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Meet the Candidates: Oxford Mayoral Race, Tannehill and Pettis

The Oxford municipal general election will be June 8. Oxford residents can vote from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Oxford Conference Center for mayor and their preferred candidate for the Board of Aldermen in their respective wards.

This week, Hotty Toddy News will publish Q&As with each of the candidates.

Today, we hear from the two candidates vying for the office of mayor – incumbent Mayor Robyn Tannehill and her opponent, Brandon Pettis.

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order for fairness.

Brandon Pettis

Name: Brandon Pettis

Age: 18

Party: Independent

Education: Studying politics and business

Family: I have chosen not to provide information regarding my family for safety concerns.

Why do you want to be 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.

What makes you the best candidate?

I believe I will bring the perspective that’s been missing from the table for so many decades or, in my case, approaching two decades; the voice that has to endure the brunt of decisions made, but also one willing to uphold the basic human values that so many are denied today.

I believe that Oxford has made history and will continue to do so on June 8 this year.

What do you think the mayor’s most important job is and how will you tackle that?

Being the mayor isn’t merely a job to me, but an act of service. I want to serve the citizens of Oxford and not just as their mayor but as a friend and citizen, as well.

There will be tough decisions that lie ahead of us, but I’d like to work directly with citizens and alderpeople to accomplish the things that have held us back and build upon new strategies as well to ensure Oxford’s continuous success.

Listening is the most important aspect. I’d like to bring that to the city government.

What do you feel are the most pressing issues confronting Oxford?

My top priorities, should I succeed our current mayor, will be to address concerns regarding the economy and the effects 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 OK.

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 No. 1 priority.

If elected, what would you work on to better Oxford’s future for all residents?

Controlled expansion of the city’s economy for more opportunity and recreation, and also I’d like to set aside $3 million in a reserve fund that draws interest in case of another emergency like COVID-19, where Oxford doesn’t have to wait for federal relief but can help its own citizens directly.

I’d also like to budget a percentage of the previous year’s budget to trim the cost of government to the taxpayers in an effort to support not only those who have struggled most but everyone.

We have to start investing in our future if we want to move forward and listen to the citizens who place us in office.

How have your life experiences prepared you to be mayor and how will you use those tools to better the community?

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. 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 eighth 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 is 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 younger brother that I believe otherwise would not be asked by his equal, a younger white child. Beyond that, I’ve had to defend myself in situations where I 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.

Robyn Tannehill

Name: Robyn Tannehill

Age: 50

Party: Independent

Education: University of Mississippi, Bachelor of Arts, 1992

Family: I am the oldest of five children. I was the first in my family to attend the University of Mississippi, and all four of my younger siblings followed me to Oxford. At Ole Miss, I met and later married my best friend, Rhea Tannehill. We have been married and called Oxford our home for 28 years. Rhea is the managing partner of Tannehill, Carmean & McKenzie, PLLC, a local law firm, the Municipal Court Judge of Sardis and a 29-year veteran of the Mississippi Army National Guard. He retired this year as a Lieutenant Colonel. We have three children, Maggie (21) who attends Mississippi State University, and Jack (18) who will attend the University of Southern Mississippi in the fall, and Molly Catherine (16) who attends Oxford High School. 

Professional background: 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 the 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 $30 million 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 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.

Why do you want to be mayor?

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.

What makes you the best candidate?

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

What do you think the mayor’s most important job is and how will you tackle that?

After serving in the role of mayor for the past four years, I am keenly aware that this role requires balancing many different equally important jobs. Having a vision, communicating that vision and putting together a team to implement the vision is my most important role, no matter what issues we are addressing.

What do you feel are the most pressing issues confronting Oxford?

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.

If elected, what would you work on first to better Oxford’s future for all residents?

Small businesses are the backbone of Oxford’s economy. I have started and owned a small business, and my husband, brother, and brother-in-law are all small business owners in Oxford. I know how hard small business owners have to work and how important they are to our community.

The past year has been anything but normal for Oxford and our small businesses. I often hear people say we want to get back to “normal.” We don’t want to get back to “normal;” we want to be better. 

My primary focus in June will remain on finding ways to implement initiatives to support local businesses and residents by reducing the bureaucratic process and finding creative ways to promote businesses and create more revenues. We are transitioning from our rushed solution for outdoor dining to a more permanent, more attractive version. As we look toward the rebuilding stage, we are focusing on long-term planning that helps people come back stronger by rethinking new systems that will make us more resilient and successful.

Businesses need our support more than ever, but we are also focusing on ways to rebuild relationships and a sense of community after struggling through the separation that occurred over the past year due to the pandemic. We will continue to plan free outdoor events for our community to offer fun, safe places for our community to reconnect.

How have your life experiences prepared you to be mayor and how will you use those tools to better the community?

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.

Through these life experiences and professional experiences, I have learned the importance of compassionate, commonsense leadership. I have learned the value of surrounding myself with people who think differently than I do. I have learned how to problem solve and build consensus. And, perhaps most importantly, I have developed relationships across our community that allow me to understand the priorities of our residents. I have also put together a management team for Oxford that its citizens can be proud of. I certainly do not make all of the wheels turn. It’s the 20 department heads that I have assembled and the wonderful people that I like to refer to as “underground Disney” that make this city work. 

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