By Don Hall
The year was 2009, and Nashville had a mayoral election coming up. “I went to a past mayor and tried to get him to run,” says Billy Ray Jones. “When he said ‘No’, then I said, ‘Well, I’m going to.’”
“I really decided at the last minute. It was a week before the last day to sign up. I went home and told Sandra that I was going to run for mayor, and she said, ‘Do what?’ I hadn’t told her or anyone else that I was thinking about it.”
BR, as many call him, was self-employed. Motels, apartments, commercial property, cattle, chicken farms. “It wasn’t like I didn’t have plenty to do. My kids were coming on, and I dropped back and elevated them.”
BR won, and was sworn in as mayor of Nashville in January of 2010. His first priority was to begin a massive clean-up of the city. Trash, junk, and abandoned cars: “If I saw something, I’d call someone to come clean it up. We got a lot done.”
Shortly after taking office, BR and Nashville faced a water crisis. There was a drought and the water being pumped from the Little Missouri River wasn’t keeping up with demand.
People were being told to stop watering their lawns. “I knew we were in trouble with the water,” he states. “We were 2 weeks away from telling Tyson, ‘You can’t run today.’” When the rain finally returned, the crisis was averted—temporarily.
“That was the one thing we had to tackle first. We already had the pipes, but we didn’t have the pumping capacity to get as much water as we needed. We went to the Governor.” The state helped with the funding and the work began. With the addition of a massive new pump, Nashville increased its water supply by 5 million gallons per day.
The next challenge was the sewer plant. “It was out of date and getting fines before I even got there. The City Council wasn’t ready to spend the $6 million to fix it.” The mayor brought in a specialist who studied the problem and brought a solution to the City Council, who approved the work. “We built the sewer plant that’s there now. We won’t have to build another one for 50 or 60 years. It’s state of the art.”
“After that, we got grants to go to the park. We built pavilions, playgrounds, ballfields and ballfield covers, covered bleachers with roll-back seats, new and upgraded restrooms.” This was done with 50/50 grants from the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department and with grants from area businesses. Nashville now boasts a park that is the envy of any city our size anywhere.
Next came economic development. “The first person I went to was Ray Blakely,” says Billy Ray. Blakely knew how to promote Nashville and how to attract new businesses. “I need you to come out of retirement. We need you,” he told Ray.\
Shortly after bringing Blakely on board, Ox Bodies, a manufacturing company from Alabama, built a plant in Nashville. Next, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission was enlisted to help in getting a $35 million Husqvarna distribution center built here, which will secure Husqvarna’s presence in Nashville for years to come.
Next up is Tyson. “Tyson is fixing to expand big-time,” explains mayor BR. “We’re going to have to up our supply of water for them.” The increased water demand is both for the plant expansion in Nashville and for the expansion of chicken farms in our area that will be needed to provide birds for processing. “We’re right in the middle of that.”
The biggest problem companies face these days in Nashville? “We don’t have enough workers to do all the jobs. How do we get people to move here? We have the infrastructure, great schools, the hospital, the park, and good paying jobs.”
While we’re all familiar with the schools and the hospital and the park, most of us never think about infrastructure.
We expect clean water to come
out when we turn on a faucet and water to go down the drain when we’re done with it. We want good roads and we want any potholes to be fixed. While many Nashville residents may not have noticed, all of these things have quietly been done while BR has been in office.
How is all of this paid for? Sales taxes and business taxes, of course, but there are many other ways to get money for improvements.
“For the last 12 years money has come from the Governor’s office, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and SW Arkansas Planning grants,” says the mayor. “It’s all about hustling the dollar.”
“See these sidewalks we’ve been doing around town? That’s an 80/20 deal coming from the Highway Department. It’ll take 2 years to do all the jobs that have already been approved.” When completed, sidewalks will connect the park to 4th Street to Main Street to Walmart.
One major challenge for the city and the mayor came in the form of a tornado on May 11, 2015. Nashville suffered a lot of damage, and the number of trees downed was extensive. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has rules and regulations covering what towns have to do when a disaster strikes; BR says you might have to bend those rules a bit from time to time. Before FEMA arrived, the city workers started cleaning up the town. When FEMA arrived and saw what Nashville city employees had done, they were impressed. They wrote a check to Nashville and moved on to the next disaster. “We did it for half of what they usually pay,” BR says. “If we had done everything their way, we’d be sitting here for 6 months.”
When questioned about what people will say about his time in office, Billy Ray doesn’t hesitate. \※The one thing they’ll say about me 10 years later on down the road, is, I get it done. Whatever it takes, I get it done.”
What’s in the future for the soon-to-be ex-mayor? More grandkid time, for one, and a bit more freedom to travel.
“I’ve still got all of my stuff to do. Hotels, farms, apartments, commercial property. I got each one of my kids running this and that, but they’ll all tell you, it runs a lot better when I’m there.” He’ll have plenty to keep him occupied. “When you’ve got 200 commodes and 200 air conditioners, you’ll stay busy servicing and renting and cleaning and dealing with people. I don’t see me ever not working.”
Billy Ray Jones gets it done.