By Adam Smith
Voters in Athens’ District 1 have a little unfinished business to tend to before the new City Council can be sworn in for new terms on Nov. 5.
A five-man race in the Aug. 28 municipal election predictably ended with a runoff. On Tuesday, District 1 residents will decide between Chris Seibert and Danny Crawford for the seat, which is being vacated by Councilwoman Mignon Bowers.
Whoever wins the election will join District 2 Councilman Harold Wales, District 3 Councilman and Council President Jimmy Gill and new council members Joseph Cannon in District 4 and Wayne Harper in District 5 as decision makers for the city.
Despite having four opponents, Mayor Ronnie Marks claimed a decisive victory in the election, beating his closest competitor by 1,858 votes.
District 1 residents will vote Tuesday at the Athens Recreation Center, located at 13880 Alabama 251 in Athens. City Clerk John Hamilton said there would be only one machine, as he does not anticipate a large turnout.
As of July 13, there were 2,625 voters in the district. As of Aug. 27, there were 3,167. He attributed the bump to residents registering for the Nov. 6 General Election.
Results from Tuesday’s runoff will also be announced at the Center.
Occupation: Director of clinical adoption, southern U.S., Stereotaxis
Education: University of Alabama, B.A. in history; University of Oklahoma, master’s of human relations; University of South Alabama, master’s of business administration
Previous political experience: none
Community involvement: First and Ten Club of Alabama, First United Methodist Church, Church Council, Habitat for Humanity, Athens Rotary Club, Athens Recreation Center soccer coach, Athens Dixie Youth baseball coach
Personal: Married to Tiffany Davis Seibert. Children, Brock and Ben Seibert
After garnering nearly 41 percent of the vote in the municipal election, Seibert feels he has a slight advantage over Crawford. However, he felt a runoff win would depend on Tuesday’s turnout.
Since the election, he said he’s been reaching out to District 1 residents he feels will vote for him, and also working to gain the support of his former District 1 rivals Marty Bruce and Dr. Wayne Reynolds. He also planned on being at the Tennessee Valley Old Time Fiddlers Convention this weekend.
When asked about the concerns of voters in the district, Seibert mentioned cleanliness and keeping neighborhoods aesthetically pleasing.
“People just want to make sure their tax dollars are being spent responsibly and reasonably,” he said. “That’s one thing the general consensus agrees with.”
When asked about the possibility of the City Council raising sales taxes or property taxes as a means of generating more revenue, Seibert said he would need to be more educated on the issue before making a decision.
“I don’t think we’re in a deficit situation,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve got to plan for the future and for growth. I’d need to take a look at the books and see what we would do with the (additional) money. But I’m not outright opposing it, either.”
With two meetings left this month, it’s possible the council could vote on the increase before the new members are sworn in. Seibert said, however, the city must carry on with or without its new members.
“If they feel it’s an urgent matter, the city business has to continue,” he said. “It might make more sense to wait and see who’s on (the council) before passing (a tax increase), but they’re not required to hold off on that.”
When asked why people should vote for him over competitor Danny Crawford, Seibert said he brings new ideas to the council and has a background in both private sector business and community service.
“When you’re in a situation where you’re charged with running a business and making a profit, it’s beneficial to evaluate the government the same way,” he said. “(The city) is not in the business of making money, but in the business of spending taxpayer money efficiently. I think I’ll bring some fresh perspectives.”
Occupation: Private contractor, crop insurance with USDA 33 years, now retired
Education: John C. Calhoun, 1972; Auburn University, BS 1974; Auburn University, MS 1976
Military service: U.S. Army National Guard, 1969-1975
Political experience: Athens City Council 1992-2004; Solid Waste Authority 1992-2004; Schedule C political appointment
Community involvement: Lindsay Lane Baptist Church, mission trips, volunteer on projects and helping others, Alabama Wildlife Federation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited and National Rifle Association
Personal: Wife, Mary Kay Dean Crawford; son, Matthew Dean Crawford
Having previously served on the City Council, running a campaign is nothing new for Crawford.
“It’s a lot of work and you’re always second-guessing yourself,” he said. “You’ve just got to believe you did the best you could do, and let the voters decide what they want.”
Since the Aug. 28 election, Crawford has been hearing concerns from residents, most of which involve how the city will generate revenue in the future. He said people realize decreasing revenues will be a concern in the future, especially with the specter of defense cuts at Redstone Arsenal looming because of sequestration.
With the potential of revenues decreasing, he said, it’s more important now than ever that Athens citizens shop at home.
“We’ve got to have more retail, and quality retail,” he said. “You’ve got the economy potentially slowing down, and it will have an impact on us. We need to talk to people who are familiar with how to get retail in and see what kind of return on our money we’ll have.”
When asked about the possibility of raising sales or property taxes, Crawford said he has not had a chance to sit down and look at revenue reports and trends. However, he added that he would not support a measure to raise an estimated $4 million in revenue through a one-cent increase if the city’s needs are less than $1 million.
“So often, you get extra money and buy new stuff instead of fixing what we’ve got,” he said. “There are some things that have to be looked at, and I’m not in a position now to support (a tax increase). I’m a very conservative person, and you have to show me why you need the money and what you’re going to do with it.”
When asked if he would be disappointed if the council decides to raise the sales tax before new council members are sworn in, Crawford simply said the council has “the authority to do what they think is best.”
Crawford described Seibert as “a good young man,” but added he doesn’t have the experience.
“I won’t have a learning curve,” he said. “When I threw my hat in the ring, my concerns were revenues in this economy, how we’re going to get by and tighten up. I make tough decisions and have made those because sometimes that’s what you have to do.”