Midfield, Brighton, and Lipscomb Election Results

We’ll be updating these results as information comes in.

Midfield

  • Mayor – Gary Richardson* (406 votes, 69%)
  • Council Place 2 -James Resor (406 votes, 68%)
  • Council Place 3 – Wendy Merriweather (399 votes, 66%)
  • Council Place 4 – Janice Anderson (421 votes, 69%)

Brighton

  • Mayor – Brandon Dean (376 votes, 52%)
  • Council Place 1 – Marquise Moore (351 votes, 52%)
  • Council Place 3 – Ashley Henderson (406 votes, 61%)
  • Council Place 4 – Shawn Dale-Johnson (366 votes, 54%)

Lipscomb

  • Mayor – Brenda Renz* (219 votes, 82%)

*incumbent

Fairfield Election Results

All results are unofficial until certified by the city.

Mayor

Run-off:

  • Edward E. May II (925 votes, 41%)
  • Johnnie Wyatt (717 votes, 32%)

City Council District 1

Run-off

  • Frederick Scott (150 votes, 40%)
  • Barakas Taylor (148 votes, 39%)

City Council District 2

Susan Jo Parks (131 votes, 57%)

City Council District 3

Cynthia Turner-McDowell (182 votes, 70%)

City Council District 4

John Hackett Jr. (auto-elected, unopposed)

City Council District 5

Herman Carnes (274 votes, 70%)

City Council District 6

Willie Hardley Jr. (auto-elected, unopposed)*

City Council President

Eddie Penny (1165 votes, 64%)

 

*incumbent

Fairfield’s Invisible Assets

There have been conspiracy theories floating around lately about a certain lame duck mayor, a certain historically black college, and a plot to drive a small city into the ground until it is forced to merge with Birmingham. We have seen no hard evidence that such rumors are true. What we do know is that a series of bad decisions by the city’s leadership, combined with the circumstances of a changing economy, have led the city into a difficult situation. However, the commercial potential of properties along Aranov Drive, Valley Road, and Gary Avenue could soon lead to a Fairfield Renaissance under the right leadership.

Fairfield’s economy certainly suffered some when U.S. Steel began its first layoffs back in the 1980s. However, the real trouble started with a series of bad municipal decisions over the past few years. U. S. Steel used to occupy the Flintridge Building, a massive office structure on E.J. Oliver Boulevard, a convenient location for managing its plant just outside the city limits. A few years ago, the city passed an occupational tax, which representatives from the steel company say they would have been happy to pay going forward, but the city made the tax retroactive. Balking at this sudden expense, U. S. Steel built an office building in Hoover instead.

Something similar happened when the Department of Health wanted to build a new office building in Fairfield. The city wouldn’t work with them on changing the zoning of the proposed building, so they built it down the road in Midfield instead. According to one government official we spoke to, the recent closing of Wal-Mart in Fairfield may have been a response to the city’s stopping payment on tax incentives that had brought the big box store into the area in the first place.

Speaking to an audience of voters at the recent “Forum on the Future,” State Representative Rod Scott said that when he was on the Fairfield City Council in 2002, the city had a municipal income of $9 million. Before that, it had as much as $15 million coming in annually. Currently, the city is bringing in only $3.8 million annually. Scott said “we can survive on that if we cut expenditures, restructure, and right-size services.”

Scott said that there has been no audit of Fairfield’s finances since 2012 and no real budgeting process for several years. However, he said, he has examined the most recent budgets for the city of Fairfield. Scott claims that these older budgets seem to indicate that there about thirty revenue streams that the city has not been utilizing in recent years.

One of these is the solid waste management system that the city hires out, which Scott said the city has been subsidizing. He says that the solid waste utility fees should be bringing in over $600,000 per year. However, out of 3220 people billed in the last billing cycle, approximately half are in arrears. So the city has cut off services to those customers. However, on top of that, according to our source, there are an additional 1384 customers who should have been billed and never were. Some of those who owe money have allegedly received bills of up to $1500, and they’ve been told that services will not be resumed until the bill is paid in full.

