Seven candidates are seeking to become Gadsden’s mayor in the city election scheduled for Aug. 23.
The winner — a runoff will be held Sept. 20 if no candidate receives a majority of votes in the initial election — will be the city’s first new mayor in 16 years; Sherman Guyton, first elected in 2006, is not seeking re-election after serving four terms.
The new mayor takes office on Nov. 7.
The contenders are former City Council member Robert Avery; local businessman Ron “Bunchie” Barnard; Craig Ford, longtime state legislator; Dr. John Jacobs, a local pastor; Heather Brothers New, former president and chief executive officer of The Chamber of Gadsden & Etowah County and a business owner; local businessman and truck driver Michael Shell; and current City Council member Thomas Worthy.
The Times asked each candidate to answer two questions: What are your short-term goals should you be elected, and what are your long-term goals should you be elected? Their answers are presented here in full as they were submitted (minor grammatical editing was done).
My short-term goals are the same as my long-term goals.
All my goals start on Day One.
When elected mayor, I will create a Department of Youth Services. This department will collaborate with our school system and with local businesses to identify young people who have decided on their career paths. This program will give them some experience in the careers they have chosen. By working together, the city and the businesses will share the salaries of these young people. (More details on my Facebook page and my website.)
I will collaborate with our school system to improve our academic and tech programs. (More details on my Facebook page and my website.)
I will assign a crew from the Public Works Department to each district to cut grass and clean up. We will know who is responsible for getting the job done. I will create a City Community Development Corporation (nonprofit). This organization will be able to get federal dollars to help our citizens get grants to repair their houses and build low to moderate income housing. (More details on my Facebook page and my website.)
Jobs: I have been working on recruiting jobs for Gadsden for over 40 years. As mayor of the city, I will have more input on working with the council and local businesses. I will create an incubator for small businesses. We will work to land some of those businesses that we missed. (IHOP, Sam’s Club, Kohl’s and The Olive Garden that we finally have coming.)
I will raise the pay for all city employees. No employee should make less than $15 an hour. We are going to work on that Day One, to get all employees’ pay up.
The federal government has passed a bill for $1.9 trillion for infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, ditches. We have $24 million in hand that can be used for what I call human infrastructure, such as local small businesses, community-based groups such as football, basketball, baseball, track, soccer teams, etc. This money is very flexible in its use.
Ron ‘Bunchie’ Barnard
The first action I would take is getting our police officers and firefighters a respectable wage. How this administration isn’t ashamed and embarrassed with the salaries of these men and women is astonishing. Gadsden has become a place where police and firemen start out working before they get something better. Our mayor is paid at the top level for the state, but our men and women in uniform are paid at the bottom.
Growth is essential. Over the years Gadsden has been going the wrong direction when it comes to economic development. There’s not one major employer in this city as of now. Gadsden is located in a primo location to bring in big businesses. There is absolutely no reason this city shouldn’t be a magnet for major employers.
Anyone that has lived in Gadsden for any amount of time knows how bad the roads are. Getting some of these potholes repaired (the right way) is years past due.
1. Evaluate the city’s finances to determine where we stand and the best methods for moving forward while remaining financially and fiscally responsible.
2. Conduct an evaluation of city services and staffing levels of these services. This process includes assessing the employee situation, filling openings as needed, determining a feasible budget for each service and ensuring the right employees are in the correct positions. Within this evaluation an organization, department and employee hierarchy chart will be developed, as well as an updated employee communication plan. The goal is for the city to operate more effectively and efficiently.
3. Organize meetings with the police and fire departments to evaluate needs, including pay raises, staffing and trainings. Once the needs are identified, work with the Civil Service Board to find solutions to the problems. My goal is to make Gadsden the safest city it can be, while making the job of first responders desirable.
4. Collaborate with the Gadsden City Board of Education to determine top priorities for the school system and establish the best method of moving forward. These priorities will include employing a full-time School Resource Officer for each school, determining which facilities need updates, implementing several safety measures such as 2-way radio communications between GCS and local law enforcement, camera systems and buzzers for school entrances and exits, and creating a tip phone line and website for anonymous tips about threats or danger.
