2020 Municipal Election

Municipalities across Blount County are preparing for Mayoral and Council elections on Tuesday, Aug. 25. We are starting our local election coverage with Oneonta. Next week, we will bring you candidates from Blountsville and Cleveland. All candidates were asked the same questions.

Mayor

David “Dakey” Elliott

David “Dakey” Elliott

David “Dakey” Elliott
Tell us about your life in Oneonta?
My life in Oneonta… Well I was born on July 15, 1966, in Dallas, Texas. My dad was a semi-pro baseball player at the time. My mother is Peggy Elliot. She is originally from here. Dad is from Champaign, Ill. They met through L&N Railroad. Dad was working for the railroad and would come through here. They ended up meeting at the old depot.

I graduated from Oneonta in 1984 and continued on to the workforce. I worked a few jobs here and there and then opened up a car wash in 1991 and had it until I went to work with the city of Oneonta in 1994. I ended up going back to school because I felt like it would be helpful to learn new things. I graduated from Wallace with an associate’s degree in business administration in 2004. In all, I’ve been with the city for 26 years. I’ve watch four different mayors with multiple serving multiple terms. I’m a long-time department head in park and rec doing that for eight years. That’s where I really learned how to budget and how the city was run. Those things inspired me to run for mayor.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
Development… just basically trying to improve on some of the things that this administration started. And then take on things that I hear citizens crying out for.  We need another grocery store. As far as kids, we need something like a YMCA. We are so limited on what we have for the kids. After school programs, a place with computers, and something with structure would enhance our community so much. It would allow single mothers and single fathers have a place for their kids when they have to work. The 11th and 12th grade students could tutor and mentor. If we had some kind of programs to where they could come and be involved as far as having something to do structure wise, that will enhance our community so much for our youth. It would really be truly helpful and that’s what I’m all about. We’ve got it keep it real. Realistically what can we do? We have to make sure everything is taken care of and then try to to start getting these things accomplished. We have to tap into grants. There’s a lot of money out there to be given. When I was director, we tapped into several grants. That’s what Oneonta is built on. I want to see the positive things come to Oneonta. There are parents of kids in our communities crying out for more. I’m not going to sit here and promise you the moon. We can keep it real. Realistically, what can we do? You have to get in and figure out what we have on the table and how that pie can be distributed.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
Oneonta deserves the best leadership that I or anyone else that’s running can offer. I feel like either one of us out the three that are running could lead Oneonta into the future and accomplish what we need to accomplish. As far as myself, I feel like I’m a natural born leader. I was born to lead. People have always gravitated towards me. But you have to have strong leadership from the top to bottom. You are only as good as the people around you. You have to have strong people on the council. You can’t go in with a personal agenda. You have to look at what the people want and work together to have a successful community.

What challenges are you expecting? And how do you plan on resolving them?
There’s going to be many and plenty. But you hit them head and try to tackle them.You do it for the masses. We are challenged with the budget. Nobody is ever going to agree on what is needed most. You make sure you take the challenge on and do what we have to do to make things happen. Make sure we are doing it for the people because that’s who we are working for.

What do you feel is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help work towards solutions?
The most important thing I know right now is really and truly for us to get more things for our youth. There’s nothing here, but we need a youth center, a teen center, a bowling alley, a skating rink. We had the skating rink growing up. It brought people from all over the county. That was money spent in Oneonta. There is nothing to offer the youth and our kids. That is much needed.

How do you plan to involve the people of Oneonta in the decision making process?
In the past, it doesn’t seem like citizens get involved in the city government. I feel like we need to get out and find different avenues to get them involved. It’s their money. The only to get things accomplished is to get more people involved. We have to do a better job of getting out and being involved in the community. If they see us getting involved, then they will want to come and be more involved.

Where are your favorite places to spend time Oneonta?
Where’s my favorite places? My favorite place is really and truly where I work, the rec center. I enjoy my church events. But, we are limited so that’s exactly the reason I’m sitting here across from you. We need to start getting more involved in getting more things for our community. We have so much to offer, but we haven’t tapped into it yet.

Richard Phillips

Richard Phillips

Richard M. Phillips
Tell us about your life in Oneonta?
My life is probably much like everyone else’s. I am a local business owner. I have a solo law firm downtown, and most days are made up of working and trying to keep my head above water. My responsibilities on the city council do take up a good bit of my time, too, but no complaints there. It’s something I truly love doing.

I grew up in Oneonta, over in Eastwood, with my sister Marla and our parents, Larry and Vernell. I attended Oneonta City School where I graduated in 2000. I was gone for about 10 years working in Atlanta and New York City, but came back in 2010 to earn my law degree and start my practice.

I never saw myself coming back to Oneonta, but here I am. And I honestly can’t see my life anywhere else. I love the quote by Wendy Wunder: “The magic thing about home is that it feels good to leave, and it feels even better to come back.”

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
Oneonta has been tinkering with the notion of growth ever since I was a child, but we’ve only started to see the real potential blossom over the past, I’d say, five years. Development and growth is great, but I don’t want us to ever lose our sense of uniqueness and small-town-charm. It’s part of what makes Oneonta special. However, we do have to accept that development will occur, so it’s important that we focus on planning appropriately and containing that growth through smart, controlled growth. We never want to wake up and think “What the heck happened? Why didn’t we plan for this?”

Obvious areas that need attention are our parks, our recreation facilities, and the public areas of our community that people use daily. Planning for growth and development also requires us to be more aggressive with grant funding and more cautious with our budgeting.

In addition, I’d say that we need a more aggressive approach to utility management, particularly when it comes to internet. I’m not blaming any particular provider, but we don’t have the same access to high-speed internet as other areas, and that has to change. We need options and we need them quickly.

Lastly, we’ve got to stay focused on education and bridge the gap between our city and our school. We’re not two separate entities. We are a unit that needs to work together to make sure we produce young adults ready for higher education and the workforce.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
Quite simply, our city needs a leader that is not afraid to take action and get their hands dirty. We can do more than one project at a time. We are going to have to in order to keep up with the changes in this community. We need leaders who will roll up their sleeves and talk with the residents. Oneonta’s future is not just about one person’s vision. It’s our vision and we have to be inclusive of everyone.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
I think our biggest challenge will be formulating a living, breathing strategic plan that provides a roadmap for our future. It’s essential. It won’t be challenging in that it’s difficult to do, it’s challenging in that it’s so important we get it right. To do that we have to be transparent and engage the public in the process. I have always tried my best to keep residents informed via social media, but we have to do better. I’d like to see our council meetings pushed back about 30 minutes or an hour to give people time to get home and attend. And I’d like us to have a work session at every council meeting to keep the conversation going about projects and offer the public an opportunity to chime into the conversation. We do represent them, after all.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
We need to focus on infrastructure, like paving, internet access and garbage/recycling options. Those are things we can discuss as a community. On a larger scale, park and rec is in dire need, like I said earlier, but also we’ve got to foster an environment where our small businesses, both old and new, can flourish and succeed. That’s key, because they are the heartbeat of this small town. Our community offers so many reasons for small business to come here: lower cost of start-up, less competition, community relationships, and a slower pace. With Wallace having a local campus, we have more skilled workers at our fingertips than ever before.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process?
That’s easy! Talk to them. Welcome them to the table and and then listen when they get there. I’ve heard so many good ideas and suggestions and we need to heed them. Change and progress seems intimidating, but it’s really just a moving dialogue that gets deeper and deeper as time goes on. Bringing residents to the table from day one keeps us all informed, involved, and at the end of the day, we all want the same thing and that’s to do the best thing for Oneonta.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
Gosh, that’s tough because there are so many things I love about this town. I do my best to make my rounds and visit as many local restaurants and businesses as possible. Not only to show support, but it’s refreshing to have options. We haven’t always been used to that! But really, I typically find myself gathering with friends at someone’s home. I love people and I love to socialize. So if there’s a spot where I can do that, chances are you’ll find me there.

