SUNDAY CONVERSATIONS: Torey Bell
By Robert Smith
Doddsville Mayor Torey Bell is
diligently cultivating the small Sunflower County town’s development
prospects. Now in his second term as mayor, Bell has focused on
infrastructure and service improvements as the foundation for attracting
A Sunflower County native, Bell benefited, starting at
an early age, from the guiding influence of James Haywood, the current
sheriff and a former highway patrolman.
“Being around that
environment sparked an interest in certain issues and laws,” Bell says,
accounting for the development of his interest in public affairs. “There
were a lot of things that he imparted.”
After high school, Bell
served in the Army National Guard and studied at Mississippi Delta
Community College to become an Emergency Medical Technician. Later, he
trained to become a surgery technician. Bell also married and moved to
Doddsville, where he soon took an active interest in the needs of the
“Once I got there, I saw some things that struck my interest
in regard to general well-being and public health,” he said, explaining
that he served in the volunteer fire department and then ran for a seat on
the Board of Aldermen. Right from the start, after being elected, his
colleagues put trust in him, voting to make him vice mayor.
gained experience, Bell made efforts to develop activities for youth in
the Doddsville area, taking them to ball games and trying to provide them
a chance to play baseball in the summers to keep them constructively
After a term as an alderman, Bell ran for mayor. He
recalls that he was concerned about the fashion in which town government
was functioning, and wanted to bring about improvements.
expressed my feelings about what I didn’t like and what I figured we
should have been doing,” he says. “I was reluctant to run because I didn’t
know if I could actually function in that capacity with the experience I
had. But eventually I put my name in there and I was
CNL: Could you talk a little about what the town
was able to accomplish during your first term as mayor?
The initial plan was to reconnect the town back to the state. We were out
of compliance in regard to a lot of documentation, a lot of information
that was needed in order to keep us incorporated, according to Eric Clark,
the secretary of state. When I took office, we had received a
certification stating that we had been reduced from a town to a village,
which meant that we were out of compliance and the population was
declining. The town was not showing any economic progress.
what I did was I got in communication with the attorney general and the
secretary of state to find out what we had to do to get back in compliance
and to start focusing on economic improvements for the
CNL: So what kinds of things were you able to do to
raise Doddsville’s status?
BELL: The first thing we did was we
tried to establish an official place of operation. We didn’t have an
official town hall at all. They had been operating out of the back of
storefronts and people’s homes, and out of the old Health Department
building that belonged to Sunflower County. So we didn’t have adequate
space to establish ourselves or have an official place of business.
Everything was pretty much temporary. So we purchased our first town hall
and we turned around and made sure we had an attorney. Later on, we began
to work on a facility for meetings for the community – a community house –
and we got that going. Then we focused on cleaning things up by getting
rid of a lot of the dilapidated old homes.
We had to clear out a
lot of dilapidated houses, and people were actually living in those
facilities. Those were the living quarters of a lot of residents. We
entered into a partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority to
bring in funds to improve the quality of life for those citizens. What we
did is we demolished the old homes and built energy-efficient homes
according to standard guidelines regarding family size.
during your first term you were able to put the structure of the
municipality back together?
BELL: Correct. We got pretty much
all of our reports and our documentation in place and got back in
compliance with our code charter. We got to where we actually had a
functioning board, with minutes and a minute book and ordinances in place.
A lot of it had been lacking. It had dissolved since 1996, when the town
of Doddsville had a fire that destroyed documentation from that time back
to when it was incorporated.
One of the biggest things was the
day-to-day operations of the municipality, concerning administrative
functions as well as public health; for instance, the water system.
Improper documentation there, improper management, poor water-line
circulation, dilapidated meters, insufficient chlorine supply – a lot of
issues came out once the process began to unfold. We had a lot of
maintenance problems, a lot of serious issues that had to be
CNL: So how are things now?
actually back on the map. Our population has tripled. The last census
(2000) showed that we were 109, but the CDBG (Community Development Block
Grant) census that we did when we got into the water-improvement project
showed that we have 363 citizens now.
CNL: Could you describe
your water-improvement project?
