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Terry Smith's grandparents were rebellious Republicans when he was growing up in staunchly Democratic Pulaski County, Ky., he recalls.
As a naval aviator, he was used to pushing the edge, piloting electronic signal intelligence missions off the North Vietnam coast after the truce in 1973.
Smith has been pushing ever since as archconservative activist, frequent candidate and local cable talk show host. He's making his second run at becoming mayor of Decatur.
The Ohio native moved to Decatur in 1985 after he retired from a 16-year military career. He retired on disability from the Marine Corps in 1984, the victim of a wrestling injury aggravated by repeated whiplash from carrier takeoffs and landings. The injuries make it difficult for him to turn his neck, but he's well able to run a city, he said.
They might have resulted just as easy from sticking his neck out after he retired.
Smith in recent years ran unsuccessful races for Congress, state Senate, Morgan County sheriff and probate judge. He also ran for mayor in 2000 and unsuccessfully challenged the results before the Republican-dominated Alabama Supreme Court after losing to Mayor Lynn Fowler.
After efforts as a real estate appraiser and owner of a construction company, he now operates Jasmith Enterprises, raising Tennessee walking horses and selling political signs. He's also district chairman of Employer Support for Guard and Reserve, a national advocacy group, a position he plans to continue as mayor.
His most regular employment is as a regular irritant to local elected officials. He is president of the local Citizens for a Sound Economy chapter, which meets in the back of a motorcycle dealership, and he hosts a half-hour show Tuesdays on a local cable channel. He plans to continue both as mayor.
"The more communication we have, the better," he said. "A lot of people are intimidated by people in government. They don't like to speak publicly, but might call in to a talk show."
He's still convinced that his name failed to get on the ballot in the 2000 election, even though the court ruled against him.
Smith's primary platform is rescinding the controversial 2001 penny sales-tax increase. The issue is so critical to the city, Smith said, that he will refuse the mayor's salary until he can get the rate lowered from 9 percent to 8 percent. Additionally, he proposed dropping it to 7.5 percent from October through December as a promotional gimmick to lure back shoppers.
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to look around and determine something's wrong," Smith said at a recent Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce candidate forum.
He maintains the city sustained "tens of millions of dollars in lost retail sales," according to the rebate coupon he's distributing to voters. A tax cut would prompt a retail rush that will more than offset the $7.5 million annually that a penny now brings in. Smith said he wants to see the tax repealed "even if we see later that we tried it and have to put it back."
In a meeting with THE DAILY, Smith also indicated interest in generating revenue through Sunday alcohol sales and a property tax hike. He phoned back later to note that he's against pursuing a property tax immediately.
"I've had a lot of communication with people who didn't think we pay a lot of property tax in Alabama," he said. "People who don't have much money aren't interested in any kind of tax. I don't want to go for any kind of tax increase until it's positively absolutely necessary, and we've cut government back as far as we can."
Opposes Sunday alcohol
He said he personally opposes Sunday alcohol sales, but would consider it to lure development if the public made the decision.
Like some other candidates, he complains that the city's Building Department is partly to blame for the city's sluggish growth and recently vowed to fire the whole department and run it himself if he must.
He declared he is personally opposed to tax abatements for industry, but said Decatur has to offer them to remain competitive with other cities that give the inducements. He's reluctant to endorse the sales-tax revenue bonds that Fowler tried to get approved for retail development and regards public/private partnerships as "fertile grounds for corruption."
He said he has great reservations about continuing to fund Point Mallard Park. He's interested in privatization, but hedges that he wants to talk with residents about the idea.
He supports the idea of Veterans Parkway, a 17-mile southern bypass that would be outside the city limits, but he said the route needs to be moved closer to Decatur.
Smith said he wants to improve transportation by extending Central Parkway through the northwest to Alabama 20.
Although the mayor doesn't control council meetings, Smith said he supports eliminating the five-minute public comment period and listening for hours to residents. As president of CSE, he endorsed the group's other candidates, including Roger Payne, Ray Metzger, Doris Baker and Linda Kubina.But he also knows that, if elected, he might have to put aside his differences with up to three of the incumbent council members, whom he's been hectoring for years, and work with them.
"We're friendly," he said. "We speak to each other. I think there's respect there that we're trying to do the right thing. I'm not a politician. I just want to solve people's problems."
Smith is running against Fowler, Morris Anderson, Joe Johnson, Don Kyle and Jim Robison.
Monday's article will be about District 1 City Council candidates Doris Baker and incumbent Billy Jackson.