Leading Greenwood to Be the Best Possible
By Becky Gillette • Photography by Johnny Jennings
Small town politics anywhere in the country can be challenging, and Greenwood is no exception. However, Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams has worked hard to avoid partisanship and encourage cooperation to meet Greenwood’s goals that has resulted in many notable achievements since she became mayor in 2009.
“I’m probably the most apolitical person you would want to meet,” says McAdams. “Most city council members are Democrats, but we work together because we put party affiliations aside and work for the good of Greenwood. I don’t get bogged down with Republican and Democrat divisions. I just live my life. I ran as an Independent. A lot of people don’t believe it; it is entirely true. I’m completely an Independent. I regret partisanship has caused some big divisions in our country.”
A mayor can never please 100 percent of the community.
“At some point, you have to make a decision and do it to the best of your ability,” she says. “The council has been fantastically supportive. They know we are on the right path. Do we have challenges? Absolutely. We try to listen to everyone and make the best decisions we can.”
McAdams never considered running for mayor until a group of people came to visit her in 2007 at her office at Delta Correctional Facility. At first, she turned them down saying, “Heavens, no.” But she agreed to help them find someone to run. When likely candidates turned her down, she decided to run herself—despite a great fear of speaking in public.
With no experience running a city with 190 employees, she had a steep learning curve. Her first city council meeting was as mayor. However, she considered it just another job, a big job and one that she wanted to do to the best of her ability to help the city succeed.
“My company was very supportive and allowed me to come in early to work so I could campaign later in the day,” she says. “I went around Greenwood knocking on doors and asking people what they thought we needed. By going through this whole community, I saw a large part of our problems. I was probably as shocked as ninty-five percent of the people in Greenwood when I won that election.”
Initially she didn’t have a clue what the mayor does; you don’t get a job description. She credits the Mississippi Municipal League with providing training on how to do the job wisely.
“My first year was pretty difficult because a lot of people were unhappy I was in this position,” says McAdams. “I think some thought I was using it as a stepping stone to another political job. But I have no aspirations of doing anything else in politics.”
McAdams’ first job was with Greenwood Utilities where she credits Director Charles Mathews for being a wonderful mentor. Other prior work experience that was helpful included being business manager at Corrections Corporation of America’s Delta Correctional Facility in Greenwood for fourteen years and Section 8 Coordinator at the Greenwood Housing Authority for fourteen years.
“I worked with individual property owners in Greenwood who would rent their houses through HUD,” says McAdams, who grew up in Greenwood, graduated from Greenwood High School and attended Mississippi Delta Junior College and Mississippi State College for Women. “So many people needed assistance, especially the elderly. It put me in touch with the needs of our community. They would come in for help. I helped them all I could, and if I couldn’t help them, I would tell them why. I built trust that way. I think a lot of people knew I was fair, honest and consistent with my decisions.”
She left Greenwood for six years after marrying Mike McAdams, who was in the Air Force. They lived in California, North Carolina and in the Philippines for two years where her second daughter was born.
“We were snapped out of Greenwood and put in these bigger cities,” says McAdams. “You had to fend for yourself. It was very interesting. It helped me in so many ways grow up and become independent. You are out there by yourself completely, and learn how to make friends and acquaintances. In the military, there was no racial discrimination. It was all done by rank, not your skin color. That was a great thing, really.”
Her early experiences with racial equity may have laid the foundation for her being able to win votes in a community that is seventy-two percent Black.
When she first became mayor, there were real difficulties with wastewater treatment. The state changed regulations requiring better wastewater treatment. The city invested $40 million in a new wastewater treatment plant funded by a low-interest loan from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. When she was at a meeting at Mississippi Valley State University and learned it was also having trouble with sewage treatment, she was able to talk to the city engineers about adding Valley to the sewer plant. A $4-million grant was provided from the Institutions of Higher Learning to fund the project. It solved a major problem for the college while providing more revenue for Greenwood to repay its loan.
Community development and revitalization are top priorities. Like most small towns in rural areas of America, Greenwood has lost population. Often when a property owner dies, the heirs are scattered around the country and finding them and getting permission to demolish dilapidated properties is expensive, time-consuming and difficult.
Greenwood, population 13,355, has 75 state-owned properties. Once properties are cleaned up, the city has to maintain them until they are purchased.
“The public works department does a great job maintaining those properties in addition to maintaining streets and parks,” she says. “They have to mow a lot of grass. We got a blight elimination grant a few years ago, and since I have been mayor have probably spent $800,000 on dilapidated structures.”
McAdams was a classmate of Fred Carl Jr., the founder of Viking Range. She credits Carl with a vision for revitalizing Greenwood.
“He bought twenty-five or thirty buildings downtown and restored them,” says McAdams. “We have beautiful buildings downtown including The Alluvian Hotel and many fine restaurants. The Mississippi Department of Transportation has been a wonderful source of grants. Four major streets downtown are made with brick and have historic replica lighting. It creates a wonderful atmosphere. Our downtown is now the mecca of the Delta.”
McAdams credits the Main Street program with helping with the transformation.
“We partner with them a lot,” she says.
Main Street Mississippi Executive Director Thomas Gregory says McAdams has been a strong advocate for Main Street at both the local and state levels.
“From the beginning of her first term as mayor, she has supported Main Street Greenwood in its work of downtown revitalization,” says Gregory. “One of the things I admire about Carolyn is her ability to bring people together to get things done. As mayor, she has collaborated with diverse partners and stakeholders to deliver results for the people of Greenwood. Landmark projects like the Rail Spike Park, the Yazoo River Trail and streetscape improvements in downtown Greenwood would simply not have happened without Carolyn’s leadership.”
Gregory was McAdam’s chief administrative officer for eight years.
“Carolyn taught me so many valuable lessons about being an effective leader, including how to work with people and how to navigate complex situations to get projects accomplished,” says Gregory. “In addition, she dedicated six years as a member of the Mississippi Main Street Association board of directors, providing a unique perspective as a local elected official.”
Cynthia Stanciel, chief administrative officer, says the mayor’s success has come from being consistent and working hard.
“From the time she first became mayor to now she has done everything she can to try to improve Greenwood,” says Stanciel. “She is not afraid to do anything she would ask city workers or department heads to do.”
McAdams is “an economic development mayor,” says Angela Curry, executive director, Greenwood-Leflore Industrial board.
“During her time as mayor, she has been 100 percent supportive of our economic development projects,” says Curry. “She understands how important new jobs and investments are to the overall wellbeing of our local economy. We had some tough decisions to make during our most recent successful recruitment project, Saylor Wheel LLC. Mayor McAdams was one of our biggest champions for that $24-million-dollar project and led the charge on the city’s behalf.”
Another project McAdams is proud of is the city’s recycling center that is also used by Grenada, Winona and Indianola. The city provides curbside pickup to 250 residences.
Other state leadership roles include being president of the Mississippi Municipal League during the worst of the covid pandemic.
McAdams has two daughters. Lynn McCool lives in Greenwood and has three children. Stacy Montegut lives in Memphis and has four children.
“My seven grandchildren are the light of my life,” says McAdams. “We do lots of things together. We take family vacations. They are very involved in my mayorship.”
McAdams is active in the Chamber of Commerce and loves her church family at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Greenwood. She was a Woman of Distinction 2019 Honoree for Girls Scouts Heart of the South. Among other awards, she was named Rotarian of the year for the Greenwood Rotary Club in 2012.