Danny Robinson

Danny Robinson

Danny Robinson
Tell us about your life in Oneonta?
Life in Oneonta is unlike anywhere else. Oneonta offers a friendly, safe place to raise a family with a wonderful school system to educate our children. It is truly a special place to live. I have been blessed that my family has been a part of this community for over 80 years.

Where do you want to see your town in terms of development during the next four years?
Oneonta has seen a lot of growth and progress over the last few years. As Mayor, I want to continue using this momentum to see our community accomplish even more. I plan to partner with local boards and organizations to create new green spaces in our downtown district. These green spaces will give our community the opportunity to have a place to relax and enjoy time with their families while exploring our downtown and local businesses.

I believe it is important that we provide our community with proper parks and recreational facilities. This includes improving our current parks and revitalizing our community pool. It is important that our community has fun and safe places to gather together. I will also continue working on projects that are currently in the works to ensure that they are completed in a timely manner for our community to enjoy. I plan to address our community’s infrastructure including roads and sewers. Our city has long had many flooding issues and poor road conditions. It is important that we fix these issues for our community. I plan to work with the state to help fund the solution to these issues.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
Oneonta needs a leader that is honest and transparent. I believe I also offer financial and business experience that would enhance my leadership.  My personality would make me a great choice because I would be open minded and willing to talk and work with anyone and everyone.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
There is no doubt that in the next four years we will be faced with challenges. As your Mayor, I will work with all parties to see that the outcome of these challenges have the best results for the citizens of Oneonta.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
At this moment, I believe community development is the most pressing issue facing our community. As Mayor, I will extend an invitation to all community board members to meet and discuss the future of our city. I believe we can achieve more as a city when we work together.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in Oneonta?
Communication is a two-way street that can be used as a tool to strengthen our community. As Mayor, I will ensure that our community is informed on the issues at hand. I would like to organize quarterly town hall meetings that allow our citizens to voice their concerns. I will also establish a liaison between our community and government officials to guarantee that your ideas are heard. I value the input of our citizens to continue making Oneonta a great place to call home.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
I enjoy watching local sporting events, eating at local restaurants, attending church, helping my neighbors, and volunteering my time with civic organizations such as Oneonta Business Association and the Chamber of Commerce. It has been a pleasure being a part of this community and I look forward to the opportunity to serve the people of Oneonta.

City Council Place 1

Matthew Crow

Matthew Crow

Matthew Crow
Tell us about your life in Oneonta?
I grew up as a military brat, Army. My dad was an airborne ranger, infantryman. We lived all over the world, and then ended up settling down in Jacksonville. I moved into Oneonta in 2005. My dad was class of 1974 here. We have family here still that live up on Straight Mountain. It was kind of an odd coming home here, back to Oneonta, because that’s where he graduated from, then went to school at Jacksonville State, and then went into the military.

I was born in Ft. Benning. I guess that’s where I get my broader view of the world, growing up in a military environment. I moved here in 2005. I was driving back-and-forth from Jacksonville to Birmingham to work, and then one of the guys I was working for had a house in Oneonta, and 30 minutes sounded a whole lot better than an hour and a half from work to home and I ended up staying (in Oneonta.) I worked at a corporate credit union in Birmingham for seven years and then BBVA Compass for two, and then I’ve been here (at Hometown Bank) since 2014.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during your term?
There’s a ton of potential and opportunity for the city across the board. I think that we’ve been trucking down the road okay, but I think it’s time to push on the accelerator just a little bit more. We’re not tapping into the amount of beauty and tourism we have here. Everybody loves Oneonta and Blount County as a whole. I really think that there’s opportunities, not just with the master plan that was provided, but with the whole parks and recreation redevelopment and also to provide a few more resources to our police and fire, too. The biggest misconception that people have is that you’re running for a seat and that’s all you do The reality is the mayor can change that the first day in office. You need a council that can work together to encompass everybody.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
As far as leadership, I think I’ll be able to bring a little bit broader spectrum as far as vision from start to finish on different projects. Everybody has their own strengths. We have to be able to tap into all those. I don’t think any single individual is going to be the individual leadership of the city, but it does need to be a group effort by the people elected. If we have a group of people all working together with the same common goals then the entire city will benefit.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them? 

With any decision you’re going to meet some kind of challenge. You know that the right thing is not always met with open arms and you have to be willing to grin and bear some scrutiny, but I think that if you educate people or show them what they can have or what they should have or what they deserve, then you will find that more people will be willing to change or willing to sacrifice just a little bit of themself for the greater good of everybody else. A personal sacrifice that myself and my family made was we revitalized the building downtown, the old McPherson building. That was a building that was a historical landmark; it was kinda the cornerstone of commerce way back when. It would’ve been way easier to tear that thing down, but by doing so you forget the history that is Oneonta. To sacrifice and put five years into that building to make it back to what it is, wasn’t just for the Crow family. I wanted that to be for Oneonta. I’ve told a hundred people, probably thousands, that if the building is still there a hundred years after I’m dead and gone, then I did my part to maintain the history of Oneonta.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
There is a lot of different opinions on what the single most important thing is. I’ve heard everything from housing development to parks and rec to roads. I mean there is a plethora of issues that anybody could point to as the single most important, but to me the single most important thing is everybody all on the same page, working for a common goal, and then you start just picking away at every single one of those big issues that everybody is aware of, like the roads, the park and rec, and the resources of fire and police. There’s a lot of things that need to be done, but we got to start picking away at all of them.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in Oneonta?
I think need to tap into a little bit more technology when it comes to the live streaming of the council meetings. Put them on the local television station so people can tune in there or listen on the radio. There are options out there. We are in a technology world, a technology age. There is no reason we can’t record it on Facebook Live or record it and provide it to everybody. We could print the agenda in the paper. There is a plethora of ways for people to be informed of the discussions being had and encourage people to come to the council meetings. I sat in many of them where I’m the only person not presenting something, just to hear what’s being said. Everybody is a lot busier now than they used to be, but there still an opportunity and the chance to know your local hometown and what’s being decided on.

Ask questions. Get on the agenda. “Hey, I want to know about my street,” or “I want to know about this issue with lights.” Just ask question. I really, really encourage the residents to ask questions of any elected official, but don’t just provide an issue Ask a question to the effect of helping provide a solution for the long term. Without questions, you never learn and you never move forward as a community.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in your city/town?
There’s a bunch of different places. I love to golf with buddies out there at Limestone. I love to go up to Palisades. I know it is not in Oneonta, but Palisades is fun. I enjoy sports. I was coaching flag football last year for my little girl’s flag football team. I enjoy being out there on those park and rec fields, but 1972 was a long time ago when they (the fields) were finished. There are so many different areas and different places, its tough to have just one. I do think that if we can somehow get a trail from downtown to the Gunter property or to be able to incorporate some kind of trail from any kind of proposed new area to downtown, I think that would be a benefit.

The ultimate thing in all of this is almost an interdependence because if everybody wins in Oneonta, then everybody wins in Oneonta. And if everybody wins in the county, then everybody wins in the county. They’re going to feed off of each other. For the theater folks out there, there’s a line in The Greatest Showman, “Nothing draws a crowd quite like a crowd.” It’s the same thing in sports. Nothing draws more people wanting to play for the team than a winning team. It’s the same thing. If we’re successful in the city, people will want to be here; whether its shopping or whether it wanting to open a restaurant or boutique, hair salon or whatever it is, people will want to be here if we’re successful. I think we have to be able to all work together to be able to be successful.

