Like many municipalities in Alabama, the Birmingham suburb of Trussville is holding municipal elections Aug. 23. To help introduce citizens of Trussville to the multitude of candidates for both mayor and the city’s five council positions, local newspaper The Trussville Tribune partnered with the Trussville Chamber of Commerce to host a forum Tuesday evening in the community’s civic center.
Challenging 20-year incumbent Eugene “Gene” Melton are current City Council President Anthony Montalto and fellow City Council member Buddy Choat.
Trussville was no exception to the year’s exceptionally high political interest, with the civic center’s main hall packed with close to 300 people, requiring more chairs to be brought in to accommodate the crowd.
While the format of the forum allowed time for mayoral and city council candidates in turn, most of the highlights came from the sometimes-aggressive answers of Choat and Montalto.
The candidates were asked questions by Dr. Patty Neal, Trussville City Schools Superintendent; Gail Skipper, director of Parks and Recreation; attorney Bill Bright; and Jane Bailey, former city council president.
Here are a few highlights:
1. “Pizza place to pizza place”
A central theme of Anthony Montalto’s talking points was the dearth of locally owned and operated restaurants in the community, using the shorthand “family pizza joint” during his answers. But it was city council candidate Tommy Brewer who earned the loudest laughs of the night, quipping his support of improving the city’s sidewalks so people could walk from “Anthony’s pizza place to Anthony’s other pizza place.”
While the line got a big laugh, it also highlighted a main theme of the night: the desire to turn Trussville’s downtown area into a walkable community with plenty of local restaurants and shops.
2. Aggressive critiques of Melton’s tenure
Both Choat and Montalto explained how they’d run their administrations differently than the incumbent has. Choat focused on his management style, saying “I want to see you in the community and I want to hear from you.”
“We’re on the cutting edge of having something magnificent,” he continued. “People choose to move to Trussville. Working with people is how you get things done.”
Montalto was even more aggressive, critiquing the mayor’s alleged reputation for being unwilling to work with new businesses.
“[Businesses I’ve talked to] have been surprised because they haven’t gotten attention. We need to use our chamber and local leaders to recruit. We need to show them our enthusiasm and our love for Trussville.”
3. Finishing downtown Trussville renovations
A common theme among all the candidates on the slate, including those running for city council, was completion of renovations to the city’s downtown area. While a plan is in place, progress has been slow going according to the candidates, and they’d like to see it take place at a greater speed so more businesses will see they are serious about recruiting.
4. Completion of parks
Another area of agreement among the candidates is the need to complete the multiple parks in the area currently under renovation. There are several parks, including one on U.S. Highway 11, the city’s main street, that have been under construction or renovation for several years.
Melton, answering a question on what he’d like to get done in his fifth term that he hadn’t been able to do in the first four, made completing those projects and others already in motion a priority. While he said they should be done by Nov. 21 of this year, a common refrain from his opponents and prospective members of the council was the disbelief that the projects would be completed in a timely manner.
5. “A pivotal crossroads”
Both Choat and Montalto, as well as the council candidates, made it clear they all believe Trussville is at a crossroads in its history. With more and more families relocating to the area, and its reputation for excellent public schools increasing, they believe the city needs leadership with a fresh perspective.
The argument was made by Melton, however, that the city wouldn’t be where it is today without his tenure as mayor.
But with Birmingham’s landlocked “Over the Mountain” communities of Hoover, Homewood, Vestavia Hills, and Mountain Brook quickly reaching capacity, Trussville is approaching its time to shine as a commuter city.
The new residents of Trussville, many of whom moved to the community both for its top-tier public schools and its proximity to Birmingham, have much in common with those who have lived here for decades and have seen it be outpaced by the other suburbs.
Progress is the obvious theme of this particular municipal election, but who will the people of Trussville choose to lead it?