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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -
The three people vying for Huntsville's top spot faced one another Monday night for the Mayoral Debate hosted by the South Huntsville Civic Association at Grissom High School. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, former Mayor Loretta Spencer and candidate Jackie Reed used the opportunity to share their thoughts on controversial issues facing the city.
The crowd of nearly 700 voters listened to the candidates state their positions on the state law that requires the Huntsville Housing Authority to publicly disclose plans for new public housing in advance. Some community groups have said it could violate federal fair housing laws.
"Does it violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Very important question to know, because the results of having impediments to fair housing to a city, is that you could end up in a lawsuit," said Battle.
Spencer commented on the importance of communication with property owners.
"We always notify people of zoning changes, because one thing some people only have is their house; that property," said Spencer. "I understand communication."
Reed commented that she disagrees with some of the housing authority's past decisions, and spoke on behalf of people who might live in the housing authority's residences.
"If you don't want them in your neighborhood, they don't want to move in your neighborhood. It's kind of like me moving in 'The Ledges.' I don't have enough money to move to 'The Ledges,'" Reed said of the affluent Huntsville subdivision. Her comment garnered laughs from the crowd.
The South Huntsville Civic Association supports the requirement and invited state lawmakers to speak to the crowd about it.
Moderators also asked the candidates about growth and development in Huntsville, particularly in areas that are struggling. The candidates all took different approaches to the question. Battle talked about a study the city council is expected to approve Thursday to look at retail growth in blighted corridors like Memorial Parkway North of Oakwood Avenue and South of Martin Road. Spencer talked about her history of involvement in projects like revamping the Parkway Place Mall by helping provide funding for the mall's parking structure. Reed touched on her goal for long term, comprehensive city planning.
"The reason that they're blighted is because it's taken 12 years to build over passes," said Battle. "Business owners don't want to build in places where they know they're going to have to face construction. It's not good for your business."
Spencer said, "What's important is, you have to have initiatives that bring in sales tax. That's why I formed the Green Team, to clean up this city. It was a trashy mess in '96."
"We need to stop the quick-fixes and 'run and throw it out there real quick without doing some planning.' This city's made a lot of planning mistakes," Reed said as she looked at Battle. "I'll hush at that. Thank you."
Moderators also challenged the panel to tackle the issue of internal affairs at the Huntsville Police Department. They suggested the possibility of removing hiring and firing power from the Chief of Police and transferring the final say on internal affairs matters to the Huntsville City Council. Battle said he disagrees with the idea, while Spencer and Reed said it needs a closer look.
"I wouldn't mind having an in-between, because I understand the intimidation of a police officer," Spencer said.
"I think their personalities kind of gets in the way of that uniform sometimes," Reed said of police officers. "I believe that we need to study some more. Let the public hear some more about what all that's going on with the police department."
"I think we have a good system. It is a system that is made; that is fair. If you moved it to the council, I hate to tell you, sometimes the council gets somewhat political," Battle said.
Voters will decide which candidates answers they liked best in the election on August 28th. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.