Three of the four seats on the Baldwin County Commission are up for grabs this year, and since no Democrats have tossed their name into the hat, the June 3 Republican primary has become a winner-takes-all scenario.
The issues separating candidates are varied but none has been more contentious than the pay raise the commission approved 4-3 earlier this year.
Before the raise, each commissioner served four-year terms with an annual salary of $32,000, with the commission chairman receiving $37,000.
A bill approved by Alabama Legislature has raised the commission’s pay, which will now be based on Alabama’s median income of around $43,160.
The exact dollar figure has yet to be locked down, but the chairman will continue to make $5,000 more than his counter parts on the commission.
Incumbent Bob James has served on the commission since 2010 in the District 2 seat, which comprises the Eastern Shore cities of Daphne, Fairhope and Spanish Fort.
He is a believer in transparency, accountability, customer service, hospitality and efficiency.
According to his campaign materials, he’s worked with local business owners to support the creation of quality jobs throughout his district and all of Baldwin County.
Since being elected, James said the commission has been an advocate for a strong local economy and has worked together to cut $10 million in county expenses.
He is the only current commissioner who voted against a pay raise for himself and has refused to accept campaign financing from political action committees.
Challenging James’ seat are Chris Elliot, president of the Elliott Companies, and Cody Philips, who has worked as building inspector for several municipalities including Madison and Spanish Fort.
In his campaign, Elliott has focused on handling the county’s growth, which he says is a good problem to have, but a problem none the less.
“There are a lot of people coming here because it’s a fantastic place to raise a family,” Elliott said. “We need to be forward thinking and work with the mayors of each municipality. It’s important that you work well with them and with the other commissioners.”
Elliot has also spoken out against the pay raise saying “the salary was $32,000 when he signed up for the position.”
“It’s a public service and a way for me to give back to the community, it’s not about the money,” he said. “I’ll give any excess of that original salary to charity.”
Like Elliot, Phillips has also voiced his disapproval for the commission’s self-appointed raise.
In a candidates forum in April, Phillips said he thought the people should decide whether or not the commission deserves a raise and added that he’d put any extra money in a contingency to be used in the county.
As for dealing with growth in the county, Phillips thinks his experience in Madison, one of the fastest growing cities in Alabama, will be put to use on the commission.
There he served as liaison for the city to several large corporations like Volkert, Target Inc. and Huntsville Hospital, which were all operating large construction projects within the city.
In Baldwin County’s third district, which includes the cities of Loxley, Robertsdale, Silverhill and Summerdale, incumbent Tucker Dorsey is being challenged by William McDaniel.
Since taking office in 2012, Dorsey says he and his fellow commissioners have made significant and positive changes to Baldwin County.
According to his campaign website, the commission has improved management efficiencies since Dorsey took office — cutting $3 million in recurring expenses while improving customer service.
Dorsey voted in favor of a pay raise for commissioners, and said it was the only way to get more qualified people interested in taking the position.
In candidates’ forum earlier this year, Dorsey said the $32,000 only makes it possible for millionaires and retirees to hold the office.
McDaniel said he would have voted against the raise because of the tough economic times the entire country is facing.
McDaniel too is concerned about the influx of citizens relocating to Baldwin County but says the commission can prepare for it by making sure its infrastructure — water, sewer system, roads and electrical systems — can meet the growth.
Baldwin County’s southernmost district comprises Foley, Elberta, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Perdido Beach and Magnolia Springs, and there Commission Chairman Charles Gruber is being challenged by Brock Wells.
Commissioner Gruber is a former thirty-year employee of Baldwin County.
He served as a supervisor for the North, Central and Southern Baldwin County Highway Department facilities and as a project coordinator for the Baldwin County Highway Department.
Wells has retired after 30 years in the United States military.
Though they are both Republicans, the two have disagreed on a few main points including a toll road being used to help fund the extension of the Baldwin Beach Express from Interstate 10 to Interstate 65.
Wells has opposed the toll road, which has been compared to similar toll roads and bridges in Florida.
“Personally, I think we could look around and find some way of financing roads to handle the people coming into the beaches, because you can’t separate the people that live here from the visitors,” he said. “I would certainly be objective, but a toll road for citizens of Baldwin County would be an absolute last resort and even then I don’t know if I could support it.”
Gruber said he doesn’t like it, but doesn’t see another way of funding the extension project, which is likely to cost around $160 million.
As for the contentious pay raise, which Gruber voted in favor of, Wells said in a public forum that an increase in pay from within the commission is bad for public perception.
He said the difference in the position being full time or part time affects how he would vote on a pay raise.
“With the growth in the county, it could be considered a full time job,” he said. “The $30,000 salary was established for a part-time position, but I don’t know what an appropriate pay raise would be.”
Wells said the decision would be best made by an independent group and a comparison of other county commission’s compensation levels should also be considered.
Gruber has said he supported the pay raise with the future of the county and his fellow commissioners in mind.
Wells said one of his primary concerns is the effect a growing population can have on a school system with finite resources.
“A majority of the families relocated to Baldwin County are bringing two or three kids with them,” he said. “We need more money to fix these and other issues, but nobody wants to pay more taxes. I don’t know what the answer is, but somewhere down the road someone is going to have to make some hard choices. Our school system can’t be permitted to go downhill.”
Baldwin County Board of Education
Three spots are also open on the Baldwin County Board of Education.
Each board member will serve a six-year term and receive a $7,200 salary.
Elmer G. McDaniel is the incumbent candidate for the Baldwin County Board of Education’s third district and has served on the board for 11 years.
He is being challenged by Tony Myrick and Kevin Newton, who are both retired teachers form the Baldwin County Public School System.
Newton’s father, Larry Newton, is a former superintendent of the system.
Myrick has campaigned heavily on the need for capital improvements in the system and additional sources for funding outside of ad valorem taxes.
In District 5, incumbent Angie Swiger is being challenged by Craig Stephenson, a former teacher and coach who has worked with the Orange Beach Fire Department since 1987.
Swiger and her fellow board members have overseen several successful projects including the Digital Renaissance technology initiative and an increase in the system’s overall graduation rate.
Stephenson said he wants to provide Baldwin County students with a well-rounded education, but also make sure the board is fiscally responsible.
According to his website, he believes in complete transparency concerning board meetings and financial reports.
The board’s District 6 seat will be occupied by either Cecil Christenberry or Miranda Schrubbe.
Bob Callahan, the current board member, announced he would not seek re-election earlier this year.
Christenberry, who spent eight years on the Fairhope City Council, decided to return to politics because he feels educating children to be an important calling.
Shrubbe, who has volunteered in Baldwin County Schools for years, decided she wanted to run for a position on the board to take a more active role in the system her three children attended.