Valley Grande mayor, city council won’t seek re-election

Published 11:23 pm Saturday, June 23, 2012

If the municipal election in Valley Grande were held today, there would not be a person on the ballot running for re-election.

Valley Grande Mayor Tom Lee confirmed this week that he, and the other members of the council, were very likely not going to seek re-election, meaning an entirely new city council would lead “Dallas County’s bedroom community” the next four years.

“I’m not leaving,” Lee said Friday. “I have a job opportunity that I honestly cannot turn down and one that would prevent me from continuing to serve as mayor.”

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A member of the city council that formed and incorporated Valley Grande in 2003, and mayor for the past eight years, Lee said the path for Valley Grande must continue to be one of progress.

“I can walk away from this with the satisfaction of knowing we were able to bring it to a certain point and that I can see that there’s a group of people who can take it from here,” Lee said. “They don’t have to do our plan, it just has to be positive progression.”

Incorporated with a population of just over 1,800, the 22nd largest city in Alabama by landmass now has a population of just over 4,000.

A partnership with the volunteer fire department has grown the number of stations, improved equipment and lowered the city’s insurance rating, all challenges Lee said the young city once faced. The relationship with the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department to increase patrols and provide security for the city’s residents and businesses was another.

The Times-Journal worked to confirm that each of the council members had also decided not to run for re-election.

Councilmember Gene Middlebrooks hedged his decision to leave office saying, “as of right now, I am not going to seek re-election. But, that could change.” As for councilmember Steven Nichols, he and his family are preparing to move, which led to his decision.

Patsy Moore confirmed Saturday she intended not to run for re-election.

The Times-Journal was unable to reach council members Libby Ezelle and Donna Downs, but Lee said he believed each of them had also decided to leave office.

Lee said the progressive decisions made by the council in recent years to improve the quality of life for Valley Grande, including the most recent and ongoing sewage project in Overlook Hills, has been what he is most proud.

He also said he was proud of the baseball fields on Dallas County Road 16 that have recently seen as many as 100 children taking part in leagues.

“On any given night or weekend, there are hundreds of people at the ballparks,” Lee said. “It really has been a fantastic thing for Valley Grande.”

As for the next mayor and council, Lee said they must play key roles in the community and find creative solutions to problems.

“You’ve got to get involved. With a city like this, you’ve got to turn over every stone,” Lee said. “We are small, we are the little kid on the block. You’ve got to the figure out how you’re going to get things done. Our entire city budget is only $400,000.”

The next council too, Lee said, should have a group of younger leaders to further develop the quality of life for Valley Grande.

“We are at the point where we want to get some younger people involved in the process, in city leadership,” Lee, who has been a resident of the Valley Grande community since 1959, said. “If it’s going to be a family-oriented community, you need young people; you need people with kids.”

For Lee, the past two decades have gone by fast and there are plenty of lessons learned he shares with those who might succeed him.

“I wouldn’t have thought we’d have had as much growth we’ve had,” Lee said. “When I went into office, I had some of the same ideas that some of the detractors have today about pretty much maintaining the status quo, keeping this a sleepy little community. But, I learned quickly that you cannot do that. You’ve have either got to improve or you die.”

As with any major decision, Lee said he and other council members are firm in their choice to not seek re-election, but …

“I sincerely hope that we can put together a group of people with the same attitude as the ones that are leaving off the council have had over the years,” Lee said. “There are some caveats here. If it appears as though a group of people who want to stop all the growth in Valley Grande appear to be the only option, then you might see a resurrection of some of the council members.

“If it requires to keep Valley Grande the viable community that it is and should be. If the only option for Valley Grande would be a negative option, regardless of who that person, you might see some people reconsider, including me.”

Qualifying for municipal elections in Valley Grande, as well as those in Selma and Orrville, will begin Tuesday, July 3 and continue through Tuesday, July 17. The elections will be held Tuesday, Aug. 28.