The Power of Unity: Chamber hosts Etowah Co. leaders at Mayors Summit

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By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor

Elected officials and local business leaders gathered together at the Rainbow City Community Center Thursday, February 8, to discuss progress being made across Etowah County.

The Gadsden-Etowah County Chamber of Commerce invited mayors from every city in Etowah County, county commissioners, local business owners and members of The Chamber to the Mayors Summit to give everyone an opportunity to learn about what is happening locally.

The event kicked off with a free breakfast and networking opportunity, courtesy of the summit’s sponsor Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, Inc., Barry Allen Cherry and the Challenger Learning Center Committee and McDonald’s of Etowah County. Then the event got underway with Chamber CEO and President Christi Robinson welcoming the room full of attendees.

“We have invited these representatives for the municipalities in Etowah County to talk for five to seven minutes about the news that they’d like for you to hear,” Robinson said.

She then introduced the first speaker, Rainbow City Mayor Joe Taylor.

I have to thank everyone that is here,” Taylor said. “People on this stage are showing something that we probably have never seen in the history of Rainbow City or Etowah County, and that’s a regional approach.”

Taylor went on to describe the “regional approach” of Etowah County leaders and how what is good for one city is good for the other cities.

“What we’ve decided to do is to come together and stand as one so that can move forward and grow,” Taylor said. “We have to have good growth and that’s what we’re looking for in Rainbow City. We want to make sure we’re growing and complementing our surrounding sister cities.”

Next to the podium was Southside Mayor Dana Snyder.

“There are a lot of important things going on in the county and in our city,” Snyder said. “We’re getting ready for that growth and preparing for that. We have almost completed the fire station — it should be completed in a couple of months. We’ve started our own garbage service, which is going great. We have plans for Parks & Rec. We have plans for events for our community and surrounding communities. If it was not for all of these mayors and county commission up here, we wouldn’t be able to do the things that we’re doing.”

Snyder briefly mentioned the planned replacement of the Southside bridge on Highway 77 before telling audience members that everyone should talk to their mayors and their council members.

“I encourage everybody to talk about the things that you would like to see in the county and in your city,” she said.

Next up was Attalla Mayor Larry Means, who began his speech with a joke about not wanting to come in the building.

“When I pulled up and saw how many people are here, I was going to try to make up excuses [about not staying],” Means joked. “But I can’t do that. But, thank you so much to The Chamber for putting this on.”

Means spoke on his experience in politics — which reaches back to the 70s when he was elected to Attalla City Council in 1976 — and how he was excited again about the future.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I thought I would never get excited again,” Means said. “But I did. And I have two or three new councilmembers, younger ones, and it is energizing. We have a lot going on in every city in this county. We [Attalla] have a lot going on. Like I said, I’ve been in this a long time and I’ve never seen the cities and the county come together like we are now. We can call on each other to help.”

Next to the microphone was Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford. Ford began by introducing the city council members present — Dixie Minatra, Chris Robinson, Kent Back and Tonya Latham — and then took the opportunity to point out Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Keith Blackwell and Assistant Superintendent Sharon Maness. Maness was named to the position Wednesday night.

Ford then thanked the leadership team of Gadsden State Community College for their partnership over the years.

“When you can sit down with one of your major top five employers in your community and you can sit down with the president on a continual basis… you can continue to talk about how we can help each other,” Ford said. “When you hear Mayor Taylor talk about the industrial site and you hear Gadsden talk about UltraSafe Nuclear and when you hear about what we’re doing at Goodyear, all that would not happen without Gadsden State and the workforce development center.”

Ford went on to thank the other mayors in attendance for their support and the united front that Etowah County presents to potential industry partners, as well as state and national leaders.

“I learned a valuable lesson that we all have to be together,” he said. “We have to be unified. We have to come together. I love this regional approach, as Mayor Taylor said. I think it is fantastic.”

After Ford, Glencoe Mayor Chris Hare addressed the crowd.

“I have the honor to speak behind everybody else that’s got a lot of stuff going on,” Hare joked. “We’re fortunate in Glencoe to have a lot of stuff moving on ourselves. Now we have some things accomplished and some things to talk about for Glencoe and our goals. Two years ago, we dug in and took on the task and now we’re a USDA certified city. That helps our young people get financing [on houses] in our city. They were not able to do that in the past. Like I said, it took two years to get that done. That was a huge hurdle for us.”