Judy Underwood

Judy Underwood

Judy Underwood
Tell us about your life in Oneonta.
Well, I’m a lifelong resident of Blount County, I’ve never lived anywhere, but here. I started work at the Oneonta Police Department in March of 1986 and not long after that we moved from Nectar to Oneonta. I worked with the OPD for 33 years moving up through each rank from patrol officer to investigations to Sargent, to Captain, and then finally to Deputy Chief of Police. I actually held that position for the last 15 years of my career and I’ve been retired two years now.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during your term?
I want all the things that everybody talks about, and I’d love to see a good community park. I’d love to see our park and rec department just flourish because my grandson plays soccer and we don’t have that right now. We’ve traveled around to many parks where they had fantastic facilities. And, of course, you have your city streets and we have some that are in need of repair. I’ve ridden around town and looped in checked and for me. Internet service is a big one. But I also think it’s important that we take care of our basic needs first. If we get our needs taken care, then we can really explore all the grants and all the options that are available to take us further.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
The people of Oneonta deserve leadership that is transparent. I don’t have any hidden agenda. I’m just me and I’m pretty much as transparent as they come. But the people also deserve leadership that listens, that is available, that is connected. I served the city and the citizens for 33 years. I know the needs and the issues of our police department, but I learned a lot more throughout those years. Oneonta deserves experienced leadership.

What challenges are you expecting. During your term and how do you plan on resolving them?
In this day and age, right now, we know police issues and all that is going on in the country. I don’t foresee those things happening here. Oneonta has an excellent police department that continually reaches out to the community with different programs. They know how to protect and they are here to serve. That to me is just priceless for a town like Oneonta to be able to build these kinds of relationships. During the march here, I commend our law enforcement for making sure the protestors’ rights as Americans were protected. They genuinely wanted to be there, to be a part of that day. But more than anything, they wanted to protect those who were peacefully protesting. Chief Chapman and I worked together for many years, and we prided ourselves in building up that police department to the professional standard that it is today. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for that police department. That department and this city, that’s where my heart is. I want to serve this community again, serve the citizens, and serve our police officers at the same time.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate that?
Like I said before, if you can fulfill the basic needs and listen to the people as to what they need, then the other things will fall into place. You have to work hard, meet those needs, and start addressing everything else. We have a fantastic school, but we’ve got to get more business resources and increase tourism, and build our parks. Committing to our parks and recreation area and creating these spaces for our kids will also bring in a great number of people from all around. When they’re here, they’re dining in the the restaurants. they’re shopping. I want to see that flourish and I am committed to seeing it flourish. And I look forward to the opportunity to work with the police department again. This time around, it’s a little different, but I will stand by them, support them, and make sure they have all they need. I think that with my experience and the relationships that I’ve built with the officers over the years, I know their needs and I know the needs of the department. I know how to advance them forward. what you know to advance them forward.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process of Oneonta?
The citizens of Oneonta are our biggest resource for sharing ideas about what they want to see. And that’s important. It’s not my vision, it’s our vision. I want to know what their vision is, and I want them to be comfortable enough to call me. I’d like to go out and meet with our small groups and organizations to tap into the ideas they have and to find out what they are really interested in seeing. And pretty much any day, anyone is welcome to come over, sit at my kitchen table, talk, and I’ll pitch it to the council for you. That’s my vision of what a relationship between the council and the citizens should be.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
Well, I’ve eaten in every restaurant we have in town. I would rather always keep it local. It’s convenient for my husband and I, and we’ve made friends from all these restaurants. I love going to the soccer games and taking my grandson to the city park. He enjoys it and we know it could be better, but of course, there’s always room for improvement. I just love everything about Oneonta from the restaurants to the local shops and boutiques. But one of my favorite things is just spending time at home with my groups of friends.

City Council Place 2

Steven Love

Steven Love

Steven Love
Tell us about your life in Oneonta? I’ve grown up here most of my life. My parents moved here when I was 4 years old, so I’ve never lived anywhere else that I’m aware of. I grew up here. My memories are here.

It’s changed a lot! When I was growing up, the fast food restaurant was the Dairy Queen. We didn’t have all of these places that we have now. I have seen it go from a very, very small to what I consider to be a mid-sized town. Of course, that growth has come with pains, but also with a lot of good things, a lot of development which has made us a strong city and something I want to be a part of.  When you’ve lived in a place as long as I have, it’s neat to see the progress.

I work for the county school system and have for 30 years. I went from being an English teacher to an administrator. The job I have now is director of the Blount County Learning Center, which is a school for multi-needs and special needs children.

 

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
Some things will go quickly and some things will go slowly. You can’t push a rock up a hill, of course. I wouldn’t want to just jump and knee jerk for the sake of doing.  However, I’d like us to continue development downtown. We’ve got a lot of business that are still locked because of COVID and it’s created uneasiness. Businesses are hurting and we need to help them recover. My next four years, I would see us not so much pushing forward as much as going back and helping these folks re-establish. We need to make sure to take care of them. Nothing runs down a town faster than an empty building, and our downtown is special.  In regards to my position, which is over the fire department and liaison to the council for the fire departments, I would like to maintain the great job the council has done with the department already. There are no rocks to throw or say I can do better. What I am saying is that I want us to continue taking care of the fire department  because they’ve done a good job taking care of us.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
The best we can get. That’s true of any organization, isn’t it?  At work I can be the best leader I can be. Superintendent Green expects nothing less. Oneonta needs leadership that sees tomorrow, not yesterday. Yesterday is done. I can’t fix yesterday, but there’s a whole lot I can help fix tomorrow. My kids, your kids are going to live in tomorrow and that needs to be our focus. Even living for today, that makes your vision so short-sighted. A leader should be a good steward. A leader should be the quietest guy in the room and not in it for the accolades, just in it for making sure things get done. I’m not running for council for the title of councilman. I’m here to help make Oneonta better.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
COVID is our biggest challenge right now. We’re going to see it economically, socially, and educationally. I think the council is going to have to deal with that immediately. Even if we found a vaccine tomorrow, it’s not immediately going to disappear. Recovering from COVID is going to start with having confidence in our city leadership. Our council right now has done a fabulous job of  guiding our city through this crisis and we need to continue to do that.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
There are a lot of important things for Oneonta. Right now, we still need to chart the waters of the COVID crisis. I think the we need to continue development of the recreational center. In order to attract new businesses and people to our community, we need to have a strong recreational department, a strong educational department, and a strong economic department. Folks want to move to a town if they know they can get a job, so I believe we need to focus on that as well. I will never stop believing that a town has to focus on its public works, police department, fire department, and utility board. You know, folks take those for granted until the water doesn’t come on.

I think we need to continue to enhance technology. We need to get with Otelco, or any other internet provider, to improve technology and internet speed. If we don’t, we’re going to be behind other municipalities.  We need storm shelters. The last storms that went through Oneonta had people in the streets. They had to evacuate their homes because power lines were falling and catching homes on fire. There are FEMA grants and others we could apply for and help invest in our city that way. Having a safe community for the city of Oneonta is important.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in Oneonta?
Well, I am an open book. Walk up to me and tell what you’re thinking. Call me on the phone and tell me what you’re thinking.  I listen to people and let them give me advice, which goes back to being good leader and listening.  I don’t suffer from an ego. It does’t have to be my idea and I don’t always have to be right. It would be arrogant to think one has all of the answers, and I’m willing to say, “I don’t know this. Could you help me?” There are so many residents of Oneonta who have expertise in many areas, and I want and welcome their input.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
The first in on top of Harvey Hill coming into town. When my family would travel, I knew once we were on top of Harvey Hill and you could see the whole town we were home. I still look at my wife and say, “we’re home” whenever we see it now. We may not be at our house or in our drive way yet, but we know we’re home. I also love to spend time in my front yard. My two children played there and we’ve never lived anywhere else. My third favorite place in Oneonta is the A Street Church of Christ.  I started attending when I was 4. I was baptized there and all my memories are there —my first Christmas, my first Easter egg Hunt.  It’s a very special place to me.

