Walter Morrison is not a politician and had no intention of ever becoming the mayor of a city, however, he had a “moment of weakness” in which he agreed and now is the first mayor to lead the city of Gluckstadt.
Morrison came to Jackson in 1990 to pursue a career as a lawyer. He knew not one soul but, after graduating with a degree in accounting, he knew the fight, the competition and the teamwork that came with being a lawyer was the path laid out for him. Meanwhile, Gluckstadt, an agricultural community with original settlers of German descent, was trying to band together to make Gluckstadt a city. They’d been trying to incorporate during this time but were unsuccessful due to the moving target of getting two-thirds of registered voters in the area to sign the petition.
“I think their prime motivation for that was that they wanted to protect their heritage,” Morrison said. “They didn’t want it to be devoured by Canton or Madison. They wanted to protect Gluckstadt and not lose its identity. So they tried to incorporate.”
Morrison said six to eight years ago, the same group of descendents decided to try one more time to incorporate Gluckstadt and set a smaller geographical area as the goal for the city lines – making the signatures more obtainable.
“People worked really hard to get signatures from two-thirds of all registered voters,” Morrison said. “The [incorporation] litigated through court through two trials to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and it finally became a city. As part of that process, the incorporators had to put a slate of aldermen and a mayor.”
Morrison and his family had lived in Gluckstadt for years and knew some of the people who were behind the incorporation. They continually asked Morrison if he would be the city’s mayor, and he really didn’t want to get involved.
“I really am not a political animal,” Morrison said. “I practice law. I have plenty to do and have been very fortunate to be pretty successful in my career practicing law. But you know when somebody asks you to serve and you’ve been so blessed in your life, sooner or later, I think you have to go ahead and agree.”
Morrison said yes and became one of the few mayors who have not been elected along with the current slate of aldermen. Though it may have taken some time for Morrison to agree to the job, he doesn’t regret his decision.
“I’m so glad that I did it,” Morrison said. “Is it a lot of work? Yes. Is it a challenge with things that I’m totally unfamiliar with? Absolutely. I had no idea how the municipal government worked.”
Along with his new duties of building a city from the ground up, Morrison still is a practicing attorney with a full workday in that regard. Though balancing both important jobs can be a challenge, Morrison said going to law school and being a lawyer taught him how to manage his time and how to balance a lot of responsibilities. However, he said he has amazing teams in both his legal practice and with the city that helps him accomplish everything he needs to.
“I couldn’t do it without them,” Morrison said. “On the city side of things, I have an amazing group of aldermen. We hired a city clerk, Lindsay Kellum, who is doing a fantastic job. We have lawyers that help us, consultants that help us. I lean on them a lot, but I know how to manage my time.”
Morrison said he, fortunately, is an early bird so, before even coming into his office in the morning, he tries to complete whatever city work needs to be done. Then, when his workday is complete at his practice, he will sometimes stop by city hall on his way home to get some more work done as mayor.
“You just gotta work to balance your time - that’s it,” Morrison said.
Now with some months of being mayor under his belt, Morrison said his vision for Gluckstadt hasn’t changed, but it can be difficult to balance progress. When he first moved into Gluckstadt, it was an agricultural committee with no gas stations, a bunch of agricultural fields, and a church. Fast forward to today, Morrison said there are fantastic public schools, a thriving residential community, and growth in the area.
“I think that the most difficult thing to do is to try to balance progress, because I think that the people who started this movement would hate to see Gluckstadt losing its identity of being an agricultural, simple people,” Morrison said. “But at the same time, you have to have commercial development and a grocery store and a place to fill up with gas and a school to send people because, if they don’t have a good public school, people aren’t going to want to live there.”
Morrison said he has watched other area’s mayors struggle with how to balance commercial development with residential development, and it can be difficult to please everybody.
“You get grief from the residential people if you allow a big commercial development to start and vice versa,” Morrison said. “How do we manage that is a task that we have, but we are doing it.”
Morrison said they are moving forward in this arena as they just adopted planning and zoning rules and regulations last month and entered into a contract with a building official, Jeff Williamson.
“Williamson will issue building permits and help apply our regulations so we can try to, in a wise, smart way, allow the city of Gluckstadt to grow,” Morrison said. “What we do today is going to impact the city for 30, 40, 50 years, so we have to make sure we do it right now.”
Morrison said something else he is learning to handle is the speed at which things can be accomplished in a city. He said the state has rules, regulations and laws in place designed to protect the public funds, which is essential and important, but can take some time.
