June 22, 2013 10:20:49 PM
Marty Turner has packed in a lot of experience into his 35 years. Judging from the variety of his exploits, the recently elected Ward 4 Councilman is nothing if not adaptable. Let's hope so. Come July 1, Turner will be one of six men charged with running the city of Columbus (along with Mayor Robert Smith).
After graduating from Columbus High in 1996, Turner signed up for a six-year stint with the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines sent him to North Carolina and made him a diesel mechanic. Realizing they had on their hands a charismatic salesman whose talents could be better used elsewhere, the Corps sent Turner back to his hometown where he worked as a recruiter for the final two years of his tour.
After the Marines, Turner went to Northeast Mississippi Community College where he played football.
He later attended the University of Southern Mississippi where he studied economics and television production for two years. Life intruded; he dropped out of school to take a full-time job selling furniture in Hattiesburg, then Baton Rouge, La.
Eventually he returned to Columbus -- "I always wanted to come home," he said -- and opened a furniture store. That was five years ago. Turner's appearances in TV commercials for his store and disputes with landlords and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security have kept his name and face in the public eye. Turner says his $56,000 in unpaid rent to Gateway Shopping Center is justified because the landlord failed to provide adequate heating and air conditioning.
Marty Turner Furniture occupies a battered blue metal building on Highway 45 North that was once an auto parts store. Turner says his sister, Patricia, runs the business. When asked what he is doing these days Turner replied, "Getting to know my ward better."
Ward 4 offers plenty of diversity; it includes a large chunk of the mostly white affluent neighborhood on Bluecutt Road, Propst Park and surrounding neighborhoods and the west side of Gardner Boulevard.
The heart of Ward 4, however, is Memphis Town, Turner's childhood stomping ground and where he lives now in his family's home -- his mother lives in East Columbus. Memphis Town is a loosely defined area on either side of 14th Avenue North, roughly between Railroad Street and the eastern edge of the Kerr-McGee site.
Story goes the area got its name from country people, who after they had walked in from outlying areas to visit that part of town, felt like they had walked to Memphis.
Friday afternoon Turner stopped by The Dispatch for a visit. The councilman-elect exudes a cheerful animation. He is slim and fit and looks as though he could still do push-ups enough to satisfy a Marine drill instructor.
While we had a cordial conversation, Turner offered few specifics or opinions about his vision for the city or recent council decisions.
Turner was non-committal about the last-minute pay raise the council awarded itself this past week.
"I don't agree or disagree with it," he said.
He believes Superintendent Martha Liddell was terminated prematurely.
"She inherited a mess," he said.
When asked what his priorities would be, the councilman-elect repeated the mantra of many politicians: "I'm going to work to bring more jobs."
Turner mentioned houses on 22nd and 26th streets where the toilets aren't flushing properly and a ditch at Propst Park that needs a guardrail. He's also promoting a neighborhood water balloon fight, an event he hopes will become an annual summer diversion in Memphis Town.
"I'm going to do what's right," Turner declared. "I feel like the people have the office now."
More than once in our interview Turner bemoaned the exodus of the best and brightest of his high school classmates, many of whom have moved away to pursue careers elsewhere. He wants to help build a community that will lure them back.
"We've got to get our great minds to come back to Columbus," he said.
Birney Imes III is Publisher of The Dispatch.
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