As Decatur prepares to swear in Don Kyle as mayor today, outgoing Mayor Don Stanford plans to return to his old life as a retiree and grandfather of five.
The 70-year-old former postmaster and basketball referee doesn’t see politics in his future. He plans to spend time with his family and stay involved in the community and in contact with the friends he made while in office.
“That’s going to be the hardest part, saying goodbye to all the employees I’ve worked with for the past four years,” Stanford said. “I consider myself a people person, and I’ve always enjoyed interacting and joking around with our employees. We’ve got some of the best ones around.”
Despite his well-known affable and approachable demeanor, the spotlight of the mayor’s office proved to be too bright for Stanford at times. His tenure began with a surprise upset over former mayor Kyle, but it wasn’t long until he drew the ire of Councilmen Billy Jackson and Ronny Russell at public meetings.
The controversy continued with the departure of a string of high-profile department heads amid allegations of a personnel “hit list.” The nation’s economy simultaneously imploded with the housing market crash, and soon the city’s dwindling revenues could not meet mounting operating expenses. City services were cut to cover deficits.
Then came a lawsuit from retired Chief Finance Officer Gail Busbey and a referendum to change Decatur’s form of government. Residents had lost confidence in City Hall.
Since then, though, Decatur’s economy has sprung back with new shops, restaurants, a movie theater under construction and a revived downtown. The past two years of Stanford’s administration have been opposites of the first two. But the quick turnaround did not translate into votes, and Stanford fell victim to the mayor’s curse of only getting elected to one term. He didn’t even get to the runoff election.
“It’s been a four-year journey, and it’s been a very good one,” Stanford said at his sixth-floor office overlooking downtown. “Like any journey, sometimes the road gets rough, and you hit some bad spots. But you keep going and the road gets smooth again, and you find some good spots along the way.
“The good stops always outweighed the bad ones.”
Stanford said he’s confident Kyle’s experience as mayor from 2004 to 2008 will serve him well, but his biggest challenges will be the same ones he faced as mayor: the budget and aging infrastructure.
“We’ve got to keep our economic development going to handle our budget,” Stanford said. “City Hall is 40 years old. The pipes are clogged. We’re about to outgrow our city jail, and the Police Department is on top of each other. We’ve got old public facilities and recreation centers that are going to need upgrading. All those things take money.”
Stanford takes pride in the personnel Kyle, 62, will inherit.
He points to the hiring of Police Chief Ed Taylor, Fire Chief Darwin Clark, City Clerk Stacy Gilley and Community and Economic Development Director Wally Terry as key to improvements in not only operations, but the overall environment at City Hall. Kyle has proposed even more changes and plans to study the city’s operational structure to seek out efficiencies and cross-train employees.
Stanford cautioned the City Council — all but one are incumbents — about meddling with department heads.
“You hire them (department heads), and then you’ve got to get out of the way and let them do their job,” he said.
Landfill Director Rickey Terry said he appreciated that about Stanford’s management style.
“He was very supportive of our endeavors out here, and I felt like he trusted me to do the job and to do it the way I know how it needs to be done,” Terry said. “He was instrumental in us getting the recycling program up and running, and that’s been a big benefit for our city, too.”
Stanford would start work each day around 6:45 a.m. just as police officers changed shifts. He would make his rounds from department to department, checking in with employees throughout the day. Taylor said he always felt Stanford kept the Police Department’s interests in mind.
“He was a common visitor at our morning meetings,” Taylor said. “He made a point to stick his head in and say hello, listen to what we had going on or coming and encourage us and thanked us for doing a good job.”
It didn’t take long for clerks at City Hall to realize Stanford wasn’t like other elected officials.
“He came in during qualifying back in 2008 and said, ‘Hello, I’m Don Stanford, and I’m going to be your next mayor. What’s your name?,’ ” recalls Micah Reed, who works in the city clerk’s office. “He learned our names then and would always come in to say ‘Hi.’ Not everybody elected to office is like that.”
The one regret Stanford said he has is that he couldn’t get more raises for the 500-plus full-time employees. Decatur’s pay was once competitive with Huntsville and Florence, but now it falls behind smaller towns such as Hartselle and Athens.
“The budget has been tight all four years while I’ve been in office,” Stanford said. “I think our employees are the No. 1 economic developer we have. If you pay them a good wage, they can go out and spend it here in Decatur.”
Stanford won’t miss the phone calls from irate residents. He said he tried to apply his basketball referee experience to calm down callers, and find out why they were upset and how to help them.
“A lot of residents don’t understand the workings of City Hall until something goes wrong,” he said. “By the time they get to me, they’re pretty mad and ready to come to City Hall about it. But even with all that, it’s been a very enjoyable four years. I’ve been blessed to have this opportunity to meet people and see places I never thought I would have the chance to. It just goes by so fast. It seems like yesterday I was elected and sworn into office.”
Not registered? Click here
|High School Sports||@DecaturPreps|