Divided Council Votes to Repeal Protections for Northport Parks
A divided Northport City Council went against two petitions, a room full of constituents and 30 years of precedent Monday night when they repealed city law that protected area parks from being sold without full council and mayor support.
The resolution, introduced by Councilman Woodrow Washington at the last council meeting, will immediately repeal Northport's Resolution 93-029. That law was passed in 1993 and that mandated before the city could sell off community-centered recreational spaces including the Northport Community Center, all five council members and the mayor, who does not usually vote on city business, would have to be in unanimous agreement to do so.
The Community Center between Main Street and Highway 69 South has been the cause of much debate after the council entered into a tentative agreement to sell the property to the Beeker Property Group to build a mixed-used, private development expected to feature a coffeeshop, apartments and more.
Before Monday night, finalizing the sale of the property to Beeker later this year would have required six yes votes - all five council members and the mayor.
People in favor of preserving the park celebrated the extra requirement, but Councilman Washington claims bad actors were using the provision as justification to "bully" the council and mayor.
"We're going to go in a different direction and everybody in here might be mad at me after tonight," Washington said in June when he first introduced a motion to repeal the 1993 law. "It's fine, because I feel like 30 years ago when they said five [council members] and one mayor have to approve this they didn't think about Facebook, that you can bash somebody and belittle somebody and kill somebody's name."
Washington said as long as the old law was still in place, alleged extremists could isolate a single council member or Mayor John Hinton and pressure them until any hope of selling the property was dead on arrival.
Dozens of constituents packed into the Northport Civic Center Monday to address the matter. One speaker, Amy LeePard, brought a 131-page petition with more than 640 hand-written signatures asking the council to protect the park and refuse to repeal the protections.
Another speaker, Travis Moore, referenced an online petition with more than 1,200 signatures.
The first person to address the council, Army veteran and manufacturer Zach Stone, was met with applause and a room-wide standing ovation when he asked the council to keep the 30-year-old resolution in place.
"In my line of work, rules and standards matter. When you don't do things the right way, things break and people can get hurt," Stone said. "Changing the rules about how to sell the park right in the middle of public discussion about whether to sell the park at all doesn't strike me as the right way of doing things."
Members of the council have used rules they changed themselves governing how visitors address a meeting as justification to limit public comment on the Community Center. Stone said now that the same "rules" would make it harder to sell the property, they are brazenly changing the law to suit themselves.
"The council is asking people to be polite and follow the rules for making their voices heard about this, but it doesn't seem like you're holding yourselves to the same standard you're asking of the public," he said. "I believe how the council votes tonight about whether or not to repeal the amendment to protect the city's parks will reflect your true hearts to the city of Northport."
Still, even though the resolution required unanimous consent and the mayor's vote to sell property, it only took a majority vote to repeal it Monday.
Councilwomen Christi Bobo and Jamie Dykes voted against the measure - Bobo said she had to vote the way her constituents ask her to and Dykes did not comment on her decision.
Councilmen Woodrow Washington, Karl Wiggins and Council President Jeff Hogg voted in favor of the repeal, which was enough to end the protections in place for the last 30 years. None of the men explained his vote during the meeting Monday.
Although his vote would have been required to sell the property under the now-defunct 1993 law, Mayor Hinton did not weigh in before or after the council's decision.
As Hogg and city attorney Davis noted Monday night, the vote does not finalize the sale of any property or determine the final fate of the Northport Community Center -- it just means that fate is in the hands of just three elected officials instead of six.
For updates on the future of the Community Center as they develop, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.
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