By Karen Middleton
For The News Courier
Outgoing Madison Mayor Paul Finley, 49, says while he’s at an age when he could still have a long career in public office he is leaving his post with no regrets, proud of what he and his council were able to achieve in just four years.
“I didn’t get in it to be forever,” said Finley. “I didn’t make decisions based on getting reelected but based on what was right.”
A native of Kentucky, Finley graduated from Murray State University in Murray, Ky., with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and moved to North Alabama in 1988.
During Finley’s tenure, Madison was twice being named one of America’s Top 50 cities under 50,000 by CNN Money and being named the No. 2 City in America to Grow Up by U.S. News and World Report.
Finley did not seek another term in office and will return to his company, Fins Marketing, focusing on sales and marketing. His successor, Troy Trulock, will take office Nov. 5.
Finley said he decided to return to private life to help guide his three sons, 19, 16 and 13.
“Being mayor is a 24/7 job,” he said. “I’ve got three boys and I decided I wanted to spend more time with my family. My oldest son is a sophomore at Auburn, my 16-year-old is a junior at
Bob Jones and my youngest is an eighth-grader at Liberty Middle School. My wife, Dr. Julie
Finley, is the assistant principal at Bob Jones, which is also a very demanding job.”
Finley’s thoughts are well organized and he delivers the assessment of his tenure in office in much the same order as he presented his state of the city remarks in August. He breaks the accomplishments down in five points:
Roads. “Ten years ago you could have asked people what the most important thing was and they would have said ‘roads,’ and if you ask people in 10 years what the most important thing is they’re going to say ‘roads.’ In 2009, we announced the County Line Road/565 intersection, the Old Madison Pike Bridge at Indian Creek and the Zerdt Road project. And they’re all ready to start in about four months. They will all make a big difference in traffic patterns.
“We have done some road extensions – the Balch Road extension, the Gillespie Road extension and the Eastview extension – and they have helped traffic patterns.
“We have also have intersection renewals, at U.S. 72 and Hughes Road; U.S. 72 and Wall Triana; Wall Triana and Madison Boulevard. They’ve either been done or are ready to start.
“We obtained ATRIP (Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Project) funding. This is state bonds for road projects that are an 80/20 match with the city paying the 20 percent. With that we will five-lane and repave County Line Road and Old Madison Pike will be repaved and redone.”
Schools. “Finding funding for a second high school was the largest problem the school board had when I came into office. That was the year, in 2008, when the economic downturn started. The bond market dropped but we were able to refinance a bond for $22 million.
“Then we received a Qualified School Construction Bond, part of President Obama’s stimulus package. The state got discretionary funds of $144 million. Madison received the largest amount from those funds when then Gov. Riley loaned us $36 million interest free.”
The final tab on the new James Clemons High School off County Line Road was $60 million.
Building relationships. “We buried the hatchet with the city of Huntsville — both literally and figuratively. We are working better with both Mayor Battle and County Commission Chairman Gillespie, and Redstone Arsenal. We speak with one voice in multiple ways. It has paid dividends in road projects and multiple tornadoes. Each time we helped each other. We are building relationships in areas that all agree has paid major dividends for Madison County.”
As for building relationships with Limestone County, Finley said, “We’re making strides, but we must continue.”
“Both Huntsville and Madison are expanding into Limestone County,” he said. “We must all work together on economic development. There’s the Sewell property for which we all want to land a major manufacturer. And for that you need the road infrastructure. We must work together on roads to move traffic.”
Economic development. “Since 2000, Madison has grown by 46 percent — from 29,000 to 43,000. But when it came to new businesses that bring sales tax dollars, we’ve only had four in the top 20 in sales tax. Huntsville secured land on U.S. 72 and the business went there. We hired an economic development specialist who went to work on the pipeline. We have brought the Shops of Madison anchored by Target. And Madison Hospital has been great for Madison both in quality of life and as a big economic driver.
Accessibility. “We’ve done a better job of accessibility. We brought government to the people rather than wait for the people to come to government. First, we upgraded our website; second, we televised both City Council and planning commission meetings. Third, when we were looking to raise our sales tax by a half-cent to pay off our Qualified School Construction Bond, we held five meetings. When our folks had enough input and felt they were part of the discussion, they realized that we were doing it for a reason and it was wonderful value.
“We also set aside two hours every two weeks when citizens can come in for a one-on-one discussion. So if something happens and they want to talk to the mayor about it, they can call [mayor’s assistant] and find out if there is a slot available, whether it’s something to do with Eagle Scouts, wanting information about something or if they’re upset about something.
“I knew who I worked for, but a mayor’s schedule needs a plan. It’s a two-way street on information. I’ve learned a lot and they’ve learned a lot.”