2 vie to become Gray mayor

One candidate wants to bring growth to Gray. The other wants to be its growth “ambassador.”

One candidate plans on being a “full-time” mayor. The other figures he’ll do all the job requires, but says being mayor of Gray is anything but a full-time gig.

Come Tuesday, the county seat of Jones County will elect its first new mayor in more than a decade. Mayor Jason Briley, who has served for 12 years, isn’t running.

Gus Wilson, a former bait-and-tackle shop owner, is squaring off against Lehman Wood, who was once a small-town mayor in Florida and who most recently ran a tax service. Both men, Macon natives, moved to Jones County in the early 1980s and have seen Gray evolve.

Wilson, 53, who says he is semi-retired, says if he wins he will not treat the post, which pays about $600 a month, as a part-time job. Asked what qualifies him to be mayor, Wilson, who ran Gus’ Bait & Tackle shops in Macon and Jones County until he sold them in the 1990s, said, “I get asked that all the time. I ran a business for 20 years, so I’m well aware of budgets and how to balance budgets.”

“I want to be there every day just to see that the dollars are being spent wisely and that we are working to try to bring business in,” Wilson said. “I just have more time and more retired status that I can devote more time than someone trying to make a living every day.”

He cites needed improvements to city and county water and sewage services to support industrial growth. Wilson said he is not in favor of combining city and county governments.

Wood, 66, who in the mid ’70s after winning a city council post served an appointed one-year term as mayor of St. Augustine Beach, Fla., said, “Things are pretty good in Gray. We need to do some adjustments, and that’s the reason I’m running.”

Wood says past mayors haven’t done enough to attract new business.

“And that’s the mayor’s job, to be an ambassador for the city, and we haven’t had that,” he said. “And I don’t think anybody else’ll do that. You’ve got to take the time and effort.”

Wood points to 40 years of business experience — “I understand numbers” — and his past government experience as pluses. He also plans to promote recreation.

“You need to be progressive in thinking, and you’ve got to look at it in a way that you can promote the city without costing the city money and do things here that brings business in. Because that’s where your revenue comes from,” Wood said.

He says the city is “ill-managed” in some ways and that Gray needs a mayor who can devote his full attention to overseeing it.

Still, he said, “This is not a full-time job. My opponent said he’s gonna be a full-time mayor. Well, if he can work for (that much) a month, he knows how to budget better than I do. ... I don’t see how you can do that. I mean, I’ll do what’s needed and necessary, but it’s not a full-time job.”

Wilson declined to comment on Wood’s candidacy, saying, “I don’t have anything against him or for him. ... I’m gonna win the mayor’s race on my own merit.”

Briley, the current mayor, says whoever wins the race will learn soon enough what it means to be a small-town mayor in an office where he has served long enough to see his salary — “more of a stipend,” he says — increase by 50 percent.

“In many respects, the mayor in Gray is a figurehead and only has the ability to influence that which council allows him to influence,” Briley said.

“When I won, on election night in 1997, my son, my oldest child, was about 12 years old. He said, ‘Daddy, do you get paid for being mayor?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Really? How much?’ I said, ‘Four hundred dollars a month.’ He said, ‘Wowwww!’ I said, ‘No, son, you don’t understand.’ Little did I know, neither did I. ... If you were to do it by the hour, I think I averaged about 35 cents an hour that first year before I learned how to manage my time.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.