5. Work with the City Council to host meetings within each district to identify the most important tasks within each district. Once the tasks are identified, work to prioritize these tasks.
More:Expect Gadsden election to bring change in leaders, with some incumbents out of running
1. Industrial Recruitment and Retention
a) Design an industry friendly dashboard for potential industries. It would be a dashboard that focuses on good, precise data that demonstrates why an industry should locate here. The dashboard would also illustrate our strengths such as GSCC, JSU, central location, low cost of living, available properties, Noccalula Falls, Coosa Landing and our vibrant downtown with multiple restaurants, shopping and nightlife. The dashboard will also show ways any weaknesses can be diminished. This dashboard will be expanded into a complete business campaign.
b) Provide a workforce that meets industry needs. If a workforce is not readily available, draw on the relationships with GSCC and JSU to demonstrate how a workforce can be trained in a timely manner.
c) Create an incentive package for industries to locate here, as well as a package that encourages expansion and growth of industry already located in Gadsden. This package will focus on state incentives, as well as local incentives.
d) Attract young people to Gadsden and retain those that are already here. Young people are attracted to things such as river walks, hiking trails, downtowns with downtown living and art districts. As your mayor, I will continue to invest in the things we are doing right to attract young people while also working to create more.
e) Identify growth areas for Gadsden including available land and properties, as well as resources such as the labor pool. We will identify where we can grow and who can make that growth happen.
f) Maintain transparency with the community during the recruitment process that does not give a competing location an advantage. Also, provide enough information to the community so that the community is confident there is no hidden motivation nor agenda.
Although the airport is a stand-alone entity, it is a valuable tool for industrial recruitment. Our airport has many issues that must be addressed. These issues range from board members with no aviation experience to antiquated facilities. I have spoken with several consultants and am ready to take on the task of making the airport an asset for our community. As your mayor, I will seek funding for our airport. This funding will come from grants and private and public entities. The funding will be used to bring the airport to a standard that makes us proud. I pledge to have discussions with aviation programs at Auburn and Wallace State to explore possible internships. These interns will assist in bringing new life to the airport.
3. City-Wide Master (Strategic) Plan
District meetings will play a significant role in creating a city-wide strategic plan. I will collaborate with other Etowah County mayors, as well as the County Commission, to ensure we are moving in the same direction as we work together to create a city-wide plan.
a) Take inventory of all city-owned property, equipment and vehicles that are not being used and sell or auction for additional revenue for the city.
b) Evaluate transportation needs of those that do not own nor operate automobiles. Address these needs with the public transportation schedules.
c) Make sure all areas of the city have a uniform look.
d) Determine the types of industry that best fit our city based on workforce, land and/or building availability, railroad access, interstate and highway access, and quality of life.
e) Create a three- to five-person task force that will focus on the large number of homeless animals. The task force will work with the City Council to find solutions for housing homeless animals, spay and neuter programs, additional funding resources, and outside rescues. City ordinances will also be updated.
f) Use information gathered from the district meetings to focus on areas of the city that have deficits or need additional improvements:
i) Noccalula Falls is Gadsden’s largest tourist attraction. Improvements will continue to be made inside of the park based on recommendations made by the director of Parks and Recreation. Also, the community will assist in identifying needed businesses for that neighborhood.
ii) Alabama City is often a forgotten area. Based on community meetings, move forward with improvements in Alabama City. This area has been mentioned as a potential arts district due to the location of Ritz Theatre, but is that what the community wants and needs? This needs to be a decision for the citizens of Gadsden.
iii) East Gadsden is in a unique location and can be an extension of the downtown. My goal is to further develop East Broad Street with retail and restaurants. Signage and lighting will be consistent with what is currently in place for Broad Street. I will continue to support the development of the ballfields located at GSCC in East Gadsden so children will have a place to play, and money will be brought into the community through other teams visiting.
iv) Tuscaloosa Avenue is best known for the Carver Museum, which I fully support and will continue to support. Carver Community Center will remain the focus of this community by bringing back youth baseball and football. Lighting for this area will remain a priority.
v) Riverfront development is necessary for Gadsden. I have spoken with several consultants about the best ways to utilize our river to capitalize on being a city located on a river. The ideas are endless, but planning must be strategic and logical as to what is best for the entire city. My plan is to bring in several consultants and have them to discuss their ideas. Then, let the community decide what is the best fit.
vi) Downtown Gadsden is a strength of our community. It is an area that is spotlighted when potential industry leaders are brought in; an area that potential doctors tour; an area that brings in many tourists; and an area we can be proud to have in our city. However, it is an area that cannot be neglected as we focus on other areas. I pledge to continue to support downtown Gadsden.
