As petitions begin circulating for the spring 2021 election, one familiar face won’t be asking for signatures.
“Right now, my intentions are not to seek re-election,” Metropolis Mayor Billy McDaniel confirmed Wednes-
day, Sept. 23.
McDaniel has spent the last 20 years serving the City of Metropolis — four years as Ward 3 alderman from 2001-05 and 16 as mayor from 2005 to 2021. For 32 years prior, he was the owner of Bill’s Bar-B-Q, a business started by his father in 1965; McDaniel began working there in 1970 and bought it when his father retired.
“Between two occupations, I’ve had 50-something years,” he said. “In some ways, I’m going to regret it (not running for re-election). I’m going to miss it. But I think it’s time for me in my life to move on to the next chapter.”
McDaniel’s office reflects his love for the city he grew up in and serves. Along with family photos, all things Superman — including a photo of the Superman Celebration’s official Man of Steel, Josh Boultinghouse, holding the mayor; other assorted photos, posters and statues — adorn every nook and cranny.
“You create a bond out of this office,” he said, reflecting on Metropolis events such as the Superman Celebration, archery tournament and Fort Massac Encampment. “Many of the people, probably a great percentage of the Superman people, are here every year. You look forward to each and every one of them coming back each and every year. If something happens where they don’t come, you wonder where they were. I’ll miss that personal relationship with the community.”
The mayor’s open-door policy — he’s at the office every day from 5:30 a.m. until 4:30 or 5 — offers another dynamic for the city he serves.
“I think one reason I’ve had a successful term is I’ve always been accessible to the public — even if I know you’re mad, I’m going to sit politely and listen to you, then if I can help you, I’ll help you, and if I can’t, I won’t lie to you. I’ll just politely tell you: ‘I can make your problem better’ or ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do anything about that,’ ” McDaniel said. “I believe in honesty and dealing with the problems that come around. You’ve got problems every day. But you do what you can in a good spirit and a loving heart and a good attitude.
“And there’s going to be people who read (this) article and say, ‘Well, that’s not the way he was.’ Well, that’s probably because they didn’t get their way; that’s OK, too.”
An unexpected chapter
When McDaniel decided to sell the barbecue business in 2001, he received several suggestions of what he should do next.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be satisfied to sit at home,” he said.
Then, someone suggested he run for alderman.
“I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’ll try that,’ ” he said. “There was probably more politics in the barbecue business than city hall. We decided a lot of important things down there.”
McDaniel’s years as alderman gave him a better glance into city government.
“There’s a lot that goes on that the general public doesn’t realize in municipal government — what you’ve got to do and how you’ve got to do it,” he said. “There’s a lot of things average, everyday individuals (ask) ‘Why don’t you do this?’ ‘Why can’t you do that?’ Well, you just can’t.
“I did enjoy being an alderman,” he continued, noting he’s being asked now if he’d run for alderman again: “You never know what’s going to happen.”
During his term as alderman, McDaniel decided to run for mayor.
“I was fortunate enough to be elected. Since an alderman, I’ve run four times for mayor, been fortunate enough that the people elected (me). I have enjoyed it,” he said. “I didn’t know when I started I’d make a career out of it, but we have accomplished a lot.”
A team effort
Over 20 years in Metropolis government, McDaniel has seen many come and go — from employees to elected officials on multiple levels, but one thing remains constant.
“The mayor will get credit and be criticized for a lot of things, but a mayor can be just as efficient as the employees and elected officials who serve on city government. One person cannot do an effective job without cooperation,” he said. “We have accomplished a lot. It’s an accomplishment that the mayor can’t take (alone) — you surround yourself with the best people you can as far as employment and then hope you get a good workable council.”
Metropolis’ eight person city council runs on a four-year term with half the aldermen up for election every two years. Through that rotation, “we’ve always had a good, diversified council,” McDaniel said. “What makes it better is as the senior aldermen get more experience, you have new aldermen coming on and they grow with the job. I’ve always had a very good working relationship with the aldermen. I appreciate the job they do. You don’t agree on everything and there is difference of opinion. but that’s what makes a good healthy political arena. It can’t be all about one thing or one opinion.”
It’s the decisions those councils have made, McDaniel said, that have put Metropolis “in a better position now.”
