Service on Casa Grande’s City Council
Sara: I’d like to change this a little bit and talk about your time on the City Council in Casa Grande. What year were you elected to the City Council?
Bill: It had to be 1972 or 1973, I’m not sure, whichever year they had the election. I was elected to City Council. That was a genuine experience like-wise because I had lived in the community and, I guess what contributed most to—well, I guess I had taught or counseled the majority of the young people that were in Casa Grande at that time. If they were school age, they knew me. They persuaded their parents to vote for me. (Laughter)
Sara: And what compelled you to decide to serve on the City Council? What made you feel that you wanted to?
Bill: At that time there were a lot of government funds available. At the junior high I had worked with government funds, I had put together a reading program over there and this kind of a thing. When I got to the high school they changed it around. I thought someone needed to know where the funds were and be able to speak on behalf of funds for the school system. So I ran primarily on the basis of being able to assist and to get funds and to help high school youngsters as well as the youngsters and their parents in the community.
Sara: So it was your civic duty, you feel, to kind of get that going?
Bill: Yes, I was a “people helper” as I used to call myself.
Sara: Was there something in particular that you wanted to change or be a part of with the City Council? Was that your main goal or did you have other ideas?
Bill: I guess my main emphasis was to know what finance was available to the community and the purpose of that finance, this kind of stuff, and to be able to speak out for the public in general. I guess, I had an experience early on the City Council there were some Block Grant funds and I wanted to put streets on the west side. I wanted to use those government funds.
Members of the Council asked me the question, “Bill, don’t you think that people who pay into the fund ought to be the people who get the funds?” Of course, that’s the perfect argument. Yes, if you buy into the program, the program ought to serve you. But soon after that as my awareness of programs became somewhat different, then I could speak in terms of “Yes, let’s use these funds here and we’ll have special assessments for those people.” The same way as I was on the Council when they built the park and recreation over on the east side. I had something to say about that. They named it after Mrs. Mosely.
I was aware of my ethnicity. I’ve always known that I was black. You know, I told my kids “In order for you to get as much, you have to do twice as much.” So I was always in that particular position and I advocated that. I wanted the community to know that I thought resources should be spread everywhere rather than just pick certain places. I remember Scottsdale used government funds to build Scottsdale Road and I resented that. Those funds were supposedly for the poor, not to build roads.
Sara: I was curious. When you were elected to Council, were you the first black person to serve on Council?
Bill: First black person to serve on the City Council, first black person at the junior high, first black person at the high school.
Sara: I’ll be darned. (Laughter.) All right. How many councilmen were there then
? Bill: Same number that there are today.
Sara: All right. And do you recall who you served with? The first group?
Bill: One of the first group was Mayor Gwinn. I remember him because, the first year I had been elected they had the National League of Cities in Puerto Rico and I wanted to go. The whole Council voted against my going. They were, I call them “small town Council members” at that time. They didn’t think that Casa Grande should go to big meetings like that so they voted against me. I was pretty good with words and I stood up and said “I’m amazed how we can think so small and not think our community ought to participate in national level meetings thinking they don’t have anything to offer us.” At that time, I knew Mayor Jackson and the mayor of Los Angeles (CA) and a mayor in Indiana, so I said “If I did nothing but sit at the table with one of those fellows, I’m bound to pick up on something. I just don’t understand our thinking.” The mayor called me the next morning and told me that I could go. And I said “Are you telling me that I can go, and the meeting starts tomorrow. I can’t go!” (Laughter.)
That, I think was one of the growing kind of things that were the result of Mayor Gwinn. So after he was elected the next time, he called me and said “Bill, I don’t care what kind of meeting you want to go to, you tell me and we’ll see that you get there.” I was really pleased with that kind of support. I guess the next meeting was in San Francisco so he and his wife and I and my wife went. It was the first meeting like that I’d gone to. After that, I think Council members began to see some benefits from going to national meetings. They didn’t mind going to state session—and then they’d leave early—but sooner or later they began to see the advantages. I used to tell people “I sat at the table with President Bill Clinton before he was president, he was still the governor of Arkansas, but we sat together.” I sat with a lot of mayors and people from big communities. You’re asking questions…how did you do this or that…and you’re bound to get some ideas about the things that would be good for a community.