Infrastructure is important when discussing any city, but especially one that is trying to attract industry. Ensuring every household and business has access to high-speed internet is crucial in today’s times.
a) One of my goals is to make Gadsden a Gigabit city so that we are more competitive for industrial development, as well as attractive to young people when they are looking to relocate.
b) Roads have been a complaint of many people for numerous years. I pledge to work with the county commissioners on road projects, as well as prioritize projects within the city limits so they are completed in a timely manner. I understand that part of our road problem has to do with water drainage issues and flooding. This issue will be addressed immediately but correcting this problem will be a major expense and require time.
My goal for Gadsden City Schools is to have a long-term, strong collaborative relationship with Gadsden City Schools, as well as Gadsden State Community College and Jacksonville State University.
a) UA-GC Early Learning Initiative is the first in the state and serves as a model for other early learning programs. Expansion of this program benefits our community greatly by preparing students for kindergarten, as well as benefits the other early learning initiatives by providing best practices. I am supportive of this program and look forward to working with and helping expand the offerings of UA-GC.
b) GSCC truly sets us apart from other cities our size. It is also an excellent recruiting tool for industry. I plan to fully utilize all offerings offered by GSCC when recruiting new industry to Gadsden. I am completely supportive of the Advanced Manufacturing Center and will work to ensure potential industries are aware of its benefits. I will continue conversations with Dr. Murphy about further integration of GSCC into local industry and workforce development.
c) As our regional educational institution, JSU is expanding their footprint into this area. I have had numerous conversations with Dr. Killingsworth about their role in Gadsden and will continue to have these conversations as I feel JSU has an important role in or community especially when discussing workforce needs.
d) Other areas of discussion for GCS include upgrading the elementary and middle schools and the vocational school. I pledge to work with GCS to find funding to assist in bringing these schools up to par and beyond. These upgrades will include facilities as well as equipment.
As your next mayor, my first year in office is going to focus on fixing the basics. For the past few years, areas of our city have been neglected. It is time to revitalize our neighborhoods! While walking through our city, I have experienced and spoken to citizens affected by severe flooding. Flooding ruins homes and is dangerous. I am going to work to fix our flooding! Another problem facing our city is the condition of many of our streets. They have been patched to the limit and in some cases, we have potholes. Again, this is dangerous and is causing damage to our vehicles. I am going to work to pave our streets! Additionally, we have an issue with trash pickup. In many parts of Gadsden there are substantial amounts of trash on the side of our roads and in our neighborhoods. While I know that our city workers are working as hard as they can, the Sanitation Department is understaffed, and the workers are underpaid. In order to make our neighborhoods safer, we must hire more workers, assure that their equipment works and pay them and our fire and police personnel comparable salaries to other cities in our state.
Moreover, I will focus on our school system. It is underfunded and understaffed. It is my plan to make sure that our teachers are paid what they deserve, and that our school system has the funding it needs to add additional programs and continue existing programs. In addition, I plan to support current youth programs and expand these programs to more locations across our city. Finally, my short-term goal is to expand local businesses and aggressively pursue companies and corporations to consider Gadsden as home or as a second location and provide much needed employment for our citizens. It is my plan to assemble the top economic development professionals locally, statewide, nationwide and worldwide to build a short- and long-term development plan for our city. The potential of our city has been unrealized. We have the best workforce in the country!
Once the basic infrastructure of our city is fixed, we will continue to recruit companies and corporations to Gadsden and begin focusing on boosting tourism by bringing back the riverboat along with a dinner cruise. These ventures would provide another outing for individuals and families. In addition, we need an official tour of Gadsden, highlighting the natural beauty of our great city. We need to develop our Riverwalk with restaurants, shops and a 3- to 5-star hotel. As your next mayor, I plan on building and expanding our walking/biking trails. The health and well-being of the citizens of Gadsden is one of my priorities.
