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Major mayoral memories

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Four former mayors of Shelbyville gather to discuss their contributions to a growing city that they hold in great, shared pride.

By Lisa King

When four former mayors of Shelbyville get together to talk about their heydays, there's bound to be some reminiscing, some joking and even some well-deserved boasting.

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There was all of that and more when Marshall Long, Neil Hackworth, Donald Cubert Sr. and David Eaton – men who bridged two decades at the helm of Shelby County’s  seat – gathered Thursday night as the “featured speakers” for a meeting of the Shelby County Historical Society.

The term "speakers" might be a little misleading in this case, because the four did not take to a podium to address their audience.

Instead, they sat side by side in a cozy setting in the living room of the home of Ron and Kay Waldridge on Cropper Road while about 50 residents sat in a tight circle around them.

At the request of Jack Brammer, the society's vice president, who led the discussion, they described what they considered to be the highlights of their administrations. And each spoke with pride and often with humor.

Long, who was mayor from 1974-82, began by describing his first day in office as turbulent because he had to deal with officials of Playboymagazine, who were upset because the city would not allow them to display and sell their publication at Shelbyville's convenience stores.

"We had conversations back and forth with their people in Chicago, and finally I said, 'If they put them [magazines] under the counter, would that be O.K.?' And they said yes."

"Ever since then, I've told people I settled that for a year's subscription," Long said to a burst of laughter.

On a more serious note, he talked about how the city grew during his time as mayor, starting out with five police officers and ending with 11, including the department's first African-American officer and its first female.

Long, who now is a real estate broker and vice president of the Shelby County Industrial & Development Foundation, recalled the city's expansion, especially of its sewer systems, and how, in those days before City Hall was built, the city council met in the basement of the library.

Hackworth said he was proud to have worked with some great council members during his 15 years (1982-95), and he said they really made a difference in an economic time that he said was comparable to today’s.

"Times were tough, industry had pretty much stopped locating here, and the budget was tight, because President [Ronald] Regan took well over a hundred thousand dollars out of my budget when he cut out revenue sharing," he said. "We came to the conclusion the only thing we could do was raise taxes.

“That's when we proposed the occupational tax, and that caused a lot of controversy."

But the change ended well, he said, especially because the Budd Company(now Martinrea Heavy Stamping) located in Shelby County, and county native Martha Layne Collins was governor, which certainly didn’t hurt, he said.

He said he was especially proud of the Shelbyville 2000 plan, a vision for the future that included plans for a city hall, a new courthouse and a bypass.

"And now, twenty some years later, it's good to be able to see that vision fulfilled," he said.

Cubert, a longtime member of the city council and various city and county boards who was mayor for a year in 1995 after Hackworth resigned to join Kentucky League of Cities, started out by saying, "Well, I'm glad Neil said all that, because that's what I was going to say."

Then, more in a more serious tone, he talked about getting a $325,000 grant for a streetscape project, the ground breaking for the new city hall and especially the beginning of a new spirit of cooperation among government entities.

"I was really proud of the way the city and county governments came together and worked as one," he said.

"This will be my 28th year in city government altogether," he said. "I love this community, and I will continue to do what I can for it as long as I can."

Eaton, mayor from 1995-2002, also opened in a light-hearted vein, by saying that three mayors to date have lived on Cherokee Drive.

"That's because it always gets plowed in the wintertime," someone called out from the audience.

After the laughter died down, Eaton, now city administrator in Simpsonville, said he didn't view his time as mayor as having made accomplishments but, rather, as having been able to be a part of that process.

"I may have gotten to be the one in the hard hat [at ground breakings], but the others before me made it happen," he said.

Then the audience started firing questions, asking about everything from streakers at the A&P grocery store to whether they would be for or against a merged city/county government.

Eaton fielded that question first and said he didn’t think that would be a good idea.

"A bigger government would not necessarily be a better government," he said. "The bigger the government gets, the less connection you have with the people."

All of them agreed, and then Long made a brief observation that the recently released census data will require to come true:

The county’s seven magisterial districts, he said, could be divided better to give residents better representation.