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Why Jefferson County Commission Districts 1 and 2 races are hotly contested

By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

When voters in Jefferson County vote on Tuesay, two competitive local races in the Birmingham metro area will be on their ballot: Jefferson County Commission Districts 1 and 2. (Frank Couch Photo, The Birmingham Times)

Here’s a look at two of the more competitive local races in the Birmingham metro area during the June 5 primary elections: Jefferson County Commission Districts 1 and 2.

Depending on the outcome, some candidates could be forced into a primary runoff, scheduled for July 17. The general election is set for Tuesday, Nov. 6.

District 1

County Commission incumbent George Bowman is seeking his third consecutive term against experienced challengers, including Birmingham City Councilor Lashunda Scales, who in October was elected to her third consecutive council term; Gary Richardson, who is serving his fourth consecutive term as Midfield mayor; and Eric Major, a former state lawmaker.

Bowman said, “My plan is to continue the economic growth we’ve had in Jefferson County as of late. I hope to continue growing the county economically by increasing the number of jobs and adding to the number of health clinics in neighborhoods, so citizens do not have to travel far distances.”

Regarding issues facing the district, Bowman said economic growth, additional jobs, and access to affordable health care are some of the most pressing issues.

Richardson said: “I am going to work to protect hard-working families, especially those on fixed incomes. I am going to work to bring in good-paying jobs, so people in my district can have better wages. In addition to that, I look forward to working with area mayors and business leaders to bring businesses into the district. We also will work hard to maintain county roads.”

Each candidate believes they will be able to work with a Republican majority if elected to the County Commission.

“I have the demonstrated ability to work across the aisle with people from all parties,” said Richardson. “I’ve been the past two-term president of the Jefferson County Mayor’s Association, which usually is comprised of Republicans and Democrats. When you are really working for the betterment of your people and your district and truly have your district at heart, though, party policy should not come into play—it’s about just doing what is fair and right for the people you represent, so I don’t have a problem with working across the aisle.”

Scales said, “I believe that any partnership is doable when all parties come together for the common good of the citizens you are elected to serve.”

Richardson said fair and equitable distribution of county resources is the most pressing issue, and he wants to make sure the district gets its fair share of resources.

Scales said she plans to focus on bringing additional jobs and high-quality health care to the district, as well as improving county road maintenance and public safety. Another concern for Scales: increasing sewer rates. She said she will address sewer-debt relief, noting that she had said sewer rates will increase by double digits in the fall but recently was told the increase will be 3.45 percent instead.

Major said he plans to focus on modernizing county technology for citizens, as well as sewer-debt relief, which he considers one of the most pressing issues facing District 1.

“I would say high sewer bills, which [prevent] the county from providing better education, transportation, and road services, are the most pressing issue right now,” he said. “The sewer debt is crippling the community and stifling economic development, and the sewer bills are affecting housing, economic development, and the overall quality of life for citizens.”

District 2

Incumbent Commissioner Sandra Little Brown will face Birmingham City Councilor Sheila Tyson and Birmingham consultant Richard Dickerson. Brown is seeking her third consecutive term on the commission; Tyson was re-elected to the city council for a second consecutive term in 2017.

Brown said she plans to focus on providing more jobs and more adequate health care, as well as work toward improving transportation and alleviating high crime rates in the county. Tyson said she plans to look into the sewer refinance agreement to lower costs and fight for more education dollars, as well as ensure that district lines are drawn fairly.

Brown said crime is the biggest issue in District 2, while Dickerson said the district’s biggest problem is the failure of leadership.

“I’ve been working with them for seven and a half years,” Brown said, when asked about the commission’s Republican majority. “It’s about reconciliation and negotiation. You must look past party lines and do what is best for the people. I’ve been doing that successfully for years.”

Tyson said, “The one of the most pressing issues for District 2 is out-of-control sewer costs tied to the 2013 bankruptcy plan of adjustment. Another issue is the 2012 decision to close Cooper Green Hospital and instead use a phantom $20 million plan floated by the current commission to cover all the indigent people of Jefferson County; that plan was doomed to fail because there is no way you can deliver all the medical services needed by the indigent of this country. And last but not least, we have to address the issue of the one-cent education sales tax.”

The Alabama Legislature in 2015 passed a bill which reallocated excess money from a 1-cent sales tax originally earmarked to pay off the debt from a $1 billion school construction program.

All candidates expressed that they are qualified for the seat and hope voters will choose the best person for the position.

Brown said, “My record speaks for me. I’m honest and transparent, and I know government. I’ve done the work to provide millions of dollars in jobs. I’ve done the work to improve our schools. I’ve done the work to bring Jefferson County back from the loss of occupational tax. I enjoy building—building lives and communities, not tearing down people or things. Jefferson County needs a builder. I have done the work, and I want to continue doing it.”

Tyson said, “I have always believed in serving the public and giving back to those around me in need and not playing favorites at the expense of the citizens that have put their trust in me. If it’s good for District 2 and the people want it, I will always do what is right. My guiding principle is to turn Jefferson County around.”

Dickerson said he plans to provide more leadership: “First, I plan to provide leadership because there has been an absence of leadership. Second, I plan to develop a better understanding of the budget. I also want to speak truth to power for the needs in our community, such as crime, lack of jobs, and education. We can’t fix the problem unless we first acknowledge that there is a problem.

“I’ve been a chief of staff for the mayor. I’ve been a senior staffer for a U.S. senator, I’ve been a staffer for a governor. I’ve been a political appointee of a president. I’ve worked in 10 to 12 different countries overseas. I’m a veteran. I have several broad and diverse experiences, and District 2 needs someone who has a broad and diverse depth of experience to serve as commissioner.”

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