Finally, our city needs more family centered activities. I am going to research the possibility of adding an amusement /water park and aquarium to Gadsden. The aquarium would highlight various fish and wildlife species found in and along the Coosa River. Not only would the aquarium be educational but coupled with the amusement/water park, they both would be a financial benefit to our city by boosting local and tourism dollars. With the help of all the citizens of Gadsden, we will unite, and we will build a great city!
Secondly, with school shootings becoming more common, making sure our kids is protected is a top priority. Making sure armed officers or maybe even local veterans are stationed at every school in the city is just a first step. Having the latest security systems in the schools, such as locks, bulletproof glass and whatever technology has to offer should be something that we work towards as soon as possible.
Heather Brothers New
Restore funding to Gadsden City Schools by October 2023 and look for effective ways to partner to provide on-duty Gadsden police officers for football games and other extra-curricular activities, and to ensure all schools have full-time, fully equipped school resource officers.
Work with the council to repeal the 2% occupational tax for all residents of Gadsden that also work in Gadsden, effective Jan. 1, 2023, and complete a study on the most effective method for repealing the tax for the remainder of the workforce no later than June 2023, in order to be impactful to the October budget.
Work with federal, state and local officials to redevelop a more effective regional governance and management system for the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport immediately, with a solution in place no later than April 2023, or earlier if legislatively possible, in partnership with the effort to develop a county-wide economic development council.
Find the funds to pave South 11th Street and do so no later than November 2023.
Deploy cutting-edge technology in all departments to streamline processes and procedures, ensure greater data fidelity and allow for fast, efficient reporting of governmental activities to the public, beginning immediately and fully transitioned by Oct. 2, 2023.
Advertise for a professional firm to complete a Comprehensive Master Plan within the first month of office, and embark on said plan by January 2023, with a completion date no later than December 2023.
Immediately implement biweekly department head meetings to allow for streamlined transfer of knowledge and to optimize efficient work between departments.
Determine the feasibility of relocating city hall operations to the 20,000 square feet of unused, unoccupied space at The Venue at Coosa Landing by Jan. 1, 2023, with a potential move by August 2023, and subsequently market the existing City Hall building and defunct Convention Hall to a hotel/convention center developer.
Address and correct public safety pay discrepancies, including negotiating a more effective, less complicated pay structure that will help recruit and retain talent to fire and police departments; begin discussions immediately and complete negotiations by February 2023.
Immediately begin to defund and dismantle existing economic development agencies and work with surrounding municipalities and county to redevelop them into a statutory countywide economic development council that focuses on industrial, commercial, residential and aeronautical development through a legislatively created stream of funding, using a percentage of an existing tax. This organization would be subject to open meetings/records regulations and would have board representation from throughout the county and would be fully functioning no later than April 2023, or as soon as the state delegation can successfully pass the necessary legislation that will create and fund the organization.
Immediately separate the responsibilities of the revenue director from the finance director and hire qualified candidates for each; and review all department head job descriptions and responsibilities to ensure correct separation of duties and provision of resources to make each department successful, to be completed by Dec. 1, 2022.
Reconvene community partners and organizations to investigate solutions to addiction and homelessness, including neighborhood watch programs that will restore our communities to the safety and pride once enjoyed by residents beginning in January 2023.
Immediately advertise for and hire a full-time, experienced grant writer to optimize state and federal funding for city-wide projects with a start date of no later than Jan. 1, 2023.
Determine the feasibility of developing the former Sears building on Broad Street into a state-of-the-art performance art hall, preferably as a public/private partnership, with a goal date of ensuing construction by December 2023.
Immediately implement a marketing plan to return the more than 1200 tax delinquent properties owned by the Gadsden Land Bank back into tax-productive private ownership, with a focus on new residential construction.
Convene a mayoral advisory committee by Jan. 1, 2023, that meets quarterly, made up of highly effective business owners and leaders from a diverse array of industry, to discuss development, redevelopment, workforce and economic trends.
Support Gadsden State Community College’s efforts to build a Center for Advanced Manufacturing and to restore softball, baseball and cross country sports as a recruitment tool, timeline dependent on Gadsden State’s implementation schedules.
