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CANNELTON - Candidates for the office of mayor in Cannelton met in a public forum Tuesday, stating there and in written questionnaire responses their feelings on issues important to the city. Incumbent Melvin McBrayer defended claims by challenger Morris "Smokey" Graves that he and the city council have failed to perform their duties since the last election.
In responding to a questionnaire from The News, McBrayer boasted of his current and past service as mayor and 16 years of service on the Cannelton Common Council.
I have been blessed and gained knowledge from on-the-job experience, he wrote. During his time on the council, city officials oversaw construction of a new library, community center and firehouse (expansion) and improved electric and water utilities, he added. In introductory comments at the candidates forum, he added that the city was also able to save a historic bandstand that once stood in the path of the fire-station expansion.
McBrayer also talked about the major projects at the forum, giving himself a B+ grade for the achievements he's made while in office, considering the circumstances and the budgets we had to work with.
McBrayer, 66, retired from Can-Clay in 2003 after 45 years, and served as president of Union Local 851 of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees for 20 years. He served two terms as mayor from 1980-87 and four on the council, from 1988-2003. He returned to the mayoral seat after a 2004 election.
Significant issues facing the city fall into infrastructure, tourism and growth categories, according to the incumbent. Storm-water drainage and waste-water systems need to be repaired and updated. We have submitted a grant application for $384,000. This is the first phase of a long-range plan for the city with further phases to be introduced as grants and financial assistance is available.
Significant issues facing the city fall into infrastructure, tourism and growth categories, according to the incumbent. Storm-water drainage and waste-water systems need to be repaired and updated.
We have submitted a grant application for $384,000. This is the first phase of a long-range plan for the city with further phases to be introduced as grants and financial assistance is available.
We must try to continue to attract tourists to our city, provide recreation for all ages and help to introduce our historical attractions through state and federal agencies, he continued. We must grow as a city and need to find a way to attract new businesses and families. Economic growth will build our tax base; our tax base must grow to maintain the city.
Continuing to work to provide services to the city's residents and improve the structure and appearance of the city will help make Cannelton a better place, McBrayer feels. If re-elected, I would work to make sure that all citizens have opportunities to ask and voice their opinions for changes and the opportunity to work with city leaders, he wrote. The city needs more involvement and input from its citizens.
I am experienced, dedicated and available, he asserted. I am a lifelong resident and know the people of the city of Cannelton. My door to my office is always open.
Morris Smokey Graves
Morris Smokey Graves reminded forum participants of his attempt four years ago to become mayor, saying his current campaign began the night of his defeat.
I didn't give up. We can make this work, he recalled thinking at the time, it's just a matter of when it's going to happen.
He's a 24-year Army veteran, having served in infantry, administration, career counselor and recruiting positions, and as assistant commandant of a leadership course for an Army division. After retiring, I had the opportunity to go anywhere in the free world to make my home, he said. I came back to Cannelton. This is where my children were raised. This is what I call home.
He's had businesses in Branson, Mo., worked as marketing and training director for a software company in Bedford and is currently a consultant to a coalition of coal-mining companies.
He promised to watch the city's money, if elected, to make that dollar expand, make taxpayers appreciate what they're getting for their money.
Making the Grade
Asked by News Editor Vince Luecke how he would grade McBrayer's service, Graves declined, instead giving credit for city achievements to the city council.
I don't know of a program that the mayor individually has brought to that table, he said. I have sat in at most council meetings throughout the years and if it weren't for our city council, I don't think there are a lot of things that would have moved. It was incumbent upon the mayor for those years to take control of that meeting and state his desires to that council and say this is where we're going forward with Cannelton. I didn't hear that.
That's not where it starts, McBrayer countered, suggesting that the mayor and council share responsibility for getting things done.
Graves said absentee landlords are responsible for some homes not being kept in compliance with city appearance rules. They buy the property, put people in there, then walk away with the check at the end of the month, he said.
A lack of new homes is dependent on the economy, he continued, saying the city lacks industries that would entice people to want to build them.
McBrayer said he and the council have worked on the unsightly-homes problem. We've enforced ordinances, we've (gone) to different homes, we've talked to the owners. We've made every effort that we could, and we're still working on those problems. It's not a matter of turning aside.
