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Council Member Dennis Bailey: Coming home was an easy sell 

by Jessica Wells, NCLM Communications Sepcialist 

“I’ve lived in 19 cities, and I like having my roots firmly planted here.”

Shelby Council Member Dennis Bailey was born and raised in Shelby. His career in the United States Air Force took him around the world, but he found his way home. And found his way to the city council. He was appointed in 2010 and has served his hometown since. 

Bailey’s pride in Shelby led to him making it his permanent home. In fact, Bailey’s home is somewhat of a landmark. The house had been abandoned for 11 years and was 30 days away from being demolished when Bailey’s wife decided it would be the perfect home.

It took 2 and 1/2 years to clear debris that covered the house, which was built in 1922, and replace everything from the wrap-around porch to the attic that finished living space. His house was the first in decades to undergo renovations, but now several in the neighborhood have made improvements.

After a career in the Air Force and working for the federal government, Bailey is a real estate agent and finds Shelby to be an easy sell. 

For one, Shelby is a sports town, and local high schools claim several state championships in football, baseball, soccer and swimming. Bailey said athletics matter because when kids have something to do, they stay out of trouble.

 
 The Don Gibson Theatre was originally built in 1939 as the State Theatre to show movies, but now serves as an intimate concert hall and museum. Photo credit: LOF Productions, John Daughtry, photographer. 
“We have to keep them involved where people care about them,” he said.

Between school sports and city parks, there’s always something to keep families busy. The parks and recreation department maintains ball fields, playgrounds, picnic areas, tennis courts, an Olympic-size pool, nine-hole golf course, outdoor volleyball and croquet court, and a sitting garden.

Shelby is also home to the 95-year-old Historic Herchell Spillman Carrousel and the 62-year-old Rotary Special Miniature Train – both of which Bailey remembers riding as a child. They’re still in operation, and the 50-cent admission makes them an attractive pastime for locals.  

Bailey said it’s those amenities and activities for children that sway people to buy a house in Shelby instead of another town.

“If there’s no substantial difference in running a business here or in the next town over, it’s things like this that make people say, ‘I want to be in Shelby,’” Bailey said.  

In addition, every summer Shelby welcomes visitors and athletes to the Shelby High School baseball field for the American Legion World Series. The city and its residents, including Council Member Bailey, wear their host badge with honor.

“It is a simply awesome field,” Bailey said. “The World Series is like an extension of the county fair.”

 
 The Shelby High School baseball field underwent significant improvements made possible by volunteers and donors, including the entrance dedicated to Eddie Holbrook, who was instrumental in making the American Legion World Series a permanent, annual event in Shelby. Photo credit: NCLM Files, Jessica Wells
The field seats 5,000 with plenty of accessible seating for disabled veterans and fills the county’s hotels requiring some visitors to stay as far as Charlotte, which is nearly an hour drive. Since Eddie Holbrook, former men’s basketball coach at Furman and Gardner-Webb, and the rest of the county commission worked to make Shelby the permanent host, the tournament’s record attendance almost doubled to nearly 120,000 in 2014 and brought roughly $1.2 million to Shelby in 2013 alone.

The World Series pride flows into the uptown district with flags on every light post. Uptown, visitors will find mix of shops, restaurants and historic buildings including the Earl Scruggs Center in the historic Old Cleveland County Courthouse. Each gallery in the courthouse showcases a part of Scruggs’ life in Shelby and his career as a nationally prominent and widely influential musician.

Visitors flock to the courthouse and the Don Gibson Theatre, which opened its doors in 1939 as a movie theatre but now seats 400 for live performances from musicians like Loretta Lynn, Lisa Marie Presley and Ricky Skaggs.

“It’s shocking the number of Earl Scruggs and Don Gibson fans that come here,” Bailey said.

Given his love of Shelby and his background, it was inevitable that he would become involved in the city’s politics. 

“I can make a difference by getting to know people and getting them to trust me,” said Bailey.

Even before being appointed to city council in 2010, Bailey made a difference in zoning ordinances by forging relationships with legislators in Raleigh. Bailey serves on the League’s General Government Legislative Action Committee and makes regular trips to maintain those relationships.

“I’m fighting for things that cities want,” he said. “My standard song is: Please don’t punish us because we all aren’t doing it wrong.”

As a Republican and realtor, Bailey regularly faces challenges on things like aesthetics, annexation and tax increases, but he said taking a pragmatic approach to the issue helps make decisions that put Shelby in the best position.

“Even people I disagree with, I still get along with,” he said. “Everybody that sits on council loves this town. We just have different ways of getting things done.”