Editors note: This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with city and county officials, beginning in Ardmore and Carter County before branching out into greater Southern Oklahoma.
 

Q. How do you think you have seen Gene Autry grow since you became Mayor?
 A.“We haven’t really grown. Sonny’s was there before I was elected and that was one of the first businesses in a while. It’s been more of a directional challenge, because people move to these smaller communities for a reason. They’re secluded  and quiet and they want it to stay that way. So a lot of times it’s been hard to get people involved. That was the first big challenge, if people want change in the community, if they want something to happen they have to get involved. So there were people that stepped up and said, ‘yeah we want to see this community do a little bit better, we want to help out.’ That’s when we formed a town council. Some of the churches saw what we were doing and wanted to help out too. The First Baptist Church gave us some grant money to our Development Authority to fix the storm shelter, the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church organized the community cleanup days, and then the museum director is constantly creating events and promoting them to bring people to our community. So those are the areas, where it’s not necessarily growth, but it’s movement. We’re moving in the right direction and getting people engaged.”

Q. What kind of industries or businesses do you hope to bring to Gene Autry?
 “I think the first focus is going to be agriculture. There is a family, they’re my neighbors, and we have a convenience store in Gene Autry and they came to us and said ‘we just got a license to sell our eggs in stores, would you be willing to be our first customers?’ We said ‘absolutely we would love to sell your products in our store.’ So the moral of the story is, I think for a community, agriculture is going to be a huge focus. I want to bring agriculture in there.
For them to be in Gene Autry and have that business is fantastic. One of our town council members wants to look into starting a community garden, like for troubled youth, to give them something to do to keep their hands busy. We have a gymnasium, that is air-conditioned, so she wants to come up with some winter programs to keep the youth busy and out of trouble.  
We also have the airpark as our neighbor. That’s a huge benefit for us because Dollar General employs, I think, 800 people at any given time, King Aerospace has a large staff, EJ has a large staff, Beetle plastics has a staff, and all these people are driving from Ardmore. We have so many people who are asking where houses are for rent in Gene Autry, and ultimately there is nothing. So we want to work on optimizing our neighbors, and use that airpark to our benefit because there are all these people working but there is nothing there to service them. There’s Jakes Joint, and then there’s Sonny’s but what other services are we offering those people coming here? Ultimately, our first captive audience would be them. We want to see what needs they have, and how we can service them.”

 Q.  What do you hope to see for Gene Autry in five years?
“Five years from now the vision would be to finish renovating the museum. We have talked about it, but there’s nothing in the plans yet about rebranding. We need to rebrand our community. We need to rebrand our museum, because Gene Autry in itself is a great foundation and a great history for the community and I love that story of where we came from and how we got here. It’s so neat that I can tell you the history of our town from the day it was founded. Ultimately, a very agriculturally driven town that has services provided to the citizens, you know sewage, trash, sidewalks, a park with walking trails, a new town hall, and developing our community center.”
 
Q. What about 10 years down the road?
“Over 10 years, I want to keep maintaining that rural aesthetic for the community. I always see it being that little hidden tucked away community in Carter County, Oklahoma. Where people feel safe. You know just a warm welcoming community for people to come visit. Looking down 10 years from now is kind of a big thing because who is going to remember Gene Autry (the man) in ten years? I know who he is because in growing up in a ranch family it was the western channel or the weather channel. So we still want to preserve that piece of our history, but it’s going to take rebranding and taking a different direction with our museum.”
 
Q. What is the biggest challenge you face being Mayor?
“Three of the biggest challenges are: finances, and getting that organized, community involvement, and issues from the previous administration. If people don’t come to our town meetings I don’t know what they want. I don’t know if what we’re doing is in their best interest, I don’t know what I’m missing out on. I would love for the issues from the previous administration, that we’re still dealing with, to be over, and for that chapter to close.”
 
Q. What do you think the biggest challenge the people of Gene Autry face?
“I think it’s the lack of intimacy. The municipal government is the most intimate form of government and because they’re not showing up to the meetings, they’re losing that relationship. I was elected to serve them and I don’t know what they want if they’re not there.”