By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Following her election in August and her transition from city council to mayor in November, newly-elected Southside Mayor Dana Snyder shares her vision for the city she calls home.
Snyder’s lineage in Southside drifts back to the early 1900s, when her great grandfather’s family moved from Calhoun County to Etowah County. Originally a Pentecost, Snyder grew up in Green Valley on Mountain Pass Road, where her grandparents owned property dating back to the 1940s. Her childhood was enriched with an appreciation for agriculture, picking vegetables from her grandfather’s garden and raising horses, cows and pigs.
The eldest of five children, Snyder’s frivolous sibling rivalries never once inhibited her defense of her sister and three brothers, whose strong bond united them. While Snyder remembers feeling distant from her friends, who lived near neighbors in communities, she discovered a newfound gratitude for her childhood later in life. Those playful years were marked with an imaginative understanding of nature, priceless memories and an appreciation for the land Snyder treasures to this day.
“It was a fun time growing up,” said Snyder (pictured right). “Looking back, I’m glad we grew up what I would consider ‘country’ instead of in neighborhoods. We didn’t have to worry about traffic or anything like that. We were outdoor kids. We had our own little backyard football and baseball games, with plenty of pasture land and green mountain back there just to explore. We had a lot of area to cover and make our little forts and things like that.”
As Snyder grew, so did Southside, changing and transforming before her eyes. Snyder discussed the prominent families who joined forces to nurture the city and spark an evolution throughout the years. She even noted that previous mayors were relatives of her own, highlighting the endless connections Southside residents hold with one another.
Snyder graduated from Southside High School in 1987 before attending Gadsden State Community College to obtain a paralegal degree. As the single mother of two small children, Snyder worked two to three jobs before making the conscious decision to attend Gadsden State to create a better life for her children. While she graduated from GSCC in 1994, she did not pursue a profession pertaining to her paralegal degree until a few years later when a friend told her of a legal secretary position available.
In 1996, Snyder began working for Henslee, Robertson and Strawn law firm in Gadsden where she focused on bankruptcies and familiarized herself with essential skills like bookkeeping. When the firm’s bookkeeper moved, Snyder stepped into a new role for about three years, before she decided it was time to return to school. After discovering several of her previous classes would count towards an accounting degree, Snyder transferred to Jacksonville State University.
Snyder’s next step resided with the City of Gadsden in 2009, where then city attorney Roger Kirby hired her as the legal assistant for the city. It was during this position that Snyder realized a passion for politics she never anticipated earlier in life, shifting her interest to inspire a path that would forge her future.
“In 2010 or 2011, I started becoming really interested in local politics and government,” said Snyder. “Friends of mine kept saying, ‘Why don’t you run for city council in Southside?’ but I didn’t have time for it. In 2016, I decided I could give it a try – if I win, I win and if I don’t, so be it…it’s not meant for me. I won the election [for Southside City Council] and the rest is history.”
As a council member, Snyder accumulated a wealth of knowledge that translates now into her position as mayor. She shared some key factors that she learned during her time on the council, recognizing the efforts required to ensure the city operates smoothly and moves forward in a positive direction.
“I think the biggest thing [I learned on city council] was you can’t please everyone,” said Snyder. “You’re going to have disagreements among council members and the mayor, because you’re a body that has to work together as a team. You may not always agree with each other, but to get anything done you have to make compromises. You have to involve the community more to learn what they expect, what they are wanting and what’s needed out in the community. We all have to work together and understand each side to be able to get somewhere.”
Snyder’s passion for local government flourished during her years as a council member, inspiring her to further her service to Southside in one role dedicated to its community– mayor.
At a crossroads in life, Snyder found herself with two choices: attend law school (into which she was accepted) or run for mayor of Southside. She asked herself which path would allow her the opportunity to make the greatest difference – to affect lives throughout her community for the better and to serve her home in the most beneficial manner possible.
She found her answer in the latter.
“I felt like it was time that we had a new mayor and time for some change – time to look more into the future,” said Snyder. “After being on the city council, I grew to love being able to serve the community. I felt like I had a lot of support for that, and it was just a lot of encouragement from people on the outside wanting to see something different, wanting somebody to bring a different light to the city and do things [that inspired me to run]. Mayor [Wally] Burns was a wonderful mayor, and he did a lot of great things. We want to finish some of those things. We want to carry on into the future what has been started in the past, what has been designed and built for the city, but also take into consideration what the younger generation and seniors want to see in the future. I wanted to see what we can do together.”
Following a successful campaign, the night of the election friends and family surrounded Snyder as former Mayor Burns read the results aloud. At the news of her victory, it took a moment for Snyder to comprehend her accomplishment. She felt shock, relief and elation all at once.
“I said that morning, if it’s meant to be, that’s the way it’ll be,” said Snyder. “From the election until I took office, I just went along every day preparing. I wasn’t thinking of myself as the mayor. I was thinking of it as a job I’d been hired to do. Now, I come in here every morning as if I’m reporting to work for somebody – because I am.”
Snyder’s campaign focused on five initiatives that form her vision for Southside as mayor: improving public safety, recruiting new businesses, improving infrastructure, ensuring transparency and openness in city government, and preserving the history of Southside while planning for the future.
Mayor Snyder commends Southside’s police and fire departments and maintains strong working relationships with department chiefs and elected officials to safeguard the public safety of the city’s residents. The city recently approved a contract with an architect to design a fire hall, that will be located on property purchased during the previous administration. Snyder hopes that the future will hold a full-time fire department, aided by long-standing volunteers, renovations to accommodate the expanding police department and an expansion for the street and sanitation department, for which Snyder wants to provide a nice and neat space to store its equipment.
