Perryville Mayor Debbie Gahan committed to progress

Monday, November 15, 2010
Debbie Gahan is the mayor of Perryville, Mo. (Fred Lynch)

Business Today: You were elected Perryville's first woman mayor in 2008. What inspired you to run for this office?

Debbie Gahan: In all honesty, I would not have considered running for mayor if our longtime Mayor Bob Miget had not lost his courageous battle with cancer. Early on, four other candidates filed to run for the open position, but I felt strongly that I could represent the people of Perryville differently, and I hoped better, than any one of them could. I prayed about it, discussed it with my husband and friends, and most importantly, phoned our late mayor's widow, Margie Miget, for her opinion. When she and her family said that they would support me, I filed.

BT: What are you most proud of accomplishing since becoming mayor?

DG: There are several things that give me a great sense of pride. First has to be our city's economic stability and vigor in spite of the downturn in the economy. We have worked very hard to be responsive to and supportive of our existing industries to help them remain stable and even expand. That has created jobs -- both in construction for the industries, and for us as we expand our infrastructure, and future jobs as their buildings are completed. Larry Tucker, our industrial development director, made this point about jobs and unemployment in Perryville: We are a city of about 10,000 with an unemployment of 6 percent; that means about 600 people need jobs. With the expansion at TG Missouri, Gilster-Mary Lee and Sabreliner bringing in 600 new jobs, we've, in theory, canceled out that need, our unemployment. I know it doesn't really work that way, but it makes a point. It is something to think about.

We are not only a wonderful place to enjoy quality of life, but we have good jobs here, with more coming. I am also very proud of the $258,000 grant we competed for and were awarded by the Missouri Foundation for Health to encourage healthy lifestyles. That allowed us to add fitness/exercise stations and fountains and lights on our hike and bike trails, create our community garden and work to educate our citizens about healthy nutritional choices. The third accomplishment is building sidewalks near all our schools so our kids can walk safely to town and to the parks. We did that with an ARRA grant and are hoping to expand on that with an upcoming grant we have applied for. Our fingers are crossed for that one; we're hopeful. Last but certainly not least, I am very proud of the collaborative way we as elected city officials, along with our employees, work with all the other agencies and groups--the county commission and staff, regional planning, industrial development authority, Bi-State Bridge Commission, New Bourbon Port Authority, chamber of commerce and the Perryville Development Corporation, to name a few. Without our partners in all our endeavors we would never have been able to see the growth we're enjoying.

BT: Describe your vision for Perryville's future.

DG:As a strong proponent of education, I'd love to see both our higher education campus and our career center grow, creating curriculum tracts that will help our local young people train for and be hired at our new jobs. They've done a great job on some of that and we're all working to expand. Perryville is a great multigenerational town. We want to see our young people grow up here, get the education they need to be employed here and raise their families here. Another piece of the puzzle is the construction of good, attractive and affordable housing. Some of our housing stock is aging and deteriorating. We need to replace that with moderate, modern and energy-efficient housing. We'd love to have some new subdivisions. As we grow, we would love to add an interstate interchange to increase access to our city.

We're in the process of prioritizing and selecting the best location for that. Representatives from several groups -- the county, city, schools, regional planning -- will be meeting to make common cause so we can present a united front in our request for consideration. Another thing we did just recently was to mail surveys to all our water customers for their input on the future of Perryville, asking what they want us to do. The company we hired to do that will be compiling and informing us of the results. We want to be responsive to our citizens' priorities, whether they include opinions on annexation, suggestions for new stores and restaurants, or compliments or complaints. Our vision should be their vision. And the bottom line is the bottom line. We'll keep trying to give the very best service we can as economically as possible. The city of Perryville is the people of Perryville. The stuff -- the streets, the sewers, water system, parks, all of it -- is theirs and we want it to be used to their benefit the best way it can be.

BT: You have lived many places across the country. What brought you to Perryville?

DG: My husband was born and raised in Perryville, though he moved away after graduating from college in 1957. When his stepfather died in 1992, leaving his mother alone and in her 80s, we felt we should let her make her own timetable and choices, but we moved closer, from Vermont to Louisville, Ky. She was very independent and remained in her home for several years, but eventually needed nursing care and chose to move into the then-Perry County Nursing Home in 1997. That's when we moved to Perryville to be near her and do whatever she wanted. They took great care of her for years. We continue to volunteer at the nursing home. They are kind of an extended family for us, staff and residents alike.

BT: Tell me about your work with Habitat for Humanity. I understand you took the lead on getting the city's first Habitat house constructed.

DG: John (my husband) and I both volunteered for Habitat when we lived in Louisville, Ky., the year before moving to Perryville, helping to build 14 houses on the construction crew. That experience convinced me that having Habitat in Perryville was a must. I really didn't have much to do with starting Habitat here -- I wasn't on the board or any committee. But I was a vocal and visible supporter, and helped raise money for the build. When John's sister died of cancer, a number of friends and family members made generous donations to the Habitat house in her memory. I pounded nails and did whatever work on-site they asked me to do. I'm great at grunt work. The ones who deserve all the credit are the real builders, the volunteers and committee who made our first Habitat house happen. My unique contribution was that I painted a picture of his family's old homeplace for the Habitat homeowner, Gerald Ponder, as a surprise to hang on his wall. I presented it to him at the dedication. We both got a little tearful.

BT: You are active in the Perry County Art Alliance. What types of artwork do you enjoy creating? What inspires you?

DG: I love to work in pastels, but enjoy using any medium. I wish I had more time to create art and had the facilities to do sculpture, but I don't. I'm so proud of our Art Alliance for completing our first public artwork. At the park center we did a mural on the outer wall surrounding the theater. It's silhouettes of real Perryville people waiting in line to go in. We chose them by drawing, and John and I were lucky to be selected. We're in the back, actually across from the restrooms. It looks like I'm waving at the folks going in and out. Anything can inspire me. I love portraits, landscapes, you name it; anything that triggers an emotion.

BT: If you could travel back in time to meet anyone in American history, who would it be and why?

DG: Excellent question! I'm torn between Lewis and Clark, and Abraham Lincoln. The idea of joining the Corps of Discovery as an explorer and seeing the beauty of this previously uncharted land, the thrill of their adventures, challenges me. Except for the bugs. But I have always admired Lincoln for his principles, his humor, his insight and his ethics. Tough choice. Maybe I could do both.

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