Barker made the announcement Wednesday night via Facebook Live, where he said it is necessary to find creative ways to get people back to work and to again instill a sense of community. The working group is tasked with sharing information through a team approach, while gathering viewpoints from officials in several fields around the city.

“As we have done with every decision, we try to see the landscape for what it is and what it could be,” Barker said. “We try to put knowledgeable people at the table, sharing information and getting buy-in ahead of time.

“This approach recognizes that one person doesn’t have all the answers, and we are better when we solve problems together. I believe a team approach is best in navigating the uncertain times that lay ahead.”

The group is composed of officials from the public and private sectors, health care, faith, philanthropy, tourism and restaurant industries. The following is a list of fields and group members:

Health care

• Phyllis Chambers-Berry, DNP, Forrest General Hospital

• Dr. Rambod Rounbakhsh, Forrest General Hospital

• Traci Rouse, Merit Health Wesley

• Dr. Steven Farrell, Forrest General Hospital and Hattiesburg Clinic

• Andy Woodard, Forrest General Hospital

• Dr. Bryan Batson, Forrest General Hospital and Hattiesburg Clinic

• Karen Newell, Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative

• Sherri Siggers, City of Hattiesburg Employee Health

• Dr. Rita Porter, Pine Belt Mental Health Care


• David Hogan, Forrest County Board of Supervisors

• Jody Waits, Lamar County Administrator

• State representative Missy McGee

• State senator Juan Barnett

• Glen Moore, Forrest County Emergency Management Agency

Private sector

• Chad Edmonson, Lee-Way Financial

• Jonathan Krebs, Horne LLP

• Valencia Williamson, Area Development Partnership

• Todd Jackson, Area Development Partnership

• Jerome Brown, The First, ANBA

• Hoppy Cole, The First, ANBA

• Carlos Flores, Jefcoat Fence

• Abb Payne, Payne Companies

• Roman Galey, Southgroup

• Bernard Green, Global Green Insurance

• Chamberlan Carothers, SVN Realty

Hospitality and tourism

• Marlo Dorsey, Visit Hattiesburg

• Frank James, Hilton

• Nelson Haskin, Blu Jazz Café

• Diana Pennington Hembree, Keg & Barrel

• Chris Ortego, Cotton Blues

• Rebecca Chandler, HCLO and Hattiesburg Ballroom and Beyond

Faith-based and nonprofit

• Carlos Wilson, Ebenezer Baptist

• Jeff Clark, Venture Church

• Traci Fowler, United Way of Southeast Mississippi

• Michael Dixon, Pinebelt Foundation

• Reginald Woullard, Shady Grove Baptist

• Father Tommy Conway, St. Fabian

• David Martinez, Iglesia Vida

Liaison for Gov. Tate Reeves’s Task Force

• Robert St. John, New South Restaurant Group

• Jonathan Jones, Jones Companies


“Together, we will build a consensus on how closely to follow guidance and timelines from the state and federal government, understanding that the unique needs of Hattiesburg might not be the same as other parts of the state or country,” Barker said. “We will look at testing data, we will look at best practices.

“Ultimately, I and other leaders want to make decisions that are in the best interest of everyone in Hattiesburg. Having people who know their fields and know their business is key in making the best decisions.”

Barker said decisions will be made with those most vulnerable to the virus – the elderly and those with underlying health issues – in mind.

“At a certain point, people will want to naturally and understandably just open things up,” he said. “But we must also remember that those most at risk with this disease cannot be dismissed as a mere category of people who might simply have to deal with the consequences of COVID-19.

“These – the vulnerable – are our fellow citizens. They have names and faces, so before we voice our support to simply throw the gates open and let the weak fend for themselves, we need to identify who in our lives we are talking about.”

Barker said while the Hattiesburg area is still seeing multiple new cases of COVID-19 each day – sometimes in the double digits – officials believe the measures in place are making progress toward the city’s two goals: protecting vulnerable populations and preventing the overrun of the health care system.


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