Last-Minute Thoughts from Tuscaloosa’s City Council Candidates
The city of Tuscaloosa heads to the polls today, and candidates for the city's seven city council seats had the chance to talk in-depth about their platforms in a public forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Tuscaloosa last week. Here's a recap for those who missed and want to get the most current information on their candidates before casting their vote.
What Works Well in Each District?
The majority of the topics covered were centered on public safety, housing issues and budget priorities with special attention paid to incumbent mayor Walt Maddox's Elevate Tuscaloosa plan.
Most candidates were present, except for District 2 candidate Paul W. Sanders Sr. who appeared late, and District 4 incumbent Lee Busby, who is running unopposed.
Incumbent Councilwoman Phyllis Odom is not seeking re-election in District 1, and candidates to fill her seat include Que Chandler, Katherine Waldon and Matthew Wilson.
Chandler spoke about the need for stronger neighborhood associations to encourage stronger community involvement. Waldon spoke from her experience as an educator in Tuscaloosa, saying collaboration between organizations like the school system and the community is a key starting point for district growth.
Wilson echoed those sentiments, saying during his time as a representative on the TCS Board of Education, he saw a need for equitable distribution of resources within the community. He said he would like the council to become more accessible through all channels, specifically mentioning social media and town hall meetings.
District 2 candidates spoke next, starting with incumbent Councilwoman Raevan Howard, then candidates Boris Hurst and Norma Young.
Howard cited the success she's seen building a stronger relationship with the police in her district as well as developing new recreation programs for youth and seniors, saying her job as a social worker helps her identify those needs quickly.
Hurst applauded the council's work thus far in revitalizing his district but said he wants to introduce more initiatives like job fairs and a neighborhood watch program. Young said she strives for more collaboration between city government and the citizens and encourages more diversified business creation.
In District 3, candidates Matt Hood, Norman Crow and Bill Wright are running for the seat being vacated by council president Cynthia Almond, who is not seeking re-election.
Hood applauded the district's high-performing schools and low crime rate. Crow echoed those sentiments and gave additional praise for the development projects underway or planned in the district.
Wright emphasized District 3's strong neighborhoods and said he wanted to see continued support for law enforcement and first responders.
In District 5, long-time incumbent Kip Tyner and is challenged by a University of Alabama student, Sam Badger. Tyner spoke about his successes bringing big businesses, to his district, including SWJ, several restaurants and "the largest Chevron in West Alabama."
Badger said in his time campaigning door-to-door, he saw several neglected in the district communities where potholes, blight and poor lighting were prevalent. He said he wants to develop a more personal connection between his district's citizens and their representative on the council.
Incumbent Eddie Pugh faces challengers John Falle and Eric Gaines in District 6.
Pugh said he is a strong supporter of first responders and wants to continue delegating funds to the Tuscaloosa Police Department and Tuscaloosa Fire Rescue for better equipment. Falle acknowledged the hardworking residents of District 6, emphasizing its diversity.
Gaines said he would prioritize fixing a long-standing at the city's Lift Station 42, which has for decades filled part of District 6 with the smell of sewage.
In District 7, incumbent Sonya McKinstry is challenged by local businessman Cassius Lanier.
McKinstry said her experience of living 25 years in District 7 has shown her all the ways the area can be improved. She said the communication in her district is something to be commended, as areas of improvement are constantly brought to the city's attention.
Lanier spoke about his strong connection to his community and said many of the district's issues require immediate action, specifically at the old McFarland Mall site that has sat abandoned for years.
Chandler criticized government transparency in District 1's transparency and said officials have made too many "empty promises" to residents there. She said she hopes to introduce more neighborhood associations and bolster education programs to promote long-term growth for the district.
Waldon said crime prevention is her priority in the district, especially among young people. She said she wants to support schools and recreational programs to help promote that while also supporting the senior population by more directly addressing their needs.
Wilson spoke about the percentage of District 1 residents who fall below the poverty line and said he wanted to address a lack of affordable housing and explore a rent control program. He also wants to promote diversified recreational activities, like coding, to expose students to new opportunities.
Howard's said her campaign platform has three planks: sports and recreation, crime prevention and neighborhood revitalization. She said she has prioritized actively engaging young people in District 2 to prevent them from slipping into a life of crime and talked about lobbying Alabama Power to loosen some of their restrictions and add more street lighting in the district.
Hurst said he's running on a three-tier platform of "jobs, healthcare, and revitalization" and if elected, he would prioritize lighting improvements for the district, and work to implement free health screenings for those without access to healthcare. As for jobs, he said he wants to introduce a night class program to help adults complete their G.E.D. and find well-paid work.
