Northport City Council President Jeff Hogg Under Fire Over Leaked Email
Northport City Council President Jeff Hogg is under fire from some residents after an email he sent to city officials in January regarding a hotly contested housing development was publicly leaked.
The development in question, the Townes at Clearlake, was proposed by the Builders Group, LLC and would build 50 new townhomes not far from Northwood Lake.
A split city council voted 3-2 to advance the proposed development on January 25th despite a dozen or so residents and experts sharing concerns about drainage and flooding issues, environmental impact, shifts in area property value, school bus routes, the quality of soil in the area, the sustainability of a homeowner's association, already poor traffic flow in the area and more.
About three weeks before the vote, though, Hogg sent an email to the other four members of the city council, Northport Mayor Bobby Herndon, city attorney Ron Davis and city administrator Glenda Webb about the matter.
Hogg told the other city leaders that he was concerned that the Builders Group could sue the city if the council voted against the development since the property in question was zoned for such housing and there was no compelling legal reason to deny its advancement.
"I am not an attorney but I don't see us winning a lawsuit," Hogg wrote. "We look dumb, uneducated, and not know [sic] our roles as elected officials if we vote no to this and get sued just to lose and Builders Group is able to build anyways."
For the record, the city's planning and zoning board recommended denying the developer's request before the matter went to a council vote.
In the email, Hogg then spoke to other elected officials directly about balancing the concerns of their constituents against their legal responsibilities. Hogg told the council that they would be remembered in the next election cycle for the good they did, not for voting a certain way on a single controversial issue.
To close the message, Hogg switched topics and wrote several paragraphs about how developers are often major financial contributors to the political action committees that help council candidates get elected in the first place.
The relevant portions of the email are transcribed below in their entirety without any editing.
"Word of advice for upsetting constituents and being worried 'politically'......
we are 1 year in the term, no one will remember this in 4 years.
If they do, it won't be a hot topic item
Half the complainers don't even vote.
There's over 5,000 voters in a district and 10% of that can win an election.
Focus on what you do good for your district, what you do good for the city, and how you've kept the city out of lawsuits. You will gain more supporters by doing good things and that will outweigh the minority that will hold 1 item over you head.
And lastly, follow the money. These individuals don't donate to anyone's campaign or hold signs. But guess who does? Developers and Builders!
They are the ones with disposable money. If you received any PAC donations in the past, this is typically Developers and Builders. They all work together. And trust me, they will work just as hard getting you out of office than any neighborhood will.
I know of 7 different developers watching this and have already been asked for names of people in certain districts they can begin talking to and raising money for.
I don't say that to scare or influence anyone. It doesn't matter to me. I say this because I've been closely following Northport and Tuscaloosa politics since I moved here for college and graduated with a political science degree.
I have been involved in 3 elections. I have gone against my constituents when it's the legal thing to do for the city. And I still won my election by a landslide.
Rally your people for the good you bring. More people vote because they like something rather than voting because they don't.
In closing, staff please advise. I can be a yes or no vote but don't want to vote without knowing more details."
That internal email has since been directly or indirectly leaked to people outside City Hall and shared publicly in some Northport-focused social media groups. As more and more people read the message and reacted to it, Hogg publicly responded Thursday afternoon on his own Facebook page.
"A private email that I sent out internally asking questions and giving advice for PREVIOUS CONVERSATIONS was given to a member of public that has chosen to omit the previous conversations and my non-politically correct attempts at humor to other council members to basically not worry what people say such as 'I’ll vote you out of office' but rather focus on the good that you bring to the table," Hogg wrote.
Hogg said his comments in the leaked email about "following the money" were about generating revenue for the city through new development, not about taking bribes or lining his own pockets.
"Developers and Builders do contribute to campaign funds at election time. Some individually and some through PACs," Hogg wrote. "Why? Because they want to help and be a part of people who want to see growth. They back liked minded people. They work hard to see liked minded people are in office whereas individuals and/or neighborhoods don’t typically give money to run an election. Campaign signs, TShirts, and Hats are expensive. But at no point are they 'buying votes'."
Hogg's entire post responding to the leaked email is embedded below in its entirety.
Commenters Thursday afternoon were generally supportive of Hogg and the results they have seen during his two terms on the city council and dismissed the leakers of the email in question as politically motivated mudslingers.
For updates on this matter as they become available, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.