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McCoy questions investigation

VALLEY — On Monday, Lanett Mayor Kyle McCoy questioned whether an ethics investigation of his office was politically motivated. McCoy was the guest speaker at Monday’s meeting of the Valley Lions Club and was asked if this coming on the eve of an election was coincidental.

“It’s sad,’ he said. “We have accomplished so much over the last four years. This is an attempt to tarnish me, but it also tarnishes the city, and that’s not good just before an election. It seems really curious for this to come up at this time.”

“The city,” said McCoy, “is more than one person. It’s also the other members of the council, the department heads and everyone who works for the city. We would not have accomplished what we have for the past four years without everyone working together in a team effort. I could not have applied for grants without the council’s approval. It’s so disappointing this is what some people have chosen to pursue. We need to be looking at the future of our city.”

McCoy said that he refused to get down in the mud and attack people personally. “It’s like what former Governor “Big Jim” Folsom used to say: ‘When you start throwing mud, it has a way of sticking to you and will never come off.’ It will always stay with you if you are like that.”

The Alabama Ethics Commission recently ruled that there was enough probable cause to forward an investigation to the attorney general’s office. No charges have been made as of Tuesday.

In his talk to the Lions Club, McCoy said he believes the city has accomplished a lot over the past four years.

“Our number one project was to get something done with the Lanett Mill site,” he said. “We had gotten nothing but complaints about that ever since I had been on the council. The first thing we had to do was to get control of the property by purchasing it.”

The purchase was worked out with some assistance from the Alabama Municipal Electric Authority (AMEA) and the Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA). City employees did a remarkable job in cleaning off huge swaths of the mill site, so much so that it attracted the interest of a major company with stores in 49 states. A new Tractor Supply store is now on the south side of the former mill property.

“COVID-19 has really helped their business,” McCoy said. “People staying closer to home got people to come there who might not otherwise have gone there. They liked what they saw and have been coming back.”

McCoy said the city has a master plan to develop the mill site into a commercial zone. The historic water tower will remain and be the focal point of a new shopping district, perhaps named Mill Tower Plaza.

“We will have a main road leading to a roundabout around the tower and branching off to different stores,” McCoy said. “We are looking to have green space on the backside.”

Also remaining will be the historic structure off Highway 29 where mill workers once waited for a ride home on the CV passenger vehicles commonly known as nickel buses. That same structure appears in the background of a well-known Cobb Archives photo of a smiling and waving President Franklin Roosevelt on a tour of the Valley in March 1940. It’s commonly believed that the largest crowd ever assembled for a single event in the Valley lined Highway 29 four and five rows deep from one end of the Valley to the other that day. West Point Manufacturing Company President George H. Lanier made sure there would be a big crowd that day by closing the mills during the time the president’s motorcade drove through. The mill employees gathered by the roadside along with local school children to make for a big show and FDR loved it.

McCoy said he was pleased with what’s been done with the streetscape project and that it could be finished in 2021. He likes to call it a T with North Lanier Avenue being the bottom leg and First Street across the top.  A bid opening will be taking place at city hall on Thursday of this week. Should a low bidder be selected at that time, work could soon begin to finish the east side of North Lanier. This will run from the Tanyard Creek bridge to Cherry Drive. It will have the same look as the completed portions with wide sidewalks, ample drainage areas, planters with flowers and small trees and decorative lighting. One difference will be that wooden power poles will be replaced with metal ones, continuing the classic decorative lighting look.

Work will also be starting on the First Street portion of the streetscape. Work is slated from Gwen’s Tax Service to the Lanett Housing Authority building on the north side of the street and an area near the First Christian Church on the south side. The city will be seeking a $512,000 grant next year to finish out the First Street portion from Highway 29 to Eighth Avenue near Veterans Park and W.O. Lance Elementary School. This will complete the T.

McCoy said that there’s always been a sense of one community from one end of the Valley to the other and that it is high time for the area’s leaders to act that way.

“In the old days, it didn’t matter if you lived in Fairfax and worked in Lanett or vice versa. There was a sense of being from the same community. I’m pleased that we are now that way with our city governments and the Chambers County Commission. The big picture isn’t one town or one neighborhood, it’s the entire area. The more we can do for the betterment of the entire county the better. If having a better airport in Lanett is to the benefit of John Soules Foods (a future Valley plant), that’s good.”

It’s also good for the plants in the Cusseta Industrial Park and in the Huguley park.

A member of the club asked McCoy if the city would continue demolishing old, abandoned houses. He said this would continue but as a last resort.

“We don’t want to tear your house down,” he said. “We will work with any homeowner who works with us. We want every house in the city livable with people who are using city services. It’s better to rehab a house than to tear it down. It helps the city when people improve their properties.”

McCoy said the city will have a new system coming in that’s known as AMI, or automated metering information. New meters will be going in at every house in the city. They can be turned on and off at city hall.

“This will help people better budget for their utility bills,” he said. “You will have an option for a pre-pay bill. You can tell how much electricity is being used at your house or business on your phone.”

The mayor said that Lanett’s membership in the AMEA was a big part of the city being able to do this. A major advantage of the system is that it will allow the city to purchase electricity at ideal times, thus lowering the cost to consumers.

McCoy said that the city is coming through the COVID-19 pandemic in better shape than many other cities.

“We got a letter last week from Standard & Poor’s on our credit rating,” he said. “It was on the subject of how COVID-19 was affecting small towns. While some cities’ credit ratings have been coming down, ours is holding up. It’s still an A, which is very good. They told us it could have been even better had it not been for the pandemic. Planning, budgeting and implementing our assets are a big part of a good rating. We are in better financial shape than we have been in a long time. I credit this to our department heads paying close attention to their budgets and having people at city hall like Deborah Gilbert and Kelly Walton.”

McCoy added that the Lanett City School System was a tremendous asset to the city. He said that former Superintendent Phillip Johnson had done a good job as a money manager.  He said that the current superintendent, Jennifer Boyd, was doing very good in this regard as well. The fact that she’s a product of Lanett City Schools is an added bonus.

“She has the kind of personality that just inspires confidence in people,” McCoy said. “We have a really good school system in Lanett. We have good teachers, administrators, support staff and students.”