New homes might improve the city's appearance, he said, but taking care of what we have has been the subject of extensive discussion, and should remain the focus before we ever get into thinking about new homes.
He also mentioned that home-repair funding being offered by Tony Pappano is a possibility the city is pursuing.
Graves replied that city leaders seemed reluctant to accept help that Pappano has been offering for years in Tell City and expanded this year to the entire county. The pause was enough to scare me, Graves added.
Both contenders said preservation of historical structures in Cannelton is important. McBrayer noted such work has been accomplished recently.
They're very important to us, because that's history, he said. Most of the homes that we have left are historic homes. We've worked with the state preservation group, we've had some homes at this time that are being looked into, have been worked on, that have been bought by the preservation group, and we'll be trying to sell those homes as their time comes about.
Those are one of the backbones of the city of Cannelton, he added.
Graves said more can probably be done.
Are the assets there, or the opportunities from other organizations to assist us? Yes, absolutely, he said, mentioning medical-device manufacturer Cook Group Inc., which has funded the preservation of historic buildings in south-central Indiana.
Luecke noted census figures show Cannelton's population is half of what it was in 1980, and asked what each man would do to reverse that loss.
Graves said the citizens who choose to remain bear the tax brunt, and the loss tells me administration after administration has not done their homework. They simply have not done the job that it takes to keep people here, to keep industry here, to keep stores here, and someone has to come up with initiative, an idea or ideas to accomplish just that.
Discussions must occur with people who have the money to open businesses in the city, he said, and it doesn't have to be people who can employ 100-200 people. What about if we go out and find an employer that will take on 10 people, and then another that will take on 10? Already we have 20 more people employed we didn't have before. As others look for that 100- or 200-job employer, we've got to start somewhere.
Once several of those are established, he added, others will find their way to Cannelton.
I don't think the economy and the population have dropped off that much over the last 30 years, McBrayer said. Seems like we have more voters than we had 10 years ago, so I'm just wondering if it's all that bad. Seems like our school corporation each year is producing more students, and that we've got the base here. We just need to take care of what we have and make sure we don't lose what we have.
The voter rate has increased because we've gone out and registered more voters, Graves said.
If there was equal representation, I would go along with it, McBrayer said in response to a question about consolidating school administrations or some of the functions they perform. Are we going to be an equal, or are we just going to be a part-timer when it comes time for suggestions and time for actions, are we going to have our say-so? I'm very concerned about that.
Graves said he, too, would be open to any discussion, but his biggest concern is whether the city will have that option after a commission assembled by the governor makes its recommendations in November or December.
The commission is examining ways to increase efficiency in a variety of local-government areas. Their recommendations may take that out of our hands, he said.
There may not be an option here, McBrayer agreed. We may need to see if we can come up with a better way to support the school systems in the county.
McBrayer said he agrees with council contenders who said earlier in the forum the city's infrastructure is its biggest challenge. Before you start thinking about people coming in, you have to have the infrastructure. If you don't, you're not going to be able to survive, and you're not going to be able to prosper.
It certainly is the infrastructure, Graves said, but you know, it was the infrastructure four years ago, and these things should have been looked at four years ago. Maybe they should have been looked at eight years ago. We just can't keep saying it is what it is and not accomplish something about it. Why at the end of the four-year term? Why weren't they on top of this when the first sewer went bad, when that first extra amount of flow water went into Tell City?
This program has been worked on since 1980, as a continuing process, McBrayer retorted. It's not just a thing we're doing here at election time. That's a real falsification. I've been here all my life, and I ought to know exactly what we've done and what we haven't done, and how the people have worked and strived to make this a better place to live, and they have. Most of them will tell you that that's progress.
McBrayer said he's talked with Perry County Development Corp., and he wouldn't object to rejoining the economic-development agency.
I've said all along we need to be a part of that, Graves said. I said it four years ago. I will remind the mayor and our citizens to go back to the minutes; not long after the new council sat down it was upon his recommendation that Cannelton drop out of the PCDC.
I did not make that proposal, McBrayer responded.