Sherry Pierce

Sherry Pierce

Sherry Pierce
Tell us about your life in Oneonta.
I am a life-long resident of Bount County and I’ve been in Oneonta for the last 17 years. John and I started out here in a house we built in Hickory Ridge. When we started our business, we were back and forth over there so much. Plus, I was still working in Birmingham. We just started thinking how much easier it would be if we just lived where we worked. So, that ended up being our goal. We sold our house and invested the money into our business downtown (Sassy Kat and Klassy K9) and now live above it. It’s so much nicer to just walk downstairs to work. I’m also doing my accounting work from home now. Besides owning my own business, I am also a CPA.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
Of course, I want it to grow. And I think Richard touched on this in his interview [with the OBA]. He said it best when he said that he wants to see us grow, but that we have to be strategic in the way we grow. I don’t want us to become a Trussville. I want us to grow, but I want us to still be us. I want to walk in a restaurant and know the people that and they know you. We can grow and still be this great small town. But, I would like to see us have more services and more opportunities for people to work here like I’ve been able to do.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta town deserve?
I think leadership who is willing to listen to the people who live here and listen to the businesses who have committed to serve this community. Oneonta deserves leadership that will find out what people and businesses need. Oneonta deserves leaders who are willing to communicate, hear the needs, and try to serve those needs as best as they can. That’s the biggest thing with me, communication and being able to react to whatever situation arises. Also, in my opinion, a strong leader has the ability to weigh all sides of a situation, understand that you are not going to make everyone happy, and make the tough decisions. As a leader, it is not about what I want or about my plan. A leader is there to serve and at all times do the best you can for the community as a whole.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
Not being able to please everybody knowing that there are limitations as to how much money comes in. There are a lot of projects that need to be done so we have to determine what projects we are able to do. Some people are going to want one thing while others want to see something totally different done. But there again, I think it’s important to communicate. If the community is involved in these processes then they will understand why certain projects are happening while others are on hold. The people of Oneonta need to play an active role in how this town moves forward. This is their town, my town, our town.

What is most important for your town right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
What I’ve heard most people say is having something for the kids to do. And, of course, what most people complain about is the internet. Fortunately, the city is able to invest $900,000 into park and rec right not. That’s a start. We’ve got to see where the people want to go from there. There are a lot of things that I think we need or that I want. But we’ve got to make sure that we are doing the things that our people need or want. You’ve got to listen to the people and find out what they think is important.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in your town?
I would like to see us have more open conversations when it comes to making decisions. We need to have regular work sessions. We need to provide opportunities and open forums that the community can be involved. We have to make sure they feel welcome and know they are a part of this process. They need to know that we want to hear from them and give them an opportunity to share their thoughts and their opinions. Involving the community more, giving people an opportunity to share, and having open discussions are key to transparency and that is extremely important.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in your town?
Obviously the restaurants. All of the restaurants would be my favorite places. For me, it is just so important to spend my time here, in Oneonta, where I live and where I work. For so many years, we didn’t have the kind of restaurants that we have now or the kinds of shops that we have now. If we wanted a decent meal, we had to drive. If we wanted a special gift, we had to drive. It’s so very important to support our local restaurants and our local businesses so that they’ll be around for us to enjoy not just now, but as we continue to grow. I have been a member of the Oneonta Business Association, served on the board for 10 years, and served as president and treasurer for a number of years. I’ve served on the Chamber’s board as the city’s representative. I have been involved in downtown events and beautification projects. I have worked, along with so many others, to make Oneonta better. I have watched as its come alive again. As a community, we need to think about what all we can do in Oneonta. We live in a great place and I know that it’s only going to get better.

City Council Place 3

Donald Bradley

Donald Bradley

Donald Bradley
Tell us about your life in Oneonta?
We came to Oneonta in 2011 after our house was hit by the same tornado that hit Tuscaloosa on April 27. Actually some of the items that came from our house, pictures actually, were found here in Blount County—in Oneonta.  They were returned to my wife, and that prompted us to look at houses for sale in the area. We visited Oneonta during Covered Bridge Fest. We rented a motel room,  at at local restaurants, and attended the football game Friday night. At that time, my kids were younger, and they got over on the hill and started playing with local kids. Everyone had such a good time, so we prayed about and here we are.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
I’ve been serving as a councilman for eight months. The seat that was vacant was the Parks and Rec seat, and I was already serving on the Parks and Rec Board. The Mayor and City Council came to the board and asked for input on who should fill the vacant seat for the remainder of the term. I was very interested in serving, so I put my name in. After I was interviewed, I was nominated unanimously. I have a passion for youth, so any development in the area of youth sports such as the soccer fields is important to me. So in terms of development I want to see substantial growth in recreation, especially for youth sports.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
Oneonta deserves, hands-on, leading-from-the-front, taking-charge, leadership. These are the characteristics that a good leader needs to help grow our city; however, we don’t want to to grow too much to where we lose our identity. Oneonta being a small community is why people love it so much and that’s part of its attraction.  We have the opportunity with federal grant money to secure funding for qualified projects like the new amphitheater for quality entertainment. We’re on the cusp of something big, but we don’t want to outgrow what makes Oneonta so appealing. We want to maintain our identity while providing the best opportunities for our citizens and business owners. Oneonta’s leadership should work to balance both.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
One of the major challenges will be infrastructure. We have roads that need paving. We have about $700,000 earmarked for roadwork. It’s a drop in the bucket for what needs to be done, but if the Mayor and Council work together, we can develop a system to where we can pave roads that desperately need to be paved. A second thing on the radar is internet service. OTELCO is pretty much our only choice. Some think that OTELCO has a contract, but that’s not he case. It boils down to funding. Most of your bigger internet providers don’t want to spend the money. We have to aggressively go after federal and state funding that will help rural communities with high speed internet. If we can help providers absorb some of the costs, then it should be much easier for companies like AT&T, for example, to bring fiber optic internet to Oneonta.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
My passion is our parks and our outdoor facilities. I’ve been involved in all areas of the rec program since our family moved here. I’ve volunteered as a youth coach for 17 years. I’ve served on the rec football board and co-chaired it a couple years. I’ve been on that park and rec board. I know first hand what needs to be done. I am very proud of the fact that we’ve committed $900,000 to our facilities and to finally give our kids soccer fields. When Oneonta finishes their baseball field, we will be able to repurpose the old field providing dedicated space for flag football. We have to continue to move forward with a commitment to our youth.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in Oneonta?
COVID has affected how people absorb their information, so one no longer has to leave his or her house to attend the city council meetings because we broadcast them online now. Social media is huge. I work in Birmingham as a federal police officer at the VA hospital, so to be accessible, I will be very active social media. I also encourage citizens to watch the meetings and to take part in local government. We have a bigger impact here locally, than we do nationally. This is where we live. This is where we go to church. This is where we eat, go to ball games, and we shouldn’t sit on our hands when we have concerns. I will be as open and receptive to citizens,  business owners, and visitors to our town as I possibly can be through social media, phone calls, text messages, and emails. But most importantly, come to the meetings. We want you there.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
Gilbreath Stadium, of course! I’ve got an eight grader on the middle school football team. I’ve got a ninth grader in the band, so my Thursday and Friday nights are spent there. You can catch me volunteering in the parking lot directing cars, putting out the cones, and picking them up when it’s over. I am a people person with a servant’s heart my wife says. Anywhere I can volunteer is my place to be whether it’s church, city council, the stadium, or ballpark.  I also really enjoy spending time at the library. We have a heck of a library and those guys do a wonderful job. I really enjoy taking my kids to the summer programs there.

Danny Kelly

Danny Kelly

Danny Kelly
Tell us about your life in Oneonta?
I came here in 1971 as a third grader and graduated high school here. I went to Snead State and then Jacksonville State. Then moved away in 1987. I stayed away for 15 years working for different small town banks all over North Alabama, and then we came back here in 2003 and founded Home Town Bank of Alabama. I’ve been here since 2003 and been president since 2003, co-founder with six other businessmen. My children both graduated from school here. We’ve been active in the community, active citizens 17 years or almost 18 years.

