GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - Switching from police officer to mayor may seem like a big career change, but for newly elected Gautier Mayor, Tommy Fortenberry, it's a natural progression.
"When I became a police officer at 50 years old, it's because I wanted to see a difference in my community," Fortenberry said. "And I believe this is a step forward from that."
Now that the campaigning is over and the celebrating has died down, Fortenberry's work is just beginning.
"I very seriously take the charge that's been given to me," Fortenberry said. "My allegiance is to the citizens of Gautier. I've said it all the way through my campaign that I would do what's best for the city of Gautier and to the people of Gautier."
Fortenberry said that includes restoring the community's faith in a government he believes has divided citizens in recent years. He said then he'll be ready to lead Gautier through some big changes he said the city desperately needs. Those include revamping the city's neighborhood watch program and expanding the tax base.
"I would like to see us hire an economic developer," Fortenberry said. "There's things like that that I think have been neglected. We have to make Gautier business friendly. We need to be in continuous touch with the business owners who are in Gautier now."
He also wants to be in touch with leaders from neighboring cities. He said he's already begun communication with several other newly elected mayors, including Pascagoula's Robbie Maxwell and Moss Point's Aneice Liddell.
"We don't have to reinvent the wheel," Fortenberry said. "By community leaders getting together, we can help each other. We can come up with ideas that will help our communities not only advance, but help us grow closer together as sister communities."
He said he views the position of Mayor as more than a job. For him, it's reflects a dedication to the city of Gautier and every citizen therein.
Fortenberry said, "I want the citizens to know that I will work just as hard as Mayor, and even though it's considered a part time position, I will give it as many hours as necessary."
Fortenberry said he knows his goals are vast, but this newcomer said he's up to the task.
"I've heard the statement, 'How do you eat a elephant?'" he said. "One bite at a time. I can't wait to get started. I can't wait to take the first bite out of this elephant."
Fortenberry is scheduled to be inducted into office in early July.