Being your mayor has required me to come out of my shell. What many may not know is that I’m an introvert by nature. I’m a doer not a talker. I enjoy working behind the scenes and talking about ideas and possibilities and never really learned the art of small talk.
As a bookstore owner, I’ve read a lot of books. I’m often asked what my favorite book is and it’s an impossible question to answer. I can tell you, however, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. The book has everything – Adventure, interesting history, mind-blowing endurance ability and for me – awe-inspiring. It motivated me to do the unthinkable.
During this time, I had been doing triathlons for about 5 years and my twin sister and I talked about maybe one day signing up for the BIG ONE. Reading this book pushed us in 2011 to make the yearlong commitment to train for an Ironman. I was met immediately with many obstacles that year including a terrible bike crash that crushed my clavicle nine months into training. The doctor told me it didn’t look likely I’d be able to compete and tried to manage my expectations. He said that IF I continued to train after surgery and physical therapy, I had to use stationary equipment.
These were challenging times putting in long hours of training each day knowing I may not be able to participate. I trained the last few months on my own. And when the race date came, I was there. And completed the 2.4-mile swim, the 112-mile bike and the 26.2-mile marathon in 14 hours 38 minutes and 55 seconds. There were no records broken.Only my own, which was to complete it before the 17hr time limit.
This experience taught me that no matter your age, trying something new and challenging yourself is incredibly important. It gives you something to look forward to, a journey filled with of ups and downs and the type of pride and gratitude only big accomplishment can bring.
Completing an Ironman helped shape the way I approached this term with my administration. We set goals that seemed unattainable, and though we experienced a journey chock full of ups and downs, we stand here tonight full of pride because of the extraordinary accomplishments achieved in such a short period of time.
In 2016, I pledged to you that I would
- End Wasteful Spending and Restore Fiscal Health
- Invest in and Protect Our Most Valuable Assets
- Improve Communication and Citizen Engagement
- And bring Leadership for Responsible Growth
Without goals, how would you measure success? Your State of the City (SOC) booklet outlines how this administration has carried out these promises and so much more – laying the foundation for a prosperous and successful future.
End Wasteful Spending and Restore Fiscal Health
Ending wasteful spending and restoring fiscal health was the first priority. With it, all other goals are much more attainable.
When I went through Crown Ministry in 2007, one of the most important life lessons I learned was how to be a good steward of my finances. In a day where most have a buy-now-pay-later mentality, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed in debt and spending more than you make. The City of Fairhope was no different and had done this for many many years.
Your booklet outlines just some of the ways we turned around a financially struggling city – requiring half utility net profits to balance its budget – to a self-sufficient state in just over three years. Each department has become good stewards of YOUR tax dollars!
What do we have to look forward to? Well, now that our utilities can finally afford its long-overdue upgrades and work has begun, in a few short years the City will have an extra $4-6M annually for community development. It’s an amazing opportunity that most cities will never attain. Millions of dollars a year to enhance our quality of life is just in reach.
As an entrepreneur, I must find solutions to problems in my business or fail. Entrepreneurs take full responsibility for all decisions. If we come up short, we don’t have the luxury of a safety net the government has and uses on a regular basis. Forcing others to pay for it. When politicians make poor financial decisions or they’re satisfied with the status quo of mediocre results, it jeopardizes a whole community’s livelihood and we miss out on great opportunity.
Our dept heads have become entrepreneurs. They’re responsible now for not only working within a budget, but taking an active role in developing it, scheduling out priorities and investing in ways to be more efficient and better serve you. We’ve taken calculated measures to do things differently.
It hasn’t been easy by any stretch of the imagination and it hasn’t all been successful, but I believe failure is just an opportunity to figure out ways to achieve better results.
Building a strong Entrepreneurial ecosystem keeps Fairhope unique, vibrant and improves the success of other service industries – from – doctors to hairstylists and bankers to restaurants. The City must support, protect and find ways to create a more robust entrepreneurial ecosystem because a large part of Fairhope’s character comes from them – independent thinkers and the personalities that form these independent businesses.