Like I said, I started in elementary school, third grade. From a timing perspective, it’s unique because I went to elementary school at the old elementary school, which is where Otelco and Cadence Bank are now. Then I went to the old high school, which is where the Covered Bridge Inn is now. I went one year there before we moved down to the new school building when I was a ninth grader. I got a chance to experience all three of the schools, you know, the entire realm of school buildings. When I first started in youth baseball, I started on that field [old field at the fairgrounds], and then we moved down to the existing park in 1972. I got both experiences from it. That experience of having that new part was exciting at the time, it was just extraordinary [new ball field] comparatively to what we had.

I don’t know if you know the story that the park was built with grants primarily. There was a federal grant that Bruce Phillips got from the USDA. The National Guard offered up all of their dirt-moving equipment. We had Frank Finley, who was a friend of Oneonta, that was over the National Guard engineering unit in Huntsville. He provided all of that engineering you know, the surveying and stuff for the fields. The primary expense was infield dirt, which was a problem for a long time. We would drag the field. The power company provided all of the overhead lighting for free. And they would set the poles and then come out on the weekends, the guys, the linemen that worked there, would climb and set all the wiring, you know, when I say for free, their labor was free. That to me is just extraordinary. I mean, today, you wouldn’t have that many. So that park has quite a bit of history behind it. That’s what I remember about living here as a kid.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
Well, I think that we can go do extraordinary things in one term. In my opinion, especially in the park and recreation area, we are five years behind. Anytime that happens, then you have to make serious investments, serious commitments to getting it done. That same idea goes through almost every department and every area that we need to be paying attention to. From a development perspective, I just think we need to change the tone of how we approach development. I think we need to change the tone of our business-friendly environments. It doesn’t need to be a case by case situation for businesses.

Our incentive program, I can point you to Thomasville, Ala., they do it the way I feel like it should be done. They had it posted on their website: if you employ this many people, if you bring this kind of capital investment, then this is what your incentive will be from a sales tax abatement or whatever it happens to be. And then also existing businesses get the same treatment. If you fit these criteria, then here’s your incentive base.

It’s just clear, it’s transparent. It’s not case by case. And now that doesn’t mean that every business gets approved or every business comes to town because, you know, there are certain things you want to maintain like being family friendly, all that kind of stuff. But you can do that with ordinances to maintain peace and order, I guess, or whatever you want to call it. As far as the business-friendly environment, I think there’s no question that we are in a special time with COVID, but just forget COVID for a minute. What we have as a town is very appealing to multiple people. I mean, to the masses, really. If you look at Trussville, Mountain Brook, and Hoover, they’re starting to try to replicate a downtown, walkable, shopping experience that we already have. And that’s extraordinarily expensive to do if you don’t already have it. So, yeah, there’s some work. I mean there are older buildings, and they’re going to take some work to maintain the architecture. The reality is that the demand is extraordinary for this kind of thing. And so, the time is now and I’ve found that opportunity will go away very quickly if you don’t take full advantage of it. I think that opportunity is staring us right in the face and we just have to have a more consistent, transparent way of attracting business and that develops an attitude of business friendly (environment). It enhances businesses that are already here.

I can remember the days when Walmart opened for the first time, across from the school, and there was Ace Hardware in town. The guy that was running that, Mr. Glaze, said when [Walmart] opened his sales went up 40 percent. It was because people came here to buy the kind of thing they needed from Walmart. So, they didn’t have it so they stopped at Ace. Not only did they have it, but they waited on you in a way that was different. That’s how he drove his sales up 40 percent by having what was deemed to be competition.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
I’ve had experience with the people of this community since 1971, and I still believe that the people of Oneonta are what makes it such a wonderful place to raise a family, wonderful place to live, and wonderful place to do things and establish things and be things. There comes a point where you have to have people in the organization or the city government that are willing to make the tough decisions, willing to see the future. It’s very critical that you think way out beyond, think past Friday. Short term decisions will lead to short term results. Long term decisions, while more difficult, will lead to bigger, better, more sustainable results over time. I think that is what the leadership is going to require, some vision. It’s also going to require some folks to execute the vision and be dedicated to executing the vision and not rely on city officials.

What I mean by city officials are staff members, people who are hired by the city. I think the council itself has a responsibility to take on the different areas that (each council member) is responsible for and bring the very best to the table so we can make the best decisions and be the best informed. To rely on one or two people to do your research is, to me, abdicating your role as a council person if that’s what you do. I think your role as a city councilman is to be the most educated person in your responsibility area.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
You always have challenges with change. I mean change, in general, is very difficult for everyone to buy into. But in most of my experiences, positive change works for everyone. While the changing is difficult, the change itself is great. Once the change is accomplished, then people begin to buy in and understand. It makes the changing the next time even easier and easier and easier. Changing is where the leadership steps in. During that changing period is when people have to step up as leaders, be transparent, explain in detail what they’re trying to achieve and what they see achieving in five years, four years, whatever the term is, ask say, “This is how great we can be. I promise it’s how good we can be. I don’t think that the timing has ever been better and, honestly, my reason for running is I felt like without the leadership, there’s a real chance we miss it, that we missed that opportunity.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
We have to bring our park and rec facilities to the same level as others and that’s what our people deserve. They’re just terribly behind right now. I mean we’re just terribly behind and that means there’s probably going to be a deeper level of changing that’s going to occur, but that’s okay because it’s very doable. I’ve seen it done. I’ve seen the results of it from other cities I’ve been fortunate enough to visit other cities and see what they have and know how they got there. I think that to me would be priority one. We’ve got to change the conditions. We’re still working on that same field that I played on in 1972. The reality is that number one, it is not adequate for today’s world. And number two, is that it probably has more expense involved in keeping it up and the cost of ownership is twice what it would be.

I relate it to a computer. If you have a 20-year-old computer then your efficiency is terribly slower than someone with a five-year-old computer. You don’t have to have the Cadillac of computers, bit competing has changed dramatically in 20 years. Sports has changed dramatically in 25 years. And I think that when I say sports, I’m talking about outdoor activities period, just in general. I think one of the things working in our favor is that there’s going to be a demand for outside activities with COVID and things are going to change.

I think that there are grants available, the monies that are going to be coming down not only from Montgomery, but also from Washington, are going to be tremendous. And it’s going to be that one-time deal. There’s going to be a real push for outside activities and the people are going to demand it and those facilities need to be top class. We’ve got the people to do. I think they’ve earned it. They deserve it. My number one priority is to be certain they get them. Everything that involves any of this, I’ve laid it out a little bit in my 100-day plan, and that is exactly what I intend to do and how I see it happening. I’m not on the council, I haven’t been elected so I don’t have the necessary information to know exactly what step one, step two, step three is, but I can assure you that it won’t take very long for me to determine what action needs to be taken to get us there. But we need to get there and we need to get there ASAP.

It involves new aquatic center, soccer fields or multipurpose/soccer fields, baseball, softball, any of those kinds of facilities. They’re just not that difficult to do. There are people out there that do this all the time. Now, we didn’t have those specialty people back in the day. It was two men and a bulldozer. [Specifically speaking about the train depot] I had a conversation this morning with my wife. I heard a sermon one time and the churches were just beginning to have contemporary music. It was in a Methodist church, I’ve been a Methodist all my life, but I don’t think it was unique to Methodists. The pastor made the best analogy. You know, this is the future and we need to adjust to it; we need to adapt. We know this is coming and we need to do it right, but we can’t do it at the expense of the people whose shoulders we rode in here on. To completely dismantle the depot would be like throwing the older folks out of the church or not giving them the option for church they want. The reality is you can’t do one [the new] at the expense of the other [the old]. I’ve seen this done in towns and cities where they’ve incorporated some historic piece of their history into their new facilities. And there’s no reason we can’t do the same thing here.

