Twenty years ago, the mayor of a rural central Texas town waxed philosophical his role in the office.
“As presiding officer of the council, the mayor has an obligation to set the tone and direction,” the mayor was quoted in the local newspaper. “Of course, that’s not always possible because each council member operates independently.
“The mayor has an obligation to try. It’s not enough to concentrate on just the basics — water, fire and police protection, sewer and garbage disposal. He must add to that a tone for the quality of life, for a good economic climate to do business.”
Bert V. Massey II, who has been mayor of Brownwood for 26 of his 66 years of life, agreed with that quote. And he should — he’s the one who uttered those words, which were published in the Bulletin’s first Horizons edition on March 25, 1990.
“I’ve made statements like that many times,” Massey said recently. “I believe it was true when I said it, and I believe it’s true today.”
Massey, who has been mayor since 1984, may be nearing the end of his long political career. He said he may not seek another term as mayor in the May 8 municipal election.
“The odds are that I will not be a candidate for re-election of the City of Brownwood, but I will not make that final decision until the filing deadline,” Massey said. The filing deadline is March 8.
Massey lives in south Brownwood with his wife, Melinda. They have two daughters, Sarah, 35, and Rachel, 31, and a son, Bert III, who is 26.
Massey, an attorney, is owner and president of Brown County Abstract Co., Inc. He and Ray West are partners in the Massey-West law firm, which specializes in real estate law.
Speaking in his office in the building that houses both entities, Massey reflected on his job as mayor for the past 26 years.
“The mayor’s position has no inherent power created by law or by the charter, other than the ability in Brownwood to veto council resolutions or ordinances, and the ability to declare marshal law in the case of a disaster – neither one of which I have ever exercised,” Massey said, expanding on his quote in the 1990 Horizons.
“But I do believe that the mayor has an obligation to try to provide some leadership. I don’t believe the mayor needs to interfere in day-to-day operations of the city. That’s not the mayor’s job.”
Massey said he doesn’t intend to claim personal credit for progress in the community, but hopes he has “provided an atmosphere and given some leadership” to help make progress possible.
He said he is confident that Brownwood “is going to continue to grow, to improve economically, and at the same time, maintain the quality of life that was – and, I believe, is – here.”
All those years ago
Massey remembers posing for the photo on the front page of the “Leadership” section of the 1990 Horizons. Wearing a long beige overcoat and fedora, Massey was photographed standing at the Brownwood Regional Landfill, the slopes of a pit that were being excavated receding behind him.
Massey recalled that it was cold that day. He still has the overcoat and fedora.
“I’m not even sure (the landfill) was open at that time,” Massey said. “We may have been excavating to build the first pit.”
The landfill, Massey said, was the city’s first big project that was started from scratch after he became mayor, and it was a big undertaking – and a big gamble. Speaking from memory, Massey said he recalls that the city issued about $3 million in certificates of obligation to fund the landfill.
“And that was a big gamble as to whether we could actually put one together that would pass muster with the environmental regulatory agency … and as to whether we could operate it. And, of course, we were taking on considerable debt.”
A lawyer in the making
Massey graduated from Brownwood High School in 1961, when he was “probably like many other kids of that era. I saw myself going to the big city. I think I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but I can’t tell you why – maybe because I thought I could do that, because I sure as the dickens didn’t have a scientific mind.
“In my wildest dreams at that time, I had no thought of coming back to Brownwood to live and work, and absolutely no thought of doing what I’m doing for a living, much less some day serving as mayor of the city of Brownwood.”
Massey didn’t expect then to end up practicing law as a real estate lawyer. Influenced by television shows about lawyers, Massey anticipated becoming a “great trial lawyer,” probably as a criminal prosecutor.
He attended the University of Texas as an undergraduate student, and then attended law school there. He dropped out of law school for a time in an unsuccessful bid for the state legislature.
His interest in state politics was fueled by his experience, while in college, of working as a committee clerk in the legislature. “So I got to see the Texas House work, and I became enamored with state politics,” Massey said aid.
When then-House Speaker Ben Barnes gave up his seat to run for lieutenant governor, Massey ran for Barnes’ old seat. “A funny thing happened on my way to grazing at the public trough for the rest of my life – I lost,” Massey said.
“So suddenly, I had to figure out a way to make a living and I had to do it as a lawyer. So I went back and finished law school and fell in love, got married as soon as I passed the Bar, and went to work for the Veterans Land Board because I needed a job. My wife was still in college.”
The Masseys ended up in Dallas, where Bert worked for a small plaintiff’s personal injury firm. About 2 1/2 years later, Massey said, “Melinda and I looked around and said, well, Dallas is a nice big city, but there’s got to be something better than this.’”
Return to Brownwood
At his wife’s suggestion, Massey looked for a job in his hometown. He found a job as a hired hand at the Brown County Abstract Company, working for owners Conner Scott and Henry Evans.