Young said she wants to emphasize student accountability and provide them with more resources including field trips. She said she wants workers to stay in Tuscaloosa and plans to make that happen through city cleanup, new job creation and by introducing a job shadowing program for high school students.
Hood said if elected, he wants to provide additional resources to schools in the city to bolster education and he wants to promote safety by ensuring every neighborhood has an active neighborhood association.
Crow said he would prioritize the completion of the McWright's Ferry Road Extension, infrastructure improvements, supporting city schools and dual enrollment problems, providing more equipment to better equip police and first responders and opposing against the construction of more large student apartment complexes.
Wright said he wants to see a Tuscaloosa Police Department precinct come to the district.
Tyner, who is serving his sixth term on the council, touched on his own accomplishments in office, especially the recruitment of new industries, restaurants and retailers and the implementation of LED lighting in several key areas. He concluded by promising to improve sidewalks in the district, which he says is a major issue in Alberta.
Badger spoke again about poor infrastructure, blight, and a lack of affordable housing as the biggest problems facing District 5. He said even as new projects benefit the University Boulevard corridor, there are neglected communities in the district that are being underserved by the city.
Pugh said he wants to continue the LED lighting expansion project in District 6 and to revitalize the district by providing sewer and road improvements.
Faile said that the biggest issue he's seen is a lack of response from the city when residents bring up issues.
Gaines echoed that, saying that small problems like poor infrastructure that go unaddressed will become bigger issues down the line.
McKinstry said if she serves another term, she would like to introduce more youth outreach programs and provide support for the city's police department, including cultural diversity training for its officers.
Lanier said he wants to "restore the sensibility of the leaders in each district" to build a stronger relationship between the district and its representative on the council.
Priorities: Residential or Commercial Zones
Another major point of discussion during the forum was how to continue commercial growth in Tuscaloosa while still improving the quality of life for existing Tuscaloosa residents. The first forum session, which included candidates for Districts 1, 2 and 5, mainly addressed enforcing code violations in residential areas. Candidates in Districts 3, 6, and 7 talked about Elevate Tuscaloosa and keeping the city on a strong financial footing.
Chandler said she wants to involve Tuscaloosa residents in the revitalizations of their own neighborhoods, and talked about partnering with outgoing councilwoman Phyllis Odom to organize a community clean-up day.
Waldon addressed the surge of short and long-term rental properties in District 1 and said that both were necessary for the growth of Tuscaloosa. She emphasized urgency in addressing any violations.
Wilson spoke about his experience in his own neighborhood, saying that enforcing codes on both short and long-term housing will make residents take more pride in their homes, and take better care of the property.
Howard said she has spent much of her term in office addressing student occupancy problems and said she and Councilman Tyner are working to better definite those codes and going out in-person to residences make sure constituents are in compliance.
Hurst said the code violations in District 2 are generally due to a lack of communication and most residents do not know how to bring issues to the attention of the city.
Young said she wants to hire more people into the code enforcement staff in order to ensure these violations get addressed in person.
Wright believes the choice between rehabbing existing housing or razing them for new development should be left to property owners and developers. Hood said praised new development in District 3 but added that commercial areas in the District need to "fill empty storefronts." Crow, like Wright, endorsed letting the free market guide development in the district.
Tyner said he is an advocate for short-term rental contracts, which he said has helped address code violations like occupancy limits in student housing. Badger said Alberta needs more neighborhood associations to handle enforcing code violations. He said that attention on enforcing those codes should be refocused on the landlords rather than individual tenants.
Gaines, whose background is in real estate, said that newcomers to Tuscaloosa will naturally prefer a newer home. He said he wants to partner with new businesses to add economic diversity to the city.
Faile said he grew up in a neighborhood where people owned their own homes, and he wants to see that return by creating more affordable housing and bringing new, high-paying jobs to Tuscaloosa.
Pugh said he wants to see the city to add more affordable housing as well, while still allowing for new commercial spaces to be built. He said he wants to work toward securing a new grocery store for District 6.
Lanier said he is a strong proponent of affordable housing and allowing home renters to become homeowners. He also supports Tuscaloosa's economic and residential growth and said he strongly supports commercial and residential expansion.
McKinstry said that in order to reap the benefits of new development, the city must first invest in existing communities by addressing neglect and blight as resources become available.
To watch the complete forum online, click here. The polls for the 2021 municipal election are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Tuscaloosa Thread's 2021 Municipal Election Coverage is sponsored by Red Oak Credit Union.