ARLEY - Two terms is enough for any mayor to serve, once said former Arley Mayor Allan Harbison, who is being remembered by his family and friends not only for having integrity in the mayor’s office, but also being a strong leader by example.
Harbison, 65, who passed away Monday, March 11, after an illness, is being remembered far beyond his two terms of service as the town’s mayor from 2004-2012.
In fact, Harbison went the extra mile by working hands-on with town employees through any problems or issues. He wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves, pitch in and help get the job done.
The Alabamian met with past and present town employees, as well as Harbison’s family members and friends March 15, discovering the true strength of Harbison’s character from those who knew him best.
Steve Barnett, who was serving as mayor around 2004, passed away, and interim mayor Bobby Smith did not choose to run for the seat. Harbison ran for the office, being elected to his first term in 2004.
“You didn’t have any trouble figuring out who was in charge,” stressed retired Arley Police Chief Aaron Brown, who served under Harbison’s leadership.
“He was police commissioner. He was water superintendent. His theory was if he was going to be responsible for everything, he wanted to be in charge of everything,” Brown said. “He was a great man to work for.”
Brown then began stressing the essence of Harbison’s character.
“What he asked out of the employees is, ‘Don’t lie to me,’” said Brown. “Be honest. If you mess up, say you messed up and we’d straighten it out.
“Allan was one of those people who was for the community and for his employees,” Brown said. “He took care of his employees and he took care of this city.”
One of Harbison’s philosophies was that an informed mayor was a happy mayor, and an uninformed mayor was a very unhappy mayor, Brown stated.
“That was the way it was with the police department,” he said. “I kept him informed with everything I did and everything we were working on.”
While Harbison expected honesty and integrity from his employees, he never once interfered with any employee doing his or her job in the town. Rather, he was always there if needed to provide assistance.
Retired Fire Chief George Gibson noted that Harbison was mayor during many pivotal building projects for the town.
“If you had a dream, he helped make it come true,” Gibson said. “Not in words, but in deeds.”
Gibson worked closely with Harbison when the new fire station/community storm shelter, was built on County Road 77 across from the entrance to Hamner Park.
“He put a lot of effort into that building,” recalled Gibson. “He put a lot of effort into the fire department. Anything we needed, if he knew about it, he helped us.”
The fire department was rather a unique project, coming to fruition after a long time of planning, explained Gibson.
Harbison worked with Gibson in helping to secure property in the area of the water department and gas company.
The old AT&T building was selected for the fire station site, and the station was actually built around the secure structure, which is now used for the safe room at the rear of the department.
“During all the process of building, Allan was out there. I have a picture of him using a weedeater, cutting the weeds around the building,” said Gibson.
Similar to what Brown said, Gibson added, “He was involved in it. He did not try to run it, but he was involved....I didn’t know a lot about construction, but he did, so together we got the rest of the fire department built.“
Three years before the new fire station was built, the department was already putting money into an account and making payments on the building, said Gibson.
When the building was constructed, $150,000 was borrowed, he said.
“It’s all paid for now,” Gibson proudly stated of the state-of-the art facility, which is also used as a community room.
Johnny Taylor, water plant chief operator, said he has worked under five mayors.
“I worked with Allan for eight of those years and at the end of his second term, I begged him to please run one more time,” Taylor sad.
“He said he believed two terms were enough for any official on anything. He didn’t believe in career politicians.”
Not just Taylor, but other town employees begged Harbison to seek a third term, he said.
“As far as the town, he put the town first in everything,” Taylor stressed. “He stood behind the employees in everything.
“If a decision needed to be made, he’d make it on the spot and he stayed behind it. He wouldn’t change it. You could count on it,” Taylor pointed out.
During Harbison’s terms as mayor, 10-inch water lines were installed in town.
Treatment Plant Operator Clifton Rudd recalled Harbison drove around town in a Dodge three-quarter ton four-wheel-drive truck.
“Anytime there was a problem out on the water system - day, night or whatever - you could count on him. He was going to be there until it was finished,” Rudd said.
“He always drove his own vehicle. He would not ever take a penny to replace his gas from the city. That’s just the type of person he was,” he added.
Town Clerk Tammi Farley, who was hired in 2009 during Harbison’s tenture, noted it was an honor to have worked with him.
“He believed in you,” Farley said. “When it snowed, he wouldn’t let me or Suzie (the water clerk) drive. He would go get Suzie and send (town employees) to get me. He said. ‘You are not getting out on these roads. It’s too dangerous.’ He was always caring.”
Harbison was also remembered as cleaning the parking lot in temperatures of at least 100 degrees, Farley said.
“He didn’t just tell us something to do then walk away,” Farley said. “He would be right there with us, in the middle of it. He would dig ditches with the guys to fix water lines.”
Another major purchase made during Harbison’s tenture was the land off County Road 77 which is now Hamner Park, where the ballfields were constructed. The walking trail was already there and has been adopted by the Arley Women’s Club.
The town’s library, thanks to the foresight of Harbison, his wife, Ann and the AWC, was constructed beside Arley Town Hall during his tenure, as well.
The Harbisons visited council members before Allan became mayor, pitching the idea of a town library with funds that had been collected by the women’s club, Gibson recalled.
Suzie Barber, who formerly worked at the library, was hired as water clerk during Allan’s tenure.
“He came over to the library and offered me the job at the water department,” Barber said. “Allan was so smart with numbers. He worked in the office part, too. He didn’t just work out in the field. He’d come in the office and start rattling off numbers...Here I am just as fast I could go, and he already had it figured out in his head.”
Ann pointed out that her husband was never a politician.
“He went to every door, every person and spoke to them,” Ann said. “He didn’t go dressed up. Whatever he worked in that day, he went and shook your hand. That’s just the way he was.”
When Allan decided to run for mayor, Ann admitted she was surprised.
Allan’s father, Brent Harbison, served three terms as Arley’s mayor, from 1972-1984. The town began receiving city water during Brent’s terms. In fact, Brent had earlier helped incorporate the town, he said.
Although Allan noted his father’s success as mayor, Allan picked it up on his own and also became a successful mayor, under his father’s encouragement and guidance.
“I knew he was going to do a good job,“ Brent stated. “I knew he would be for the town, the people all of the way.
“I tried to talk him into running (a third term). He said, ‘Pop, that’s enough,’” Brent noted.
No matter the purchase or expense, Allan would treat the town’s money as he would his own money, being frugal yet effective, town officials stated.
And often, Allan’s son, Justin, could be found by his father’s side, helping out or picking up good characteristics such as a good work ethic.
“I wanted to be right behind him. I wanted to learn from him,” Justin said.
Allan’s daughter, Brittany Ferguson, added that Allan was the type of man any man should want to be.
Ferguson said her two young children loved to follow ‘Pops’ around or ride on the tractor with him.
“He wasn’t like a mayor I have seen in my life,” said present Arley Fire Chief James Rickett. “I had never seen a mayor with a shovel in his hand...It didn’t take but five minutes to know he cared about the people here.”
Police Chief Jerry Cummings has only been in the area five years, but quickly picked up from the community the type of man Harbison was.
“We’d sit and talk. Family comes first, (then) town,” Cummings said.
Present council member Roger Fincher and retired business owner Bob Williams each went to school with Harbison.
“He was just a lot of fun to be around,” said Williams. “A good guy. It’s going to leave a big void.”
Present Mayor Chris Tyree was a council member when Harbison was mayor.
“He was a great asset to the city over the years,” Tyree said. “I always thought he was fair and I always thought he did what was best for the city.”
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.