There’s this thing out there right now they call sports tourism. And it’s where you know, travel teams, whatever, come to your town to play and it brings an enormous amount of economic impact; positive economic impact; positive family-friendly activities. What more could you ask for? If we had the facilities, then we could attract those kinds of folks. Because of our location, we are so easily accessible and our setting here is unmatched in my opinion. I really think that we should take full advantage of grants, the tourism grants are about to increase. They’re already there. We’re not taking full advantage of any of those. But we will.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in Oneonta?
I think one of the most effective things I’ve seen is town halls. Senator Shelby has been doing it for how long? I mean, I don’t even know how long he’s been there. He makes it a priority that he does a town hall every year in every county. And I think that’s the kind of thing you do with any of this stuff, you get their input. A leader has to be able to listen and not just hear it. Listen and act on what they hear. That doesn’t mean satisfy everyone in the room because that’s not going to happen. The right decision is never going to be the decision that everyone agrees with. But they’re going to be heard. We’re not only going to listen in audible terms, but we’re going to listen and take it into consideration. I think you’re abdicating your role as councilman if you’re not doing that.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
My home sits up on top of Shuff Mountain and that’s a pretty nice view. Downtown main street brings back so many memories for me. I can start at Wallace State and walk to what used to be Oneonta Supermarket and walk back. It’s nostalgic for me and lifts me up a bit. That is my favorite place to be. My second is not in the city limits, but Palisades Park is one of those places that is extraordinary easy to get to and extraordinary unique. Limestone Springs is another place of beauty. I love nature and wildlife and we have so much in abundance around here. I lived in this county for a long time and it never fails when my wife and I go for a ride, we come across something new. Downtown has its own ambiance; it’s unique and its hard to replicate. I’ve been to a lot of places traveling and no where do I feel as comfortable as I do here. I think we need to understand it, embrace it, and do something great with it. It’s a matter of having the political will and leadership to do it.

Christina Jackson

Christina Jackson

Christina JacksonTell us about your life in Oneonta?
I am married to Mike Jackson. I am mother to Mattie, sophomore at OHS, and Lexie, sixth grader at OMS. Our family loves our little neighborhood located in Pinebrook subdivision. We are thankful for our church family at Redeemer Community Church. Mike and I have enjoyed serving as OHS Athletic Booster Club President. Our girls both love sports. Mike and I have enjoyed volunteering as coaches for our city’s rec league.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
I want to see growth and I want to hear excitement from our residents of our movement in the right direction. I DO NOT want to be the next Trussville. I want to give our youth a reason to want to stay in Oneonta. I want to give our empty nesters a reason to stay in Oneonta. I want to give our elders the things they need here in Oneonta. There is no magical answer or timeline for the things that are needed. It is simply time for us to dig our heels in and make our city better.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
Our city deserves leadership that is transparent and ready to work hard. Our city also deserves leadership that is willing to set goals and make decisions that will be bring huge investments and even bigger results for our city.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
The biggest challenge is there are areas of our city that have been stuck in neutral for quite some time. My plan is simply to work with my fellow council members to build out a complete strategic vision for our city. I believe it will be vital to our city for the mayor and council to collaborate and set realistic goals from the beginning.  We will then need to prioritize each goal and stage for the next four years we are given to make a difference. We must be diligent as a team, and if we face difficulties or set backs in accomplishing or reaching those goals we cannot let them fall off the radar.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
Importance is simply based on the age group you are speaking to or about. The biggest thing I must speak to, however, are the things that have been brought to light as we have faced this pandemic. Our children, our youth need outlets. Simply put, they need things to do. I believe those outlets that we need to engage our youth can, however, be enjoyed by the adults and elders of our city as well. Recently we have seen a step in the right direction, but there is so much more that we need. I live in our city and I love our city, so it is extremely hard for me to zero in on one area.

I will speak to the primary reason I chose to run for Place 3 and that is our green spaces. Pavilions, for example, are not only good for birthday parties, but they are good for book club meetings. A city pool is not only good for new moms to take their babies, it is good for our school to have a place for the swim team. And it is also good for our elders to have an aquatic exercise group. Recreation fields are not just good for our youth sports teams, but they could allow adults to have the opportunity to have sports leagues as well. My plan is to take the recent forward movement and expound on it. I want to work with the council to set out a makeover for some areas and build the framework for our parks and rec facilities for the next four years.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in Oneonta?
My plan is simply to be transparent and be open to hear the voices of our residents. I fully support an open-door policy and believe in receiving our residents’ input.  Again, there is no magical answer and/or timeline as we make efforts to nurture, improve, and grow our great city. Therefore, we as a Council must be willing to be flexible as we make investments and decisions to work hard for our city.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
My favorite places in Oneonta are our restaurants and cute shops, and of course, the ballpark and the gym.

City Council Place 4

Lee Alexander

Lee Alexander

Lee Alexander

Tell us about your life in Oneonta?
I have lived in Oneonta for the past 20 years, and I own Charlie B’s. I love Oneonta. I live here, work here, and play here. And, it’s just been a great community. For me, I spent the the first 18 years of my life trying to figure out how to get out of here, and then when I went other places, I realized how special Oneonta truly is. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
I think we have a lot of good potential for development in all areas. Not only in small business, but in some industry as well.

I think that our current administration has left us in a pretty good place with very little short term debt. We have a pretty healthy budget to make some significant changes. We have the $900,000 from the sale of the Agri-business Center earmarked to make some changes to park and rec.  We also have a $768,000 budget for paving roads. I feel that we can stretch the budget to make it go farther, to make some real improvements, to serve a lot of citizens.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
Oneonta needs honest, transparent leadership. It needs people who truly love the city for no other reason than the fact that they live here and they work here and want it to be the best community it can be.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
Well, there will always be issues with someone saying, “Hey, I need this road paved or that road paved.” There’s only a set amount of money that can go around; however, like I said, there are ways we can make that money go farther and do more.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
We need to have continued support of your school system. I think it’s one of the biggest assets that we have. Education is important in so many facets of this city. I think that Oneonta has proven that education is important with the addition of Wallace State. We just need to continue to improve in other areas like our infrastructure and our access to the best and most reliable utilities and services to ensure a better quality of life for everyone.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision-making process in Oneonta?
That’s very important to me because this isn’t just my town. This is our town. First of all, I would love to see citizens take a more active role in their local government. Both work sessions and city council meetings are open to the public. They are live-streamed on Facebook and OTELCO. I would like to see people not only participate in those, but ask questions. I want everyone to understand how and why the mayor and council arrive at some of their decisions.  I think by doing that, it not only gives them a voice, but it also gives them a better understanding of how things work and how their city government is working for them.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
We have a lot of wonderful places in Oneonta! Of course Charlie B’s, but also Grapes & Hops, which is a wonderful place to visit, and something that until the last few years, I didn’t think would be possible.  Our town has a lot of natural beauty. I love to visit the park and I love to walk around downtown. That’s something that a lot of other towns don’t have and I really enjoy and appreciate the quaintness of our downtown.

Zac Marsh

Zac Marsh

Zac Marsh
Tell us about your life in Oneonta?
So, my wife and I chose to move here. We’re originally from Locust Fork and we appreciate the quality of life that’s afforded here. We appreciate the quality of the education system, the parks, the neighborhoods, and the people. A lot of our friends live here. Growing up, this is where you had to come to if you had to buy groceries, get something to eat. And so we enjoy the convenience of having those things just down the street. We live right across the street from the park. It’s just kind of a perfect setup for us.