The upshot there is that the city is not collecting money that it is rightfully owed, and when it does try to collect, it does so in a ham-handed way that causes discontent. All told, there is more than a million dollars in back fees for solid waste that the city has not collected.

There has also been neglect in collecting fees for other revenue areas like business licenses and municipal court fees. Scott said that there are stacks of warrants that haven’t been issued, some going back to as early as 2006. According to Scott revenue that could be coming in from these court fees could be anywhere from a half million to a million dollars. He also says that business licenses and sales tax have not been collected from many local businesses. The business licenses alone should be bringing in up to $600,000.

A source within the city government backed up Scott’s claims. He told us, “A lot of people seem to be suffering under the mass delusion that the only city revenue comes from sales tax,” he says. “Thirty-something other revenue streams exist, or should exist, but many have gradually and mysteriously dried up over the past few years . . . Basically, people pay if they want to pay. Nobody is out there asking for the money. If you wanted to destabilize a small city so you can take over, this would be a good way to do it.”

It’s a more subtle type of corruption because it can easily pass for a lack of bandwidth within the mayor’s office due to shrinking resources. At worst, it would be seen as incompetence, which isn’t illegal. Our source believes that Fairfield has approximately $55 million in untapped assets. He tells us, “People say Birmingham won’t touch it because Fairfield has $8 million of debt, but with those assets, I’d buy up that bad debt all day long.”

Is Mayor Coachman solely to blame for this neglect? Not entirely.

To borrow a popular movie cliché, it’s like a perfect storm:

  • The economy started suffering
  • The Mayor failed to replace some key positions, which would have helped revenue
  • The Council started crossing over into the Mayor’s lane on decisions
  • The city outsourced business licenses and fees to a person with no accountability to the city

To borrow another line from a film, what we have here is a failure to communicate. The Council has largely been working in the dark with little communication from the Mayor. What people need to know and remember though is that Fairfield’s situation was caused by a series of bad decisions by its leaders, not by the capacity of the community. The community itself, we continue to argue, has great commercial potential.

All this being said, we aren’t fully ready to buy the conspiracy theory, but we think somebody needs to look a LOT closer at the city’s finances—somebody impartial and with authority. The coming municipal elections have the potential to clean house—if it isn’t too late already. Coachman isn’t running for re-election, so he’s already done all the damage he can. Nearly everyone on the city council is running again, and only Willie Hardley is running unopposed as an incumbent.

We feel strongly that Fairfield is a jewel, and if it gets absorbed into Birmingham, it won’t be. It will just be another neglected neighborhood struggling to get by. Fairfield has a lot more to offer than that, and its greatest asset is its people.

Fairfield Candidates Introduce Themselves at Community Forums

A candidate forum on Friday August 5 gave those running for public office in Fairfield a chance to introduce themselves to the public. The basement of City Hall in Fairfield was packed for the event, with at least two hundred people attending. The event was organized by the Fairfield Neighborhood Presidents.

The candidates for Mayor and City Council are as follows:

  • Mayor – Rodger Davis, Omar Young, Jennifer Craig, Jack Cleveland, Edward May II, Johnnie Wyatt
  • Council President – Darnell Gardner, Eddie Penny
  • District One – Barakas Taylor, Garry Brandy, Fredrick Scott, James Reasor
  • District Two – Wanda Shelby, Susan Jo Rembert Parks, Gloria Matthews
  • District Three – Cynthia Turner McDowell, Harry Lee
  • District Four – John Hackett Jr. (auto-elected w/no opposition effective upon swearing-in)
  • District Five – Wanda Erskine, Herman Carnes Jr., Jerry Yarbrough
  • District Six – Willie Hardley Jr. (auto elected w/no opposition effective upon swearing-in)

Thirty-five minutes into the event, people were still coming in. In an effort to “put citizens first,” many candidates gave up their seats when audience seating became sparse.

Mayoral candidates were asked the usual questions about what they would do in their first hundred days and why people should vote for them.