He figured he’d work there and be a trial lawyer too, but he found out there wasn’t time for the latter. “Tragically, Henry Evans died within six months of my coming to work for them at the Brown County Abstract Company,” Massey said. “So Mr. Scott had to allow me to handle a lot of stuff he never intended for me to handle for a long time, because he had the business and he couldn’t do it all himself.
“And the long and short of it is, I wound up in Brownwood, and I wound up in a real estate practice and in the title insurance business, both of which I have come to love dearly.”
Bill Shaw joined the company about a year after Massey did. Massey and Shaw bought out Scott in 1980 and incorporated the company. The new owners moved the company to its current location at 201 S. Broadway, across the street from the courthouse, and Ray West joined them around 1980, Massey said.
Massey went on to own the company, and Massey, West, and Massey’s son-in-law, Eric McNeese, are escrow officers, Massey said.
In the Massey-West law firm, the two are partners, and McNeese is an associate, Massey said.
Entering public life
In 1978, Massey won the first of three terms on the Brownwood City Council. His campaign card for his first council race featured a photo of Bert and Melinda, with Bert holding the couple’s first child, Sarah, who was a baby.
He’d been on the council for six years when longtime Mayor Truman Harlow announced his retirement. Massey was interested in running for the seat – but first, he approached then-Councilman Ferris Clements.
Massey pledged his support to Clements if Clements wanted to run for mayor. “He said he wasn’t interested, for me to go right ahead and run for mayor,” Massey said.
“I knew something about what the job entailed, obviously, because I had been on the council. I don’t remember it being a big transition. The biggest problem with it was that we had some ambitious plans.
“We certainly knew we needed a bond issue for street work. But I got elected in 1984, and in 1985 the economy of the southwest United States collapsed.”
There was no way to pass a bond issue under the difficult economic conditions, Massey said, and the city had to “pretty much tread water. We had to deal with what we had, as opposed to launching into a myriad number of public works projects.”
By 1990, the economy had turned around and the city became the driving force in economic development and still is, Massey said.
Massey hadn’t planned to serve as mayor for more than two or three terms. “I stayed on because we were always involved in new projects that I thought were important, and nobody, much, came forward (who was) interested in the job. So to a degree I began to feel I had a job nobody else wanted.”
While stressing he doesn’t claim credit, Massey cited numerous examples of progress the city has made over the past 26 years, including:
• Voters approved the passage of a sales tax and the creation of the Brownwood Economic Development Corp.
• The city and the Texas Department of Public Transportation built the Harlow and Monroe overpasses. “Never before had you been able to get past the railroad tracks without waiting on trains,” Massey said. “And by the way, the lack of those (overpasses) cut the town off from the hospital.”
• Working with the Texas Department of Transportation, the city put more than $7 million into main traffic thoroughfares. TxDOT “took out that wretched old traffic circle and took out that wretched old viaduct over West Austin Avenue.”
• Rebuilt and upgraded the sewer treatment plant.
• Laid miles of new water lines.
• Twice, the city has guaranteed the bonds of the Brownwood Water Improvement District to upgrade the water filtration plant.
• With the help of the Civic Improvement Foundation, the city bought and renovated the Depot Civic and Cultural Center.
• The city built the Lehnis Railroad Museum and acquired most of the property between the museum and the Brownwood Coliseum for future tourism development.
• Bought the building that housed the failed Southern Savings and Loan, at 501 Center, and relocated City Hall into the building.
• Renovated the coliseum.
• Saw the arrivals of Texas State Technical College, Ranger College and a state prison facility.
• Many new industries have located here. 3M, Kohler and Superior Essex Cable have expanded numerous times.
• Because of public-private partnerships, “we’ve got retail here that had never been here before,” Massey said.
• The Center Avenue streetscape was created.
“And all of that has happened because we have consistently had forward-thinking city councils, excellent leadership in the Economic Development Corp. in James Campbell, and we’ve had three wonderful city managers.”
Massey said he was referring to Virgil Gray, Gary Butts and the current city manager, Bobby Rountree.
“Sometimes I’ve been directly involved,” Massey said. “Sometimes things have happened because the council was challenged to do it. … I reiterate: I’m not saying I personally did those things. All I’m saying is that those things happened while I was mayor and I had an opportunity to participate in them.”
“You can’t sit still,” Massey said. “You either grow and improve or you die. I believe there are younger people that will continue that philosophy.
“In the location where we are, you’ve got to make it happen. You can’t do like a bedroom community to a big city and just be there, and it’s going to happen. By and large, you’ve got to be engaged in the process to try and make it happen.”
Massey said it’s hard for him to remember a time when he didn’t hold elected office. Stepping down as mayor, he said, will likely be a hard transition.
“But I’ll get over it,” he said. “And I don’t plan on retiring … I’ve got over 30 years of my life invested in this community, and I suspect I’ll continue to do what I can in promotion of the same philosophy I’ve always had, of growth, development and maintenance of quality of life.”