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Uniontown reaping fruits of labor

UNIONTOWN — Mayor Phillip White estimates he’s met with U.S. Rep. Artur Davis “at least 30 or 40 times” since the latter was elected to represent the Seventh Congressional District in 2002.

“I probably talk to him more than anybody else in the Black Belt,” quips White.

The two have apparently been doing more than just talking.

With Davis’ help Uniontown was recently awarded a $75,000 federal grant to renovate the old Uniontown High School complex. The town is in the process of acquiring the facility and converting it into a recreation and community center.

Come March the town expects to unveil its new technology center to be located in the public library — funding, again, courtesy of Davis. “We’ll be offering tutoring and job readiness programs to get our people ready for the job market,” says White.

There have been other successes as well.

A $250,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority to help improve wastewater treatment.

A $350,000 federal grant to extend sewage lines to 74 homes in the southern part of Uniontown that had previously been without such service.

A $250,000 Alabama Department of Transportation grant to replace sidewalks and provide decorative lighting for the downtown area.

Taken together the grants represent an uncommon burst of economic activity for this impoverished Black Belt town and its residents. But White is reluctant to criticize previous administrations for lack of effort.

“Let’s just say we’ve been overlooked — and that’s not just Uniontown, but the entire Black Belt,” he says judiciously.

As mayors go, White, 35, is young. He was first elected in 2000 and is planning to seek re-election in August.

“One thing I’ve found as mayor of a small town is that you can’t get anything done and stay in the office,” he observes. “You have to get out and meet people. The only way to get money is to ask for it.”

White, obviously, is not shy about asking. “It’s the only way you get anything in life,” he says matter of factly.

He is generous in his praise of Davis, also a first-termer.

“He’s been in Uniontown several times,” White says. “He’s certainly the first congressman who has given much attention to the Black Belt. I don’t have anything but good things to say about him.”

White stressed the importance of a team approach in achieving a common goal. When the state adjusted the legislative districts shortly after he was elected, White specifically requested that Uniontown be placed in state Sen. Hank Sanders’ district.

“He’s one of the most powerful people in state government,” White points out. “He’s done a tremendous job for us. Bobby Singleton, our state representative, has been very helpful as well.”

White also credits Uniontown’s City Council with being “one of the better city councils around.”

“You can’t get things done when you’re arguing all the time. We don’t have that problem here,” he says. “Whether it’s a home, family or whatever … arguing is just counter-productive.”

Of all the lessons he has learned since taking office, the youthful White says patience has been the most valuable — as well as the most difficult to learn.

“It’s a process, and the process is slow,” he sighs. “Things often don’t get done as fast as you would like them to, or sometimes even as fast as you think they ought to. But you have to learn to make constant steps in the direction of your goal.”

The second most valuable lesson he has learned, White adds, has been humility.

“The kind of person I am I thought I could please everybody, and you can’t,” he sighs. “I’ve learned you can pass out gold chips and some folks would still be mad. But if you can sleep at night, then you’ve done your job.”