BUCKHANNON – He wasn’t re-elected in the June 9 city election, but Buckhannon mayor David McCauley happens to be the only city official who was not granted another term.
And to him, that indicates most residents are pleased with the direction in which the city is headed, McCauley said during his farewell remarks at Buckhannon City Council’s June 18 meeting.
McCauley’s final address ranged from an overview of council’s accomplishments since he took office in May 2016, to advice to mayor-elect Robbie Skinner, who assumes his post July 1, to his opinion on the most important character trait (kindness).
“Those who know me best know that I’ve always admitted to being a pretty lousy politician,” McCauley remarked. “I never aspired to politics. Political correctness and telling people what I think they want to hear isn’t one of my character traits. You’re always going to know what I think with no sugar coating and minimal spin.
“That said, I have a slight bit of spin relative to our 2018 and 2020 city elections that I’d like to observe,” he added. “With my exception, every single member of this Council was re-elected during the past two years. How much more validating could our citizenry be regarding their critique as to where our city has been heading?”
McCauley’s more-than-2,000-word speech is viewable in full here or on his Facebook page, but below we’ve highlighted several main themes.
On positive personnel changes and additions …
McCauley said he assumed the helm of the municipality during “one of the darkest chapters in our City’s long history.”
“First and foremost, integrity at City Hall had to be restored in order that our citizenry could regain confidence in our operations,” the mayor said. “Let there be no mincing of words – there was scandal, corruption, theft, bullying and outstanding felony drug warrants all pending here when I was sworn in.”
“Within three months, that criminal presence was entirely removed from this chamber,” McCauley continued. “Soon thereafter, we welcomed Susan Aloi as our new city recorder, and she was a refreshing improvement to our Council. Later, we welcomed Colin Reger as city recorder and now Randy Sanders. By the way, if anything were to ever happen to Buckhannon’s mayor, Randy Sanders would be a terrific mayor.”
(Sanders was appointed to fill the city recorder slot when Colin Reger unexpectedly announced his resignation but won a bid to continue serving in the 2020 city election.)
McCauley touted city officials’ decisions to hire Upshur County resident Tom O’Neill to replace a Huntington,W.Va.-based attorney and full-time information coordinator and grant writer Callie Cronin Sams.
“What an investment we realized with the hiring of Callie Cronin-Sams,” he said. “During the past four years, our City has realized well more than four million dollars in grant funding. Callie further has made us more information sharing and transparent than we’ve ever been before.”
McCauley applauded the city’s adoption of a director model – i.e. the promotions of Amberle Jenkins to city finance and administrative director and Jerry Arnold to public works director – over a city manager model.
“We did something unheard of,” he said. “We installed an entirely new form of city management oversight through the director model whereby Amby and Jerry ‘direct’ virtually all activities in finance, administration and public works. What a success that model has proven to be for Buckhannon. I think Morgantown has had about six city managers in a dozen years, and that entire city manager model seems to me to be a fractured one.”
On organization-wide improvements …
One of the most noteworthy changes that has been made over the past four years is the passage of a 1 percent municipal sales tax, which city officials have said will assist the municipality in accumulating about $1 million in revenue annually. That money can be used to fund vital infrastructure projects and revitalize the city’s stagnant revenue stream, McCauley said.
Another is the Buckhannon Police Department’s and Buckhannon Fire Department’s agreements to work toward attaining professional accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, respectively.
On competency and cronyism …
Noting he’d made an effort to correct cronyism on the city’s boards, commissions, council’s and committees – council did indeed ‘gut’ the Planning Commission, leaving only three of its prior members intact – McCauley advised mayor-elect Skinner to do the same.
“To be clear cronyism is defined as, ‘the appointment of friends a associates to positions of authority, without proper regard to their qualifications,’” McCauley said. “To Mayor-elect Skinner – and this won’t be the last time you hear me offer this unsolicited advice, Robbie – avoid cronyism at all cost. First and foremost, keep our organization competent! The dividends that competency pays will be realized by our community for decades to come. Buckhannon has never been more competent than what it is right now.”
