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Small-town mayors face similar problems wherever they might be
Or So It Seems

Mayor Herbert Arihood said Mayor Kenneth Usry sounds like a nice fellow.

"I'd say so," I agreed.

Arihood accepted my visit Friday morning, in the closing days of a three-way race for renomination. But his campaign signs already were firmly planted around town. In local custom, his signs shared lawns with signs for his challengers.

And if folks hadn't gotten to know Herb since he graduated from the local high school in 1957, they probably weren't going to get to know Herb on election eve.

So he took a minute to visit, to play the gracious host, and to talk about the challenges that face cities the size of Thomson, Ga., and Rensselaer, Ind.

"If you don't grow, you're really falling behind," he said.

But our subject was neither taxes nor economic development. It was people.

The Midwestern mayor had good memories of his time in the South, in the military in Alabama. "If I hadn't had family interests that required me to be back North, I would have stayed," he said.

Southern hospitality is no myth, he said. "It's almost a magnet attraction," he said. "Everybody bends over backward to be pleasant. It's like you're wearing a sign on your back that says 'Be nice to me.' "

My stop at the mayor's office in my former hometown started as a courtesy call, with an ear to column ideas. It turned into a friendly visit.

We discussed the city's plan to rebuild some sort of a depot. Arihood's city has passenger rail service but no depot.

Usry's city still has a depot but no passenger service.

"The woodwork was beautiful in that place," Arihood recalled of the old stop on the Monon Railroad, which connected Chicago and Louisville, Ky. The building has been gone since the early '70s.

Thomson still has a great depot, I told him. It's rented an average of once a day, and the rate has been higher.

That notion had appeal to the guy who financed his own one-man campaign to save the old WPA high school building I once attended.

He had won a delay. But, like the depot, the school was razed.

Both fed the inevitable realization of the definition of a landmark. A landmark is the building we now realize we should not have demolished last week.

I could have told him that Thomson has a far better record in that area, but I realized that one city's failures were not one man's failures. And the mayor already had been generous with his time.

Arihood said a future building at the former depot site will not be as grand as the depot that was lost, but it could house the chamber of commerce and help welcome visitors. At least that.

Arihood sent me on my way with one of his business cards for Usry.

"We have universal problems. and I'm sure he's a decent person who cares about his community," Arihood said.

"I hope you call him 'Mayor Usry' when you address him," Mayor Arihood said.

"Well, we had about 50 dignitaries in town and I called him 'your honor,'" I replied.

Mayor Arihood scribbled on the back of the card he was sending to Mayor Usry.

"Oops, I misspelled 'greetings,' " Arihood said.

"That's OK," I assured him. "He's used to reading my column."

Web posted on Thursday, May 05, 2011

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