EXCLUSIVE: Mayor Elect Toby Barker discusses plans for Hattiesburg
HATTIESBURG, MS. - Mayor Elect State Representative Toby Barker will soon begin his new journey as Hattiesburg's new leader after defeating longtime Mayor Johnny DuPree of 16 years.
Mayor Elect Barker will take office July 1 and as expected he has plans lined up for his first 100 days in office.
“First off our financial situation, we have to address audits for the past couple of years as well as get systems in place that those things do not happen again as we move forward.”
Along with working on Hattiesburg's budget, he hopes to create an environment where city leaders reflect diverse and positive views across all city departments.
“We are going to bring in good leadership and you know we are not going to wipe everybody out, we are going to build a leadership team" said Barker.
FOX 23 asked Barker, "What does good leadership entail?”
“We have to look at directors, we are going to look at several things, we are going to look at talent, we are going to look at work ethic, this is not going to be a 9 to 5 job" he said.
"Director positions are public service. I am not going to keep a 9 to 5 schedule. And I do not believe those leading the city should do that either.”
As far as those currently serving in leadership positions, Barker said he will have an open dialogue with current directors and staff.
"We also have to choose our directors and be on the leadership team as we move forward, but we have to do those deliberately and take our time and make good decisions.”
Barker said, “Those first few weeks will be an opportunity for us to evaluate where we are."
"We are going to listen to our directors and our city employees and really try to make good decisions as it comes, who could best lead departments going forward and tackle the challenges that we have" he said.
Throughout Barker's campaign he said he will work to improve infrastructure, education, and customer service. He also supported giving raises to city employees.
He said, “Have budget hearings for the next fiscal year, that is certainly something that I really want to make happen."
"We have so many employees that have two full-time jobs. I think it is important that we prioritize taking care of our folks.”
While making plans for the city, Barker is stepping into controversial topics like Hattiesburg planning to annex parts of Petal and Lamar County, and the growing concerns of the city's water and sewer system.
“I think we have to be pro-Hattiesburg in our approach" he said.
"I also think we have to be good neighbors to the people around us. And I look forward to fostering positive relationships with not only our friends in Petal, but in Lamar county" said Barker.
"The more that you can engage people in the front end, I think that is going to help generate more positive results later on.”
Barker said the key is to listen and be transparent with residents. “We want to have town hall meetings in every neighborhoods the first three-four months. We are going to listen to their concerns whether it is drainage, water, sewer, and police."
"I think it is important to engage people early and often, even if that feedback is not what you want to hear. You still need to hear it. And taking that feedback and coming back with a one, five, ten year plan.”
Barker said he envisions a new and improved Hattiesburg and said he will continue to work for the people.
“We expressed that no matter where you were, no matter what neighborhood you lived in, no matter what your background was, or how long you lived in Hattiesburg, there was a place for you."
He added, "And I think that’s why you saw that we had support in every pocket of Hattiesburg.”
Barker said he has a good relationship with Mayor DuPree and they have an open communication with both of their transitions in and out of office.
According to Barker he plans to make his last day as a State Representative on June 30.