After his irritation grew over long waits at the intersection of Government and Broad streets, Mark Minnaert decided to do something about it. He threw caution to the wind and entered a now-crowded race for the District 2 Mobile City Council seat.
Minnaert joins the race featuring incumbent Levon Manzie, former Councilor William Carroll and Reggie Hill as an announced candidate.
The light wasn’t really the problem for Minnaert; it was the poor planning that allowed for long waits for crossing traffic that would never come because of multiple road closures.
“Thousands of cars, commerce, people going to work and people coming home encounter that light and get stuck,” he said. “I decided to stop sitting on my balcony and complain to people about it and do something.”
Minnaert accused the current council and administration of a “long series of short-sighted decisions.”
“I just felt the current administration has sold our city short,” he said. “It seems like the last few years leadership in the district has been somewhat absentee.”
Projects in the district have been dodged, Minnaert said, and the council has been less accessible given the months the board has been participating in remote meetings.
“It’s not the public forum we’ve been accustomed to,” he said of the meetings.
Minnaert works as a real estate analyst, appraiser and agent. The analysis portion of his career, he said, would be a plus for a councilor as he focuses on bigger, grander projects for the district.
“We’re a small city,” he said. “We don’t have the budget of New York City, which rivals that of some states. We have to really focus on the limited funds we have.”
Minnaert supports the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP), but supports consistent evaluations of the program to see if it’s still needed. He said it currently is.
In councilors’ enthusiasm over the program, he believes some of the easier fixes are being ignored. Minnaert is a passionate advocate for walkability and bikeability. Specifically, he argued, only about two blocks of sidewalks would need to be completed to connect the Midtown area, where many people live, to the hub of the city’s commerce.
“Right now there isn’t an accessible sidewalk from Midtown to downtown,” he said. “It seems like a simple thing.”
As an example of the benefits of more improved sidewalks, Minnaert said, the Richards DAR House — which is listed as a tourism destination — can’t be accessed from Dauphin Street without walking on the street.
“That’s not normal in a city,” he said. “That’s only here where people have to walk with children into oncoming traffic.”
More bike lanes are also at the top of Minnaert’s wish list for the district. To him, it is another relatively inexpensive remedy to the issue of connectivity between downtown and Midtown.
The bike lanes and sidewalks could solve an ongoing problem with downtown parking as well, he said. Better walkability could produce more business for downtown businesses, especially on weekends.
“This way everybody gets to participate in downtown,” he said.
Minnaert said he has “mixed feelings” about the return of passenger rail to Mobile. He said he would’ve liked to see the modeling study from Amtrak, CSX and Norfolk Southern to determine the costs and impacts of the passenger service to the area.
Amtrak decided to nix the study, complaining it had taken too long and the agency had its own feasibility study to lean on.
“I don’t know how many people will take it,” he said of the train. “I don’t know who it would serve.”
It’s unknown how many visitors would use it to come to Mobile from New Orleans, although Minnaert does see some positive impact for it for those Mobilians traveling to New Orleans or Biloxi, Miss.
Traffic along Interstate 10 will only get worse as the region grows and another way across the Mobile River will be necessary at some point, even if it isn’t now, Minnaert said.
“The truck-only bridge is part of the solution, but it’s not a final answer,” he said.
However, Minnaert said he’s against tolls charged to locals on existing roadways.
“They’ve been paying for them for years,” Minnaert said. “To ask them to pay for it again is ridiculous.”
Minnaert said annexation was “probably the biggest issue” for the city moving forward. He said he fully supports expanding the city’s borders by adding about 15,000 residents in West Mobile.
A measure that would’ve allowed those residents to vote on becoming part of the city failed when three members of the seven-member council voted down Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s plan in 2019.
While councilors Fred Richardson, C.J. Small and Manzie all said their “no” votes had nothing to do with a slight demographic switch that wouldn’t have changed the city’s racial majority, Minnaert said he would like to know what the reason was.
It can’t be financial, he said, because the area would have a positive impact on tax revenue due to the retail sales, business license and property tax revenue. The city is already paying to maintain streets heading to the area, he said.
In addition to the tax incentives, Minnaert said recent COVID-19 relief packages tied population to how much a city would receive and so a nearly 8 percent increase in residents would’ve helped the city.
In addition, he said, the infrastructure bill proposed by President Joe Biden would also lean on population as a way to sort out funding.
“They’re leaving millions on the table,” he said. “They’re intentionally willing to give up on millions to maintain political power.”
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