Branson Politics Reviewed - Recent History Leading Up to Now

Branson's new administration has been in office for a year. The winds of change blew four new members of the Branson Board of Alderman into office and with it a series of new laws implemented to successfully dethrone an administration and institute a government more interactive with Branson's citizenry.

After Shaefer was taken off the ballot for failing to pay property tax on-time, Presley was a shoe-in. Ward I Alderman Stan Barker saw the writing on the wall and made the secret handshake with Presley, whose rise appeared inevitable. As a result, Barker was given a free-pass from feisty editorials written by former Taney County TIF Commissioner Gary Groman every Sunday - the areas only political pundit. It's important to note that Barker's votes are identical to Purvis, but are reported without hatred.

Ward III Alderman Jack Purvis was arrogant towards the new administration and never truly let the hatchet down after Alderman Ward II Sandra Williams made claims the administration met in secret meetings in violation of the Sunshine Law. He claimed the body was innocent.

Truth be known, Williams served as Groman's primary intelligence officer while the Alderman was employed by the city. During an interview, Williams claimed that "no laws were broken" during the process. Still, we have to pin Sandra Williams as a long standing political activist who made calculated efforts to stop the Branson Landing project and return Branson to it's recent roots.

Terry Dody was an extremely intelligent man counterbalanced by an exceptionally low EQ (Emotional Intelligence) as one former reporter called it, "He didn't suffer fools well". The untold story is interesting, Dody was well aware Williams was leaking city documents and repeatedly set her up by issuing counter-intelligence and "misguided reports" he knew would make their way to Groman.

Tension in the city was strong. On one hand, an economic progressive movement seemed to be in power which wained with a continual stream of negative PR. While Gary Groman's Sunday sermons characterizing Dody as "Darth Vadar" and one who "daily urinates on its citizens,"

The public relations nightmare peaked with a soccer mom from outside city limits taunted alderman regarding a dispute over the proper use of the name, "Branson".

Negative reports were distributed through newspapers throughout Southwest Missouri. She was relentless in her attacks and even after the city backed off their legal stance she appeared at every meeting until a new administration issued an apology. She stood at the podium during city council meetings prophesying the administration would fall - and after elections a new administration filled four seats - representing a majority of the board.

Politically, Branson Ward II Alderman Jack Purvis made a fatal error. When the Branson Landing Hilton was opening, he made an exchange with Groman criticizing him for attending the opening - which Groman fought tooth and nail for three years against.

In a sense, Purvis was right, Groman fought against the Branson Landing project with feisty editorials in the areas most read paper, he fought as a politician appointed by the Taney County Commissioners to think in the best interests of a competing political body - as an editorialist and later as a reporter.

Morally, Purvis was wrong. The Branson Landing was built regardless of Groman's efforts and Purvis played a poor winner. His comments to Groman at the opening of a the Branson Landing Boutique Hilton celebration were alienating. The movement to create a project on the waterfront was successful and instead of making the victory party an opportunity of cohesion Purvis expressed his animosity in an empty hall. The one on one private conversation with Purvis made Groman's weekly Sunday Political Sermon shredding the Alderman and birthing a year-long campaign of political destruction where Groman successfully achieved vindication by undermining the alderman at every opportunity.

If Alderman Purvis made a positive contribution, Groman would report the contribution without printing Purvis' name. If Purvis brought up an issue, Groman would refrain from publicizing it.

The columnist moved to a dual mode in May, now controlling both news and editorial Groman used his position to plot political assassinations - which were inevitable as the new administration cleared an old watch at city hall. Good will was now reserved for politicians Groman supported. Though three (Tax Increment Financing) districts (TIF)'s were implemented in the County only two were reported. Silver Dollar City pushed a TIF through Stone County and Groman's home town of Hollister is in the process of enacting a reported 25 million dollar TIF district as we move into the election.

On an ethical level, I strongly disagree with Groman, and have criticized a failure to follow the "Journalistic Code of Ethics".

Still, I don't believe politicians should ever miss an opportunity for peace and cohesion. When a man lifts his hand to shake - Purvis should have seen it as an opportunity. This is something I learned playing Little League Baseball - you always shake after the game. Privately, I told Purvis he should make an apology to Groman and wonder to this day how the political landscape would look if Purvis reached out his hand to Groman when offered and said, "Thanks for coming out today Gary, glad to see you here".

Mayor Raeanne Presley administration acted quickly after coming into office changing the format of interaction at city hall, planning sessions were implemented weekly and phone calls from citizens returned to Presley directly. Her first term was hands-on and several of the city's top brass left their watch. The city management was partially gutted and depending on the election outcome, the city's social conservative movement will be without opposition.

In the backroom of city hall the issue of growth and what type of growth Branson should be trying to spur became an issue. Dody was successful in generating new revenue, if the numbers don't lie, but the Mayor often asked, "What kind of growth and how to we control it". In other words, though the city has been successful at growing the Branson economy, the growth has occurred in new sectors.

Branson's theatre industry hasn't had any growth over the last several years - regardless of the $15,000,000 budget of the Branson Chamber of Commerce - theater sales are flat. The economy is a hungry machine - it grows or it dies. In Branson the economy is growing driven by record-high retail sales - the machine is growing but - not in the way some may like.

The more things change the more they stay the same. Former Alderman David Edie was the sole conservative voice last session - the only voice of opposition. This session Purvis played the fool, debating issues and transfers of cash city leaders had already given a heads up to. Purvis was the only one debating, the rest had already given the greet light. The art of fake debate ensued and the newspaper looked much more like a government lapdog than a watchdog - let's call it Groman's revenge. It was a different watch, with a different philosophy, but the dynamics of power remain - this time with the help of the press.

It's one thing to cite a conspiracy and another to find the bodies. Evidence of wrong doing, in the criminal sense - or even mismanagement by Terry Dody has never been established. In fact, the audit of the Branson Convention Center came out clean even though it was performed by a competitor of the Hilton. The company which conducted the audit, Senate Hospitality, bid to manage the Branson Convention Center losing the project to the Hilton Corporation. No evidence of wrong doing has emerged - a year after the new regime took power.

What we do know, is that HCW got a sweetheart deal, but we should remember a plane crashed into building and the future of the country was uncertain when developers were bidding on the project. The original sketches for the Branson Landing are far from the completed project. The final product looks more like an outdoor mall than an entertainment destination. The purpose hasn't. To date, reports show that the income being derived to support the infrastructure - TIF and TDD - is meeting the financial promise - the debt is currently being paid on schedule. Will the project ultimately be a success? We have a couple decades to jury and a lot depends on support from city hall and the geo-political entities that control Branson's Economy through tax dollars.