Snyder recognizes businesses are vital for Southside’s success and pledges to recruit new businesses while ensuring that existing businesses thrive; and adamantly expounds the necessity of procuring funding for the Southside Bridge Project.
With her own rich history rooted in Southside, Snyder understands how the past affects the present and how decisions now will influence the future. Her partnership with Southside’s Library Director resulted in an effort to preserve Southside’s history for younger generations; to include developing a genealogy program where residents can discover their ancestries and record their own stories.
“We have a lot of people who feel like because we’re growing, we’re losing what we used to be,” said Snyder. “I wanted to make sure that people knew to have the services you want to have, we have to have revenue and we have to grow. But at the same time, we want to make sure we still have that ‘hometown feeling.’ We want to preserve that. We want our older residents to come in and document some of the history and make it available to our younger generation, to let them know where we came from.”
An open-door policy coincides with Snyder’s goal of transparency in her administration, which she emphasizes in all decision-making processes. Snyder’s commitment to accessibility corresponds with her continuous goal of community involvement, which she believes is the key to Southside’s progress.
“Community involvement was a given to me,” said Snyder. “I could see and hear that people did not feel like they were involved. They did not feel they were part of the decisions being made. There were people who didn’t know what was going on in the community. I think they felt like they needed to be told what was going on and informed of it. They want to know, but sometimes you don’t have time to ask all the questions. If you tell people what you’re doing, they’re more receptive of it – especially if they’re involved in the decision making.”
Engaging the Southside community is one of the reasons Snyder ran for city council. She felt she needed to know what was occurring in her city, yet as a working mother, she also understood how difficult it is to attend every council meeting to remain informed. Snyder’s time with the City of Gadsden enlightened her to the innerworkings of local government and the crucial role the community plays in ensuring the city flourishes. Though the community elects officials to evoke change, those officials cannot transform the city alone. Success results from both the community and elected officials working together.
Snyder strives to engage her community in numerous ways.
From offering a Facebook livestream of council meetings and uploading minutes online to updating contact information of city supervisors to codifying city ordinances into a book (available at municode.com.)
Southside also offers its residents an app, City of Southside AL, where residents can view updates about the city. Residents can enter their names, emails and phone numbers to receive notifications following comments, complaints or concerns filed to various supervisors or Snyder herself.
“There’s a lot of things the city council and I have in common,” said Snyder. “For the most part, we have the same goals. I’m really looking forward to all of us together making these things become a reality.”
Long-term and short-term goals comprise a blueprint of Snyder’s vision for Southside, a vision she hopes will include contributions from the community. While she anticipates more events and activities for citizens in the future, she considers COVID-19’s effect on the city and how the pandemic has altered plans. She and the council are currently brainstorming alternatives for the community, focusing on exciting endeavors like the waterfront development project near Fowler’s Ferry Road.
Complete with boat ramps, board walks, boat slips and a bait shack, Mayor Snyder foresees the waterfront property as a great asset to the city.
She envisions improvements as the property progresses, with the space emerging as an area for picnics, small events and gatherings. She even noted the possibility of food trucks parking on the site for weekends during the spring and summer months.
Since taking office in November, Snyder has yet to cease learning. She stated that although she served as a council member for four years, there were things she witnessed during her first week as mayor that she never realized before. Snyder carefully observes the city departments, gaining insight from supervisors and employees, who she celebrated for their efforts. Her close relationship with city employees as mayor enlightened her to the fact that several employees juggle multiple responsibilities, serving Southside in numerous ways.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned stepping into this role is you have people in positions and you have to let them do that job,” said Snyder. “You definitely do not want to micromanage the city. We have supervisors who are well-qualified. They know what they’re doing, and they are on top of it every day. I can’t brag about them enough.”
Mayor Snyder shared what she enjoys the most about her new position.
“I enjoy working with the employees that are here,” said Snyder. “I enjoy the fact that I can help make some changes, and work with the council members and community in doing that. I like knowing that I can bring some good change. I feel like I have connections with a lot of people I’ve met over the years that I can help make that happen. I think I enjoy the position of mayor just so that we can make Southside better – being a part of making it better, being somebody that can bring the community and my council members and everybody together to do that. The mayor can’t do this by herself, the council members can’t do it by themselves. It takes everybody working together. I can’t stress enough that it’s a team effort.”
From the rich land and green pastures that illustrated her childhood to the close-knit community that encouraged her, to the prominent ancestry that started it all, Snyder’s devotion to Southside is unwavering. Her gratitude for her supporters is limitless, while her passion to preserve that comforting ‘hometown feeling’ intertwines with her commitment to her community’s betterment. Through citizen engagement, collaborative efforts and diligence, Snyder nurtures the seeds she plants to ensure the growth of Southside – a mayor whose contributions to her city prove lifelong.
“I would like to bring us closer,” said Mayor Snyder. “We have a beautiful city. I believe we are the loveliest city on the Coosa. It’s not just my vision or the council’s vision for Southside, it’s the community’s vision that is most important. We have several committees and some that we’re working on. I would like to let our community know that if they would like to participate in anything with the city, if they have any ides, the door is open. I would like to know what their interest is, what they might want to help with. Anything the community feels we need to be doing or if they feel like they know we can do something better, I want to hear from them. I want them to be a part of the change. Community involvement is key.”