Photo: City of Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford speaks at the YMCA Mayor’s Banquet on November 17 at the Venue at Coosa Landing. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
After a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the YMCA Mayor’s Thanksgiving Luncheon was back in full swing on November 17 at The Venue at Coosa Landing.
City of Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford, who was sworn in earlier this month, provided attendees with a summary of his first few weeks in office and what is on the city’s agenda for the near future.
“I’m all about change and we’re changing at city hall,” said Ford. “I’ve always said that people want change, but they don’t want that change to affect them.”
Ford acknowledged members of his staff, including Chief of Staff Brett Johnson, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director Ruth Moffatt, City Services Director Tena King, incoming Economic Development and Governmental Affairs Director John Moore, Executive Assistant Melissa Juarez Battles and incoming Administrative Assistant Melcie Guyton.
“Not only have we created an all-star team, but we’ve also created two new positions without increasing the city payroll,” said Ford. “Not only that, but every person I just mentioned took a pay cut to work for the city. That tells you a little something about their personalities and the vision they share with Gadsden. Folks don’t go to work for the City of Gadsden to become a millionaire; they do it because they love it.”
As far as short-term goals, Ford addressed the issues of animal control and homelessness.
“We put together a task force that will report back in 30 days with a list of specific solutions. We’re also working with the Humane Society, which right now is full. No one wants to euthanize a dog, me included. We need to find people that will take these animals in. What we don’t want is for these dogs to stay locked in a cage for a year and a half. That’s how they really turn into animals.”
Ford said that the city is working in conjunction with Eddie Nichols and Breakaway Ministries to help the area’s homeless population.
“Our homeless citizens are human, just like we are. No matter what it takes or how we have to go about it, we’ve got to take care of these people and help them get back on their feet.”
Ford expressed pride that The Venue at Coosa Landing is currently generating an annual revenue in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city.
“[The Venue] is now packed all the time, and it is offering an opportunity for us to bring in multiple events and increase tourism while helping the other cities in Etowah County,” he said. “We want to succeed, and we want to do everything we can to help. We’re all in this together, and I promise you, we’re going to make Gadsden a better place. I also promise you that in four years, you’ll see some results. I guarantee that will happen.”
The event was a benefit for the YMCA of the Coosa Valley.
“I can tell you that since COVID hit, the conversations during our board meetings have not been fun,” said Coosa Valley YMCA Executive Director Leroy Falcon. “But when we look at the current climate under which we operate our YMCA, we’d rather view a bad situation as an opportunity as opposed to as a negative. Those opportunities are going to come from us relying on the history of who we were in the past. We’re changing the program’s focus to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of our community.”
Falcon noted that the YMCA, which began in 1844 as a Bible study group, is responsible for Father’s Day and the introduction of basketball, volleyball and softball. Past and present YMCA members include Wilt Chamberlain, Ronald Reagan, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mark Spitz, Billy Ray Cyrus and Harry Connick, Jr.
Falcon expressed thanks to the Gadsden City School System and Extension Center for their assistance in after-school childcare and announced that the YMCA is currently looking into becoming a professionally licensed pre-K childcare facility.
Falcon called on the business community and elected officials to help ensure the Y remains relevant and meets the needs of the greater Gadsden community.