In response to what it says are misguided priorities from some of the city’s current elected officials, the Orange Beach 2016 Political Action Committee is looking for a few good candidates to even the playing field in the upcoming municipal elections.
The PAC, chaired by W. Douglas Broadhead, reported a total of just $645 in contributions from six Orange Beach residents in its January Fair Campaign Practices Act report, but it immediately spent $300 on a website, www.ob2016.com, where Treasurer Jim Caldwell listed desirable principles for potential candidates.
“We have not been very active yet but are in the process of finding suitable candidates for the mayor’s office and the City Council,” Caldwell said. “We do have a few good candidates but right now they have not officially decided to run … It is too early to announce any candidates.”
Online, the PAC cites the city of Orange Beach Horizons 2020 plan from 2006, which listed infrastructure and traffic-control priorities for city officials to tackle over the next 10 years.
Among those were the construction of the “Cross Island Connector,” the widening of Canal Road from the Foley Beach Express to State Highway 161, improvements at the intersection of State Highways 161 and 180, roadway drainage improvements, a sidewalk and bicycle master plan, construction of additional boat launches and public parking facilities on Perdido Beach Boulevard.
Longer-term plans included a bridge over Wolf Bay, a park and ride system, a beach trolley and the completion of the Baldwin County 83 extension from Interstate 10 to Interstate 65.
Horizons 2020 included input from four interest groups. Caldwell was a member of the environmental interest group, which sought beach cleaning and maintenance, wetlands conservation and ecotourism projects among its list of proposals.
“Very few items on that list have been achieved,” Caldwell said. “It has been 10 years since that plan was published and we don’t have much to show for it. We are frozen on this island because not much has been done to improve the infrastructure here.”
In a citywide survey last year, 47 percent of respondents listed transportation as the top issue facing the city, far ahead of other issues like “small town character” and insurance premiums. Coincidentally, the Alabama Department of Transportation recently ranked Canal Road as the 18th busiest two-lane road in the state, with a daily average of 15,510 vehicles.
The city is planning to widen Canal Road and improve its congested intersection with State Highway 161 and also has a separate project which will expand William Silvers Parkway near the Orange Beach Sportsplex.
However, Caldwell said instead of focusing on the Horizon 2020 priorities, the city has been distracted by other issues like its push for an independent school system. In 2014, more than 1,800 voters turned out to reject a property tax increase that would have funded a city school system. The “no” votes nearly doubled the “yes” vote total of 928.
The city’s promotion of the system inspired Broadhead’s political involvement.
“I was against the school split at the time and still am,” he said. “We didn’t set up a PAC at the time, but this is kind of a continuation of that effort. Some of the same people are involved this time.”
Broadhead said the PAC is not currently endorsing candidates, but it is trying to find candidates to support in those races. He also said the PAC won’t advocate for a “clean sweep” of the mayor’s office and City Council, but instead will focus on finding candidates who can improve the city’s service to its citizens.
“We want to find good people who can represent us well,” Broadhead said. “We aren’t advocating for a clean sweep or anything, but we do want to see in what ways we can make our city government better. Hopefully we can find some good candidates.”
According to Broadhead, the municipal government has room to improve in several areas, the biggest of which is being responsible to the citizens instead of hotel and condominium developers and the real estate industry.
“We aren’t against growth; we know this is a great place where people want to live and visit,” Broadhead said. “But we also know that we need better infrastructure to support that growth. Roads are a big problem here. Anyone who has visited Orange Beach knows about our traffic issues. People pay big money to come visit here and to live here, and we need the city to address the major issues we face.”
Both Broadhead and Caldwell said the PAC will try not to be confrontational, but it will work to ensure residents have options when they cast their ballots in August.
“A major influence in our city politics has been the real estate developers,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think that’s something we want to challenge too hard because we realize they are an important part of our economy, but we do want to make sure we elect city officials who will listen to the people who live here as well.”
Potential candidates have until the summer to file election candidacy paperwork with the county.
“This is a wonderful place to live, and most of the time the city runs pretty well,” Caldwell said. “But we need to make sure our elected officials will listen to the people who elected them.”