Hare went on to talk about the remodeling of the park and updates to infrastructure around the city. The biggest update, which was recently announced, is a traffic signal and intersection coming to U.S. Highway 431 and Green Valley Road. The project will cost $1.7 million.

“That’s a major, major thing for us,” Hare said. “A lot of lives have been taken at that intersection. We wanted to secure the safety of our citizens and that was a big accomplishment for us.”

Hare echoed the sentiments on unity from the mayors who had already spoke.

“When you go to talk to somebody, they know we’re together,” He said. “They know who Mayor Taylor is and Mayor Snyder and Craig Ford. They know when you mention Etowah County. They all pay attention now. That’s huge for all of us up here.”

Next up was Hokes Bluff Mayor Pro Tem and Councilman Larry Sandlin.

When I first agreed to come to this, I thought it would be 10 or 20 people,” Sandlin said. “But this is a large crowd here. I’m just filling in for our mayor [Scott Reeves]. We’ve got a lot of improvements going on [in Hokes Bluff].”

Sandlin described the library’s triathlon and its success as well as the completion of the new softball field building with meeting rooms and bathrooms. He also mentioned paving projects and the city’s swimming pool.

“We’re one of the few cities that still have a swimming pool and it is expensive to have,” Sandlin said. “But it means a lot to our community.”

He also mentioned the completion of the new $15 million dollar school, complete with a tornado safe room. Sandlin also spoke about the fire and police departments for Hokes Bluff, mentioning that both the volunteer fire department and police department are full and ready to help citizens.

The final mayor to speak at the Mayors Summit was Sardis City Mayor Russell Amos.

“Like Mayor Means, when we drove up I thought about turning around and going back,” Amos joked. “We’re just a small community up on Sand Mountain. Sometimes people think we are in Marshall County. But I want to take this opportunity to say last year April 1, we had a tornado hit the city and a lot of these mayors behind me called and sent texts — asking what we needed. I told them the biggest thing we needed help with was cleanup. I said, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do about cleaning because we don’t have a street department with trucks to pick up debris.’ And these people sent us 12 to 15 trucks. They had the whole place cleaned up in two days.”

Amos said that cooperation between cities was like a miracle.

“It is a big thing when you work together,” he said. “The mayors of Etowah County responded. You can get more accomplished when we work together.”

Amos then gave a brief overview of some of the progress made in Sardis City.

“Police cars, new fire station… We’ve upgraded our parks and rec fields,” Amos said. “A lot of things are going on. But it takes a lot of people working together to accomplish these things in the community. You know, a lot of times we are different cities, but when you call on them, they’re there to help. I just want to say I appreciate you [mayors]. I’d just like to say that I appreciate this event today and The Chamber.”

Following Amos, Etowah County Commissioner Tim Ramsey spoke briefly about the unity that the mayors and cities have.

“I’m sitting on the stage with all these mayors… that didn’t happen 10 years ago,” Ramsey said. “That just was not happening. That’s what I wanted to happen and that’s what is happening now. There is an absolute great group of [mayors] here that are pushing this county forward and I am very proud to be a part of it.”

Before the event ended, a special member of the audience was brought to the stage — United States Congressman Mike Rogers. Rogers represents District 3 currently; which Etowah County was added to just last year when the new maps for Alabama’s congressional districts were approved last year. He is running for re-election in the district, and until the votes are tallied, Congressman Robert Aderholt still represents Etowah County.

“I can’t overstate how excited I am about Etowah County moving to the third district,” Rogers said. “I live in Calhoun County, in Weaver, and I have wanted to represent Etowah County for a while. I know [Aderholt] has represented y’all for 28 years and it’s going to be a big change. But we’re going to try to make it a good big change. I know folks over here. I served with [Mayor Means] and [Mayor Ford] in the legislature and I know folks here. I consider you in our district now. If March goes well, I won’t technically represent you until next January, but I want to serve you now. We’re going to start having office hours in your cities. We want you to consider us your advocate in Washington.”

Following the surprise speech by Rogers, the Mayors Summit ended and guests were invited to stay longer to talk with the mayors and other elected officials.

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