BELL: We were approved in 2004
for the project. The project did not really start until 2005. We were
awarded a $300,000 grant to improve our water system. It allowed us to
bring in a totally new operating system that was computerized, and that
actually monitors things like water levels and the amount of chlorine that
needs to be injected. We put in new six-inch lines, where we had only
four-inch or two-inch lines before. That helps with fire protection. We
also now have computerized phone calling for emergency purposes, where if
the well fails or electricity goes out, the system dials our emergency
number so that somebody knows to respond before we get into a critical
CNL: Will that help with property-insurance rates in
BELL: We met with the Rating Bureau concerning
that and it won’t actually cause our rates to lower yet because we’ve got
to establish a fire department. We were covered by Ruleville, the city
that is a few miles north of us. But once the Rating Bureau came in and
actually did a survey, we were beyond the five-mile radius from the door
of the (Ruleville) fire department to the town hall (of Doddsville). We
were over five miles, so we had to become our own district. So we are
actually in the process of that now; trying to establish a volunteer fire
department. We’re hoping we can have the department in place – full,
complete and operational, with a truck – by the end of this year, 2006.
We’ve already begun to select the staff. We’re now working with the county
(Sunflower County) to try to obtain a fire truck.
Linn will profit
from our new fire department. Blaine will profit from our fire department,
as will other small plantation areas that have no fire coverage.
did have a fire department previously, and it was certified and
operational at that time, but there were problems that developed. The
truck itself became inoperative. There was actually no particular location
for the fire department, and the volunteering staff was not up to
CNL: So you’ve made improvements in the water system
and you’re re-creating fire service. What other kinds of improvements are
being made in Doddsville that will make it an attractive place to
BELL: We’re actually working on a subdivision now for
moderate-income homes with the Mississippi Home Corp. There will be
down-payment assistance so that people can actually afford homes. We have
two houses that are already in the development stage. We’ve made a
partnership with Planters Bank to be the funding source for the loans for
these particular projects.
CNL: And don’t you also have some
improvements that BellSouth has been making in
BELL: They came in and we struck an agreement with
them to put in a small substation located behind our town hall to improve
communication levels. We are also working with a company out of Jackson
that helps small municipalities develop telecommunications sites. They’ve
done two projects already here in the Delta, and one of them was at Glen
Allan that they are in the process of, and the other is at Schlater, which
is about eight miles east of us. This will help rural areas have Internet
and other types of services. Right now we are in discussions with them to
obtain some type of agreement for development of that project. We have a
local steering committee made up of citizens that will actually help steer
this project for the good of the community.
CNL: How do you see
Doddsville developing in the years to come?
BELL: We actually
want to bring our town and link it with Cleveland, because of the economic
growth that we see there. Plus, it’s more efficient for us to do that
because we are only about 12-15 miles from Cleveland, if you travel
Highway 49 to Highway 8. With the anticipated four-laning of Highway 8
coming through, we will be only a few miles from a four-lane highway,
which will give us access and will hopefully make us attractive as a
homestead area for people interested in Cleveland. Indianola (the county
seat of Sunflower County) is over 25 miles from us. We’re closer to
Cleveland than we are to Indianola and transportation is a little bit
better than if we were going to Indianola on Highway 49, because it’s
two-lane all the way there (to Indianola). We’re looking at Cleveland to
be the job provider for our citizens, and to provide services in areas
like health care and education. We think that people could very easily
commute from Doddsville to Cleveland.
CNL: Are you looking at
attracting more residential development over time?
are. The future plan that we have now is to try to establish some type of
cooperation in assisting college kids that have to travel from other
places to have residences in Doddsville while they come to Delta State
University – perhaps a nice apartment complex or something. So we’re
actually eyeballing that right now to see if there is a demand and need
for that. Also, we’re interested in administrative people coming into the
area, hoping they might be willing to look our way. We’ve already
developed a partnership with the Sunflower County Sheriff’s Department for
security purposes. We have two deputies now, one that lives right in the
corporate limits of Doddsville and another that lives four miles from
Doddsville, which will give us good response coverage. We’re also getting
ready to implement a night watchman program, where we will appoint
somebody to secure the town from 12-4 a.m. to make sure that residents are
safe. And we’re working on a marketing plan now for Doddsville to try to
attract businesses into the area to provide services to residents – just
general, everyday-living products. Just small commodity stores. We’re
working with the congressman’s office out of Mound Bayou on the marketing