In what he has said will be his last campaign, longtime incumbent Fred Richardson (pictured above) is set to face political newcomers Tim Hollis and Cory Penn in the District 1 Mobile City Council race.
After more than 20 years on the council, Richardson said he wants to serve one last term and then spend the rest of his time writing, while he still can.
“I am 77,” he said. “I’ll be in my 80s and I can’t chance not having control of all my facilities to do what I want to do. I can’t say that after four more years I won’t start slipping and won’t be able to do what I want to do.”
Richardson said he wants more time to oversee capital improvement program funding in the district. The councilman takes credit for sponsoring the ordinance extending the sales tax increase for three years, funding the program. Through capital improvements, he said, the city is able to repave streets and perform other infrastructure work that has been neglected.Penn, a behavior trainer for the Mobile County Public School System, said he supports CIP funding, but still believes more can be done to improve parks and recreation in the district.
“We need more funding because that’s where people go to enjoy their family, their friends … they make you feel safe,” Penn said. “I believe we need to have more funding in the area.”
In the Beau Terra neighborhood where he lives with his wife and daughter, Penn said children play in the middle of the street because there’s no common space.
Richardson defended his own efforts by mentioning Figures Park, which he called the most “diversified park in the city” because visitors can swim, play basketball, play baseball, play tennis and run on a track. Richardson said he’s made improvements to many parks in the district, including Trinity Gardens Park, which recently benefitted from a new playground.Hollis, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said he also believes the city could do a better job funding parks and youth activities.
“We should have playgrounds that present some form of destiny, some symbols of hope,” Hollis said. “[There should be] a place where a kid can go and have more than just one swing to swing on, a place where a kid can go and be creative just as I did when I grew up.”
Hollis said he’d like to see more playground equipment in District 1 parks, including jungle gyms and merry-go-rounds.
While Richardson touted Henry Aaron Park as the only facility specifically for children 12 and under, Hollis said he didn’t agree with segregating the parks by age.
Regarding jobs and economic development, Richardson touted helping to secure the recruitment of Publix in midtown, while his opponents want to aim higher.
Richardson took credit for negotiating with the school system on a price for the former Augusta Evans property near the corner of Old Shell Road and Florida Street, where the store is currently under construction. Richardson said the store will bring $1.5 million in tax revenue per year into the city and create 235 new jobs.
While he said jobs are important, Hollis wants to focus on luring higher paying jobs to District 1, while also partnering with small businesses to help beautify blighted areas. Overall, Hollis said he gives the city a C plus in economic development efforts.
“… It’s good to have jobs for the entire city, it’s good to have jobs that will help the entire county, but we need to focus on those high-paying jobs within the districts that will go to community residents,” Hollis said. “That way they’re making money in their neighborhoods, they’re traveling in their neighborhoods to their jobs and the money’s rotating within the community. District 1 has a lot of undeveloped land and there’s no excuse why we couldn’t move companies in to take interest in some of these undeveloped properties.”
Penn said that while he believes the city is doing a good job in economic development, he’d like to see more of a focus on the people. He said he wants to expand job training efforts in the district.
“I can bring a company in, but is it benefiting the people of a district?” He asked. “Are they being hired for those positions?”
Richardson said he tries to include employment and job training information in all of his regular community meetings. Unfortunately, he said, turnout for younger individuals targeted by those jobs is not always what he’d like.
In the area of crime and the community’s relationship with the Mobile Police Department, Richardson said he believes there’s not enough community involvement in the city’s policing effort, despite millions of dollars in grant money devoted to it each year.
“There’s no input,” he said. “You’re not going to stop nothing until you get down to the cause. I’d take the community-oriented policing, or COP money, and get some professionals in here and find out what the cause is.”
Hollis said he supports community policing, where officers walk beats on foot to get to know individuals in the community. He said he’s glad the city has begun the program, which will start to ease the mistrust residents feel toward police officers.
“I do believe it will help, but I know it will not be an easy process,” Hollis said. “We have to understand we’re dealing with a systemic situation; something that has been in the mindsets and DNA of these citizens for a long time, most of their lives.”
Penn would also like to see the relationship between the citizens and police improve. One proposal is a program called PACT, or Police and Citizens Together.
“By creating this program, we have to build mutual respect between the police officers and the citizens,” Penn suggested. “We have to build relationships and I believe through this program that would help decrease the crime.”