On projects and initiatives he wants to see continue …
McCauley encouraged the next administration and council to keep tabs on the county Public Service Districts that partner with the city relative to water and sewer service by ensuring they share their meeting agendas and minutes.
“With sewage we continue to expose the huge infiltration and inflow issues with the Tennerton Public Service District, and with water we continue to observe the immense water loss where as much as a half-gallon of treated, potable water for every gallon delivered is allowed to seep into the ground particularly with the Hodgesville Public Service District,” he said. “This waste has to be policed and the PSDs have to do a much better job at fixing these leaks.”
McCauley suggested that the city continue to try to negotiate with the Knights of Pythias for the land on which their building is situated. McCauley wants that to be razed so it can function as the setting of a new multi-purpose gymnasium/addition to Stockert Youth & Community Center.
“We’ve tried to get them back to the negotiation table for months now without success,” the mayor said. “That property is indispensable to our development of the much-needed space for our B-U children at Stockert. We have to acquire it. If the Knights won’t negotiate, our City needs to proceed through eminent domain.”
McCauley has three regrets, and they’re “not breaking ground yet on our new Stockert Building, not being successful yet with our AML (Abandoned Mine Land) grant to greatly extend our river walk trail and not having yet completed our Colonial Theatre.”
Noting the restoration of the historic Colonial Theatre is 75 percent finished, McCauley said, “Mr. Skinner, those are your projects to complete. I will help anyway I can.”
On diversity and inclusivity …
“My mantra during my entire time as mayor has been, “We’re all in it together.” I repeatedly have emphasized that all means all,” he said. “Inclusivity is the morally correct thing to strive for and try to implement.”
Naming Amby Jenkins, Callie Cronin Sams, horticulturist Dixie Green and police officer Angel McCauley, the mayor said the city employs more women in important positions that it ever has.
“Add in our excellent City Hall and Stockert staffs, and it’s difficult to imagine where our organization would be without our amazing female employees. I’d be lost without Teresa Summers (mayoral secretary), by the way. Through our Diversity Appreciation Coalition, we have recognized great women from our community’s past – Binky Poundstone, Jean Lee Latham, Joyce Stockert and Mary Gibson. Ladies, we appreciate you!”
McCauley said he’s often been criticized for stressing the importance of including Black people, gay people, addicts and other marginalized individuals.
“There are many lost souls out there worthy of saving, and if we provide the support, many of those struggling with drugs or alcohol today can be returned to being productive citizens tomorrow,” he said, referencing people struggling with addiction. “Don’t tell me that, ‘those people deserve to die.’”
On the failed LGBTQ anti-discrimination law, Ordinance 434 …
“It’s been nearly 18 months since Ordinance 434 narrowly failed before this body,” McCauley said. “I said then that our Constitution embracing equal protection and due process along with federal statutes accorded protections to our LGBTQ citizens, and how vindicating it was to read the opinions of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch earlier this week declaring exactly that.”
“The United States Supreme Court in sweeping fashion essentially passed our Buckhannon ordinance in the Bostock, Zarda and Stephens’ cases that were handed down on June 15.”
In January 2019, the City of Buckhannon’s non-discrimination ordinance failed by a vote of 4-3. The proposed law’s primary purpose was to assert an individual’s right not to be discriminated against based on sexuality and gender identity in public accommodations.
On personal challenges and the importance of kindness …
McCauley admitted he’s had a tough row to hoe over the past four years from a personal standpoint.
“I have had my own personal challenges during the past four years with my dad’s passing in August of 2018, my son’s past struggles with substance abuse – he’s doing great now though – my divorce last year from Cathy, [who is], my mom aside, the best lady I’ve ever known. But the past four years did allow me to increase my monkey (grandchildren) collection from five to seven,” the mayor said.
“I’m no different than anyone else: My family means everything to me, and I like to think that some of the improvements we’ve realized here were inspired by knowing that they, too, would benefit from them. It has been my great honor & privilege to serve as your mayor these past 50 months. I can tell you without a stutter or a stammer that I have given the job all I had.”
“Finally, and I’ve said this before, of all of the attributes that we may manifest as human beings, I believe the most important one is the virtue of kindness. Please care about and be kind to each other. We truly are all in this together.”