The Political Round-Up
Airbus aside, budget accord elusive
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Mobile County District Judge Mike McMaken will step down Oct. 1, the Mobile Bay Times has learned.
McMaken is the longest serving judge, state or federal, in Mobile County, with more than 25 years on the bench.
Now a Republican, McMaken won election in 1986 as a Democrat and took the oath of office in January, 1987. He was re-elected in 1992, 1998, 2004 and 2010. In the fall of 1993, McMaken assumed duties as the judge of the Mobile Drug Court, presiding over Drug Court cases in addition to his duties in the District Court since that time.
McMaken, 65, has a long list of public service accomplishments over the course of his career.
McMaken has battled health issues for years and has occasionally been sidelined for brief stints while undergoing treatment. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The governor may possibly appoint state Sen. Ben Brooks to the vacancy on the bench if Brooks were to emerge as one of the three names the Mobile County Judicial Selection Commission is charged with submitting for the governor's consideration. Brooks is unopposed as the Republican nominee for the Mobile County Circuit Court slot held by the retiring Judge Jim Wood. After Brooks is sworn in as circuit judge in January, the governor would again get to fill the district judgeship with an appointee.
In tapping Brooks, the governor may be able to save the state some money by setting a special election to fill the state Senate opening in conjunction with the general election in November.
Budget accord elusive
In a missive to "my fellow Mobilians" captioned "Mobile's Future Outlook," Mayor Sam Jones explained that he missed his self-imposed July 15 deadline for submitting a balanced budget because of the implications of the anticipated announcement of Airbus's arrival here and a desire allow the City Council's Citizen Budget Advisory Committee time to complete its analysis of city finances.
The mayor assured in his newsletter that he will meet an Aug. 20 deadline for submitting a balanced budget as required by state law.
The mayor's newsletter implied that a deadlock between his administration and four or so skeptical city council members over the necessity of reinstating temporarily a $30 million annual tax increase might be broken by the good news. Airbus has announced its plan to build a $600 million assembly line at Brookley Aeroplex. More than 1,000 workers would be employed building the French-based company's popular A350 commercial jet. As many as 3,000-4,000 additional jobs are anticipated as suppliers flock to the central Gulf Coast.
"The old adage, 'What a difference a day can make,' is so appropriate for Mobile," Jones wrote. "In this time of global economic crisis where cities across the country are grappling with a dwindling tax base, Mobile stands at the brink of economic success."
Just a month ago, pre-Airbus announcement, Jones pointed out that budgeting process included the possibility of a future that many citizens might find unrecognizably spartan. And his tone in the newsletter suggests that with better times in the not too distant future, an additional one percent sales tax in the city would be more palatable to the council and others as the city seeks to seque into a brighter economic future rather than welcome Airbus to a skeletal city.
"... we are mindful of the need to show the resolve of Mobile and its ability to deliver world class services ...," Jones wrote.
"Though we are still confronted by extraordinary budgetary challenges that require us to come together, as a community, to reconfirm our priorities and define the kind of City we want to be - Mobile's future is brighter, thanks to Airbus," Jones enthused.
City Councilman John Williams said, while the Airbus news was most welcome, it changed nothing about the proper approach to city finances, which could be summarized as 1) live within your means and 2) prioritize. According to Williams, Airbus would be pleased to partner with a fiscally conservative city that managed its money soundly, rather than one that maintained a rote tax and spend mentality.
"Sally" has ruled the city's budgeting process for far too long, said Williams, explaining that "Sally" was an acronym for "same as last year."
Williams said the city seemingly has a zombie-like approach to the budget, dully trudging in its same well-worn path, straying only slightly to reward a "good" department with a five percent increase or punish a "bad" department with a five percent cut, thus keeping all in line.
Williams said Jones, both in his public utterances and in private conferences, has failed to convince him the $30 million tax is essential, although the mayor's tenacity that all present city programs, properties and employees are indispensable continues to confound him.
Not surprisingly, Jones see things differently.
"My administration has diligently worked to slash spending and work in a collaborative fashion with every appointed committee to insure that our city's future is charted with all voices/opinions be heard," the mayor maintains.
Williams took exception to the mayor's claim of collaboration.
"He met with me but I don't think collaboration is any part of this administration's M.O.," said Williams. "They scheme and -- I don't use this word very often -- strategize to position themselves to some advantage and proclaim dire circumstances. They are not collaborative. I wish it wasn't like this, but it appears to be the case now. I send messages trying to get information and they go off into a black hole. If I get any response, it's smart-alecky. Same old thing, just a different day."
Williams said he noted that Jones actually used the word "priorities" in his newsletter, a first to the bemused Williams' recollection.
