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 The Political Round-Up

Wallace looms over mayor's race;
City Hall and the ruby red slippers;
Dean not done? Nodine seeks change of venue

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
This and that along the political trail of late ...

A former Mobile police officer resigned Friday as he mulls a potential campaign for mayor in city elections next summer.

Ron Wallace, 39, who stepped down after eight years in law enforcement, confirmed his interest in Mobile's mayorship.

“Yes, I’m thinking about it,” he said, admitting that the move was “a little bit” tied to his political future.

“We need change,” said Wallace. “If you are living in the city, you know that.”

Incumbent Mayor Sam Jones has said he intends to seek a third term at City Hall in the August, 2013 elections.

Spending restraint, transparency and public safety would be the bedrock of his prospective campaign, said Wallace.

“We need to really watch how we’re spending; that’s a key factor to our future as a city,” he said, adding that more transparency in municipal finances would result in greater credibility among the citizenry and ultimately a stronger and more united community.

“We need to be more transparent with the citizens and let them know what’s going on,” he said. “If we’re doing things how we’re supposed to be doing them, we shouldn’t have anything to hide from anyone.”

Wallace also pledged to forge “a good relationship” with the City Council, regarding them as colleagues and associates in the delivery of good government.

“We need to work together,” he said. “You can’t be at each other all the time. I know there will be disagreements from time to time, but you need to get past those, start fresh on the next issue and do what’s best for the citizens and the city.”

Wallace challenged for the City Council, District 3 seat in 2009. Although longtime incumbent Clinton Johnson was ousted, it was Jermaine Burrell, not Wallace, who emerged as a council newcomer.

An eight-year veteran of MPD, Wallace spent five years as a detective and three years in patrol. He also served for a time as a department spokesman.

Wallace said also that he would reach out to the community and city employees because their input could prove invaluable.

“'Help me help you' would be a slogan in my campaign and what I mean by that is I want your ideas,” he said. “I want to take into consideration what people have to say. We may not do it (implement every suggestion), but the point is to ask the citizens to help you do the job. Give them some input with the city. After all, you have a stake in where you live, where your livelihood is.”

Wallace said he would be a visible and supportive mayor, regularly encouraging and supporting city workers for their efforts.

Lastly, said Wallace, public safety would be paramount in a Wallace administration and “I just can’t say that enough.”

“There have been things going on in the city for the last several years, crime and all, that we cannot let stand,” he said. “Coming from law enforcement, I would make sure that public safety was our No. 1 priority along with sound finances.”

Wallace served in the U.S. Marines for eight years. A graduate of John S. Shaw High School, Wallace said he has some college credits but does not have a college degree. Wallace was a U.S. Olympic hopeful in 2000 in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints.

Wallace said he had no timetable for reaching a decision and officially announcing his candidacy.

Through a spokesperson in the mayor's office, MBT extended an offer to Jones to comment. The mayor did not respond immediately.   

City Hall and the ruby red slippers
Like Dorothy with her ruby red slippers, the city of Mobile apparently has had the power to close its eyes, and click its heels together three times and repeat 'there's no tax revenue like new tax revenue' and magically ... well, not land in Kansas ... but go home to a fully-funded government, or at least much closer to it.

On March 10, 2009, the city amended Storm Water Ordinance 65-007 assessing fees against residential and commercial properties under a formula assigning "equivalent runoff units" according to the properties' size and use.

If collected, the fees would generate more than $10 million annually. "If collected" is the critical point. Despite adopting the ordinance, the city never collected the revenue.

There is a little more to it than an oversight, according to Barbara Drummond, the city's Executive Director for Administrative Services and Community Affairs. Much as with a garbage collection fee, storm water fees are "cumbersome" to collect whereas with the sales tax, the system is already in place.  

City Council President Reggie Copeland's recently disbanded advisory committee on city finances discovered the ordinance and included its enforcement among its recommended revenue enhancements and spending cuts.

The advisory committee forecast almost $10.5 million in storm water fees by 2016-17 -- nearly $3 million from residences and almost $7.5 million from commercial properties. 

Drummond said much remained "up in the air" about how best to address the city's financial conundrum. However, plans were proceeding to increase employee health insurance contributions and to get the Legislature to approve the installation of cameras on traffic lights at 20 major intersections to ticket motorists who run red lights.

Currently, city workers here pay just 18 percent of the average of workers in other jurisdictions throughout Alabama, said Drummond.

According to Drummond, in order to project revenues from traffic fines generated by traffic light cameras, Mobile was studying results in Montgomery where the program is already in effect. The monies would be split 80/20 with 80 percent devoted to offsetting the $126 million unfunded liability on the Police and Fire Fighter Pension and 20 percent toward maintenance of the cameras and administrative costs.

Among the intersections where cameras would be installed are:

This will be the second time the city has pushed for traffic light cameras. The first effort failed and included the puzzling opposition that the program constituted racial profiling.

Dean not done?
Political veteran Mike Dean, trounced in his bid to extend his career representing south Mobile County on the Mobile County Commission, said he isn't necessarily ready to retire from politics.

Dean, 56, said he may run for the State Senate District 35 seat. A special election will be scheduled after present state Sen. Ben Brooks joins the Mobile County Circuit Court bench later this year. In April, Brooks won the GOP nomination for the circuit judgeship held by Judge Jim Wood. No Democrat qualified for the post, so Brooks is unopposed in November.

State Rep. Jim Barton, R-104, is already running for the Senate seat. It was whispered during the County Commission, District 3 campaign, ultimately won by political newcomer Jerry Carl, that Dean might seek to reclaim the House seat he once held if his county commission hopes were dashed.

However, Dean said he had his eye on the state Senate and claimed stronger credentials for the seat than Barton.

“A lot of people think I ought to run for the Senate as someone who is well-qualified, moreso than Barton,” said Dean.

Barton declined an offer to respond.

Dean also noted that a Barton win would burden the taxpayers with the cost of yet another special election, as the need to fill the vacancy in House District 104 was created.

“If I decide to run again, it would probably be for Senate instead of the House,” said Dean. “I haven’t made my mind up yet. I’ll wait til the first of the year and see how things look.”  

Despite the defeat, Dean was relieved to have the campaign over -- “It just feels like a whole piano has been taken off my back.”

“I’m just keeping my options open and enjoying the time I have (remaining in office) between now and November,” he said.

Led by well-known Baptist minister Fred Wolfe, supporters of Carl rallied “like it was a crusade for them,” said Dean. “I’ve never campaigned against a pastor before. But I have no regrets. It was a great run, 12 years. Nobody thought I’d make two terms.”

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