Immediately partner with the Etowah County Commission and Rainbow City to competitively recruit a high-wage, high-growth mega-employer to the Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site.
Complete a comprehensive master plan that is inclusive of the ideas and vision of our residents and business owners and begin working the plan within first year. This comprehensive plan will drive a great deal of the long-term plans within my first term, as well as subsequent terms. It will provide an outline informed and envisioned by residents and business owners, including timeframes, especially concerning infrastructure, zoning, development and housing.
Work directly with the Gadsden Water and Sewer Authority to assist in optimum grant acquisition to allow for wastewater treatment system upgrades, sanitary sewer overflows and other system upgrades that will alleviate flooding issues within residential areas, and allow for greater expansion and recruitment, within the first two years.
Investigate benefits of restructuring debt, including refunding bonds for Gadsden City Schools, and/or other ways that the city can partner to see a middle school consolidation in the form of a state-of-the-art academic plaza, based on Gadsden City Schools’ timeline.
Develop a plan for renewing the revitalization of historic Downtown Gadsden’s retail district, with possible expansion through East Broad Street, relevant to the eventual construction of the Eastern Connector, within four years.
Through effective grant writing, redevelop the commercial sectors of the riverfront with clean, modern concrete boardwalks and cable railing, including areas that allow safe access to kayakers, boaters, jet kiers and swimmers, with a focus on developing riverfront property with ideal commercial/residential mixed-use private developments that will enhance the river as an economic driver commercially and through tourism, within four years.
Develop gateway entrances to the riverfront, Noccalula Falls and other tourism attractions that effectively pull visitors from highways and interstates deeper into the city for maximum economic impact, within three years.
Work directly with the Etowah County Probate Judge, CED Mental Health, nonprofits and other mental health partners to address the core issues of addiction and homelessness, with a focus on returning our neighborhoods back to safe communities that are desirable, where families can be proud of their home and feel safe in their surroundings, within four years.
Continue town halls and open discussions to map out the next steps wanted and needed by area residents and business owners to continue progress into a second term, throughout all four years.
My 10-point plan to make Gadsden grow again:
1. Eliminate 2% employment tax.
2. Limit all elected officials to two terms.
3. Elect growth-minded City Council member.
4. Build a 25,000-person entertainment venue, outdoors at first.
5. Create a regional airport with dedicated routes.
6. Streamline the building process to build new or renovate existing homes.
7. Entice businesses to respond to Gadsden and expand the job opportunities.
8. Simplify the city’s sign ordinance.
9. Sell city-owned properties by auction.
10. Promote Gadsden.
Bridge the Gap Between Politics and the People: Working with local municipalities and communities of Etowah County to develop and improve the quality of life for every citizen within Etowah County, which will help attract new industries and businesses. Cross political lines to develop healthy and effective working relationships.
Community and Economic Development: First, I plan to take a “regional” approach that will include collaboration amongst each city within Etowah County. For instance, as it relates to affordable housing, I will form a consortium that involves several cities within the county, which will focus on building more accommodations within these areas. Forming this partnership with other cities within the county will provide us with opportunities for government funding to initiate these much-needed projects.
Homelessness affects us all. As we rebuild our communities, we must address this issue head on. Homelessness affects us whether directly or indirectly. Homelessness affects the availability of health care resources, crime and safety, the workforce and the use of tax dollars. With the overwhelming growth of the homeless population within our city, my priority is to address this issue from the mayor’s office. Working with other organizations within our community, I will use my resources as mayor to coordinate supportive services. My role will be to ensure we have adequate temporary housing, and provide opportunities for mental health, job training, permanent housing and relocation efforts. This will benefit us all by breaking the cycle of homelessness within our city.
Another example would be restructuring the Gadsden Airport Authority Board and gradually making the necessary revisions and expansions to the airport that will aid in the recruitment of new industry into Etowah County. In addition to collaborating with other cities within Etowah County, I will hire a city planner who is qualified and experienced in urban and rural planning. We will work closely with Auburn University and Alabama A & M University master programs to bring about different perspectives on urban and rural planning and development. We will consult with Jacksonville State University’s economics development and business research department. The foundation of any healthy city is the well-being of its people. In 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025, we will be sustained! With our efforts to support our employees, while keeping our communities safe, we will rise above the struggles experienced by the City of Champions. As your mayor, I will not take for granted the personal well-being of our citizens!
