On Friday, Watson Forum hosted the past four mayors of Greencastle, Mike Harmless (1988-96), Nancy Michael (1996-2008), Sue Murray (2008-16), and current mayor Bill Dory (2016-) in a discussion titled “Four Mayors: Firsthand reflections on three decades of governing Greencastle.”
“I don’t think I realized to what extent you all really were a chain in this way. You talked to Nancy, Mike. Nancy talks to Sue, and Sue talks to Bill,” said Bruce Stinebrickner, moderator and a professor of political science, said.
Stinebrickner moderated the panel, and the mayors reflected on their individual challenges and accomplishments as well as Greencastle’s relationship with DePauw.
Stinebrickner first asked how each individual decided to run for mayor. Harmless said that Greencastle’s IBM plant closing in 1986 pushed him to go into public service. “It was a calling, and I think that the community had been very good to our family, and it was time for me to give something back,” said Harmless.
Nancy Michael said that serving as county clerk and on the county council and Harmless’s encouragement pushed her to run for mayor in 1996 after her predecessor’s term. “My dear neighbor and good friend, Mike Harmless, said ‘You need to run for mayor,’ and I said, ‘Mike you’re crazy. I am not crazy.’ He planted that seed,” said Michael. Despite Michael’s initial hesitation, she said that serving as mayor has been the highlight of her career so far.
Sue Murray explained that she decided to run for mayor after serving in a number of positions in Greencastle’s government, such as on the board of public works, and, of course, the encouragement of Michael. “I really felt it was time to do it for a couple of reasons. We had lived in Greencastle since 1978. . . . And all that time, I really of had this gnawing feeling that the community of Greencastle and the University, we kind of never got our act together the previous 165 years. We had some things we could really capitalize on,” said Murray.
Billy Dory said, “Basically, I was asked. Sue asked if I would consider moving from the developement center to run for mayor. I had a lot of conversations with my wife and had been involved with working for the benefit of the community for many years, and I saw this [running for mayor] as an accumulation of that effort.”
The individuals discussed their accomplishments for the city of Greencastle as mayor. Harmless said that one of his proudest achievements was bringing eight industries to Greencastle after the IBM plant closed as well as more jobs within the government. “I think in my eight years, we had really transformed city government from being a part-time government to a much more full-time administration,” said Harmless.
Michael reflected on how each of her mayoral colleagues served different purposes as mayor. While Harmless increased the economic development in Greencastle, Michael worked on growing and bettering infrastructure, such as building a wastewater sewage plant, moving city hall and the police station and creating People’s Pathways.
“I think when I ran, I ran with a lot of optimism, and in my wildest dreams, I don’t think I would have thought that the world economy would have tanked. All of us that came into office in 2008 were like ‘are you kidding me,’” said Murray. Despite the initial panic, Murray was proud of her and the rest of the city’s ability to keep projects going and earn several grants.
Although he has not been the mayor for long, Dory said that he hopes the city of Greencastle can continue working on projects and bettering the community in areas like maintenance and road expansions. “Certainly we want to grow the community, but we also want to maintain our small town friendliness and compassion,” said Dory.
Each of the mayors also spoke to their disappointments during the term; however, there was not much to say aside from the full monetary promise of the stellar community grant not coming through. Greencastle has only received ten million dollars when around 19 million was promised.
The discussion ended with a reflection on Greencastle’s relationship with DePauw University. “My sense is over time that the friendliness and the closeness [between Greencastle and DePauw] has ebbed and flowed,” said Stinebrickner.
Dory commented that he wants to maintain and strengthen Greencastle’s relationship with DePauw. Michael responded that she compares DePauw and Greencastle’s relationship to a family. “Sometimes we get along and sometimes the conversations are a little tense,” Michael said, “but they’re not tense because we don’t love each other.”