By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, the Leeds Chamber of Commerce held a Political Forum at the Leeds First United Methodist Church. Leeds Mayor Eric Patterson is seeking a second term as Mayor in the August 28th municipal election. He is being challenged by Leeds City Councilman Johnny R. Kile, former Homewood Mayor James “Jim” Atkinson, and former Leeds City Councilman David Miller. ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ was in attendance at the forum.
Leeds Mayoral candidate James “Jim” Atkinson said, “My wife and I moved to Leeds nearly 15 years ago to be with family and my family is here.” “I worked for 25 years with the Homewood Police Department, retired and ran for Mayor.” Atkinson said he was a former DARE officer in Homewood City School System and later became the Chief Deputy for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. “I had 536 deputies under my command.” “I know about finance.” “I know about budgets.” “We have a lot of problems in Leeds that I intend to address as your Mayor.”
Leeds Mayoral candidate and current District 5 City Councilman Johnnie Kile also had a career in law enforcement, “I was happy being a Policeman.” “Four years ago, I was asked to become a Leeds City Councilman.” Kile said he gave up a 36 year career to help the city of Leeds. Kile said that he was helping people (as a policeman) for 36 years. Kile grew up in Leeds. Kile has four children and six grand children. “We need to put the city government back in your hands.” Kile said that on the council these last four years he “was treated like a red headed step child” by the current Mayor and the majority of the Leeds City Council. Kile says he was left out in a lot of negotiations on this council.
Leeds mayoral candidate, David Miller said, “I have a vested interest in seeing Leeds succeed.” Miller has a BS degree in finance, is a Vietnam Veteran where he commanded boats in the Mekong Delta, left the Navy to work at Hayes Aircraft where he climbed up from sales to President. Mr. Miller was also school superintendent for 3 years. “Education is at the top of my priority list.”
Leeds incumbent Mayor Eric Patterson said that when he was elected Mayor four years ago he pledged that he would be a Mayor that was honest, ethical, fair, transparent, and open. He said that he has strived to be a Mayor who does what he says he will do. Mayor Eric Patterson is an attorney and also operates his family’s business, Patterson Pharmacy, in Leeds.
Atkinson said that ten years from now the bonds that Leeds used to fund improvements that were used for the Bass Pro Shoppe will be paid off and the City of Leeds will have more revenue. “We are going to be alright folks.” “I love Leeds and I will be a good Mayor.
Councilman Kile said, “You have got to have somebody who can take this job and run with it.” Kile said that the city of Leeds has ordinances that are strangling businesses. “Four years from now it will be too late.”
Councilman Johnny Kile is a lifelong resident of Leeds and is the retired Moody Police Chief. Kile is a career police officer and is presently the City Council man for Leeds District 5. Kile said that revenues from Bass Pro and Grand River will pay the school bonds off. Kile said that there is land on Highway 78 that could be annexed and “would be a good place to get a lite industrial park to bring jobs back into our city.” Kile said that the City has lost a lot of jobs over the years.
Miller said, “We have got to change the culture of city government from a culture of arrogance.” Miller said that the City of Leeds had to reach out to neighboring citys, developers, and large land owners and needed to find ways to say yes to their projects rather than killing their projects.
Mayor Patterson said that the city has come a long way in four years: the City has improved its “park and recreation facilities to where they are second to no one”, roads and drainage have been fixed, the city’s debt has been reduced by 70%, tax revenues are up 11%, retail business is up, the city of Leeds has an A+ credit rating from S&P, 60 pieces of blight have been removed, the city is building a new city hall and a new fire station. “Leeds has become a place that people want to make their home.”
Mr. Atkinson said that a mayor has to be friendly. Atkinson said that the current city administration had too many regulations and restrictions and a bad attitude. Atkinson said the Leeds City Inspector, “Walks into businesses like a storm trooper. He wears a badge. He is not a police officer. If I am Mayor I am going to take that badge off of him.”
Johnnie Kile said the first thing he would do as Mayor of Leeds to make the City more business friendly is, “To hire some young lady to answer the telephone.” Kile said that the Mayor needs to “at least act like he is friendly. You can’t go around town like you are angry with everybody.”
Miller said that the zoning and sign ordinances passed by the current administration are big impediments to growth and development. Miller said, “Leeds is probably the only city in American where the Chamber of Commerce has to buy a business licence.” “Our first reaction needs to be negotiate not to litigate.”
Patterson objected to his opponents’ charge that the City of Leeds under his administration has been anti-business. “Leeds is pro business. This rhetoric about Leeds being anti-business comes from people who were allowed to do whatever they wanted to do,” under the previous administration. Patterson said that he has fought against “food wagons”, has passed strict itinerant vender ordinances, has passed tough regulations against yard sales in commercial districts, and a banner ordinance. Patterson said, “Strong cities do not allow things like that.” Patterson said that retail business in the City of Leeds is up 26% under his administration and it is up 12% not including Grand River. Patterson said that the two things holding Leeds back are the occupation tax which they can’t get rid of and the national economy which they don’t control.
Mr. Atkinson worked for 35 years in law enforcement. Atkinson has been a Homewood police officer, has worked with the U.S. Marshall’s Court Security, was the Chief Deputy for the Jefferson County Sheriffs Department for 7 years, and was the Mayor of Homewood from 1992-1996.
Kile said that the City of Leeds needed more rooftops. Kile said he supported allowing the developers at Grand River to build both new homes and nice new apartments “like Homewood.” Kile was concerned that if the City was not willing to work with developers then future development would go to the neighboring City of Moody instead.
Miller holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Finance from the University of Alabama, a Master’s Degree in Political Science and Public Administration from Auburn University and an EdS Degree in Educational Leadership and School Administration from Mississippi State University.
Miller said in his press release, “I mention my education because each of those degrees is relevant to accomplishing the tasks I see as needed to put Leeds on track to realize the great potential I visualize for our city. I am pro- business and want to establish a working relationship with the citizens of Leeds and incorporate input from every sector into a plan to get our city moving forward. Degrees are great, but hands on, successful involvement in local business, government, community service, church and numerous leadership roles are the attributes I will bring to the Mayor’s job; these and the most important attribute, that of COMMON SENSE.
Mayor Patterson said that his administration has already addressed the city’s school bonds. “We have already fixed this. The school bond is secure now. It has been fixed for 3 years. I keep hearing that we are spending the school money and that is completely untrue.” Patterson said that a 4 cent sales tax at Grand River goes to service those bonds. Patterson also said that the city can not abolish it’s occupation tax because it has been written into the bond documents. “We are stuck with the occupation tax. It is with us for at least 30 years.”
Mayor Patterson said that the city has tried to talk the Bass Pro Shoppes into renegotiating their agreement so that Pass Pro will give up 1% or 2% of sales taxes from the ancillary district, but, “so far to no avail.” Patterson warned that the city had, “To be careful what we provide resources for,” referring to future development.
The City of Leeds is divided into city council districts. Four of the five city council incumbents are running for reelection. All four incumbents have at least one challenger. The District five councilor Kile is leaving the Council to run for Mayor. Four persons: Gerald Clayton, former Mayor Jack Courson, David Crabb, Devoris Ragland, and Dallas White are seeking that seat. The Leeds Muncipal Election like many local elections throughout Alabama is on Tuesday, August 28, 2012.