PUBLIC SAFETY: As the Mayor of Gadsden, my administration will implement a progressive recruiting plan and innovative retention strategies for both the Gadsden Police and Fire departments beginning with our youth. We will work with Gadsden City school system administrators and Gadsden State Community College to provide opportunities for our high school students to take advantage of foundational criminal justice courses such as forensic science and other courses such as psychology, which relates to the criminal justice degree track.
Providing assistance from the mayor’s office will bring more opportunities to our police and fire departments to recruit and retain more qualified candidates. In addition, revisiting the college education incentive can provide financial opportunities for first responders as well as assist with recruiting and retaining qualified candidates. As a current city official, I am familiar with funding that can be appropriated to assist with providing our first responders with a plan for a gradual increase in pay. We must offer competitive wages and benefits to keep our police officers from taking opportunities elsewhere.
Create a friendly environment that will bridge the gap between law enforcement and the people by implementing more community programs.
INFRASTUCTURE: Currently, there have been infrastructure projects completed throughout our city. As the next mayor, my job will be to continue to fulfill the requests of so many citizens by continuing to rebuild our infrastructure with the American Rescue Plan funds. The water and sewer lines will be a priority for my administration. In the case of receiving additional APR funding, my administration will reallocate funding as necessary to successfully fulfill the obligations to advance the city’s infrastructure to ensure quality opportunities for employment, education and health care. As mayor, I understand the importance of the city’s infrastructure. I believe the city’s infrastructure is the key to the citizens’ quality of life and the city’s ability to progress.
As a current City Council member, I voted to improve our infrastructure as it relates to technology. As mayor, I will continue to improve the broadband infrastructure throughout the city by increasing access and usage of broadband to areas of the city as necessary. As mayor, I understand the importance of improving our broadband infrastructure. My plan will provide the citizens with better job opportunities, which will lead to possible population growth. Provide more opportunities for new businesses to choose Gadsden. With the changes to how we do business, broadband infrastructure is important to provide our city with substantial economic growth, with more online job opportunities providing higher wages, and also makes our city more competitive and attractive for technology companies.
EDUCATION: At the current state, I see a major issue with the disconnect between Gadsden city’s administration, both the City Council and the mayor’s office. The mayor’s office is the driving force in playing a critical role in our education system. Our school system must have the support from the mayor’s office. There will be a collaborative effort, led by me as mayor, to create a mayor-school superintendent driven school system, which will benefit our student achievement significantly and our city as a whole. As mayor, education is a top priority because education is essential in providing a quality of life for the citizens of Gadsden. As mayor, I do not have direct control of the school system; however, as mayor I will be obligated to improve educational opportunities for all families.
By continuing to work with the current school administration, as mayor I will provide financial support to help improve our school buildings and programs. My goal is to create a strong community environment that supports better schools and student achievement by using city services and resources. I will work with our schools’ administrators to build partnerships that encourage excellence in the classroom and build neighborhoods that support academic success. As mayor, I will lead the efforts to bring our communities together to ensure parents, teachers and schools focus on reaching every student at his or her area of educational need. Some possible opportunities that I will support as mayor include:
• Invest in preschool programs, quality childcare programs and early literacy.
• Continue to utilize our police and fire departments to ensure the safety of our schools by ensuring they are well equipped and protected as they protect our schools.
• Use city recreational facilities to provide extended school programs during the summer months in underserved areas throughout the city.
• Form a collaborative drive with the school’s administration to develop parent involvement initiatives and programs.
• Use my public influence and voice as mayor to strengthen the public’s support for quality education.
As mayor, my plan is to build an education system that is attractive to businesses and involves creating healthy relationships between city officials, school administration and local businesses. Partnering with businesses to create cradle-to-career initiatives that will bring residents, school employees, community leaders and service providers together to focus on important areas relating to a child’s development. Taking on a community-wide approach to providing a quality education to all our children exemplifies unity amongst the citizens of Gadsden, which will have a positive impact on attracting potential businesses to Gadsden.