Whether you believe home is where the heart is or home is where you lay your head, there sure ain’t no place like it. But if it happens to be in Baldwin County, Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson doesn’t think you should be appointed to any Mobile boards or high profile positions within Mobile city government.
During a recent council meeting, Richardson said, “I’ve had enough of Baldwin County appointees coming to Mobile,” referencing Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s recommendation of Baldwin County resident Michael Pierce for a spot on the Mobile Airport Authority board.
Richardson went on to misappropriate Stimpson’s campaign slogan, as he has grown fond of doing, saying “The mayor campaigned on ‘One Mobile,’ not ‘One Baldwin County.’
Several of Stimpson’s executive staff members also reside in Baldwin County. Stimpson defended those choices saying he just wanted the best and most qualified candidates for the positions and those candidates just happened to already be living across the bay.
Even though Mr. Richardson spends a lot of time seeing things in black and white, this issue is more grey.
Over the years, my husband and I have watched friends and neighbors, or families with whom we got to church with or with whom our kids go to daycare/preschool stick a for sale sign in front of their Mobile homes (not mobile) and head across to set up housekeeping in one of the Shangri-las across the bay.
And it’s almost always for the same two reasons. Crime and/or schools.
Stories like, “We’ve been broken into twice, our neighbors have too, we’re moving to Baldwin County.” Some who haven’t moved yet are just waiting for the next burglar to be their final straw, “My back door got kicked in last week. I told my husband if it happens ONE more time, that’s it, we’re moving to Baldwin County.”
I get it. We’ve had the same issues. Someone threw a brick through our bedroom window just two weeks ago, taking some of the jewelry my sweet mother had given me over the years and before she died, and the necklace my husband gave me when our first child was born. All irreplaceable.
The MPD officers who responded that night and afterwards were amazing, and they even caught the guy and are working feverishly to recover the goods. But still, you just feel so violated, and in the heat of the moment, the grass does seem a little greener in Baldwin County, or at least the back bedroom windows a lot less broken. But then you calm down, and you realize things like this can happen anywhere. Sometimes perception is greater than reality.
But if it’s not crime, it’s schools.
You’ll hear this:
“We’re just not sure about the public schools here (I am not saying that is a fair assessment, but again, it is a perception I often hear), and we’re doing the math, with what we would have to spend on private school tuition on our kids, we could have an amazing house in Spanish Fort/Daphne/Fairhope (whichever), save for their college and travel the world.” And some of my fellow moms will add, “I wouldn’t have to work if we moved over there, I could stay home with the kids, which is what I really want to do.”
I absolutely understand all of those reasons, and can see how it has been a good decision for all of their individual families. But still, it always feels like a little kick in the gut to lose another family to the cities across the bay. Mainly because we like them and we know we are not going to see much of them anymore, especially the one who doesn’t work over here. We always like to say, “Well it’s been nice knowing you. Y’all might as well be moving to Atlanta, ‘cause we will never see you again.” Then we hug and cry. And then we never see them again. Except during Mardi Gras. Until they join those societies over there. And then we never see them again.
And though I still don’t fault them for moving, every family has to do what is best for them, but when it comes down to it, those two reasons people always give for moving are never going to get any better in Mobile if people keep taking their tax revenue across the Bayway.
It’s a vicious cycle.
So I kind of get the huffiness about folks getting their paychecks in Mobile and moseying on over back across the Causeway, especially those with jobs in the public sector.
But as someone who has to hire people myself, I also get the need of the vital importance of having the best and most qualified person for the job. And since we are all part of the same great region from the same great state, doesn’t it seem silly to disqualify the perfect candidate just because they live outside the city limits? Some whose skills and talents could truly make the city a better place?
It is the intersection of those two issues wherein the grey area lies.
If all things were exactly equal between two candidates, except one lives in Mobile and the other lives in Baldwin, then it’s a no brainer. Mobilian all the way if you’re hiring for the city. But it’s never that cut and dry, is it?
But I do think it is more important for the candidates for some positions to live in Mobile than others. And I’m sure the mayor realizes that as well.
For instance, the city attorney is not going to interpret the municipal code or law any differently whether he lives in Sugar Creek or Timber Creek. And the Mobile Airport Authority board affects the region, so having a BaCo resident on the board almost seems desirable.
But on boards that only directly affect Mobile proper, like say, the housing board, a Mobilian should be the choice. The rules require the police chief to live inside the city, which is why Chief James Barber said he would be moving back across the bay once Stimpson tapped him as the city’s top cop. Obviously, if some major incident were to happen you would want him to be able to be on the scene quickly rather than commuting across the Bayway. Makes perfect sense.
But if I were the mayor, I would want the majority of my staff/closest advisers to live in Mobile anyway, if at all possible. Not because it is a rule or because Fred Richardson wants it to be that way. But because you learn way more about your community and town outside the hours of 8 a.m and 5 p.m.
Sure if you live in Baldwin, but work in Mobile, you are hearing from one of your “circles” about what’s happening in the Port City. But more likely than not, that’s about it.
We learn more about the successes and failures of our city by talking to people who are living right alongside us – chatting with an old friend we run into in the grocery store, chewing the fat with other parents on the ball field or while waiting outside ballet class or at the PTO meeting, listening to folks gossiping in the barber shop or beauty salon or coffee club, or just catching up with our neighbors on a Saturday afternoon or fellow church members between Sunday School and church. If all of those activities except work are taking place in a different county, it’s kind of hard to have a really good grasp on what’s going on in the city you serve.
And quite frankly, I think many of the talking heads/pundits who dismissed Mayor Stimpson’s chances against his predecessor as being an insane longshot during the campaign did so because they didn’t live here, and they weren’t hearing the absolute insatiable need for change every single place they went.
Hopefully, by 2020, this will be a non-issue anyway. As things get better, we will stop seeing those for sale signs being planted in front of houses across Mobile, and we’ll even see some BaCo folks coming back. If our mayor fulfills his promise of the Port City being the safest, most family and business friendly city in six years, we will find our home sweet homes will be just as “sweet” no matter which side of the bay they are on.