At a lot of small-town political forums, candidates often have trouble disagreeing. People usually want the same things for their towns, and it’s tough for mayoral candidates to argue when they share common desires and proffer similar solutions for local problems.
At least the two candidates in the Baileyton mayor’s race — Bill McElroy and incumbent Johnny Dyar — fundamentally disagree about a couple of things. At the town’s mayoral forum, held Monday at the Parkside Catfish restaurant, McElroy and Dyar parted ways in discussing the extent of Baileyton’s future growth, the benefits of county liquor sales, and how best to use the surplus million dollars sitting in municipal accounts.
“We need to grow, or we’re gonna die,” said McElroy. “We need to try to grow more than what we have. We don’t need to be as big as New York, but but we need more people and more businesses in here.”
“Yeah, we welcome people to put new businesses in here,” countered Dyar. “But survey yourself — how many people want Baileyton to really, really grow? It’s kind of like Mayberry to me. I love it.”
Dyar said he doesn’t want local government to zero out opportunities to draw more corporate and private residents into the town — he just doesn’t want anything to change too fast. And, he added, the location and scale of small towns like Baileyton offer potential newcomers unmatched benefits.
“We can’t compete with Dodge City — we’re not on the interstate. We can’t compete with towns that are right next to it,” he said. “But — I don’t know if you remember when Heritage Park [in Cullman] was having trouble ... but a man or a woman couldn’t bring their kids and watch them all over the walking trail.
“But, for months and months, we cleared the trees out of our park. And anyone in this building can go to the [Baileyton] park now, and watch their kids anywhere in the park, and not worry about their kids getting molested, or kidnapped, or whatever — and that’s the way you’re gonna get people to come to Baileyton. We ain’t got no crime. I’m proud of that.”
McElroy said the present town leaders have done some things well — they’ve saved a lot of money, they’ve built a nice senior center — but he doesn’t believe the mayor and town council should be content with slow progress, when there’s nearly $1 million in uncommitted funds that could be used to develop new recruiting opportunities for businesses that want to relocate there.
“This town is in pretty good shape — we’ve paid for everything we’ve done, and we’ve still got a good bit of money left,” said McElroy. “That’s the reason I say we can bring some businesses in here, and still have some money left and put more people to work ... I would like to run ads in the paper, and do anything we can in other towns, to let them know we’ve got property and we’ll welcome them ‘home.’ We’ve got to get out there and let them know that it’s available, and that’s something we’ve not done in the last few years. We’ve gotta advertise it.”
While liquor isn’t currently for sale in Cullman County and its smaller towns, that could change if a referendum on the issue ever brings about a ‘wet’ vote.
Dyar hopes that doesn’t happen.
“I’m not for it — absolutely not for it,” he said. “Yeah, we’d like to have the money, but what does it cost? It costs a lot. It costs families; it costs breakups. As long as I’m mayor, if we need the money ... our mayors of Cullman are close-knit, and I know they’ll help. That’s one of the things I like about Cullman County: When every town grows, it grows Baileyton also.”
McElroy said he doesn’t drink, but believes local governments can use the revenues that come when other people choose to spend money on liquor.
“The way I look at it is, if you drink — that’s your business,” McElroy said. “I don’t drink. But every town that has got [liquor sales] has prospered because of it. If the county; if Baileyton was to go ‘wet,’ that’s fine with me. We get the tax dollars, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Monday’s forum was the fifth in an ongoing eight-part series that continues at 6 p.m. today at the Brandin’ Iron Steakhouse, where mayoral candidates at West Point will field questions in a public meeting. Sponsored by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce and The Cullman Times, all the forums are free to attend, and don’t require a food purchase at the restaurants hosting the events.
*Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.