TCHULA — On July 6, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) presented the tiny town of Tchula with the largest-ever USDA Rural Development grant of its kind in Mississippi and one of the largest in the country.
The $500,000 award to fund a new town hall and fire station was dispensed from the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Program, which normally has a $100,000 cap.
But the grant almost didn’t happen because of a lack of local support.
“Tchula Mayor Yvonne Brown was the lone ranger in the Delta on this project,” said Nick Walters, state director for USDA Rural Development. “She had received federal funding, thanks to Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott, but had difficulty finding a local match. She was doggedly determined to see this happen.”
Brown gained national attention on June 5, 2001, when she was elected the first black female Republican mayor in the state, and perhaps in the nation, in her first attempt for public office. Her campaign platform called for infrastructure, rebuilding the city park and building a municipal complex.
“When I first moved to Tchula, the second floor of city hall had no window panes in it,” said Brown. “Due to neglect, the building fell in about two years ago.”
The temporary municipal complex is housed in an old clinic that measures approximately 700 square feet. “Everybody is in there but me,” she said.
When she pitched the idea for the new city hall and fire station, she had opposition from the board of aldermen and county supervisors. Requests for help from Second District Congressman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, were ignored.
“Two weeks after I was elected, I went directly to Jackson and pleaded my case,” she said. “I immediately began to work on the grant. And the board knew that. Then, as we were going through the process, we had to write in the minutes our actual intent once Rural Development said they could give us the mwoney. Two board members voted against moving forward, two voted to go forward and one was absent, so I broke the tie to move forward.”
When the state was considering a matching grant, county supervisors blocked the offer for in-kind services. Rep. Leonard Morris (D-Batesville), vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, was instrumental in getting the $160,000 state match for the new municipal complex, which will named for Robert G. Clark Jr. (D-Holmes County), the first black state legislator elected since reconstruction. First elected in 1968, Clark will retire this year.
“The state government wanted to do something to honor Robert Clark,” said Walters. “We had been looking for win-win situations in a tight budget year and we thought what better way to do that? Tchula was in his district…and it all worked. Leonard took the ball and ran with it to get the money set aside.”
Brown was on the Gulf Coast at the Mississippi Municipal League annual convention when the announcement was made.
“I haven’t been home to see what the response is, but I intend to let people know,” she said.
Some rifts are already on the mend, Brown said.
“I met with Rep. Bennie Thompson’s office (in late June) and presented a package for a water and sewer project,” she said. “A lot of people had accused me of not going to them for help, so I wanted to dispel that. When I went to the local office in Greenwood and presented the package, the young man I met with was very cordial. I was able to share my heart with him and he seemed to see me as a person.”
Other rifts may not mend and changes may be in order, Brown said.
“The police chief told the board last week that he did not like me, he did not respect me, and he was not going to communicate with me,” she said. “The constituents put out a petition and the board said I could be communicated with through one of the other aldermen.”
With no provision for terminating city employees, Brown’s hands are tied.
“I’m working on that,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m positive. Things are going to be all right.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or firstname.lastname@example.org</a.