I am finance chairman for the largest church in the county. We manage hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in contributions. And those people choose me to manage that money because they trust me. When I was county administrator, the county budget was $17 million and I left there with no debt on the books. Financing and  accounting is what I do professionally so I have the experience, the knowledge. That’s what I bring to the table, and I think that separates me from the rest.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during your term?
Oneonta has a lot of opportunities to grow if those opportunities are seized and taken advantage of in the right way. And it takes a lot of effort and coordination between organizations and government entities to make things happen. When people on a council or board don’t get along or when multiple organizations don’t get along, it’s hard to make a coordinated effort. So what I want to say is everyone who has a stake in the future of Oneonta needs to be involved in establishing goals and working toward them together. We need to have one voice in Montgomery, and we need to have one voice in Washington. That’s what it’s gonna take to get our fair share.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
Oneonta deserves transparency. We deserve to hear the conversation that leads to decisions, to hear the logic and reason behind things, and to hear that hashed out in an open meeting. We deserve to have budgets and financial decisions explained thoroughly, but also in a way that the average person can understand. We deserve to have important public documents like budgets, financial statements, and minutes available online. We deserve to have a long range plan that thinks beyond this Friday. We deserve a three year or five year plan and not only for the city, but for all the organizations that have a stake in the city’s future, which would be the school board, the Economic Development Council, the county commission, to name a few. We deserve to have a plan that incorporates everyone. Let’s all get together and see what’s the best way to attack this from all angles with with all of our efforts.

I would also establish quarterly or at least semi annual joint meetings with some of these groups where we go into active business session together so we can make decisions together and we can commit to a goal. And I think within my first 100 days, that’s what I want to make happen. Hold active business meetings to establish priorities and create these long term plans.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
People often ask when you make these big promises, how are you gonna pay for them? I think it can be done without any new taxes with more efficient budgeting, which is where my experience comes in. In the past two years, there has been zero budgeted for roads, pavement, materials. So, one of the biggest challenges is paying for things without raising the taxes. I’ve already worked out a solution for that. I’ve already made a budget for next year.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
Two things. First is fast and reliable broadband for everyone. Students are distance learning, many people are still working from home. Economic status shouldn’t have an impact on a student’s ability to be educated. It’s never impacted their ability to attend public school. And it shouldn’t impact them now. They should have access to fast and reliable internet. I’ve already been calling business executives and state and federal officials to work on grant applications and public private partnerships to make that a reality for us. Secondly, our roads are in terrible condition and many of them are unsafe. I know that over the past eight years our budget does not reflect the commitment to doing anything about that. I have a plan for doing something about it.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process?
First by being more transparent, making video of our meetings available online and live-streamed on social media Publishing minutes to the meetings, budgets and financial statements on the city website. Asking organizations and local associations to be involved in the decision making process and in the follow through of the work that needs to be done. If we need Congressional support, we will need the support of those groups and the citizens. I’m familiar with that process because I’ve already been doing it and I can help by directing people. I can help volunteer organizations with the grant application process. I know how to help those organizations do those things and when we help them, it helps us in return.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in your town?
We spend a lot of time at the park, because it’s right next door to our house. We walk over there or we ride our bikes over there. And it makes me really upset to see the condition its in. Nothing about that park compares to places like Oxford or Guntersville. We deserve more. But that’s still one of my favorite places to go. We also love hanging out on main street, especially when there are events. We try to make it to as many as possible. We love the fact that we can bring our kids down and walk around. We want to improve on that experience by following through with the things that have been promised downtown and actually make them happen in a reasonable amount of time. With my financial and accounting knowledge and my experience making budgets, I know I can make it happen for us.

City Council Place 5

Robbie McAlpine

Robbie McAlpine

Robbie McAlpine
Tell us about your life in Oneonta?
Our family has lived here all our lives. I graduated high school from Oneonta in 1992. I have three sons, Colton ,who graduated from Oneonta, is the finance manager at Terry Sligh Chevrolet; Andrew, who just graduated from Oneonta, is on his way to Jacksonville State University; and I have an eighth grader, Gavin.

I worked in Hoover at an ad agency for a number of years. For about three or four years, I drove back and forth. I started my company, Alpine Advertising Agency, on July 8, 2003, so we’re a little over 17 years old. We represent the auto and telecom industry around the southeast United States from an ad agency standpoint. About 10 years ago I had the opportunity to buy the radio station from the Bentley family, and we’ve been able to keep that open and provide good services. The radio station is more of a project of mine. I started in the media business with the “Rick and Bubba Show” before I went to work with the ad agency in Hoover. Radio is a first love from the media side of things.

I live here on 4th Avenue in the middle of town. I love the town, love the people. I’m a product of this town. I’m the youngest of seven children, kind of raised by the community in many ways. My mom is still here, Mickey McAlpine. She’s 82 years old and still as ornery as ever. Just a local family who’ve all stayed where we love and that’s Oneonta.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
I think it’s important we have planned strategic growth. Our city has a responsibility to make sure the people and companies who choose to invest in this city succeed. I think personally, it’s a black eye on the city council every time somebody invests in a business here and they don’t make it. I think one of the things we’re missing the boat on is that Oneonta is not an island. We have a population of just over 7,000 people. We’ve got to promote our lifestyle and the quality of life in Oneonta. We’ve got to promote our restaurants, our shops, and our businesses. We can’t make it off only Oneonta’s population. We’re never going to be able to. We’ve got to promote within a 60-mile radius in a very granular way. We’ve got to geofence like businesses in a 60-mile radius so if someone goes into a business 50 miles away, and we’ve got a similar business here, they need to see ads for our city because they went inside that geofence. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to do that. There’s room in the budget for it with discretionary funds. So planned strategic growth, I think, is important. It’s important that we try to grow, but growth is only half of it. If it’s not sustainable, it’s a huge humiliation to the city council and the people of the city. We should never try to recruit a business that we don’t think can make it here. I think that’s the city council’s job, along with the business owner’s job to offer a good product, and it’s the city council’s job to promote the city.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
I think the town deserves leadership that’s been-there-and-done-that on a larger scale. We can’t ‘good-ole-boy’ our way forever or we’re going to keep getting the same results. I’ve been fortunate enough to do business from Oklahoma and California, up to Maine, Pennsylvania, and Boston. I’ve seen a lot of towns this size and some things that would work here and I have a stake in the community. I own the radio station and an ad agency that does business all over the country. Oneonta deserves someone who has a personal stake in the community, but also has the experience to pull ideas from other parts of the country that might work here and implement those things that I’ve seen. It deserves someone who has worked with other chambers (of commerce) and tourism boards, and I’ve certainly done all that and I think I can bring a lot of that to the table. I’m currently on the boards of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce and the Wallace State Future Foundation. The main thing is you got to have a stake in the city. I definitely have deep roots here and I put my money where my mouth is. My companies could operate from any city, but I choose this place. It’s my city. It’s the best. I could be anywhere, but I’m here and I’m happy to be here.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
We’re in a really unique time with COVID so I think some of the challenges are unseen and unknown. It’s very difficult to predict what these unknown challenges are, but the foreseeable challenge is revenue to do more for the schools. It’s one of the best school systems in the whole state, and I was on the school board and served as president one year. The very first question asked (by people who are contemplating residing or establishing a business) is “What about your school system?” The city does a lot already for the school, but it could do more because the school system is one of the primary ‘quality of life’ things we have to offer. Obviously, there are other quality of life things.

I’m really proud of what the current city council just did, putting that $900,000 towards soccer fields and the youth. That’s long, long overdue. I don’t understand why that hadn’t happened a long time ago. But I’m so happy the folks at city hall, the current city council and mayor, made that happen. I’m proud of them for that. Everybody is trying to do the same thing we’re doing. We can’t sit on our hands anymore. We need a group of people, whether me or whoever it is on the council, that has some real-world experience with media and marketing for the city, and some people to take risks. A good example is Tracy Honea, the mayor of Albertville. He has, in my opinion, taken some very aggressive steps to see his city grow and it’s paid off. They have a Hobby Lobby and other growth. Of course, I understand their demographics meet that.

I just don’t think we can sit on our hands any longer. We’re going to stay where we’re at or we’re going to move forward, and there’s a possibility that if the wrong people get in, we could move backwards. The cure to all our problems is not rec fields. I think that is very important. The cure to most of the problems is revenue and that comes from tourism, that comes from promoting the city in order to pump in business, and increasing our tax base so we can do these quality of life things. It all just feeds off itself and cycles from there.