I think Mayor Gwinn, Kate Kenyon, Dewey Powell, all of us were homies together. We came on the Council together and went off together. Maybe I was the last of the group that went off.
Sara: Was this the first town or city council or were there others prior to this?
Bill: There was a redheaded fellow who was mayor (possibly Amos Hawkins), and he sat me down before I said what I wanted to say. After that he understood. This was the first year that I was elected in November. They had this National League of Cities and I wanted to go. I’d never dreamed that I’d have a chance to go to Puerto Rico. (Laughter.) After that, I guess, they’re still attending national meetings. We went to national and regional sessions. We’d have a national session in November and they’d have a regional winter session in Washington, DC, where we’d have a chance to talk with council people and this kind of thing. It was an outstanding opportunity, but one not everybody chose to take advantage of.
Sara: So you felt this was a real good experience, to get with these council people from other areas and talk about their towns.
Bill: I really did. I wholeheartedly feel to this day that they had information and I had information that we shared and came up with some pretty good things to do when we got back home.
Sara: You learned some things from them and they learned some things from you.
Sara: Do you remember anything in particular that you recall as important?
Bill: I can’t recall anything particular, but my background was in counseling and social work. So when I went to conventions and talked to people, I also went out into the community—to schools and this kind of thing. So I picked up valuable information in many of the school systems. I went to a New York school and (laughs) said I wanted a job. He said “You got a job tomorrow!” But I said I couldn’t tomorro w. (Laughter.) But learning how children respond in these kinds of communities was valuable for me just like, in New York, they let teachers go first—they are dismissed from the class first! I’d never heard of that. I was in Atlanta and went to a guidance office and asked the counselor “How many youngsters do you have?” He said, “Seven hundred.” You know, he’s a white boy. So I said, “How did you get this?” He told me, “Nobody else was taking this so I applied and I got it.” So then he asked me what I had. I said, “I have seven hundred white kids.” (Laughter.) He said, “Man, we should trade!” (Laughter.) Experiences like this turn out to be very valuable. You learn you aren’t the only person in a different world or situation
Sara: What were some of the major issues facing Casa Grande in the ‘70s? Can you describe them to me in detail?
Bill: Casa Grande was small in the ‘70s. In terms of major issues, I guess I can’t pick them out except that government funds were available and I wanted them to be spent in the community for the community needs that had been requested as such. There was not really a big problem. The last year I went off the Council was the biggest year of conflict because the Board of Realty had gotten strong in Casa Grande and I was on the Governor’s financial committee and had refused that Board funds because they didn’t want to spend the funds in a way that I thought they ought to. So the newspaper didn’t back me, nor did the real estate (community) back me. I lost the election by four votes. (Laughter)
Sara: That was one of the major issues in the ‘70s to you?
Bill: I would think that was one of the major issues. We worked on getting additional equipment for the City; we worked on the airport project; the sewer project, we worked on that kind of thing. We were always interested in the growth of Casa Grande. One thing of mine was to maintain the inner city, the downtown. That was a big concern of mine because at that time they were beginning to build our shopping centers. I didn’t think it was nice for them to take everything and put it into shopping centers. I lived on the south side. I’ve been living on the south side since 1959. I didn’t want to have to go through town to go to a shopping center. I thought they should maintain the downtown since I had been shopping downtown previously.
Sara: I was wondering, do you think that the City Council correctly predicted and adequately prepared for the City’s future if you go back to the ‘70s and come forward?
Bill: I would say that we did. I think we had some level headed thinkers, thinkers that were concerned and interested in the growth of Casa Grande. I always distinguished Casa Grande in terms of growth different from Coolidge or Eloy. Eloy and Coolidge, I thought, wanted to maintain whatever they had before. That may have been the thinking of some of our fathers in this community, but in general, the Council was for growth—things that we thought would help the City grow we tried to implement. We wanted certain (types of) industry to come to town because we knew that that would help us in many kinds of ways. We would work hard to get those kinds of things to happen.