McBrayer feels city progressed under his watch

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

CANNELTON - Melvin McBrayer has mixed emotions about leaving his post as Cannelton mayor, saying Wednesday "it will take some time to calm down" after serving the city for 20 years.

"I intend to be visible, help as much as I can and ensure the new mayor has as much information as he can," he said. At the first of the year, McBrayer will turn the reins of the city over to Morris "Smokey" Graves, who defeated him in November's general election.

The outgoing mayor defeated incumbent Mark Gerlach and challenger Steve Bennett in the 2003 primary to earn the Republican spot on the general election, then went on to win the resulting contest, which featured Graves as his Democrat opponent.

Bipartisan Cooperation

That election put three Demo-crats on the five-seat council, but McBrayer said last week that wasn't a problem in the four years that followed.

"We were usually on the same track," he said. Each councilman made contributions in a variety of areas such as insurance or cleaning up the city, he continued, adding each member realized "the city needs a boost, and that's still true today."

Efforts to work together have been obvious in recent meetings, as the mayor and council have tried in various areas to resolve some issues and step back from others. They don't want to pass problems on to the incoming administration, but are cautious about saddling them with expensive solutions.

The mayor said disagreements have arisen during his last term, but when they did, "most council members were pretty aggressive about going to the source, finding out what we need to do and how to do it right."

As he has in the past, the retired Can-Clay employee said he didn't look at political affiliations when someone brought a problem to him.

"I'm not one to say, 'this is my party; I'll take care of my party.' I believe I'm a conservative mayor, and I do what needs to be done for the city," he said.

To do the job that pays only $18,500 a year, "you have to have some interest in the job," he noted. "If you don't, you don't need to do the job."

Because he was retired from his private-sector job, he was able to provide an office where residents could find someone to voice their concerns, he boasted, saying it was a first for the city.

New Mayor and Council

"It will be hard for them the first year," McBrayer said of the incoming administration. Of the city's five council and one clerk-treasurer positions, the only incumbent who'll return in 2008 is Council-man Louis "Snooks" Scarboro.

Of outgoing Clerk-Treasurer Mary Snyder, McBrayer said, "I was really glad to have her the last four years. She set a real good example for how you should run a city and its budget."

Snyder told McBrayer a few times, "Mayor, you can't do that," he recalled, "but I never saw that as a put-down. She knows a lot, and was really an asset. She took over at a tough time," he continued, referring to Snyder's efforts to reconcile city accounts left behind by a predecessor jailed for stealing city funds. "Up to the end," McBrayer went on, Snyder "has been getting everything straightened out for the new administration."

Good Progress

The mayor said good committees have formed, such as the Cannelton Merchants Associa-tion, "and if they continue to work together, I think the city will be fine."

He's proud of progress the city has made in recent years, saying it has done well in obtaining grants that helped keep equipment upgraded. The city's sanitation and street departments have taken advantage of surplus sales, which "saved a lot of dollars." Police and fire departments have also undergone upgrades, he noted.

He gave credit to his predecessor for expanding the fire station, which allowed the city to buy a new fire truck. The existing station couldn't accommodate the height today's trucks are built.

"I think we've done a real good job," McBrayer said. "Those areas are in real good shape. Those guys step way above to make sure we get our protection. All in all, we did some good things for our departments."

Insurmountable Challenges

McBrayer said the biggest challenges he faced were trying to get a bank and grocery store back into the city. "It never materialized, even though I worked hard on it the first two years" of his current term, he said. Fifth Third Bank had a branch in the city until 2003. That building was subsequently bought by the Cannelton City Schools Corp., and now serves the city's youngest pupils as the William Bennett Early Learning Center.

"It's sad to think our older folks might have to get a cab to do their banking," the mayor said. A Fifth Third Bank official he talked to said the city didn't really need a bank, McBrayer said, because the drive time to Tell City is short.

He talked to representatives of several banks, he said, "and each time we had two or three meetings, then the bottom just dropped out; it never did develop." Some constituents have asked about the former bank building, but besides having a new owner and use, a stipulation included in its sale was that it wouldn't be used as a bank for 10 years.

Of the discussions with other bankers, "I never got anything concrete, even as far as putting in an ATM," McBrayer said.

A grocery store opened in the city for a time, but it, too, went by the wayside. Its building now houses a day-care center. He "called countless places" in efforts to get a replacement, he said, "but I didn't get much reply."

He worked to get a drug store to open in the city, too, he said, noting that "some people have to walk from Cannelton to Wal-Mart to get their drugs."

What's Next?

McBrayer said he has no real plans for what he'll do next, other than spend more time with his family. "For now, I'll sit back and see how things develop," he said. He has been approached about running for a county-council or -commissioner seat, but isn't sure whether he'll pursue either of those.

With major items on a long-term plan completed - an expanded fire station and new library, community center and fire truck - and with work toward other infrastructure up-grades being launched, he feels good about how the city has progressed during his watch.

His oversight of the city's business extends well past the last four years, to his first term as mayor in the early 1980s and the intervening years he's served as councilman.

"I feel like we've done real well the last 12 to 14 years," he said. "There are quite a few things in Cannelton that weren't here."

While he must vacate the mayor's chair, he doesn't plan to disappear. "I'll be around," he said. "I'll listen and watch, and if I have to state my opinion, I will. That's the duty of a citizen."