What is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help facilitate solutions?
It’s similar to what I said earlier. I think we need a strategic media plan. We need to have a two-part plan. Businesses will come if they see they have the support of the city and we’re putting our money where our mouth is. One of the problems facing Oneonta is nobody is going to stumble across Oneonta. We’ve got to promote this place and work on technology, infrastructure, and internet. I was excited to hear the announcement that OTELCO was going to launch DOCSIS 3.0 sometime in August. It will allow them to deliver speeds similar to fiber optics. That’s something that’s real important to the city.

As a business owner here, we produce tons of television commercials a month and ship them around the country and you have to have good broadband for that to happen or it won’t happen. I understand the need for that and how it works. (Faster broadband) is one of the main problems here. OTELCO does not have a monopoly regardless of what people might think. Anybody can come in that wants to, but the problem is it’s all math to a Bellsouth or a Comcast. They’re not thinking snuggly thoughts about Oneonta. If the math works, they’ll do it. They obviously don’t think the math works, so sometimes you just got to love the one you’re with until someone else falls in love you. I hate the way that sounds.

OTELCO did make that announcement, and it is a fast, fast product and doesn’t require fiber. I think you’ll end up seeing some quick change out of those guys, and maybe some competition will move in. But again, Oneonta is not on anyone’s radar and we’ve got to get on some people’s radar. We have a lot to brag about here.

(McAlpine made these comments prior to the announcement that OTELCO was being sold to a private investment company and it is unclear at this point if that plan is still ongoing.)

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in Oneonta?
I think that having lived here my whole life, I would think everyone has my cell phone number, and if not it’s 205-999-0344. I think we’ve got to communicate better; we’ve got to restore the public faith in the Oneonta city council. I’m not an opponent of any of the (current council members). I think they’ve done a decent job in some ways, but I think they’ve sat on their hands a little bit. I think everybody who knows me knows I came from nothing in this town, other than a great mom and great brothers and sisters. I’m a product of being raised by this community and I’ve been blessed. I’ve worked very hard and been successful in the media business across the eastern part of the United States at the very least. People who know me know I’m a get-it-done kind of guy. If they don’t know me, they need to call my cell phone, and we’ll meet and talk. They’ll understand quickly I’m not a guy that’s going to sit on my hands. I’ll move. It’s not always going to be a hasty move, but it’s going to be very strategic. You don’t pull the trigger on things you know you can’t finish because that makes you look like a failure. I’m ambitious. A lot of things start with ambition and I’m not satisfied with business as usual around here. We’re better than that.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
I’m a big fan of Miller’s Soda Shoppe. I just got an Americano and I love it. I also love spending time at our local restaurants. I love what’s happened up and down main street here. Mio Sogno is open now. I’m a robust fellow so I’m a big fan of the restaurants, right? I love some of these antique shops downtown, the consignment shops. I’m in love with our downtown area. I love what’s happening out towards Walmart. I like my church, Redeemer Community Church. Gosh, I love every part of this place. There’s not much I haven’t done here and I’ve spent a lot of time everywhere. People probably get tired of seeing me. I’m not tied to a desk everyday and I travel a little bit, but when I’m here, I enjoy my town.

 

Joey Prusha

Joey Prusha

Joey Prusha

Tell us about your life in Oneonta? 
I’ve lived here almost 15 years. My wife Melanie and I have four kids: Andrew, Aaron, Joe, and Sarah. Melanie has lived here all her life graduating from Oneonta High School. And I love it here. I’ve spent the better part of the last 12 years very heavily involved in the youth sports from coaching and working on committees to cleaning up dugouts and sidelines to getting the fields ready for games. All four of my kids have grown up on those fields.

Where do you want to see Oneonta in terms of development during the next four years?
In terms of development, my biggest priority is bringing in more for our kids. And, I don’t mean just parks and rec. There are many other activities out there for our children. We’ve put an emphasis on building up our businesses, which is great and we must always continue to do that. But, we’ve neglected our children through all of that redevelopment and growth. Yes, our parks need upgrades and new construction. But while we are doing that, we need to actively recruit businesses that can provide entertainment and activities for our kids. And we have got to do something about our pool. It broke my heart to see it filled with dirt. Our kids deserve better than that. They deserve better than the old equipment at Woodland Park. So while we are working on the bigger projects that are going to take time, we can do the small things like new equipment, new walking trails. In the short term, it’s fixing what we have. In the long term, it’s expanding our infrastructure. For me, though, providing our youth with the support they need is a  priority. Now, obviously, I’ve got other things in mind. But that’s my priority because that’s where most of my involvement in the city has been for the last decade.

Oneonta has seen so much growth the past few years. We have a lot of the things we didn’t use to have like a number of restaurants and great shops. Throughout my career I’ve had an opportunity to travel to 48 of the 50 states and more than 20 countries and downtown Oneonta is special. So, my biggest emphasis is not going to be to attract chain restaurants, it’s going to be to be on highlighting what we do have and supporting what we have. There are businesses that we need and we need to be strategic in the types of businesses we go after. We’ve got to go after a grocery store. So through my business experience and the connections I’ve made, I am prepared to have those discussions.

In your opinion, what kind of leadership does Oneonta deserve?
The people of Oneonta deserve transparent leadership. While I’ve been out the last month or so talking with people on the campaign trail, and I’ve talked to more than a couple hundred people, there are a lot of people who couldn’t even tell me who our mayor was. So not only do we need to have transparent leadership, our leaders have to be out in the community and they have to be involved in the community. I want people to know who I am, and I want them to know that they can come talk to me at any time. I’ve got an open door policy. I am here to serve this community and be an active part of it. That is the key.

What challenges are you expecting and how do you plan on resolving them?
The biggest challenge is going to be money. We’ve got to recruit more businesses to build our tax base. And these grants everyone is talking about are great. But a majority of those require matching funds. Where are those matching funds going to come from? We have to think beyond state funding or federal funding all the time. There are businesses in Oneonta that could have invested in some of these projects over the years before things like our ballfields and pool got to the point they did. A lot of dads and moms have invested a lot of time, energy, sweat, and hard-earned money working out on those fields year after year. We’ve done as much as we could. And we’ve done it for our kids, but we also do it because we care about this city and we want to be a part of the solution. There are some really good avenues that haven’t been explored in which we can get that extra funding we need to make some of these projects a reality.

What do you feel is most important for Oneonta right now and how will you help work towards solutions?
Address the little issues and tackle the biggest issues at hand. We have to work hard to repair the relationship with our school board. The school system is one of the most important assets this city has. Plus we have to solve our internet issues. My primary job is a technical strategy director for Microsoft Corporation. I have the technical knowledge and I have the contacts to help move us towards a solution.

How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in Oneonta?

I love that question. We are a city made up of multiple generations. It’s one of those things that makes unique. But we also need to recognize and understand how these different generations communicate. Social media is great and continues to provide a platform to keep a good majority of people informed, but we’ve got to do more. It’s getting out into the neighborhoods where people are, it’s going to community events, it’s hosting community events. We’ve got to make sure that our youth know we haven’t forgotten about them, but we also have to make sure our elderly population knows we care about their needs, too. It’s about getting back to our roots, talking to each other, being a community.

Where are your favorite places to spend time in Oneonta?
Hands down for me — the ball park. My kids have lived and breathed sports. It’s pretty much where we live. But it’s also the downtown district, visiting our local restaurants, and being able to shop here. We’ve got some really good local businesses here. We’ve got to support them them. Every time you go out to eat somewhere else, you are taking money away from friends and neighbors who own those businesses, your taking money away from our kids because your tax dollars are going somewhere else, your taking money away from your city. So for me, my favorite places are the local businesses, the restaurants, the clothing stores, the parks, and, yes, the ball field.