by expanding city limits and working on the re-creation of major highways, especially for the game day traffic we have all experienced.

The highway system we have here is currently our best shot in my opinion to control the growth, as inner city roadways cannot be expanded due to landscaping and buildings being in place.

Among other things, I’d like to create more jobs and affordable housing throughout the city in an effort to create Oxford’s new economy that will outlive even myself. We have to start somewhere!

7. What is your position on city revenue and taxes post-pandemic, specifically property taxes?

My position on current city revenue is that we need to invest in our economy for our people and fast. While this is an urgent matter, I also want to work directly with the citizens of Oxford in the reallocation process of their tax paying dollars that keep this economy flowing day and night. Diving directly into property taxes, I’d like to work with Alder-people to expand city limits and lower the taxes to welcome instead of drive residents out of city limits.

8. Why should Oxford residents vote for you on June 8, 2021?

Voting for me is not merely just a vote for me, but a vote for all injustices that we have witnessed across the year of 2020 and those before that as well.

Oxford deserves a chance to move past the history that surrounds us and stand as a prominent and awe-inspiring chance for change all across the United States of America.

Serving the citizens of Oxford is my number one priority, and if given the chance you will not be dissatisfied with the work that all of us get done together.

Innovation, unity, forward movement and thinking, and heart is what is at stake at the poll this year for Oxford.

The Race Is On: Q&A with Candidates for Ward III Alderman of Oxford, Mississippi, Brian Hyneman and McQueen Miscamble
Republican Candidate for Mayor of Oxford, Mississippi Withdraws from Election

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