Craig stressed the importance of building morale and trust between the Mayor and the Council. She also said that an audit must be performed. She said she is interested in total revitalization, including the creation of an entertainment district in downtown Fairfield to bring in a younger crowd.

Young said the most important thing is to get people paid. He also wants to make better use of the Fairfield Civic Center to raise revenue, citing his history as a restaurant owner as one of his qualifications. Young wants to provide amnesty to those citizens who have been hit hardest by the “garbage tax.” He stated that the city should take better advantage of its interstate access to lure in big box stores and expand the business sector.

Wyatt mentioned that it has been some time since Fairfield has had an audit. His priority is to review all the city’s service contracts, including those with MAX and AT&T.

May said that his priority would be to restore proper management, including having a proper audit, refinancing bad debt, and reducing payroll expenses. He expressed his desire for Fairfield to be a “model city,” alluding to the origins of the city in 1910.

Davis emphasized the importance of safety, cleaning the streets, and attracting new businesses. He said he is “a doer, not a talker,” repeating this line several times throughout the evening. He said that we should work with citizens one on one to address the issues with the “garbage tax.”

Cleveland focused on getting the budget under control and having a cleaner city with no boarded up houses or “junkyards” in residential neighborhoods.

The candidates for City Council faced fewer questions from the audience and moderators, but they did have opportunities to speak. Mr. Hackett, though running unopposed for the District 4 seat, still participated in the event. Many in the audience appeared to appreciate his making an effort to introduce himself.

Mr. Hardley, the incumbent in District Six, did not attend, though he did organize a separate two-day candidate event on July 29-30, which was billed as “Forum on the Future.” About 50 people were in the Coleman Community Center on that Friday evening when Hardley introduced State Representative Rod Scott to start off the evening. Scott spoke for about twenty minutes about various anomalies that he has allegedly discovered by examining the city’s finances.

After the presentation by Scott, four of the six announced mayoral candidates introduced themselves and answered questions from moderators and from the audience. People in the audience told us they were hoping to hear about issues like the finances of the city, the garbage tax, and safety in the streets. One voter, April Beck, told us that Fairfield felt a lot less safe to her than it did when she was growing up in the 1980s and ‘90s.

The candidates who appeared at the event were Edward May II, Omar Young, Rodger Davis, and Jack Cleveland. Candidates Johnnie Wyatt and Jenny Craig did not appear.

Moderators first asked the candidates to introduce themselves and inquired about their careers and community involvement. Young discussed his work as a recruiter at Miles College, his bakery, and his volunteering as a little league football coach. May mentioned his current post as Fairfield’s city attorney and his volunteer work at his church. Davis is the owner of a construction firm. Cleveland said that he is retired from two different careers and admitted he doesn’t do much volunteer work.

Candidates were also asked about what they would do to improve cooperation between the mayor’s office and the city council, what Fairfield would look like under their administration, and what people would be saying about them after four years in office.

The next day at 3:00, another forum was planned for candidates running for the city council. About 25 voters attended, but none of the candidates made an appearance. Scott and mayoral candidate (and current City Attorney) Edward May II spoke to the small crowd about some of the issues currently facing Fairfield.

Corey Kitchen Pop-Up Restaurant Emphasizes Positivity

CoreyKitchen_1On the last Saturday in July, about 60 people gathered in the Parrish Hall at Christ Episcopal Church in Fairfield for a unique community event, a pop-up restaurant called Corey Kitchen. This was the second time that the church has hosted a Corey Kitchen pop-up event. The first one, which happened in June of this year, drew about 35 people. The July event sold out. There was not an empty seat in the room.

CoreyKitchen_3Corey Kitchen was founded by Fairfield natives LC Rice and Terrez Harris, who have been best friends for most of their lives. They attended elementary, middle school, and high school together in Fairfield, and then began studying culinary arts. Fairfield’s original name was Corey, after an executive in the U.S. Steel Corporation. By using the name Corey Kitchen and by offering a selection of local and regional dishes, Rice and Harris pay tribute to Fairfield’s rich local history.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of a pop-up restaurant, it is a cutting-edge trend in the food industry in which a restaurant “pops up” in a temporary location, often for one night-only. In addition to Corey Kitchen, Rice and Harris are co-founders of a catering company called Five Loaves (http://www.fiveloavesbirmingham.com/), which creates events around art, food, and conversation. The members of the Five Loaves team are also the backbone of the Corey Kitchen experience.