"That's the first time I've ever heard him mention priority," said Williams. "If he has any sense of priority, I'd like to know what it is. He told me the other day that every service we do is absolutely critical, all of it, everybody is equally important; we could not do without anyone."
According to Williams, the mayor has as many as 200 city employees supplying him with financial information whereas the council has virtually no access to data except through the mayor. And too often, he implied, it seems as if they don't have half the pieces to the puzzle and some of those go with a different puzzle.
It is symptomatic of the city's unhealthy financial situation that officials can't agree on the size of the impending deficit, the mayor asserting $29 million and various council members thinking it might be closer to a third of that.
"I don't have any other way to ask," Williams said. "It's not like the banks are coming forward, one saying I've got 17 accounts, another saying we've got 23 here, another saying 45 accounts with us. There are a multitude of accounts out there. What are those dollars? How are they being accounted for? It's scary that we can't say where we stand to the dollar. If my household is off a couple of dollars, that literally means a dollar or two."
Jones remains confident in his leadership and a Mobile future buoyed on Airbus' wings.
"Whatever circumstances we face, be assured that I will run this City in a fiscally responsible way and keep my pact with the public to put their interests before all others," the mayor pledged. "Airbus will transform our character and strengthen the city's future."
Hubbard to head regional group
Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was the unanimous pick to head the Southern Legislative Conference which met recently in Charleston, WV. The SLC will hold its annual meeting next year in Mobile.
Founded in 1947, the SLC is the largest of four regional legislative groups operating under the Council of State Governments. States represented are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
Young Repubs in Baldwin County
The Young Republicans Federation of Alabama will hold its summer meeting Aug. 10–11 in Fairhope. The event will be held at Holiday Inn Express Fairhope (Meeting) and the Grand Hotel Marriott (Welcome Reception). Registration Fee is $35 (includes catered meal on Saturday). Reservations must be made by Aug. 3. For more information, contact Jackie Curtiss at email@example.com.
Community Foundation Of South Alabama
Receives Grant From W.K. Kellogg Foundation
For Pathways To Prosperity Initiative
The Community Foundation of South Alabama announced a $398,000 grant, enabling it to launch Pathways To Prosperity, an initiative designed to increase the long-term economic security of low-income families with children by improving early education, promoting family literacy and bolstering financial stability.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation located in Battle Creek, Michigan, awarded the grant.
"We believe by investing in programs that promote literacy for children and parents the Foundation can have the most significant impact. By emphasizing the parental role and showing low literacy parents how they can serve as role models for their children, programs can achieve more success," said Alvertha Penny, president and chief executive officer, The Community Foundation of South Alabama.
The Pathways To Prosperity Initiative will also address the crucial need for responsible money management.
GOP Road Trip
Mobile Republicans are planning a road trip to Washington County for Mobile's northern neighbor Republican Executive Committee’s first ever "Meet and Greet” for GOP candidates. The event, on a date to be determined, will feature a dinner at Jake's Restaurant. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vigor students to host
Prichard mayoral candidate forum
A group of teens from C.F. Vigor High School (VHS) will host a mayoral candidate forum Tuesday, Aug. 14, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Vigor High School Auditorium, 913 Wilson Ave N, Prichard, AL.
About 15 students have been studying local government and preparing for the forum under the direction of the League of Women Voters of Mobile (LWVM), which has partnered with Jessica Norwood of Emerging ChangeMakers Network, an organization she founded that "pairs emerging leaders with allied supporters committed to making change happen in communities that have been historically disenfranchised."
This group’s aspirations go far beyond the election event. Troubled by the common perception that in order to survive Prichard, one must get out of Prichard, these high school seniors, juniors and sophomores endeavor to improve their city so that residents will want to stay and raise their families there.
“We can't blame the politicians for all of Prichard’s problems. Sooner or later the community has to take responsibility for its part,” said Shamaica Lewis, who is entering her junior year at Vigor.
The event is open to the public.
The VHS Civic Engagement Project aims to:
- inform the community about issues impacting Prichard;
- provide an opportunity for citizens to engage in an open forum with mayoral candidates; and
- bring teens and adults together to work collectively to build a better Prichard.
Issues of particular interest to the students include crime rates and police response time, blighted property, bad roads, and a lack of parks and recreational areas. The group dreams of making Prichard a desirable community where people want to live again.
“I feel excited because these young adults are connecting to their community, to what matters to them, and they are discovering that they can make a difference. They recognize that voting is one way to have an impact, even though most of them are still too young to vote,” said Mary McGinnis, special projects director for the LWVM. Training and funding for this project was provided in part by NeighborWorks America.