Mayor talks state of the city with Exchangites
by Laura Johnson
Officials in the city of Jacksonville are adjusting to a new form of government and vamping up efforts to recruit industry in the new year said Mayor Johnny Smith.

Smith gave a general report on the state of the city last Thursday to Exchange Club members at the Village Inn. Smith’s brief speech touched on several subjects but began with remarks concerning the city’s recent change in government structure.

“How well this works out really depends on how well the mayor and the council work together,” Smith said. “So far it’s worked out OK.”

In November the city moved into a president-mayor form of government. Under the new form of government, which is required by Alabama law for cities with more than 12,000 residents, Smith retains a veto power but no longer votes as a member of the council.

After discussing the new form of government the mayor touched on several issues that are likely to come before the council this year.

In January, Smith said, the city’s industrial development board reorganized and began laying the ground work to actively recruit more companies to the city. Currently, he said, the board is working to take inventory of the city’s existing assets and is redeveloping a marketing plan to draw industries to the area.

Smith said one of the main assets the city has to use as a recruitment tool is Veterans Memorial Parkway, which is slated to be complete by 2015.

“It may be more important to us, really, than it is to Anniston,” Smith said. “Jacksonville is in a unique position to be able to recruit some industry.”

Red Etheridge, chairman of the newly formed board, agreed that the parkway project could be key in bringing industry to Jacksonville. It’s only one of several assets, including the city’s schools, the university and recreational opportunities, the city wants to highlight as it moves forward with industrial recruitment, Etheridge said.

“That puts us minutes from the interstate,” Etheridge said following the meeting.

Smith also spoke about the number of small businesses that have located in Jacksonville. In recent months, Smith said several retail stores and one new gym have moved to the city, Smith said.

The mayor also pointed out that seven new homes are under construction in Jacksonville. It’s a fact that he thinks may be inductive of a stronger financial future.

“There were months when we didn’t have anything going on and now we have seven,” Smith said. “I hope that’s a good sign of things to come.”

While much of Smith’s speech centered around growth and progress, his remarks did transition from the positive to the controversial toward the end. That’s when the mayor was questioned about the city’s proposed land swap with Jacksonville State University.

As part of the property deal, JSU will give the city the Eastwood School and a wooded parcel of land at the northwest corner of Reynolds Street and Pelham Road North in exchange for the old mill. Some residents have openly opposed the idea and the city is slated to discuss it further at a Jan. 25 council meeting.

Smith told the crowd the city was still in the discovery stage concerning the project. He added that he hoped for the best, for all parties involved.

“Maybe it can be a win-win for both parties,” Smith said.

Staff Writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.
© 2013