CoreyKitchen_2At the dinner, guests were served a four-course meal. The appetizer was a spinach and artichoke dip served with house-made herbed pita chips. Next, they were served a chicken, green bean, and wild rice salad. The main course was a variation on shrimp and grits that included spicy collard greens. For dessert, guests enjoyed the unique experience of banana pudding shortcake. Tickets were about $20 each and well worth the price for the meal and great conversation.

After dinner, both Rice and Harris addressed the crowd, thanking them profusely for coming out. Harris talked about how they came to create this event because they wanted to show people from other communities like Mountain Brook and Hoover something positive happening in the Fairfield community. Rice had tears in his eyes as he thanked God for making the event a success. They introduced every member of the staff one by one, and most of them spoke to the guests about their faith and commitment to Fairfield.

My partner and I were seated between a long-time member of Christ Church and Rice’s grandmother. Both spoke enthusiastically about their relationships with the young men who created the event. Rice’s grandmother proudly told me that she had raised him. When I said with a deliberate tone of understatement that it seemed like she did a pretty good job of it, she retorted, “I did a great job!” I don’t think anybody in the room would have disputed her.

Fairfield Candidate Forums Sparsely Attended

Councilman Hardley
Councilman Hardley

The two-day event was billed as “Forum on the Future.” About 50 people were in the Coleman Community Center on the evening of Friday, July 29, when Councilman Willie Hardley introduced State Representative Rod Scott to start off the evening. Scott spoke for about twenty minutes about various anomalies that he has allegedly discovered by examining the city’s finances. We will look at some of Rep. Scott’s claims in another article.

After the presentation by Scott, four of the six announced mayoral candidates introduced themselves and answered questions from moderators and from the audience. People in the audience told us they were hoping to hear about issues like the finances of the city, the garbage tax, and safety in the streets. One voter, April Beck, told us that Fairfield felt a lot less safe to her than it did when she was growing up in the 1980s and ‘90s.

The candidates who appeared at the event were Edward May II, Omar Young, Rodger Davis, and Jack Cleveland. Candidates Johnnie Wyatt and Jenny Craig did not appear.

Candidates_1
Cleveland
Candidates_2
May
Candidates_4
Young
Candidates_5
Davis

Moderators first asked the candidates to introduce themselves and inquired about their careers and community involvement. Young discussed his work as a recruiter at Miles College, his bakery, and his volunteering as a little league football coach. May mentioned his current post as Fairfield’s city attorney and his volunteer work at his church. Davis is the owner of a construction firm. Cleveland said that he is retired from two different careers and admitted he doesn’t do much volunteer work.

Candidates were also asked about what they would do to improve cooperation between the mayor’s office and the city council, what Fairfield would look like under their administration, and what people would be saying about them after four years in office.

The next day at 3:00, another forum was planned for candidates running for the city council. About 25 voters attended, but none of the candidates made an appearance. Scott and mayoral candidate (and current City Attorney) Edward May II spoke to the small crowd about some of the issues currently facing Fairfield.
There will be a final candidate forum at the Coleman Community Center on Friday, August 5, at 6 pm.

[Photos by Brent Stauffer]

Two Fairfield Election-Related Events this Weekend

Fairfield Alabama’s Forum on the Future Hosted By Councilman Willie Hardley

Saving Fairfield Presentation & Mayoral and Council President Candidates Forum

Friday July 29, 2016 @ Fairfield Community Center, 6:00PM – 8:00PM

Saving Fairfield Presentation & Council Candidates Forum

Saturday July 30, 2016 @ Fairfield Community Center, 3:00PM – 5:00PM