Meet your elected officials: County Supervisor Lee Caldwell

August 8, 2018

In Mississippi, a County Supervisor represents:

A “beat” (read: district) of the county in which they live. Every county has 5. They form a county’s board of supervisors. Supervisor boards can operate either as a beat or unit system.

Length of Term:

4 years; county supervisors get elected at the same time as the governor. Register to vote so you can help elect your county supervisors next year!

Responsibilities:

County supervisors have the critical responsibility of overseeing county government by passing and repealing ordinances for the county to follow. As a county’s sole supervising body, they have the power to tax and to decide a budget for a county, meaning that they decide what part of county government gets what.

Real-world example of why you should care:

Are you 21 and up? Is your county dry or wet? Your county supervisors influence that decision. But when you vote, so do you.

Lee Caldwell, DeSoto County Supervisor

In her seventh year as county supervisor in DeSoto County, Mississippi, Lee Caldwell is busy. The DeSoto County supervisors have two scheduled meetings a month lasting anywhere from 8 to 12 hours, and Caldwell attends weekly meetings for each committee she’s a member of. Outside of her supervisor duties, Caldwell stays plugged in to social events in her community, especially on social media, which helps her stay connected to the needs of her constituents, and is an active volunteer with DeSoto Grace, a nonprofit that brings together community resources to serve those living in poverty in DeSoto County.

Though being county supervisor is intended to be a part-time job, in DeSoto County, with a population of over 175,000 people, Caldwell works 40 to 60 hours a week. She says her main focus is on bringing the county’s resources and people together for the betterment of the community, starting with public education.

“My priority is education because education drives economic development.”

How does a county’s board of supervisors impact public schools in the county?

When you pay property taxes, a percentage goes to the school district for operation. The supervisors can help determine how much millage schools get. The schools can make a request, but it’s up to the supervisors to vote on that. It’s important for supervisors to work with the school districts within their counties to make sure their education is supplemented in a way that it should be.

Good schools mean good communities, good jobs. If you don’t put that value on education, then your community is never going to be as successful as it could be.

What’s a way your county does that?

We give a tax incentive to businesses to encourage people to come, but we don’t give a tax break for education. We charge a portion of taxes for 10 years, per se, but the part that would go toward education is fully funded because schools are important to us.

The tax dollars that come back to the school district pays for the education of the child but doesn’t usually pay for buildings. That’s up to the counties, to build those facilities and keep them up. We do partnerships. Maybe we’ll pay for parking lots (for example) and use our county resources for that so the school wouldn’t have to spend their money towards, and could spend more toward books and resources for kids.

You’ve got to put your money in your foundation and your foundation in education.

What are some ways for young people to get involved?

For a young person, schools are a great place to volunteer. That’s what helped make our district great, the volunteers.

Not everything is about money. Many times you can volunteer your time and your resources. My job is not just about providing money for fire departments or sheriff departments or whatever, it’s also bringing resources together. That’s something I would like to encourage other supervisors, people in our community, to do: help bring those resources together.

Ours to Change is exciting because it’s bringing the awareness to young people that this is YOUR government. This is YOUR country, city, state. Learn what’s going on and then offer suggestions or help or let your voice be heard. You need to educate yourself, too. You need to ask the questions and ask, “What is your role? What is the role of the mayor, what is the role of the alderman?’ so you don’t wait until the first time you’ve addressed any of that is when you have a problem, and then you don’t know where to go.

What do you think the effect would be if more women were county supervisors?

Things such as education might get more attention because you prioritize what you spend time with. When I became a supervisor, there was not a lot of attention paid to education. Education doesn’t ever stop. It’s not just K-12 or super higher learning. Education is for everybody all the time.

A lot of supervisors take care of the road or the county government and they don’t really get involved in the other aspects. You have to stop and make education a priority. If you ask anybody in DeSoto County— businesspeople, realtors that are selling houses, parents that live here—what the greatest resource in the county is, they’ll say our children and our schools.

When I’m elected, I represent all people. Democrats, Republicans, Christian, non-Christian, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual—I am the voice of the people. I am a very conservative Christian. I have my beliefs. But I represent all people. So I have to be open-minded and be willing to bring people together and listen to their concerns.

Ours To Change Mississippi doesn’t endorse any candidate for office. We do feature a diverse section of elected officials in the pursuit of civic education and engagement. Read more about our values.

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