Mulberry residents unfazed by mayor’s arrest on sex charge

Posted: September 17, 2010 by The STR in NEWS & LOCAL NEWS, Political NEWS & VEIWS
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Here you go Tray Sinny some more reading content for your show…..

Mulberry, a rambling little town 40 miles east of Tampa that was built on the rough-and-tumble shoulders of the phosphate and timber industries, is dealing with a sex scandal in city hall and residents are reacting with a shrug of the shoulders and a big fat: “So what.”

Motorists driving through the burg on the wide and worn State Road 60 seldom stop to take in the scenery; they may pull over for a fast-food meal or slow down for lumbering phosphate trucks or gawk at the towering gypsum stacks, but they don’t vacation there. This is a working town where big trucks full of molten sulfur stop only for grinding freight trains.

The city’s website which boasts more about what surrounding communities offer than what’s going on in town, still lists John JulianMullis as the mayor.

Though he was removed from office earlier this month by the governor after Mullis was arrested on a morals charge, the city’s website doesn’t mention that. And, the sex arrest doesn’t seem to matter much in this community of 3,327, where more than half of the 24 churches areconservative Baptist congregations.

“Oh, it aggravates some people,” said longtime resident George Hatch. “The day before that happened, my wife and I were talking and we were saying that Mulberry has not been in the news lately. “Then, bam.”

Hatch is the retired principal of Mulberry High School and has lived in Mulberry for all but six months of his life. He’s a past president of the town’s chamber of commerce. He said Mullis’ arrest has angered some, but folks here are forgiving. It’s a benefit of living in a small town without lots of outsiders.

“It’s a nice place to live,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody and if you need help, people will help you. If you’re down and out somebody is going to help you.”

In small towns, people pull together, especially in tough times. And the people of Mulberry are in a tough time. The economy has put a lot of people out of work, he said. Nobody’s buying furniture from Babcock, headquartered in Mulberry or fertilizer, from phosphate giant Mosaic which has a sprawling mine nearby. In the scheme of things, this little scandal doesn’t mean a whole lot to very many people.

Terry Evers has been city commissioner for more than four years and was surprised to hear the news of Mullis’ arrest. Evers said he has known the 33-year-old Mullis, “since he was a young man.”

“It’s not the talk of the town,” he said. “It is sad news and we pray for him every day. It’s not something we relish. We wish the best for him.”

He said city government has “bounced back. For the most part, we’re back to normal.”

Mulberry was incorporated 109 years ago. Legend says the city’s first incarnation was a railroad stop near the biggest landmark at the time, a mulberry tree.

Evers said for the most part, the people of Mulberry go about their day without giving a thought to the city hall scandal-ette.

“Mulberry is a very nice place to live,” he said. “It’s a friendly community and everybody seems to get along with everybody else.”

Mullis was arrested on Sept. 10, accused of having consensual sex with a 17-year-old boy.

Hours after the arrest, Gov. Charlie Crist issued an executive order suspending Mullis indefinitely and prohibited him from receiving any compensation from public office. Mullis makes about $5,000 a year as mayor.

Deputies say they got a tip that Mullis had sexual contact with the youth in June after he met the teen online in April on the website Adam 4 Adam. The teen’s profile said he was 19.

Mullis is divorced and works as a deliveryman at an auto parts store. He was elected mayor in April 2009 and had previously served on the city commission, winning a seat as a political newcomer in 2001 in a city where 250 votes can win an election.

The arrest was the second time Mullis’ personal life became a public issue.

In June 2009, Mullis’ roommate was charged with domestic violence when he threw a beer bottle at Mullis during an altercation at Mullis’ home.

In Brown’s Barber Shop, hair cutter Frosty Capps mused about the whole deal.

“I just thought it was par for the course in Mulberry,” he said. Still, few people chatted about the arrest in the barber chair, he said. “We don’t talk about politics too much.” He said a city commissioner came in to the shop on Tuesday and the subject never came up.

He said few were surprised by the nature of the arrest. After all, he said, it is a small town.

“It’s kind of a sad joke,” he said. “Everybody’s shaking their heads.”

Shirley Kennedy, a hair stylist at the next door Cristy’s Styling Salon, was less forgiving.

“We thought it was awful,” she said. “We were disgusted. I don’t think he should be in office. He should be held to a higher level.”

Several churches crowd around the town’s center, the corner of state roads 60 and 37, including the First Baptist Church of Mulberry, where Gerald Bagwell is the pastor.

Bagwell said he knows Mullis and his family and he was surprised to hear the nature of the charges.

“I have called both the mayor and his parents and offered to minister in any way they need me,” Bagwell said. He said Mulberry citizens are “concerned about the city and we also are concerned about the mayor and his family.”

Mulberry City Manager Frank Satchel said this week that the city’s day-to-day business has not even hiccupped over the arrest.

“We are moving forward as we should according to our charter,” he said. “The vice mayor is operating the meetings and city business continues. There has been no disruption.”

On the street, he said, “I haven’t heard much talk about it.” It seems to be a bigger deal in the media than is reflected in the day-to-day running of the city or on the minds of the city’s residents, he said. “It’s business as usual all over town.”

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