Oxford Stories: Tannehill Is Ready To Lead Oxford Into A New Era

Alderwoman Robyn Tannehill, the mayor-elect of Oxford, has been with the city nearly three decades contributing in many roles. Come the general election this June, Tannehill will have the next four years to promote her vision of Oxford.

Tannehill, a Florence, Alabama native, moved to Oxford in 1988 to attend the University of Mississippi where she majored in art. Tannehill came to realize that Oxford was her new home.

“I came to Oxford as a freshman, and I’ve never left,” said Tannehill. “So here I still am.”

After graduating, Tannehill stuck with UM in the public relations office. She then became assistant director of the Oxford Chamber of Commerce before working as executive director of the Oxford Tourism Office.

Tannehill served Oxford as the inaugural director of the Double Decker Arts Festival in 1996. This festival has grown to include an entire weekend of art, food and live music. This year, Oxford held the 22nd annual festival.

“It’s just amazing to see how it’s grown,” said Tannehill. “In 1996, we had about 9,000 festival goers. Last year, we had over 60,000. I love that it’s still celebrating what we founded the festival to be – a festival of music, food and art. These three things are done best in Oxford.”

The courthouse on the Oxford Square promotes the Double Decker Arts Festival with a banner out front. Photo by Jack Hall

Lee Ann Stubbs, the current coordinator for Double Decker, gives festivalgoers some perspective on the enormous contributions Tannehill has made to the development of the festival at its inception.

“The festival started in 1996 with our Mayor-elect Robyn Tannehill at the helm of the festival with Mayor Patterson serving on the Oxford Tourism Council at the time too,” said Stubbs. “The festival literally started in the bed of a pickup truck serving as a stage for music. Robyn saw a vision and created something that has probably exceeded many people’s expectations. It is pretty amazing how much the festival has grown in 22 years.”

Tannehill’s ideas of continued growth and improvement seem to permeate the current direction of the festival she started 22 years ago.

“Each year, we try to improve the festival, whether it’s through the layout to ensure safety, or expanding the music lineup,” said Stubbs. “We work hard to make sure our festival attendees have an experience that makes them want to come back from year to year. We have seen both festival attendance grow, as well as the number of art vendor applications that we receive grow each year.”

During the first Double Decker Arts Festival, Tannehill worked with Mayor George “Pat” Patterson. Mayor Patterson hired Tannehill to coordinate the Double Decker Arts Festival.

An iconic British-style telephone booth sits outside Oxford city hall. Photo by Jack Hall

After serving as director, Tannehill changed her sights. She spent time working in the private sector and at home raising children. Never losing her strong sense of civic duty, Tannehill campaigned in the second district of Oxford to serve on the board of aldermen in 2013.

“It just seemed like a logical progression,” said Tannehill. “I had been involved in city things, working for the chamber [of commerce], the economic development foundation, and tourism council. I had stayed involved in many of those projects. I continued thinking ‘Oh, I wish they would do this. I wish the board would consider this.’ I felt like I was being critical from the sidelines and needed to put my money where my mouth was.”

Tannehill’s time on the board wasn’t wasted.

“I felt very passionate about us developing some long-term plans for the city of Oxford, and Vision 2037 was passed soon after we took office,” said Tannehill. “We’ve recently adopted a land-use map that maps out what Oxford will be in the next 20 years as we annex land and develop outside our current area.”

Tannehill decided to run for the mayor’s office upon Mayor Patterson’s announcement that he would not seek reelection late 2016. Tannehill felt she could create the change she envisioned for the community.

“There were things I couldn’t change unless I was part of the leadership,” Tannehill said. “There are things I’ve been frustrated by for the past four years that I can’t change unless I’m in that chair.”

Just as no city is perfect, Tannehill said the growing population is a reason to be proactive in reconfiguring areas, updating infrastructure, and creating new living space.

“Most are results of our enormous growth,” said Tannehill. “We have a great number of infrastructure issues with things that aren’t fun to talk about – like water and sewer. We have been blessed to have had good city leaders and enough finances to maintain these systems. With our rapid growth, we’re going to see some upgrades there.”

Tannehill is not limiting the scope of her tenure as mayor to just infrastructure.

“You don’t have to drive around much in Oxford to know that we have a traffic problem,” said Tannehill. “Affordable housing is another important issue that this board is going to have to address. I think this board will primarily address this issue by annexing undeveloped property.

“Affordable housing in these city limits becomes kind an unreasonable topic, because you can’t build affordable housing on unaffordable land. That’ll be another priority of this board.”

Tannehill also understands the importance of the university in Oxford and university relations.

“It is an interesting dynamic, but I think it’s what makes Oxford such a cool place,” said Tannehill. “I think having a constant presence of 20,000 18- to 22-year-old folks with new ideas and energy makes it an exciting place to be. Our university relations are great. Oxford would not be the city it is without the university and vice versa.”

The mayor-elect says there are things to be learned as a community member and as a student.

“You’re not just a student,” she said. “You’re a resident of Oxford. Consider yourself a resident. It’s not only a time to learn what your major is. It’s a time to learn what it looks like to be a good citizen.

“Don’t let those four years scoot by. There’s a lot more to be learned, and Oxford is town that embraces the student population. Don’t be here to be served. Be here to serve.”


By Jack Hall. Read more stories like this on Oxford Stories.

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