“I will tell you that it has been frustrating at times the speed at which you can get things done,” Morrison said. “For instance, we are trying to get municipal software purchased, we had to go through a big bidding process that has extended out for three months, and I’m just not used to doing that. In the private world, if I need or want something, we deliberate within the firm about it, and we go get what we think we need. But you can’t really do that in a city.”
Morrison said he certainly understands the need for the laws and transparency, but how fast he can do things can be frustrating at times.
The thing that has made Morrison the happiest during his time as mayor has been how much he and the board have been able to accomplish in the six months since becoming a city – creating the skeleton of how the city is going to grow out. A huge part of that, Morrison said, is the people that surround him.
“I have been so blessed to be able to serve with a great group of aldermen,” Morrison said. “Our aldermen amaze me everyday. They bring different perspectives, and they are completely volunteering too – neither me nor any member of the board is getting paid for this. They’ve all done it out of a sense of community service.”
He said all of the aldermen come from different backgrounds and education levels, and he has been amazed at how wise they are, how much judgment they have, and the different viewpoints they bring to the table.
“In a day and age when it is hard to get people to agree on anything, since June, I don’t know how many votes we’ve taken but every vote that we have taken has been 5-0,” Morrison said. “Everybody has agreed on everything. I can’t tell you there hasn’t been a little give and take every now and then on various things – there has been, but I think they’re doing a fantastic job setting up the city and handling issues that none of us really know anything about. We are doing our best to try to figure it all out. I want them to get the credit because they have done a marvelous job.”
Morrison said he is very pleased that the board works so well together and that there has been no controversy. He said he is also very pleased that it hasn’t become an ego-driven thing, and the working arrangement between all of them is something he’s very proud of. He said he’s also very proud that they’ve hired a fantastic city clerk.
“Lindsay Kellum is an amazing lady and can probably outwork us all,” Morrison said. She will be a benefit to the city for a long time.”
Looking forward, at the end of 2022, Morrison said he wants to be able to say that they have a police chief who has staffed out a police department, they have obtained all the equipment necessary for a police department, and they no longer need to rely on the Madison County Sheriff’s Department to provide that protection.
“The sheriff’s department has been very, very gracious, but we wanted to be a city and we have got to act like a city so we have to start doing that ourselves,” Morrison said. “I hope that we can get that done.”
Steps have already been taken towards accomplishing this by the end of the year as about 25 resumes of those wanting to become Gluckstadt’s first police chief are already sitting on Morrison’s desk. Morrison said they’ve been very blessed to be in the most populated area of Mississippi because there are a lot of people who are interested in the position and we have a large pool to draw from.
“It is always good to be able to start from scratch,” Morrison said. “We get to give somebody the opportunity to say, ‘I’m the very first police chief Gluckstadt ever had and I’m going to build this department out’.”
With a police department comes a municipal court system to administer fines among other duties. Morrison said he also wants to make sure that citizens and developers can come to Gluckstadt city hall to meet with the city’s building official; and he has the ability to issue building permits, conduct inspections and manage the growth happening in the city.
“We try to do this in a good, smart, planned way so that in 30, 40, 50 years what we set in place today has governed how our city has grown,” Morrison said. “That will be a pretty darn amazing feat when you think that right now we don’t have a police chief, police officer, police car, or any equipment for anybody. So we have a lot to accomplish.”
A hope that Morrison has as the city continues to move forward and grow is for the citizens of Gluckstadt to take an active role, be involved and participate as best as they can.
“Nothing makes me happier when I call a meeting to order than when we have a lot of people in the audience,” Morrison said. “I don’t want to call a meeting when there’s four people in the audience.”
Morrison said they’ve purposely set the board meetings for six p.m. so that people can get home from work and attend a meeting.
“I want the people to be involved because there’s one thing I have learned, and that is everybody has such good ideas,” Morrison said. “It’s not just my ideas or the board’s ideas. I really would hope that the community and the citizens show up and take a really active interest. They have so much to offer and, if we don’t hear from them, we run the risk of not considering their really good ideas.”
Morrison said it is the people that make Gluckstadt unique, and it began with the first people that moved there in the early 1900s. He said they left their homes, bought a piece of property to farm, and then learned three years later they didn’t in fact own it because the company who sold it to them did not own it. They bought the property again for a second time.
“They had every opportunity to fail and say this is too hard and crazy, but they didn’t,” Morrison said. “I think that speaks volumes towards the tenacity of people and the determination of people. We have a lot of hurdles, but I don’t think any of them are that hard. I think if we can preserve that grit and that down to earth, grassroots mentality, we’ve done what we need to accomplish.”