J. Lynn West has qualified as an Independent candidate for the office of alderman-at-large in the June 8 New Albany municipal election.
West, writer and editor for more than 40 years, worked both with the New Albany Gazette and was a founder and co-owner of the New Albany News-Exchange. Today, he writes for the NAMiss.news website.
He is a graduate of W. P. Daniel High School (now, New Albany High School), and his family has lived and worked in Union County for more than 165 years. He was married to former radio personality Lisa Landau until her death more than two years ago and holds degrees in English and Theatre from Lambuth College and a master’s degree from Memphis State University.
“My parents were strong believers in community service,” he said. “My father was a leading downtown merchant, long-time president of the Union County Fair Association, served as election commissioner, and helped found nearly a dozen Lions Clubs in Northeast Mississippi and Northwest Alabama.”
West’s mother was also active in clubs and was responsible for public community pageants and contests for years.
“I would say some of it rubbed off on me,” he said.
“I believe that reporting news is public service, but not so much participatory service,” he said. “Over 40 years I can confidently say I have attended more local board meetings than any other person, living or dead.”
The ethics of reporting meant that he could not at the same time be part of the story, however, but only a silent impartial observer.
“I’ve told people I have been on the sidelines for 40 years and I want to get in the game one time before I die,” he said. “Covering city government has been a part of my job but it would be more accurate to say I deliberately made covering government part of my job because of my interest; I did not have to.”
West’s community involvement includes formerly serving on the New Albany Tourism Advisory Council, Union County E-911 Commission and as president of the Historic Northside Neighborhood Association. Today, he is long-time president of the Administrative Board of Trustees of the Union County Library System, he serves on the Magnolia Civic Center board and has been honored for his contributions to the community by the Union County Development Association, Union County Historical Society and even received an award from the Union County Master Gardeners (“Although, ironically, I can’t even grow decent tomatoes,” he said.).
West said he has a long list of concerns but wants to focus on a few issues in particular.
“’I’ can’t make any grandiose campaign promises because it doesn’t work that way,” he said. “It takes three votes – preferably five – to do anything in city government. The key is working with other board members and the mayor, cooperating, sometimes possibly compromising, but working as a team.”
One of West’s goals is to continue being an advocate for city employees. “This past year a three-percent cost-of-living raise was budgeted for city workers,” he said. “Some board members were opposed to that for various reasons and after several discussions settled on one and one-half percent instead.”
West sees no good reason to not give the three percent.
He has supported city workers editorially in the newspaper for years and even featured them in at least one New Albany magazine. NEMiss.news supported the increase as well.
“I don’t want them to be undervalued or underappreciated,” he said. “How many people are willing to ride the back of a garbage truck in mid-August or mid-February? Or get in a bucket truck at 3 a.m. working on a high-voltage line in the middle of a thunderstorm? These are essential jobs if we want to live our comfortable, undisturbed lives.”
“There is also the issue that some of our workers are getting older and a quick drive around town seeing the job opening signs shows it is getting more difficult to find good employees,” he continued. “We need to make the city an attractive employer able to hire the best.”
“The raise was not rubber-stamped, the city is not in financial straits and sales tax revenue continues to increase with tourism tax taking only a brief dip. The amount involved was only about $60,000 – less than one percent of the city budget,” he said. “This was straining at a gnat.”
Another issue is streets. “They are a continuing problem and we’re always going to need streets,” West said. “Although extra millage was added a couple of years ago specifically for street work, the city still can only repair a few miles a year. An engineering study done a couple of years ago said that the work needed would cost more than $6 million – nearly the entire annual city budget – so we will continuously be losing ground unless something like a bond issue is used to catch us up. This should be considerably smaller than the bond issue for the schools that passed overwhelmingly. New Albany people step up when they need to.”
West noted that although the city has several large, expensive projects under way now, they are being paid for through grants or loans that can be repaid with user fees and no new cost to taxpayers. “In many respects city officials have been good stewards of tax money and are to be commended for finding alternative funding,” he said.
West said he would like to see the city marketed more, perhaps nationwide, as a tourism and shopping destination. “With everything we have here including the parks, trail, museum, William Faulkner connection, sportsplex, shopping, Ingomar Mounds, we could present a package to the myriad mom and pop tour bus companies that have come through New Albany, for instance,” he said. “They stop and eat here but we could perhaps get them to spend the night, eat and shop more and tell their friends about our hospitality.” Modest convention facilities could be on a wish list as well.
“Community Development Director Billye Jean Stroud is doing an excellent job but her plate is full,” he said. “She should not have to take on an additional marketing campaign.”
In connection with promotion, West said he supports the idea presented this past week of employing the services of a lobbyist to help the city obtain funds and projects. “If he or she is as effective for us as some are for businesses it would be well worth the money,” he said.
Other goals include continuing the downtown improvements giving the area more of the look Tanglefoot Trail Plaza has and settling the question of what the role of the UCDA should be. “We (with the county) pay Three Rivers Planning and Development District $90,000 a year for services of an industrial recruiter,” he said. “I’m not saying reject that help but he serves Lee and Pontotoc counties as well as Union. We need someone specifically and solely dedicated to our community and available in an office here on a daily basis.”
“Of course I have a number of other concerns but it would not be realistic to take on too much at once and dilute our efforts,” he said. “Some of these are addressed in the new 128-page comprehensive plan the city adopted.”
“I have a good relationship with both city and county officials and I am familiar with the procedures and business of both boards,” West said. “I visit City Hall a couple of times a week at least and I have written about everything they do for many years. It wouldn’t take me six months or more to get up to speed as it would for a neophyte.”
“I believe I have a reputation for fairness and accuracy, knowledge of the city’s heritage and a history of advocating for making our community the best it can be,” he said. “I have the time to devote to being alderman on behalf of the city and not make this a one-day-a-month job because of full-time employment commitments. New Albany continues to win recognition as a city good to live in but I believe that with a little more work and assertiveness we can be magnitudes greater, still.”
“I am not seeking office because anyone has done a bad job,” he said. “I only want to use the experience and knowledge I have to continue contributing to a community that has been a good home to me and my family, and perhaps promote more interest and involvement in local government.”