Photo by Jon Anderson.
Campaign signs are beginning to proliferate as candidates gear up for the Aug. 23 municipal election in Hoover.
The 2016 Hoover municipal election is Aug. 23. Candidates can officially start qualifying on July 5, but they have until July 19 to make sure their name gets on the ballot.
As of July 3, 15 people had announced their intention to seek the seven City Council seats, and Mayor Gary Ivey is facing a challenge from former Hoover Fire Marshal Frank Brocato.
One of the most pressing issues that keeps surfacing among the challengers is a desire for the city to provide more funding for the school system. Some candidates are calling for more control over residential growth, better long-term planning, a strong focus on public safety and better transparency and public involvement from city leaders.
“I think, as always, Hoover is divided into a lot of factions,” said Liz Wallace, a Russet Woods resient and former president of the Hoover Parent Teacher Council.
Some people’s first priority is schools, while others focus on public safety and still others are pushing for expansion of parks and recreation opportunities, Wallace said.
“It’s really hard to get people to look at other things besides their own interests,” she said.
There is an array of challengers this year, but that doesn’t always translate into heavy voter turnout, Wallace said.
“My group of friends are very interested and involved, but then I know there are other people who didn’t even know we were having an election this summer,” she said.
Registering to run: Before registering to run for public office, a potential candidate must meet certain qualifications.
In the state of Alabama, a potential city council or mayoral candidate must be at least 18 years of age, a resident of their city for 90 days prior to election and a registered voter.
July 5 - Candidates begin qualifying to run. While many candidates often announce their intention to run for election before this date, this is the day when the formal process of submitting qualifying forms begins.
July 19 - The last day to qualify to run. All qualifying forms must be filed with the city clerk by 5 p.m.
Aug. 8 - Last day to register to vote for the municipal election.
Aug. 18 - Last day to apply for a regular absentee ballot, available from the city clerk.
Aug. 23 - Election Day
Oct. 4 - Potential runoff election, if any candidate fails to gain a majority of votes.
Nov. 7 - The new term for 2016-2020 begins.
Most people in Hoover will vote at the same place where they vote during other elections as long as the voting location is in the city limits, City Clerk Margie Handley said.
People who normally vote at a polling place outside the city limits will be reassigned to another polling place for the municipal election, she said.
Handley said she plans to mail out forms to registered voters informing them of their polling places, but residents also may call the city clerk’s office at 444-7500 for election information.
Registering to vote:
- First time: The last day to register to vote in municipal elections is Aug. 10. Voter registration is handled through county probate offices in Jefferson and Shelby counties, depending on residence. Applicants who are registering to vote for the first time must complete a State of Alabama Voter Registration Form and submit it to the county where they live. The applicant must provide a physical address — not a P.O. box — as well as their date of birth and an original signature. A State of Alabama Voter Registration Card will be mailed to the voter, and that will show the voter’s polling location.
- Finding forms: Voter registration forms can be found at the office of the Board of Registrars, licensing offices and public libraries. Some also are available for pickup at the Hoover Municipal Center, City Clerk Margie Handley said. Forms can be mailed in.
- Verifying information: Voters who are already registered to vote should make sure their information, including name and address if there has been a recent change, is up to date. Voter registration does not transfer between counties even within the same state, so any voters who have moved into a new county will have to complete a new registration. Name changes and changes of address within the county must be made in writing and forwarded to the board of registrars. Voters can check that they are registered to vote by entering their last name, county and date of birth at alabamavotes.gov.
- Qualifications: To vote in a municipal election, such as Hoover’s election, a voter must live in the city for 30 days before registering to vote.
Applications sent by mail should be postmarked before Aug. 8 and sent directly to the board of registrars.
1. Education funding: School funding likely is the hottest topic. Liz Wallace, a Russet Woods resident and former president of the Hoover Parent Teacher Council, said many people are getting re-educated about city funding cuts to the school system, which started more than a decade ago.
The City Council in place in 2004 voted to quit giving Hoover schools 16 percent of the city’s sales tax revenues and instead provide a flat dollar amount. At first, it was about $2 million a year, but parents protested and funding was bumped up to $7.1 million in fiscal 2006 and then $7.5 million in 2007 and 2008.
