Mobile has issues
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
With municipal elections in Mobile fewer than nine months away, various challengers to incumbent elected officials should begin to make their plans public shortly after the holidays, if history is any guide.
Only one candidate has announced his campaign so far -- early bird Mobile Police detective Ron Wallace who will oppose longtime incumbent City Councilman Clinton Johnson in District 3.
It is a safe bet that others will emerge to run in most of the other six council districts as well as for the top spot at City Hall now held by first-term Mayor Sam Jones. (Poll on the effectiveness of the Jones administration.)
Municipal elections in Mobile are set for Aug. 25, 2009.
While these prospects mull their decisions, however, it is not too early to assess the issues that could and perhaps should be fodder for the campaigns.
"I think some of the issues will be as follows:
- Response to citizen's complaints whether positive or negative;
- People ready for a change;
- Council personnel making themselves available for the people in their district;
- Accountability to the citizens we serve;
- City employee pay raises, school issues etc."
-- Ron Wallace,
"I would think that annexation would lead the parade. Next would come the reckless spending programs, which necessitated the annexation. This administration has been as bad as Mike Dow about overspending the income. Most people have to adjust expenditures to income, whereas this City seems to be like Birmingham and tries to adjust income to meet expenses."
"As far as I'm concerned, the leading issues will be:
1. Crime -- There is an overall increase in criminal activity throughout the city. That is the result of the problems within the Police and Fire departments. See number 2 below.
2. Police and Fire Protection -- The Police and Fire departments are being pushed and stretched to their limits. They are losing police and firefighters in record numbers because of pay and pay raises. Personnel from both departments are leaving for higher paying jobs in other communities and the private sector.
3. Finances -- Despite the recent annexation of areas outside the City, there will not be enough taxes collected to meet the infrastructure needs of the City and the newly annexed areas. The City should stop funding all the social and feel good organizations that take money away from the primary purpose of government which is to serve and protect its citizens. They should lower the taxes to encourage business growth and consumer spending. This is not a particular problem peculiar to this administration; all administrations have been plagued by run away spending and giving to charitable organizations that need to raise money on their own from the private sector and not rely on taxpayer dollars for their funding.
4. Infrastructure -- The city needs to do more relative to the drainage and flooding problems, road repair, abandoned housing and the litter and junk problem our city is plagued with. They need to resurrect the old code enforcement unit as it existed under Mayor Dow's administration.
5. Gang activity -- The subtle but dangerous development of gangs in the area. Right now they are rather fragmented, but because of inadequate police personnel, they are gradually getting footholds in our communities.
6. Illegal immigration -- We are facing a growing problem of illegal aliens settling in our city. It is already a problem and is only going to get worse if it is not addressed now.
7. Crime & Fire Prevention -- Expand the Crime Prevention unit within the police department. Combine efforts between the police and fire departments to develop awareness programs designed to involve, motivate and educate citizens about how the city can best serve them.
8. Mobile Civic Center -- Resolve the problems at the Mobile Civic Center. We do not need to have a management company run that complex under a contract that makes more money for the management company when they lose money than if and when they make money. We don't need to pay any company around $450,000 to $500,000 a year to lose anywhere from $600,000 to $1 million a year. The Civic Center is a tremendous City asset and one I would like to see preserved if possible. The facility has to be brought up to date, a new contract entered into whereby the management company is compensated for making money, not losing it. The Mobile Civic Center Advisory Board of Directors needs to have a more pro-active presence so that their respective Council Representatives are always kept appraised of possible problems and venues. If that cannot be accomplished, TEAR IT DOWN and stop the bleeding."
-- John Gavin,
"Leading issues in next summer's city elections should be:
- A) How do we get the Tanker contract back?
- B) What are we going to do with the Theodore Industrial canal now that the city has annexed it? (Move the State Docks there and Develop the downtown waterfront maybe?)
- C) What are we going to do about parking in downtown, so that our developed business can take full advantage of its customer base?
- D) How are we going to combat gang violence in the R.V. Taylor and Birdsville housing projects created by moving the former inhabitants of the Orange Grove housing projects there? (two murders and several acts of physical violence over the last year);
- E) Where is the Housing Board going to put the displaced inhabitants of the Happy Hill housing projects when they close it? I understand that it is the Mobile COUNTY Housing Board, but can we get some communication outside of the box going.
