Gulfport — New mayor Brent Warr knows what it means to be baptized by fire. He took office July 5 and a week later had already experienced two states of emergency caused by Tropical Storm Cindy and Hurricane Dennis, accompanied by the barrage of decisions, questions and media buzz such events bring.
He says he’s accustomed to a fast pace and multi-tasking. He was in the retail business and at the same time ran a real estate investment and management business. “That fits with what I’m doing in the mayor’s office,” he said. “I’ve been doing tons of things.”
The 41-year-old Republican feels comfortable in the office, his first elected position. With 53% of the vote, he won 18 of 18 wards in the primary, beating out four other Republicans without a runoff. In the general election he carried 16 of 18 wards to defeat a Democratic opponent.
“I’ll never do that again. I had no track record but after being in office I’ll have one,” he said. “I never had any desire to be involved in politics, but I respect the political process now. I consider being called mayor an honor. This is work I want to do rather than a job I want to have.”
Making things better
Warr says he sought the office because of his personal inclination to take something and make it better, and because people he respects asked him to run. “I worked as a maintenance man in college and always fixed things,” he said. “I saw things that could be done differently here and had the opportunity in business to step away. I think people were looking for an alternative choice.”
A poll of city voters revealed that bickering among city officials was the number one issue of the campaign. “One main issue was negativism and bickering. I had a narrow set of doors to walk through to address that issue in a respectful way,” he said. “I did not want to appear like a bulldog. My whole campaign was to give all people the same level of respect and represent them with dignity.”
Faced with rapid growth, the 100-year-old city doubled its physical size with a bitterly fought annexation about 10 years ago. The geographical size is now 65 square miles. “Part of the annexed area was rural, and we took on a lot of stuff,” Warr says. “We’re a community and want to be that again. There’s no reason you can’t live in different segments and not be one city. People want unity and cohesion with the annexed areas and old Gulfport.”
He is pleased that his first city council meeting was only 55 minutes long. Six of the seven council members are new to their posts. “We are strictly going by ‘Robert’s Rules of Order’ and won’t let it get out of hand,” he said. “We spent well over 50 hours preparing, and this is the best council I can imagine.”
Part of the job
The new mayor of Mississippi’s second most populous city recalls that he bought the worst apartment complex on the Coast in 1992 and spent time making it better. One Thanksgiving Day, he drove by the 32-unit complex and saw water pouring out of a soffit. He rolled up his sleeves and spent the rest of the day repairing the leak.
“I’m used to crises management. It’s been a part of my job description for a long time,” he says.
Last week he finished out a punch list with operators of Gulf Islands Water Park, the city’s newest tourist attraction, to help them get the long-awaited facility open. When told it would take $19,000 to repair the fountain at historic Jones Park, Mayor Warr said he wants to take a look at it before further action is taken.
“My wife says no one should be surprised if they’re driving along and see me come out from under a manhole cover,” he said. “I want to know the how and why of things.”
Water and sewage problems have been a thorn in the flesh for Gulfport in recent years. Warr says he wants to continue upgrading the system and progressing with storm water drainoff.
Focused on quality of life
“We want to get to where the quality of life is our greatest industry. It affects everything including recruiting professionals, retirees and others,” he said. “I want the building codes to be efficient and to work aggressively on the Highway 49 corridor.”
Warr is also looking at stacks of plans to improve Jones Park and the harbor, hoping to make it a center to bring people together with events and new restaurants.
Downtown is not being neglected either. The city made an agreement with the Carl Small Town Center, the Mississippi State University School of Architecture and Mississippi Power to develop a plan for the area.
“We can’t lead in downtown with soft retail. It must be done with things people will drive to such as restaurants and salons; destination things,” he said. “And the ordinance must be changed to allow people to live above businesses.”
Warr says he’s found that across the board everybody working for the city is doing it from the heart because they want to be there.
He is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University and has served as president of the Gulfport and Gulf Coast Chambers of Commerce. In 1996, he was a founding director of Coast Community Bank, has also acted as the bank’s vice chairman, and has worked with numerous civic organizations.
He and his wife, Laura, are the parents of a nine-year-old daughter, Emma, and a five-year-old son, Noah.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.