By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
On Monday, April 9, the Etowah County Mega Sports Complex Authority held a meeting inviting legislators and the community to weigh in on a proposed bill that will dissolve the authority. In addition to authority members, the Etowah County Tourism Board, members of the Rainbow City Council, members of the Etowah County Commission, the mayors of Rainbow City, Southside, Hokes Bluff and Attalla and locals attended the meeting.
The proposed legislation seeks to dissolve the authority and give the tourism board control over the project. Despite questions over why the legislation wants to do this, only District 28 State Representative attended the meeting. District 10 State Senator Andrew Jones, District 30 State Representative Craig Lipscomb and District 29 State Representative Becky Nordgren, designated as the point of contact for the bill, were not present.
Authority member Craig Ford commended Isbell for his attendance and criticized the absent legislation members.
“We are talking about children playing sports in Etowah County and economic development and a new road,” said Ford. “That’s unacceptable.”
Authority members raised concerns that the proposed legislation will halt progress on the project. Since its start, the authority has purchased 140 acres of land for the complex. It has begun the process of establishing the first phase of construction that would build six to eight soccer fields, allowing for games and tournaments to be held in Etowah County. Due to the poor condition of existing local soccer fields, many local teams are forced to travel to compete, as competitors refuse to use the local fields.
The City of Rainbow City had agreed to build a road as an entryway to the complex that would also serve to alleviate traffic concerns near Rainbow Middle School and John Jones Elementary School.
“Rainbow City has made a gigantic commitment to this project,” said authority Chairman Ralph Burke
However, Rainbow City Mayor John Calhoun said that Rainbow City would not complete the road project if the bill is passed. Calhoun reported that Jones had said he would not support the sports complex. Jones could not be reached for comment.
Calhoun said that “the rug was pulled out from under them,” because no one approached Rainbow City about the possibility of the proposed bill before it was publicized.
Rainbow City was not the only involved party blindsided by the bill. The authority and tourism board were unaware of the proposed changes as well. Members of the tourism board seemed unsure whether the bill would entail them appointing a new sports complex authority that reports to them or if the project would be in their hands.
“The only reason to do legislation is to create something good or is to stop something bad,” said Rainbow City Councilman Tim Ramsey. “This does neither. I go back to the question [of] why. Why is this coming and what is the benefit of it? If tourism needs to be behind this, they can be behind this. There’s no reason why this board can’t exist. If this bill jeopardizes the idea that Rainbow City is going to be behind the project, if it jeopardizes the idea of anything else, why would you do this bill? What does it benefit?”
The legislative delegation had raised issues about transparency.
“If they are talking about transparency, okay,” said Ramsey. “I pretty sure it’s been pretty transparent. If not, get it to the point where you are happy with the transparency of it. There is no reason to dissolve this board and take the chance that it’s going to be a legal matter, take the chance that it’s going to stop Rainbow City, take the chance that it’s going to delay soccer fields. There’s no reason. There’s no good in this bill.”
As far as transparency, many seemed confused about why the delegation would not be able to be kept up-to-date on authority actions by the members they appoint to the board.
Questions were raised about the motives behind the bill, with some suggesting that it was a political vendetta against Ford. Ford said that if that is the case, he would rather resign then let the project fall apart after all the time, effort and money invested into it.
Ford was among many to strongly encourage Isbell to not sign the bill.
“You single-handedly, by not signing your name, kills this legislation,” he said.