By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
During his past 24 years as an Itawamba County supervisor, Danny Holley has picked up some choice sayings – little slogans to which he returns again and again.
He can recite them quickly, like reading off items on a grocery list:
* “We’ve got to head roughly west.”
* “Is it legal? Do we have the money? Do we need it?”
* “When the weather gets hot, the budget gets hot.”
* “You can’t come back from where you’ve never been.”
That he’s broken down some of the county’s most common decisions and challenges into a series of catchy blurbs is kind of a testament to just how comfortable Holley’s become in his role as Fourth District Supervisor and board president.
Last year, he chose not to run again, a decision he said was tough, but needed to be made. He finished his tenure with the culmination of the meeting Dec. 20.
“I’ve been trying to wean myself off of it,” Holley said, laughing. “You just make so many friends and contacts as supervisor. Your fellow board members become like your brothers. It’s like family to you.”
Holley first ran for supervisor in 1983 and was defeated. In 1987, he ran again and was voted into office, which he took the next year. He’s been sitting in that seat ever since. When asked why he wanted to run in the first place, Holley claimed he had an interest in government and wanted to see if he could make a difference in his community.
Back when he first ran for office, the supervisors’ primary role was maintaining the county’s roads – something he said mostly involved filling potholes and answering questions about when a gravel or dirt road would be paved. These days, that’s just a fraction of the job. Supervisors have their hands in nearly every element of local government – from passing ordinances to setting the budget.
“I quickly saw there was a lot more to this job than just fixing the roads,” he said. “In fact, that’s the easy part; if there’s a pothole, you fill it up. It’s cut and dried.”
He paused for a second in thought.
“You know, in my 24 years in the Fourth District, I think I’ve gotten it down to one family who doesn’t live on a paved road,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve missed anybody. Some of them are pretty rough, but they’re out of the dust.
“That was one of my goals,” he said, smiling slyly. “Get everybody out of the dust and mud.”
Holley reflected on his time in office with successes built over years, like the gradual increase in the county’s economic stature.
“If we hadn’t pushed to attract industry or just didn’t pay a lot of attention to that, think of what the tax base would be,” he said. “The only way that you can keep your taxes stable is to broaden your tax base. If you don’t have anything to tax, then you’re not going anywhere.”
Although times are tough right now, Holley admitted that even the best of times can be a challenge. Tough choices are always looming ahead, there’s always something that needs to be done and money always seems to be tight.
Holley laughed and asked, “How much money does it take to run a county?”
After a moment, he answered.
“Just a little bit more than you’ve got.”
Holley was quick to assert that tough times are when strong leaders prove themselves. Tough decisions, and the way a person faces them, are what defines his or her character. Holley said it’s important for all board members – the current and future – to remember that.
“There are going to be plenty of opportunities for leadership for this board and all the coming boards,” he said. “The economy’s down; the assessed value is down; revenue producers are down; the retirement system is having problems; the age of our infrastructure … I could say that we have all these problems. But really, for those on the board, it’s just a chance for them to provide leadership.”
There’s no school for supervisors, he said, pointing out that the only qualification to run is that a person live in the district for which he hopes to serve. He said the best education comes from experience. The ability to listen and willingness to empathize can be the greatest tools a leader has.
“Listen to people and listen to their problems, even if it’s not a duty of the supervisor,” Holley advised. “You’re the closest official to the people. They’re going to meet you at church, they’re going to meet you in the restaurants and out on the street. Remember that every decision you make affects them.”
And that’s the part of the job Holley said he’ll both miss the most and not miss at all: The constant interaction with the people who live in the county he’s helped define. There were times when he’s made decisions he’s hated and times he’s made decisions he’s loved. He’s been praised and cursed and criticized and congratulated – all of those kinds of things that come along with being a public figure.
Holley laughed in a way that suggested he had just thought of something.
“There’s one expression I picked up from a fellow supervisor,” he said. “‘If you don’t know what to do, just stand around a little bit and somebody will tell you.’”
He smiled, then added, “And they will.”