BAYOU LA BATRE, Ala. (WALA) – Alabama’s seafood capital had a change in leadership in October 2013. Brett Dungan, the Bayou La Batre mayor, is a political newcomer, being in his first office for less than a year. However, the Colorado native has lived in Bayou La Batre more than 30 years. Dungan recently shared about his town’s challenges and the successes of the past 10 months.
“Everything is possible in our life when we don’t worry about our egos and whose going to get credit for it. And, when we can put our egos aside and work for the common good this is the challenge that we have,” Dungan stated.
Bayou LaBatre’s mayor learned important life lessons growing up. Dungan’s parents were public school teachers in Denver, Colorado.
His father also served in the U.S. Navy Reserves. Every summer the family traveled to a military assignment.
“I think we went to 26 different bases, so we saw 40 states as I was growing up. This instilled in me to have a bigger vision. Basically everywhere I went, I saw that people are the same and that they’re really trying to put bread on their table for their family,” Dungan remembered.
Dungan worked in ministry in Los Angeles, California before moving to another L.A., lower Alabama.
“I was working with the Unification Church as a Lay Missionary with young people. It started in Bayou La Batre as a place of their business venture to build fishing boats. I actually volunteered to make this movement to come to Bayou La Batre,” Duncan said.
He spent 34 years at Master Marine.
“I never thought I would get to climb the corporate ladder and become the president of Master Marine, which I was for 25 years,” Dungan reflected.
Dungan had different plans for his retirement. However, several local leaders asked him to run for the office, after the town’s former mayor, Stan Wright, was found guilty of federal corruption charges.
“I was planning on basically relaxing with my wife. I had to really pray, and 26 business leaders and community leaders in our town really encouraged me. I’ve lived here for 34 years and I’ve raised four kids here, this is my town. I have the skill set that I feel that God wants to use to bring together a renaissance, and really, revival in our community,” Dungan shared.
He received 46 percent of the vote in a special mayoral election. Six weeks later, Dungan won the runoff with 52 percent and diverse support of the vote.
“The exciting thing about the election was that people that had felt like they were disenfranchised for decades, they felt like their voice made a difference. So, we saw people come the polls who had not voted in 20 years. That was the beautiful thing, was to see people from such diverse backgrounds really feeling that they can be a part of their community. I really feel that each of us has a small part to play,” Duncan stated.
Dungan has brought his business experience to the mayor’s office.
“The skill set that it takes to be elected to a public position is not the same skill set that it takes to govern. In my case I felt that it was a natural fit. The skill set that I had acquired in my 34 years was exactly the skill set that was required and could actually bring this town together and bring this town to heal. That’s the commitment that I’ve made,” Dungan said.
New financial policies and procedures were installed.
“The city had been spending on the average $100,000 a month more than they had revenue coming in. It took us four months to reverse that. So instead of $100,000 shortfall, we had a $15,000 surplus by installing the financial policies and procedures and installing accountability. We’ve been able to save the city $600,000 in the first eight months. We now have a budget surplus, we have money in the bank. We’ve come up with a raise for the employees, we’ve hired new employees, two additional firemen, we’ve bought new equipments. We have monthly profit loss statements,” Dungan stated.
Another challenge for the mayor and Bayou La Batre are the long term effects of the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
“BP spent millions of dollars in getting the public to think that if there’s no oil on the beaches then that is the answer. I’m concerned about the long term, as are the fishermen in our community. It’s very frustrating to the small guy. We feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle in really re-addressing the issue. What should have been addressed in the first place is the health of the communities, the health of the economies and the health of the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico,” Dungan reflected.
Mayor Dungan believes in Bayou La Batre’s future.
“This is a very viable economic community we have in Bayou La Batre. The fisheries are extremely viable and will always be viable. The value of domestic wild caught seafood. We will bring back our Eat Alabama Wild Seafood Committee effort to the forefront again. There’s very much a natural fit between tourism and domestic wild caught seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. The city is also participating with some aquaculture ventures that are in the oyster industry. Anything is possible in our lives if we don’t care who gets credit. In my experience in Bayou La Batre when we’ve really worked together for whole purpose without worrying about who gets the credit, we’ve been able to accomplish incredible things. This has been a lot of fun for us and we’re still having fun and we’re going to keep on having fun. We have an eye on the past and we’re looking forward to the future,” Dungan shared.
Mayor Dungan has been told by the state that Bayou La Batre is one of only two cities of its size in Alabama, that produces monthly profit and loss statements. The mayor says events are being planned that will celebrate the towns cultural diversity.
Twenty years ago in July, “Forrest Gump” put Bayou La Batre before a worldwide audience. On October 25, the town will celebrate the Academy Award-winning movie with an outdoor showing in the park and several events. Bayou La Batre will also celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding in 2015.