In the August primaries, 75 percent of Trussville voters voted against incumbent Mayor Gene Melton, who was seeking a sixth term. The message was clear — it was time to take the city in a different direction. This left two city councilors, Buddy Choat and Anthony Montalto, in a runoff that will be held Tuesday Oct. 4.
Both Montalto and Choat campaigned on the promise of change and progress for the city. Throughout the primary, their underlying theme was that a Melton re-election meant more of the same. Both emphasized the city would benefit from a new vision and new leadership.
They weren’t the only ones skeptical of the incumbent. A group of citizens banded together to develop Take Back Trussville, advocating electing someone with a fresh perspective. Among their issues with Melton, they pointed to a lack of transparency and even hinted Melton’s friends were benefiting from his position through city contracts and jobs.
In February while discussing his run, Choat said: “I think people are ready for change, they are ready to move forward.” After the primary he reiterated that same position saying, “There’s a clear message with this runoff that there’s a lot of interest in seeing Trussville move forward.”
Following the August election, Melton announced his endorsement of Choat. With that endorsement Choat changed his tune on the mayor’s leadership, saying “What he’s done is part of my vision for Trussville moving forward.” He stressed the same point in a recent Chamber forum, saying he intended to rely on Mayor Melton’s opinions if elected.
Choat’s Sept. 16 financial disclosure includes a $500 contribution from Melton as well as contributions from several longtime Melton cronies. In addition, Melton even seemed to be speaking for Choat in a recent Al.com article.
Just last week, significant questions began to be raised about potential wrongdoing and/or financial mismanagement related to volunteer fire department funds. Melton asked the city council to hold off on a closed-door meeting that later ended in the suspension of two top fire officials. Montalto pushed back, insisting that time was of the essence.
He later defended his position saying he came around and supported the meeting and suspension, but the timing and fact he sided with Melton rather than act directly and decisively leads to several questions including: Was this the first of many favors for Melton? Whose interest was he protecting by asking for more time for those involved in the alleged misconduct?
With the combination of contributions and actions, along with Choat’s sudden about-face on continuing Melton’s path for Trussville, there are other questions voters could ask themselves: Was Melton’s endorsement worth Choat’s change of heart? Choat trailed Montalto after the first vote and appears to be desperate. For weeks now Melton/Choat has attacked Montalto even while Montalto has continued his positive message and campaign.
What do Melton and his cronies expect for their financial and vocal support of Choat? Will one of the expectations include he carry forward with employing same friends? Will Melton actually get his sixth term?
On what he’d do differently in the runoff election, Choat said his strategy would be different, “We’ll come up with ideas that we’ve not been able to discuss, but we’re going to be more specific this time out.”
Singing the same tune as outgoing Mayor Melton is certainly a new strategy. One the voters rejected once already. They should reject it again.