But in 2009, the City Council cut the school contribution back to $2 million, and it remained at that level through fiscal 2015. Over the past 14 years, city funding cuts have cost the Hoover school system more than $78 million collectively, city financial records show.
The City Council in December decided to increase its annual funding for schools by about $1.3 million. Superintendent Kathy Murphy said she appreciated the increased funding and hopes school and city leaders can continue to look for more ways for the city to support the school system.
Some people say the school system is still in good shape for right now, thanks to $85.6 million it received from a Jefferson County bond issue in fiscal 2007. School officials have been relying on that money to cover budget deficits and say that pot of money eventually will run out.
Murphy said there must be a significant increase in revenues or a significant decrease in expenditures, or some combination of the two, to avoid a crisis. But others note the school system’s overall fund balance still was at $93 million at the beginning of this budget year.
Murphy and the school board are cutting staff and certain electives for the coming school year, which upsets some parents who believe Hoover schools should not have to experience such cuts.
Other parents are concerned about school crowding and say the school system will soon need much more money to build a third high school.
“I don’t think ignoring that problem is going to be good in the long run,” said Liz Wallace, a former president of the Hoover Parent Teacher Council.
David Bradley, a former Hoover councilman, said he thinks the group pushing for more education funding is small and that most people are happy with their city government.
However, “the way I see it, the city is not satisfied with the amount of [school] funding either,” Bradley said. “They just don’t seem to have enough money to go around.”
So much of the city’s budget is tied up in personnel and capital indebtedness, Bradley said.
It’s tough to come up with large amounts of money without raising taxes, he said.
“I’m eager to learn how much the schools would need,” Bradley said.
2. Sportsplex and development: The push by Mayor Gary Ivey and the City Council to build a $76 million Sportsplex next to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium also is an issue.
Many people involved in the parks and recreation programs say they are thrilled to see the city spending money to build a sports complex, which they believe will help relieve overcrowded city sports fields and bring in revenue from athletic tournaments.
But numerous residents have expressed frustration with how the council went about the project, providing just a few days’ notice to residents before a vote on the project.
“I’m just appalled that they would even consider that kind of debt without a lot more public input,” Wallace said.
The sports groups were notified about the project in advance and were lined up there to support it, but the rest of the public was “blindsided” with it, Wallace said. “We felt kind of railroaded.”
And numerous residents have expressed frustration with the rate of residential growth in Hoover, saying it is overburdening schools and city roads.
“It’s not the builders’ responsibility to worry about whether city infrastructure can support those homes, but it is the city’s responsibility to make sure we can support more children in schools, more people connected to the sewer system and more cars on the streets,” Wallace said. “City leaders act like they’re helpless to do anything about those issues.”
Bradley said Hoover needs the growth.
“I realize that as a city so dependent on sales taxes, we’ve got to find ways to get more people into the city,” he said. Maintaining the status quo in city government is not an option, he said. “You’re either going to grow, or you’re going to die.”
Plus, “I don’t know how you can really stop development in Hoover,” Bradley said. “You can’t refuse a property owner a building permit.”
He believes people are willing to have controlled growth and that the best solution is to try to find a way to make the schools whole, he said.
3. Picking council seats: Bradley said one of the most interesting aspects of this year’s election was trying to figure if all the council members would seek office again. Six of them have said they plan to run. Councilman Brian Skelton, who died early Sunday morning, had said he was undecided before he had a stroke on June 23.
Many of the challengers took their time declaring which place on the council they will seek. Hoover is not divided into geographic districts, so all seven of Hoover’s council seats are elected at large, with every resident voting for all seven council seats if they are all contested.
Bradley said he went to a campaign school 30 years ago and learned that if you’re going to defeat an incumbent, you have to give the voters a reason for a change.
“No matter how good the candidate is and even if the candidate would do a better job than the current official, the voters are not going to give them that chance if they run what I call a “me-too” campaign,” he said. “Unless these challengers present a significant reason to change, then it’s going to be tough to defeat the incumbents.”
This post was updated on July 3.