MOUNT VERNON — Chuck Dice grew up in the city of Mount Vernon. John Booth is a country boy from Howard. These two simple facts could very well have kept their paths from ever crossing, however, their desire to serve the people is the common thread that led them both to Mount Vernon City Council and four decades of friendship.
During an interview with the News, it was easy to see that once you looked past their childhood, the two men, who are good friends in and outside of City Hall, have a lot in common. They both worked for Pittsburgh Plate Glass, have represented the Second Ward on Mount Vernon City Council and served as council president with two breaks in service each. Most recently, they have both decided now is the time to step away from public service.
“Chuck and I talked earlier, we actually discussed this a couple of years ago, about how much longer we wanted to do this,” said Booth.
The two have nearly 75 years of combined service for the city of Mount Vernon. Dice will wrap up his 38th year at the end of 2011. Booth will close in on approximately 37 years when he turns over his gavel.
“We both have made the determination that now would be the right time for us to step aside and let some younger folks have this,” Booth said.
“I told John a couple weeks ago if he wanted to reconsider to go ahead,” Dice said. “In my mind, he’s still a young man. You don’t need to get out because I’m getting out.”
By his own admission, Dice, 83, believes the friendship he and Booth, 71, formed by working together on City Council has connected the two men for the betterment of each other and the city.
“There probably isn’t two people in Mount Vernon any more connected than John and I,” Dice said. “We’ve been friends for I don’t know how long and with the number of years we’ve worked together, there had to be a little something there or we couldn’t have worked together that long.”
In their years on council, the two men have played a hand in the growth of the city from infrastructure to city departments and employees. Mount Vernon Avenue, Beech Street and Cougar Drive were all constructed during their tenure. South Main Street was reconfigured. The Mount Vernon Police Department has grown from two cruisers and minimal staff to a department with over 30 employees, six cruisers and an Emergency Services Unit. A new fire station was built as well as a new water treatment plant. Upgrades throughout the years have been completed at the wastewater treatment plant which is currently in line for a multimillion dollar upgrade.
“When I came on, we had a real small police department,” Booth said. “I think we had two police cruisers in the whole city. Take a look today and you will see that the department is much, much better.
“The brick streets we have salvaged and committed to working with in the coming years to save the brick streets in the residential neighborhoods — all that takes money but we have planned to do this. We built Mount Vernon Avenue — what would we do without that,” Booth said.
Dice reflected on the changes that have occurred along Coshocton Avenue over the last 40 years.
“The upgrades and widening of Coshocton Avenue have been incredible,” Dice said. “I can remember when that was just cornfield.”
As parks have always been a passion for Dice, having a hand in how the city parks have grown and become such an asset to the city is one of the highlights of his tenure on council.
“Mayor Bob White came to me and said, ‘I’m going to create the position of parks department. I’d like for you to be the chairman of the parks department.’ I said ‘OK, where do I start.’”
White appropriated $9,500 for Dice to create the department which included only one employee to take care of all the city parks.
“As you know our parks department has really grown. Foundation Park is the gem of the city as far as I’m concerned,” Dice said. “That’s one of the biggest achievements that sticks in my mind and I’m glad to have at least a part in.”
For Booth, creating a dialogue between City Council, the Knox County Commissioners and the Mount Vernon Schools Board of Education has been a feather in his cap.
“One thing I’m proud of on my part, and I don’t know why it didn’t happen sooner, is meeting with the county commissioners twice a year and the school board once a year,” Booth said. “That got going with help from Tom McLarnan, who was on council and went on to the commissioners. I had some help with him. I think it will go on for a long time.”
“It’s definitely been a good thing,” Dice said. “John deserves all the credit for setting it up. We really didn’t have any idea what the commissioners were doing, what they wanted from the city, what the city expected from the commissioners and the same thing with the school board. I didn’t have any idea how the school board runs the school so these meetings are tremendous.”
Over the years, Dice said he has worked with 52 different representatives on City Council and seven different mayors since he was first elected in 1966.
“To think that a guy, a person like me, actually born on the wrong side of the tracks, had the opportunity and the privilege to work with people like bankers, corporation officers, two doctors, bank presidents, lawyers, a newspaper executive, school district employees, secretaries, housewives, entrepreneurs ... all the different types of people I had the opportunity to work with and become friends with,” Dice said.
With so many personalities woven into the history of Mount Vernon City Council, and administration, both men admitted it was difficult, at times, to get things accomplished.
“Every administration is different to work with,” Dice said. “Every mayor I worked with had a different philosophy but you are also working with different safety-service directors. I hate to say it, but in my opinion, there’s been some good ones and there’s been some bad ones, but you have to learn to get along with them and learn what their thinking is — you just had to learn to work with them.”
Both men have served as Second Ward councilmen and council president and were quick to point out the differences and similarities in both positions.
“As ward councilman you are more connected to the people,” Booth said. “We were both Second Ward council members. You are neighbors sometimes. As president you don’t have quite that kind of contact. You do get some calls on certain things but normally those calls go to the ward councilman first. If they don’t get satisfaction they usually go to the council people at large and may even be working on the council president.”
Despite the loss of contact while serving as council president, Dice said it was always important to him to have a firm grasp of legislation although the opportunity was rare for him to have a vote.
“Council members have to study and be ready to vote. They are suppose to know why they are voting yes or no,” Dice said. “As president of council, I have to be just as aware of what that legislation is doing and what it means as the person that’s on council from a ward or at large. Because at any time, there can be a tie vote and I’m going to be the one that’s called on to break that vote. I’ve done it several times. I suspect John has done it several times. It’s not a good position to be in when you know the whole piece of legislation is riding on how you, as one person, perceives it. I would never want to think that a president of the council would be voting without ever knowing what that piece of legislation was about.”
“He’s right,” Booth said of Dice’s comment. “I look at them and I read them. I know what they are. You have to go and be prepared to vote. It’s an odd feeling when you have three over here that voted yes and three over here that voted no and they are all six looking at you. Which way are you going to fall?”
The successes the two men have helped the city accomplish come not only from the collected workings of council, but the support and commitment family members provide for their efforts.
“I could not have stayed 38 years, John could not have stayed 30-some years, if it had not been for our families being behind us 100 percent,” Dice said. “I can’t tell you the countless number of nights that my wife might have wanted to go somewhere to a movie, a show of some kind, a parent-teachers association, and I would have to say you are going to have to go by yourself because I have a council meeting tonight. Your family has to be behind you. Deciding not to run was not just my decision, I had my family help to decide to not run again.”
Booth agreed with Dice regarding the sacrifices their families have made in order for them to be a part of city government.
“I’ve been in restaurants trying to have dinner with my wife and people want to talk,” Booth said. “You have to listen, you have to be courteous. People think you just have to go to two meetings a month and that’s it. It is so much more than just going to meetings.”
Regardless of the odd hours or the lost Monday nights, there are rewards to be found in public service.
“Until you have people lined up to get your job, you don’t have the best job in the world,” Booth said. “It is a rewarding job when you can help someone that could not have accomplished what they needed done without your help. It makes you glad you are doing what you are doing.”
Even though they are preparing to step down from council at the end of the year, the two men are walking away with their heads held high, proud of the accomplishments made over the years.
“We are leaving this city a whole lot better than we found it,” Booth said.
“I hope we have, John,” Dice said.
“I know we have,” said Booth.