President Mark Killingsworth presided over today’s meeting. Ryan Kelly provided the opening prayer and Katie Anthony led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. The meeting was held at the Holiday Inn North and on Zoom. Joe Bost thanked those who helped with today’s meeting. Elizabeth Ann and Andrew Kelly were guests of Ryan Kelly.
Richard Topp then introduced today’s guest speaker, Mayor Toby Barker. Mayor Barker is now serving as the 35th City of Hattiesburg Mayor. Richard noted that the Mayor was the first in the state to open a community testing site for COVID-19, through a partnership with the Mississippi State Department of Health. Richard also noted that the Mayor secured a grant through the Hattiesburg Arts Council to create Pop-Up Entertainment programs through the city. The grants helped local entertainers who have found it difficult to find employment during the pandemic.
Mayor Barker thanked Rotarians for the opportunity to present today and for accommodating a virtual opportunity for him to attend. He announced a partnership between the city, the Mississippi Department of Health and the Lake Terrace Convention Center. Through the cooperation of these entities, Hattiesburg opened a new testing site at the Lake Terrace Convention Center. The agreement also provides an opportunity for vaccinations at this site on Tuesdays and Fridays. Front line health care workers are the first to receive vaccinations at the site. Mayor Barkers says they can administer 210 vaccinations daily. He hopes to expand this capability as the state receives more vaccinations.
He notes that the rollout of the vaccination program is complicated and will likely continue to be messy as the program unfolds. The city is following the Mississippi State Health Department guidelines for distributions. He anticipates that persons age 65 and older or persons with underlying health conditions will have vaccinations available to them by mid-to-late February. He also notes that patients of Hattiesburg Clinic will likely be notified when a vaccination is available to them.
COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in our area. Currently there are 117 hospital beds with COVID patients and 31 patients in ICU. There are currently 14 hospital beds available and a small handful of ICU beds available. He encouraged us to continue to wear masks, wash our hands on a regular basis and social distance. He says he is optimistic that the best in us will show up to help decrease the number of cases in our area.
On other matters, Mayor Barker says 2021 will be the year of infrastructure work in Hattiesburg. He isn’t just re-paving streets but repairing water and sewer lines and improving walkability with each upcoming project. He noted that work is progressing on the two train overpasses which received grants last year.
Mayor Barker says he is pleased with the administrators and assistant administrators working for the city. He noted that when he took office there were 2000 open orders in the water and sewer department. Today, there are less than 100. Improvements were made in leadership, in technology and personnel, making these improvements possible.
Although he was saddened to see three popular restaurants close within the last week, he is optimistic that some or all of them will come back or be replaced with the pandemic is over. Sales tax revenue was up between 13 and 17 percent during the last quarter of 2020. He says businesses have made good adjustments despite the pandemic and he believes residents feel safe doing business with them.
He hopes to see other improvements in the coming months. Plans are to have 110 police officers back on duty within 2021.
Mayor Barker encouraged everyone to be safe and to continue to support local businesses. He says Hattiesburg will be the premier city of the mid-south.
Mark thanked Mayor Barker for his remarks. Mark asked members to take an index card that has been distributed on each table. He asked that members bring the cards back within the next week or two with ideas for the club to undertake in 2021.
There being no further business to come before the club, Mark then adjourned the meeting with our motto: “Service Above Self.”