Improve Communication and Citizen Engagement
Improving communication and Citizen engagement is paramount. I pride my administration on because it was sorely lacking before 2017. Obtaining opinions from all walks of life and listening to different viewpoints is the only way to run a successful city. I value the thoughts and concerns of others and believe they push us to make better decisions for the community as a whole.
Here are some of the NEW communication tools implemented this term:
- Live-streaming ALL meetings which are available on our YouTube Playlist
- New user-friendly website
- Transparent, honest budget
- Mayor Blog
- Weekly emails
- Everbridge Notification System texts and emails you for emergency alerts to community events. You determine your preferences.
- Quarterly newsletters enclosed in your utility bill
- Director Round table (town hall-type) meetings at least once a month (live streamed and available on YouTube)
- Enhanced social media outreach
- Launching this week, our new Fairhope 311 we hope will knock your socks off! You can also download Fairhope311 in your App Store.
Invest in and Protect Our Most Valuable Assets
When it comes to Investing in and protecting our most valuable assets, the most important issues that have only been talked about in year’s past, have finally been addressed. We’ve invested millions in facility maintenance, critical utility upgrades and improving the health of Mobile Bay. All without borrowing a dime.
The four BP RESTORE projects I proposed in early 2017 were awarded totaling almost $18M for sewer rehabilitation, a study to reduce sanitary sewer overflows into Mobile Bay along the Eastern Shore, a comprehensive land-use plan to better manage growth and protect our quality of life.
And lastly a working waterfront project located at the municipal pier – We began work in 2019 and it was the first project in the State of Alabama off the ground thanks to the proactive work of our Public Works director, Richard Johnson and our Economic & Community Development director Jessica Walker.
You can take an active role tonight in helping develop the details by filling out the survey at the back of the Civic Center. This $6.2M greenspace project will include bluff stabilization featuring a “sunset seating gallery”, South Park improvements and creating a more interactive experience at the Bay for our Citizens.
Pedestrian safety has been a priority of this administration and a long-time goal of mine for many years before I took office. As children, my sister and I never looked forward to something as much as our first bikes. When we got them for Christmas, the world was our oyster. The bikes gave us a wider range to explore and the freedom to do it.
A lot has changed, however, over the years and maintaining pedestrian safety is so important in keeping our quality of life we enjoy. Fairhope was the first City in the State to adopt the Complete Streets initiative in 2009 as a result of efforts of Smart Coast and the Good Life foundation, I founded the “Good Life Ride” over 10 years ago to bring awareness and promote the importance of sharing the road for all users.
Look around our City. We have continued working hard to preserve that spirit of exploration and walkability as well as enhancing safety for bikers and pedestrians alike. The new crosswalks on Section Street, new sidewalks in various locations throughout the City and numerous other projects are helping us make sure future generations have the same opportunity my sister and I enjoyed so much growing up here.
Leadership for Responsible Growth
Leadership for responsible growth was the most significant goal of this term and I’m happy to report that our planning department went from barely keeping up with the inflow of development applications, to working proactively with developers from the start.
It is now a collaborative approach among staff of various departments with a refined application review process. I’ve replaced Planning commissioners with fresh voices with different backgrounds and diversity that better match the makeup of our community.
We can no longer afford developers planning our future. The planning department is now primed to start work on our new $650k RESTORE-Funded Comprehensive Land-Use Plan in late spring WITH our citizens to create a roadmap for our future. Please read the four-page spread in the booklet at the bottom of this page for more info.
When you’re open to possibilities and people, opportunities present themselves on a regular basis. I have found this to be true in my life and in government. Because I was brought up in a town like Fairhope, I know for certain you can never judge a book by its cover. Every conversation I have with anyone is a chance to learn and experience some of the most interesting, chance encounters from people you least expect.
Last year we changed the format of the SOC to this expo-type interactive event for several reasons. The obvious is that no one really wants to hear me talk the whole time. But the most important reason is to give our citizens the opportunity to hear directly from our Directors and their employees about their achievements and what’s next.
This fun interactive environment ensures citizens remain engaged, share ideas and concerns in order to build a more transparent relationship between our community and local government. Only you have the power to hold elected officials accountable. We hope you continue to do so.
LINK to THE 2020 STATE OF THE CITY EXPO BOOKLET (Printed copies available at the Library, Nix Center and City Hall.)