Demopolis Mayor: City moving toward goals
Approaching two years in office, Demopolis Mayor John Laney feels the city has made positive strides toward the goals that he established. He said those goals can be categorized in three areas: service, transparency, and economic development.
“It is the services we provided to our citizens that make up our city. We have to deliver quality services at a price our citizens are willing to agree,” Laney said. “In transparency, our citizens should have access to public documents that help them be aware of how their representatives are spending their money. And, in order for us to have a growing population we must encourage both organic and new economic development projects that help our citizens. A community with a vital economic development program helps to ensure a secure future for our community and provides the ability to provide the services and opportunities for improving quality of life activities our community desires.”
Mayor Laney points to a number of new initiatives designed to increase services for citizens, including the division work crews at the Public Works Department.
“The city maintenance crews have been divided into five teams and each team is assigned a district according to the area represented by each council member. Each team is responsible for their district and its appearance,” Laney said.
The city has recently begun the collection of “white goods,” which are large appliances and furniture. This type pick-up was being done by Advance Disposal through its contract with the Demopolis Water Works and Sewer Board.
“The reason for that change was, with the city picking up limbs and Advanced Disposal picking up white goods, our citizens were being inconvenienced by not knowing what to put out and when. We now do it at one time,” he said.
The city has also been working to decrease the number of overgrown properties. “We are being more active in the enforcement of these type ordinances, which protect property values.
Dilapidated properties are also being worked with 14 already being cleared and another 20 in the process.
“When these properties are cleaned, it improves the property values of that area and it let’s others see some of the nice homes we have in all parts of our city. It also reduces fire hazards,” Laney said.
He said homes are not the only properties being worked, adding that ordinances pertaining to all properties are being enforced with a current emphasis being in the downtown area.
“We have property owners downtown who have invested money only to see other property owners let things go. How our downtown looks may have an impact on whether an individual or company decides they want to locate in Demopolis. The city will do everything it can to ensure we make a favorable impression,” the mayor said.
Laney said public safety also plays a large role in service to the community. Recently, the city combined several departments into one Public Safety Department with Police Chief Tommie Reese named the Public Safety Director for the city.
The fire department continues to serve a dual role as firefighters and first responders for medical calls. Currently, the mayor said, 80 percent of all calls to the fire department are medical. The city has been looking into the possibility of establishing its own ambulance service.
“We continue to move closer to adding an ambulance for transport to Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital, which is now a UAB Healthcare affiliate. Our goal is to have a decision by August,” Laney said.
The mayor also praised the work of the Demopolis Police Department, especially in light of a recent study by the National Council of Home Safety and Security that listed Demopolis as one of the state’s safest cities (per capita).
“The police department continues its record of keeping our citizens safe and the Public Safety Department conducts several citizen training programs during the year that builds awareness of the role public safety plays in their lives,” Laney said.
The city has made several efforts to increase transparency and its communication with citizens, according to the mayor. Among those is that citizen may now find council meeting minutes and financial reports posted online, once approved by the council.
Laney added that the city “is trying to be responsive to public inquiries about information in a timely manner.”
Putting the city in a position to compete for business, industry and jobs, is among the top priorities for Laney and he said several efforts are helping to move that initiative forward.
“The city has two industrial parks that are now certified as fiber ready and we are completing the required documentation that will certify both sites for posting as an Alabama Advantage Site, which will increase the number of looks our industrial parks receive,” he said.
The mayor also points to its partnership with Shelton State Community College to bring programs to the Higher Learning Center and Regional Training Center to improve the skills of the area workforce. For students, there are now dual enrollment opportunities as well as continuing and adult education courses being offered in areas such as medical assistants, truck driving, welding, HVAC, and electronics.
The city is also partnering with West Alabama Works to help bridge local education systems to industry.
“The goal is to ensure our young people are prepared for the workplace opportunities that exist,” Laney said. “As we get all this in place, we will be better prepared to compete for new industries and to provide a qualified workforce for existing industry.”
The mayor also said the partnership between BWWMH and UAB Healthcare will help in industry and business recruitment.
“A big piece of the puzzle was put in place when our healthcare facility, BWWMH, became affiliated with UAB. This was a tremendous accomplishment,” he said.
Citing those type of quality-of-life opportunities, the mayor also said improvements and successes are being reported in other city departments.
The Park and Recreation Department, working with organized youth sports leagues, has seen an increased usage of the Sportsplex facility and just recently brought a well-attended rodeo to the city. He also said ongoing improvements at the Ravine Golf Course should result in more visitors.
Efforts to land a big youth sports event have been successful as the City of Demopolis has been awarded as a host site for the 13-14 Year Old Cal Ripken League World Series in 2019.
The Demopolis Public Library has also seen increased usage through its programs for both youth and adults, including Lunch & Learns, an assortment of children’s programs, and providing free tax assistance through a partnership with AARP.
While Laney feels the city is moving in a positive direction, he said there is still much to be done, but he feels those leading the city are working together to take the city to new heights.
“Everything that has been accomplished by the city is the result of having a supportive city council. Without their support and input the city could not have accomplished what it has. Also each city department head along with the employees in their department, our city attorney, municipal court judge and city accountant have done an excellent job guiding the city in their areas of responsibility,” the mayor said.
(This article originally appeared in the 2018 Progress Special Section in the June 30 issue of the Demopolis Times.)