By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Supporters of Percy Bland's bid for mayor of Meridian raised their voices loudly Tuesday when they assembled on the steps of City Hall to hear his official announcement.
This is the second mayoral campaign for Bland, who lost to Cheri Barry four years ago. Bland said he sees hope for a brighter, better Meridian.
"Together we can fight for our community," Bland said to the cheers of the crowd. "It's time to fix that faucet in our house before it flows red with the blood of the good people in our community and drowns out our city."
Bland was referring to the recent rise in reported crimes in Meridian, which has caused concern among the population. He said improvements in public safety and in the police department will be key to his leadership of Meridian, if elected. He said he would focus on community policing in which officers will get to know the neighborhoods to which they are assigned.
"We are going build that type of communication where the trust is there between the officers and the citizens of Meridian," Bland said.
He said he will provide incentives for police staff to live and reside within the community.
"I will be proactive and not reactive in the way we fight crime in our city," he said. "We will improve upon our education, our public outreach and expansion of our parks and recreation programs in this city."
Bland also pledged to promote education and job skills training.
"I will help to retool and retrain our citizens with job skills programs for those out of high school, those unemployed, and also those reentering the work force," Bland said.
He also said he would develop better ways to market Meridian to attract more businesses here.
"I will be a good steward of our city's tax dollars and promote local contractors with city projects. I will keep the money, when we can, inside the city of Meridian."
Bland said he will build a foundation for businesses, both large and small because, "we all know that a strong local economy is how we will pay for safer streets and better schools," he said.
To city employees, he pledged that if elected, he would be fair and impartial.
He also vowed to uphold openness and transparency in running city government.
An owner of a State Farm insurance agency in Meridian since 2003, Bland cited his experience in business as one of the things that would make him an effective mayor. Bland said he believes he is better known in the community than he was four years ago.
"The things I have done in the community even since then, I think people have a better understanding of who I am."
A Crystal Springs native, Bland is a graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans where he earned a bachelor of science in chemistry with a minor in biology. He earned a master's of public health with an emphasis in hospital administration from the University of Southern Mississippi.
He has served on the boards of several agencies, including the East Mississippi Business and Development Corporation, Boys and Girls Club of Meridian, First Tee of Meridian, Magnolia Youth Baseball, Meridian Youth Soccer, Navy League Board, and Meridian Little Theater.
Asked about the future of his insurance agency if he is elected mayor, Bland said he was confident in the people who work for him.
"When you work in business you have to empower people and you have to use people and put processes and systems in place so that you have empowered them to lead also so that you are not always needed at that work site," Bland said. "I have empowered two people to lead this business to handle the day to day operations. I'm not a micromanager, but I know how to put processes and systems and the right people in place to be able to get things done."
That is the same approach he would take as mayor, he said.
"My job as mayor will not be to micromanage my department heads," Bland said. "I'm going to put the people who I know have the ability and experience to lead those departments and let them do what they do."
Bland also wants to partner with neighboring areas to strengthen economic development efforts.
"I think we need to have a regional partnership that's really working together and sell our area instead of selling just one city," Bland said. "Meridian is going to end up being the major hub of anything that happens. That will help the other areas as well."
Bland also wants to promote Meridian's civil rights and music history.
Bland believes his greatest strength is his experience in business.
"We need a mayor who has created jobs, who has been successful in business and who understands how to sell and market a product — that product being Meridian and what we have to offer," he said.
In his former job as human resources director at a community health center, Bland said he played a lead role to increase total staff size from 45 employees to 145 employees and from five locations to 14 locations within a three year period.
Bland, 42, and his wife Diedre, a public school teacher, have two children who are both in public schools in the area.
Other candidates who have qualified to run for mayor are incumbent Mayor Cheri Barry and Rod Amos. Amos and Bland are running as Democrats; Barry is running as a Republican.