Photo by Jon Anderson
Bluff Park election forum 2016
The 18 candidates for Hoover mayor and City Council seats prepare to answer questions from the public at an Aug. 9 election forum at shades Crest Baptist Church.
When Hoover residents went to the polls on Aug. 23, they spoke clearly and loudly about their support for schools, more transparency in city government and better city planning, numerous residents say.
But others say it’s tough to pick out clear messages. While a new mayor and three new council members have been elected thus far, voters also returned three incumbents to the council.
Councilman John Lyda, one of those incumbents who won re-election, said there was a message of change but not complete change.
Perhaps the biggest message he takes away from the election is from the voter turnout, which was 161 percent more than in 2012. This year, more than 13,700 voters came to the polls, compared to almost 5,300 in 2012 and almost 2,700 in 2008.
“There was a renewed interest in city government and a new realization that city government impacts the largest part of our lives in terms of property values and the quality of our schools and overall quality of our lives,” Lyda said.
This was the first time the mayor’s race has been contested since 2004, when more than 14,400 people voted, ending Barbara McCollum’s only term as mayor.
Support for schools
Frank Brocato, who won the mayor’s race this year over incumbent Gary Ivey and Hoover City Schools Foundation President Steve McClinton, said he consistently heard from residents a desire to see more city support for Hoover schools. That’s financial and moral support, he said. People see a direct correlation between an outstanding school system and the overall quality of life, including strong property values, Brocato said.
Ivey said he knows schools are extremely important, but the city has to fund a host of other services, too, and money is limited. The election turned into a “schools versus sports deal,” and the sports people didn’t get out to vote, he said.
Brocato said people also want to see more planning and controlled growth.
“I’m not here in any way to stifle growth in the city of Hoover. That’s not my goal,” Brocato said. “But I do want to manage our growth.”
People want to make sure the school system can handle the growth, Brocato said. “I hope we don’t get in a position of having to put our children in trailers again,” he said. “Those were not happy years. Parents — they didn’t like it.”
Dan Ellis, who lost his race for Council Place 5 to Derrick Murphy, said while he didn’t win, he was pleased with the level of public engagement and how everybody had their voices heard.
“I would say it was pretty much a yell,” Ellis said.
Education was the driving force behind the election results, Ellis said. While he strongly believes in the importance of education, he ran on more of a pro-business platform, against raising taxes, he said. But Murphy being the most recent president of the Hoover school board gave him an exclamation point at the ballot box, Ellis said. Murphy won with 68 percent of the vote.
Mike Shaw, who won Council Place 4 over Michael Holt, said voters sensed disconnect between current city leaders and the school system.
“I think the voters said we want a higher level of cooperation,” Shaw said. “I think that in general people didn’t like to see the city and school system not getting along.”
Transparency also was a key factor, Shaw said. Current city leaders have worked hard for the city for many years, but for residents today, it’s not just the condition of the city that matters, he said.
“It’s also about how things are run and how things are done,” Shaw said. “People want to know what is going on behind the scenes … They didn’t see the full process from beginning to end and don’t know how decisions are made. People in office didn’t communicate that well.”
Photo by Jon Anderson
Hoover City Council summer 2016
The Hoover City Council meets at the Hoover Municipal Center.
The new $80 million sports complex being built next to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium is a good example, Shaw said. It’s a great idea, and city leaders will make it a great facility, but the public had discomfort with it because city leaders didn’t talk about it publicly until just before they voted on it, he said.
Eileen Lewis, vice president of the Monte D’Oro Neighborhood Association and a former member of the Hoover Parks and Recreation Board, concurred that communication is key.
“I see a mandate to communicate more — to let the citizens know, particularly about the big issues,” Lewis said.
She doesn’t think it was intentional, but current city leaders tended to work behind the scenes and keep things to themselves, she said.
“That’s just the way we’ve always done it,” she said. “Things and times change. All of the sudden, the public wants us to communicate more with them. I think officials have to do that.”
Lewis said the public also wants their officials to plan more and not just react, and to make sure schools are the best they can be.
“I was surprised at the level of concern that I heard from Hoover citizens,” she said. “It was loud, and it was clear. I think it started with the younger group, and I think it spread to the older group.”
Bluff Park resident Jenni Hertz said voters spoke clearly not only about schools but also had their eyes opened to things going on behind the scenes.
“People haven’t been paying as much attention to local politics as much as they probably should have,” Hertz said. “Builders and developers have absolutely no doubt influenced the way things have been done in Hoover over the last 10 years. They are the ones contributing the most money to campaigns, and they are the ones getting the most out of our city resources at this point.”
City leaders have allowed growth without providing the infrastructure and schools needed to support that growth, she said. “It’s poor city planning.”
Hertz said the newly elected leaders are a positive change, but the runoff for Council Place 1 is important.
“I’m happy where I am, and I want to stay here, but I see things that worry me to the point that I don’t know if that’s going to be possible if things don’t change.”