- F) When are the Mayor and the City council going to step in and get Chief (Philip) Garrett to acknowledge the problem?
- G) How are we going to combat the attrition and morale problems suffered by MPD?"
-- Karlos Finley,
"My thoughts ... Not in any order:
- Funding or the lack of funding for capital projects and maintaining of the city's infrastructure;
- Public Safety (numbers of police officers and fire/paramedics personnel, response times, morale) Crime Issues (increase in numbers of robberies, murders, rapes and other violent crimes);
- Priority for the use of our tax dollars during a downturn in the economy;
- Finding new revenue for budget shortfalls if unwilling to make cuts to balance budget;
And ..., if the market rebounds quickly, foreclosures aren't happening, EADS lands in the city and jobs are plentiful, then everything will be super, Mobilians will be overjoyed. We can always hope and pray this will be the case. Then 2009 will be a banner year and none of the above will be an issue!"
-- Bess Rich,
former District 6 City Councilwoman
"1. The 'will be's' are not my strength. I suspect that the fiscal success of annexation efforts will be there. Also, the public perception of the 'New Plan' (for downtown) is pretty skeptical, at least in my circle of contacts.
THE BRIDGE (new I-10 bridge over Mobile River downtown).
2. 'Should be's' -- More commitment to public (yes, subsidized) mass transit. Interest in incentivizing downtown redevelopment.
-- George Crozier,
director, Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Pocketbook issues may be foremost on the minds of voters and certainly will be among the traditional local issues of roads, public safety, recreation and education. The candidates who best sooth the electorate's economic fears may hold the greatest appeal.
-- Page Stalcup,
"Here are five topics which 'should' be issues:
- 1. Percentage growth of the General Fund Budget over last four years and last 10 years vs. the consumer price index or the rate of inflation.
- 2. Number of city employees today vs. four years ago, 10 years ago and 15 years ago, as compared to the trend in city population over that same 15 years.
- 3. Status of the Capital Budget in a city of 200,000 people.
- 4. Status of the unfunded liability of the police/firefighter's pension fund and proposals for reducing it. Remember, it is considered 'off the books' debt and is not generally mentioned when the city's per capita debt is discussed.
- 5. Growth of the City of Mobile -- How is 'growth' defined? Has there been any real increase in population of city residents? What are the proposals for dealing with this?"
"Continued geographical growth of the City. Or at lease that is my primary concern. Either we grow or die (like Birmingham). Sam has caught flack for the way he has expanded. Frankly I don't care how its done, by the inch or by the mile. Growth is growth."
-- Matthew S. Metcalfe,
"I would love to have candidates discussing competing visions for Mobile's future. Can Mobile implement procedures to become more fuel efficient while promoting us as a green city? Do we have mass transit
opportunities that would help make Mobile more livable? Is city wide wireless Internet possible and would it have direct and indirect economic impact? What plans do you support, if any, to implement the vision of Mobile that we have developed under Mayor Jones' leadership? How will we prevent Mobile's growth from being choked off by bedroom municipalities which have paralyzed Birmingham? How can we make annexation more appealing to county residents? What can the City of Mobile do to help public education?
-- Pete Burns,
"Issues facing City of Mobile 2009
- 1) Police and Fire Pension Fund. Must shore up contribution levels. This will improve morale of current public safety and all city workers. Monetary focus should be on these heroes.
- 2) Infrastructure. Downtown bridge, support Port in acquiring funding for turning basin, resurface streets, continue assault on drainage issues.
- 3) Cut the sales tax to 8 percent. This will lead to increased buying power for citizens and force fiscal responsibility for city government.
- 4) Consolidate services between governmental entities. Start small: insurance, permitting. Long term: public works.
- 5) Reform MCVB. We have not taken advantage of the city and county tax on hotels and have not maximized the worldwide attention from our economic development to boost tourism.
- 6) Tanker and Aerospace. Continue all-out assault to secure tanker contract which will result in Mobile becoming an international aerospace hub.
- 7) Regionalism. Take advantage of the great working relationship with county forged during recent economic development successes. Transportation and Workforce Development are two key areas.
- 8) Reform the Housing Board and Personnel Board. These agencies should work for the citizens and taxpayers and should not hinder local governments.
- 9) Annexation. Work with all local elected and community leaders to let ALL citizens in an area have a voice. Must cut taxes and improve services to gain the confidence of people currently living outside city.
