Leader Blues

Friday, June 05, 2009

TOP STORY >> Mayor-elect has his team ready to go

Leader staff writer

With a new mayor come new people and new ideas. Mayor-elect Gary Fletcher has already started to make plans for his new team to lead Jacksonville forward.

“To be a successful administration, you’ve got to surround yourself with a successful team,” he said.

“I’m going to have to get a lot done in just 12 months before I start thinking about re-election. I’ve got to show that I can get the work done,” Fletcher said.

The mayor-elect said he’s focused on three main areas: schools, annexation and re-examining the Graham Road closing.

His team to help him do this will include businessman Jim Durham as the director of administration to bring a “business and retail attitude to city hall.”

Current city administrator Jay Whisker, who has split his duties between administration and city engineer duties, will become the city engineer, a job he held previously.

Fletcher, 54, said it would be a lateral move and no reduction in pay. “We need Jay working full-time on our annexation issues, streets and drainage. It has to be someone with expertise who I can trust, and that’s Jay,” he said.

City planner Chip McCulley, who was hired when Whisker left city employment for a short time before coming back as the administrator, will stay on, too. “As city planner, his focus is on code enforcement and cleaning up the city,” Fletcher explained.

Fletcher, who will take over July 1, said the mayor’s job is not a one-man show. “We need a solid group of people working together for the best for Jacksonville,” he said.

Fletcher likened his election to fill the last 18 months of retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim’s term to a quarterback coming into the game in the fourth quarter. “I’ve got to move the team and score so I can get into the next game at the beginning,” he explained.

Once Fletcher moves into the mayor’s office, the city council will have to appoint a replacement to Fletcher’s council seat. “I expect there’ll be three or four applicants. It will be the council’s decision. I won’t endorse anyone,” he said.

The alderman candidate will have to live in Ward 4, which is basically north of Main Street and west of Hwy. 67/167.

Fletcher, like most Jacksonville residents, is upset with the way the school district has treated Jacksonville over the years. “I don’t feel they have a clue how to give us a quality education. Every day that problems persist is another day that it hurts our children,” he said.

Fletcher added that he was embarrassed by the condition of the city’s schools. “They need to be better than that. Our kids are better than that,” he said.

Fletcher said, “The mayor is the head of the city and has to be up in front on this issue and not take a wait-and-see attitude. We’ve been reactive too long. It’s time to take the bull by the horns.”

The mayor-elect is displeased with the movement of school administrators and putting all the middle school students back under one roof. “That building is undersized and not up to code,” he said.

Fletcher said as mayor he would offer the district an olive branch. “I want to play nice.”

Durham said Fletcher would approach the district with a carrot in one hand and a big stick in the other, in case the carrot doesn’t work.

When it comes to the question of the closed Graham Road crossing, which some residents feel has helped isolate Sunnyside from the rest of the city, Fletcher has said the issue needs revisiting.

“I don’t ever remember seeing an economic study, and we all know what happened economically. Closing that crossing has hurt a lot of people. We need to push and see exactly what it would cost us (to reopen it). I can’t see them making us pay all the money back,” he said.

Fletcher added that years ago there was talk about curving Main Street into Graham Road. “We need to look at that again.

We’ve got a $4 million overpass and will soon have a $7 million improved Graham Road with two one-way streets in the middle. Traffic needs to flow.”

Fletcher wants to annex everything north along Hwy. 67/167 up to the county line. “We need to expand, “ he said.

Fletcher has lived in Jacksonville since 1968 and has been on the council since 1978. He is president of Fletcher Homes. He is married and has two children and five grandchildren.