By Josh Troy
A public hearing to determine the best course of action for cleaning up commercial and residential properties in the city is set for 5:30 p.m. on May 23 at the Clarksdale Civic Auditorium. The Clarksdale Board of Mayor and Commissioners voted to have the public hearing during the May 8 meeting after several discussions about cleaning up the city took place. The hearing will provide members of the community with an opportunity to provide input on policies the city makes and actions taken to clean the properties.
Mayor Chuck Espy talked about finding a balance between cleaning up the city and working with local residents who are having difficulty taking care of their properties due to financial hardships. Espy specifically mentioned the issue of junk cars in yards but said some residents need the vehicles to get to work and do not have the money to fix the problems immediately. He also brought up how the city has had to demolish abandoned properties without the owner paying.
“We are now trying to have a very robust discussion about what do we do about blight in the city?” he said. “Do we set homeowner’s association standards for businesses, commercial, and residential?”
In some cases, Espy said the Board of Mayor and Commissioners could agree owners are just not taking care of their property and action needs to be taken. He noted that Ward 3 Commissioner Willie Turner showed him a picture of an upside-down car.
“It was shocking to see that. Immediately, we all went out and said this is unacceptable in the City of Clarksdale,” Espy said. “We’re not trying to figure out a way to cherry-pick. We’re trying to figure out a way to set standards in this city, and we’re going to enforce those rules.”
Commissioners discussed their goals for cleaning up the city. “I’m just looking for people to be held accountable, but in the process, we need to hold ourselves accountable,” said Ward 2 Commissioner Ken Murphey. Murphey also acknowledged the financial issues property owners face. “I sympathize a lot of times with people, and I get it,” he said. “It does cost money to do things.”
Murphey said the majority of people want what is best for the City of Clarksdale. He suggested finding companies that can assist residents who cannot afford to clean up their properties. “There’s a way to benefit both parties,” he said. “The homeowner may benefit, and also the company that’s here doing work benefits.”
Murphey acknowledged that having absentee property owners is a problem. Overall, Murphey said he is looking for a cleaner city everyone can take pride in, and there should be a focus on continuing to build the downtown area. “I think the best way for our city to approach our future is to look like we’re in business,” he said.
Turner said Clarksdale’s job ratings are usually compared with communities such as Southaven. He said he would like to see the cleanup policies of nearby communities to give the Board of Mayor and Commissioners some ideas. “I’m a product of this city. I was born and raised in this city,” he said.
“I know we take a little and do a whole lot, but I don’t want to be handcuffed to thinking that you can’t keep your property cleaned because you’re in Clarksdale, Miss., and Clarksdale, Miss., is not going to do anything to you because they want to keep you here. I want to see a clean city. I don’t want to see junk around people’s houses. I don’t want to see abandoned buildings going untouched.”
Clarksdale resident Alta Towers expressed her satisfaction with the desire to clean up Clarksdale. “I’m very happy to hear that all of you want to see Clarksdale cleaned up,” she said. Towers proposed an immediate solution for broken-down cars on properties. “All we need is the city to provide a pound for broken-down cars,” she suggested. Towers mentioned that the city can tow these cars to a pound, and owners can pay if they want them back.
“That’s a simple solution to our problem,” she added. Towers emphasized that her family takes care of their property, keeping it clean and maintaining the roofs. “I’m happy to hear that you all want a cleaner Clarksdale. That’s what we want,” she said.
Mayor Espy mentioned that there are legal benchmarks that need to be cleared before taking broken-down cars to the pound. Clarksdale resident Milton Gardner praised the collaborative efforts of the city and county to improve the area. He commended Mayor Espy, the administration, and the Board of Commissioners for their outstanding job in bringing improvement to Clarksdale.
Gardner acknowledged that not everyone will be satisfied and that complaints will always exist, but he noted that the streets now look better than before. “You all are doing a tremendous job, and Clarksdale has made a lot of strides,” he added. Gardner specifically commended Police Chief Robbie Linley and Fire Chief Rocky Nabors for their outstanding efforts to help the city.
Mayor Espy appreciated Gardner’s comments and emphasized the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. “If you live in Clarksdale, we’re all in the same boat together,” Espy said. “If we just learn how to talk to one another respectfully, we can accomplish so much.”