- 10) Neighborhoods. Do like the county and develop parks, playgrounds, libraries and senior centers, working closely with neighborhood citizens' groups."
-- Steve Nodine,
Mobile County Commissioner
"Annexation, but everyone will say that. Raises for City employees, ditto."
-- Bill Tunnell,
executive director, USS ALABAMA Battleship Memorial Park
"Before next summer's elections, those who attempt to anticipate city revenue and perform budget planning accordingly will have a much better idea to what extent
the current economic climate will challenge Mobile's future leaders. If revenues are down as predicted, then conservative leadership and prudent spending should
be in order. Some would point out, 'unlike what we currently see.'
Assuming all criticism should be constructive, as a mid-town resident it is difficult to ignore that the City is not keeping up with basic infrastructure needs and preventive maintenance. Old Shell Road is in embarrassing condition,
many sections of sidewalk are mini obstacle courses, existing parks such as Lyons and Brookley need a face lift, the riverside fountains and lights at the foot of Government Street have been inoperative for at least two years, the fishing park on D.I.P. just north of the Mobile Yacht Club is not kept up. Trashy vacant lots downtown, unpainted boarded windows are still common on upper
Dauphin Street and building compliance city-wide appears to be falling short of the desired mark of a progressive zoning program.
Why is this? Lack of funds? Lack of planning?
Viewed in light of recent annexations with a demand for expanded public safety services and public works, Mobile's future leaders may well be faced with competing priorities and unusually stretched resources.
These issues and more (yet to be anticipated) will welcome new City leaders into public office this summer. As a fourth generation Mobilian who like many others
are very proud to call The Port City home, let's pray for some conservative leadership and responsible stewardship."
"National issues may predominate. Otherwise, I think it will be a referendum on Mayor Jones."
"Transportation issues should be at the forefront. We are headed toward a lockdown on I-10 with the container facility opening. We need a transit plan to move people from the outlying Mobile, Washington and Baldwin County areas in to the work areas. We need a long term bus/light rail program that is coordinated not only with the tri-county Alabama governments but with Mississippi as well. Mobile is a small city now as opposed to a big town. We have city issues in transportation, public safety, education, taxes, tourism and convention business among many others."
-- Elliot Maisel,
"(3) Violent crime, (2) congestion on I -10 tunnel/bayway, (1) vigilantly controlling spending/avoiding financial distress."
-- Michael Upchurch,
Frazer, Greene, Upchurch & Baker law firm
"Cost cutting measures and providing services in a weakening economy or long recession."
-- Bob Brazier,
general manager, Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center
"Annexation should be a leading issue. The annexation movement in this administration appears to be an overt grab of tax revenues as well as an overt grab to expand a power base. I am not annexed and am totally opposed to being so.
If I owned a business on Florida (street), I would support anyone other than the incumbent.
Otherwise, I pay little attention to municipal issues.
I do understand there is a movement (although perhaps not strong) to convince (Mobile County Commissioner Steve) Nodine that he can beat Jones in a race for Mayor. Not sure if this is a serious attempt to recruit someone who might wage a good campaign or just an attempt to recruit someone to force Jones to spend some money."
-- M.B.T. Gastronome,
restaurant critic (ret.)
"I wish the questions were:
- 1. What is wrong with our Airport? Pensacola boards 1.8 million passengers per year; Gulfport 1.2 million, and Mobile declined last year to approximately 700,000. Why does Pensacola and Gulfport board passengers at a rate five or six times the Mobile per capita rate? Since all board members serve at the pleasure and appointment of the Mayor, what is the Mayor going to do about the problem?
- 2. The Mobile Civic Center Complex is a virtual ghost town. No concerts or entertainment. Again Pensacola and Gulfport beat Mobile by huge margins. Why do we tolerate this, and what will the mayor do about it?
- 3. Eight or nine years ago the City took over the independent Mobile Transit Authority alleging mismanagement and used the reason that the City would have to subsidize a deficit of $500,000 unless the control was shifted to the City. The City subsidized MTA to the tune of over $3 million last year, so what happened, and why? Does the Mayor think this is acceptable?
- 4. The location of the Airport at Bates Field is often used as a reason for its lack of competitiveness, while all discussions of moving the passenger terminal to Brookley for more convenience is dismissed because 'we need the land around Brookley for industrial development ...' What is wrong with all the land around Bates for development? There is more of it and it is cheaper."
-- Jerry Lathan,