Expert: Political churn can take its toll
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
The headline reads "newcomers emerge as winners."
The Hartselle Enquirer story deals with the fruit-basket turn over at the Hartselle City Council following a municipal election. Voters ousted the mayor and the entire council, opting for slate of newcomers.
The year? 1996.
The article said it was the first time "in recent memory" that the city would have an entirely new council and mayor. And now, history may be ready to repeat itself.
If challenger Bill Drake emerges as the winner in the Sept. 14 runoff with incumbent Dick Carter, Hartselle will once again have an entirely new slate of elected officials.
Since 1980, Hartselle has had six different mayors, none serving more than one term. The city council has seemed like musical chairs and even a two-term council member is a rarity.
Hartselle is living up to its reputation as being hard on incumbents. Popular sentiment has long been that if you don't like the actions of the current council, all you have to do is wait four years and you can have an entirely new group.
But that may not be good for the city as a whole, according to Dr. Tommy Williams, associate professor of political science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
"There have been discussions in Congress about term limits and a large number of states have term limits for state legislators," Williams said. "The criticism of that is that you don't have continuity of leadership. You're forcing people out that might really be able to make a contribution to the legislative process. That same concept applies to a city council when it changes."
Voting out incumbents every four years means "you're sacrificing experience for change," Williams said.
But that may not always be a bad thing, he cautioned.
"If the majority of voters feel change is warranted, that's what the whole democratic system is all about."
In 1996, voters elected political newcomers Catherine Ann Sims and Andy Vest. They also opted for John Kirby over one-term incumbent Virginia Alexander and Myra Sivley over two-termer Jim Glasgow. Also elected was Don Hall who defeated Billy Buckelew.
Just four years later, Hall was the only council veteran who opted to run that was reelected.
That year, voters opted for retired newspaper editor Clif Knight, Dick Carter, Tom Chappell, Allen Stoner and Frank Jones.
Last Tuesday, Knight, Carter, Chappell and Jones – as well as two-termer Hall – were defeated by the new round of challengers. Even Alvin Abercrombie, appointed to replace Stoner, lost the election.
The closest race came between Don Hall and former mayor Samie Wiley. Seventy votes separated the two candidates. The race between Knight and newcomer Dwight Tankersley was close, also. The top two vote-getters in the mayoral race were separated by 259 votes. Other races weren't as close.
Kenny Thompson defeated Chappell by 709 votes, the largest margin of victory for a two-candidate race. Abercrombie was outpolled 57 votes by George Hearring and more than 1,098 by winner Bill Smelser.
Mark Mizell defeated Jones by more than 1,251 votes, with a third candidate, Bill Partridge, earning 614 votes, just 48 less than Jones.
In the runoff race, Drake received 1,444 votes to Carter's 933. A third candidate, Bruce Lackey, earned 743 votes.