From his time as alderman to mayor, McDaniel has seen, and been part of, many changes for the city. Among them are:
• Revenue — “Twenty years ago we were plugging in $2- and $3 million holes that were coming out of the general fund to help supplement the cost of employees in the water, sewer and electric departments. We’ve got our revenue stream up to where it should be as a city. We’re self-sustaining in our utilities — we make enough to pay our bills, our employees, plus improvements. You’ve got three departments — street, fire and police — you don’t get any revenue compared to paying the cost. So we’ve picked up enough slack in all them, and we’ve still been able to maintain the police and fire pension funds; I’m very proud of that.”
• For senior and youth — McDaniel said the programs the city is able to provide for its seniors and youth — from Happy Hearts Senior Center to the state-of-the art soccer complex and baseball facility are “near and dear” to his heart. “You’re just as strong as your senior programs and your youth programs. It takes all of it to make a community,” he said.
• Zoning — “Zoning is probably one of the single most important things that in a small community that you can do. We are still reeling from the affects of subdivisions that have been built in the last 50 years that didn’t provide for drainage or parking,” McDaniel said. “The zoning will make sure that as you put in a business, you’ve got to have adequate parking. We’ll be a better place in years to come with zoning because of the fact you need it.”
• Plant improvements — From a new water plant to the sewer separation project to a new sewer plant underway, “I really appreciate the support we’ve had through the elected officials working on projects and getting them done,” McDaniel said. To make these projects possible, “we’re fortunate that through several years we’ve established a good credit rating with the state and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) (so) we’re capable of borrowing money. But we wouldn’t have been able to do if we hadn’t had leadership from our elected officials to get our house in order. No matter who comes out of the (2021 consolidated) election, they’ve already got the platform established for the projects, and it’ll be OK.”
• The industrial park — Located just off the interstate, the industrial park has several tenants plus the Shawnee Community College Metro Center. “It’s always exciting when you start a project from the ground up and you complete that project,” McDaniel said.
And the flip side
Over the last 16 years, McDaniel has witnessed many good times for Metropolis, but with those also come the bad times — the 200-year flood in 2011, the 150-year ice storm in 2009, tornados hitting Massac County.
“I thought until this year we’d dealt with about everything,” he said.
McDaniel noted the city’s revenue stream takes hits during these bad times, but nothing like what COVID-19 has done. The city’s revue portion from Harrah’s Casino is down around $1 million. Sales tax revenue from small businesses is taking a hit. The city’s Motor Fuel Tax revenue, which is a percentage tax per gallon of gasoline and is used to fund city street repairs, is lower.
“If people aren’t working, they’re not driving. And it makes a difference how much gasoline is. Five% of $2 isn’t a lot,” he said. “And just the fact of no traveling — you’re not getting travelers through the truck stop and coming in to Metropolis for the Superman Celebration, the archery tournament, Encampment. All that affects revenue.”
Amongst the photos and Superman paraphernalia in McDaniel’s office are beagle pictures and statues. He’s started competitive field trialing of beagles in the late 1980s to early ‘90s.
“I still mess with those beagles. I’ve always been a sportsman. I enjoy going to the gun club and shooting pistols and stuff like that. So I can do that, don’t have time to now,” he said. “I’m probably going to have to help Miss Betty. She’s been the gardner and the landscape person. For 15 years, she’s mowed the yard a whole lot more often than I have.”
McDaniel and his wife Betty will be married 52 years come Dec. 15. Their daughter Robbin McDaniel is employed with Massac Memorial Hospital.
Having the time to do those things will be something new for McDaniel. In his 16 years as mayor, he’s never taken a vacation, has taken very few days off and is only away for the office for the three days of the power company conference in Washington, D.C.
“It’s accepted of you and expected of you to be a social person at events. But in my private life, I’ve practiced social distancing for a long time,” he said.
So with that kind of work ethic, that means McDaniel as mayor has worked some 51,648 hours in just over 4300 days.
“I can honestly say I’ve never, ever in the 16 years as mayor and four as alderman, I’ve never dreaded getting up in the morning and going to work,” he said. “I have not regretted it in any way. I’ve met some great people. I’ve worked with a tremendous amount of elected officials. I’ve got many, many, many, many more good memories than I have bad.
“I’ve had a really, really, really good time, and I know there’s going to be people I miss,” he continued. “I don’t know, if I could change any of it, I don’t know how I could change it that it’d be any better. I’ve enjoyed it.”