Thursday, July 2, 2009
‘A wonderful experience’
By BARRY BURLESON
Scooter Dempsey is leaving his mayor’s seat in Byhalia and turning it over to a good friend.
Dempsey, after two years as alderman and the past eight as mayor, did not seek reelection. Phil Malone ran unopposed for the town’s top spot. He will be sworn in July 6.
“I feel like everything has a season,” Dempsey said, “and I think my season is up. I have a lot of knowledge politically, but when you get tired you tend not to push as hard as you once did.
“I know Phil will be a good mayor. His ambition will be good and he will have more fire under him, plus he will have me as a resource. We’re best of friends.”
Dempsey believes he has been a part of building a better town.
“It has been a wonderful experience,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve been a part of accomplishing a lot. None of it would have been possible without the board of aldermen, the people’s support and a lot of patience.”
Sarah Sawyer, executive director of the Byhalia Area Chamber of Commerce, sees the town’s progress firsthand.
“Mayor Dempsey brought a new enthusiasm to the town hall and to the town of Byhalia,” she said. “I appreciate him working to improve the community.
“Even in a small town, there are so many bases to cover. People must pitch in, invest and get involved to keep Byhalia/Marshall County on the map for progress and improved quality of life. I feel Mayor Dempsey did this.
“There is no room for negativism, as it shows to the residents, businesses and our visitors. Positive comments and support of the mayor, the aldermen, the town employees and the chamber will create a win-win for all stakeholders of the Byhalia area and Marshall County. I thank them all as I see the dedication it takes to put yourself out there to make a difference”
Two big accomplishments during Dempsey’s mayoral tenure are still in the works but firmly in place.
The town will be developing a 160-acre park south of Stonewall Road – “one of the largest in the state,” Dempsey said.
It will encompass baseball and softball fields, a wildlife lookout, a swinging bridge, covered arena, picnic tables and much more. The land has already been bought.
“It’s for everybody – ages 2 months to 100 years,” Dempsey said. “You should see the master plan. It’s phenomenal.”
The town of Byhalia also recently closed a deal with the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which purchased land for the I-69 route.
“One hundred percent of that money is going into a CD with its sole use being to build that park,” Dempsey said. “The funding is in place, the land bought and we will be seeking grants to help with it, too.”
Dempsey said once he leaves office he still wants to be involved in the park project.
“As much as possible, I want to be a part of completing this deal,” he said.
He said he dreamed big dreams when he first took office.
“There’s nothing wrong with reaching as far as you can reach,” Dempsey said. “The groundwork gets done, but sometimes you don’t make it to the promised land (during your term).
“When you do big things, people want to see it right away, but if you do it for the right reasons, it won’t matter.”
Another one of those big projects is the purchase of the old Byhalia High School. Town hall was moved to an annex on the property, with plans to move into the original school building itself when renovations are complete.
“We keep applying for grants,” Dempsey said. “We just spent $150,000 on the project. Phil has a lot of great ideas, but he also is committed to keeping this project alive.”
Byhalia has seen phenomenal growth during Dempsey’s tenure.
“Just look in the books; sales tax collections have quadrupled,” he said. “Even our budget has quadrupled – revenues included.
“More growth is coming. It’s happening every day.”
He said census figures on Byhalia’s population, which shows 702, are not accurate.
He said the trade area – which stretches to the Victoria and Barton areas and even a bit of DeSoto County – includes probably 30,000 people who “call Byhalia home.”
Town of Byhalia officials have not raised taxes since 1988, he said.
The town recently named Leland Reed, who had served many years as a volunteer, as the first full-time, paid fire chief. He will also serve as code enforcer and building inspector. Gary Smoot was hired as public works director, replacing a retired William Rose.
Dempsey said the city employees play a key role in the town’s growth and success, and they will “free the new mayor up so he can actually be mayor.”
As for Dempsey, he will focus much of his attention on his business – the Dempsey Corporation. His grandfather started the construction business in 1938.
“We’ve been moving earth ever since, and we’re still going,” he said.
But Dempsey will still take an active role in the betterment of his town, and he will occasionally pull out some of the mail he received as mayor to stir the memories.
“I’ve kept everything everybody ever mailed me – good or bad,” he said.
One letter he referred to was from a young town of Byhalia resident, Devondre Bassett.
“When Libertyland closed in Memphis, he made a recommendation we open a theme park here,” Dempsey said. “He has written me before. It’s obvious he has a lot of interest in improving Byhalia.”
Dempsey is not ruling out a future in politics.
“Right now, I just want a break,” he said. “I feel like I”m getting out at a good time – maybe everybody doesn’t hate me, just a few.”
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