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Fair play is essential

By Bob Francis

Hartselle citizens for Economic Development established a policy at the onset of the legalization issue to conduct a campaign, which we have commonly referred to as “taking the high road.” Throughout this campaign, we have emphasized a professional, non-confrontational approach, ultimately presenting to voters information that could be objectively evaluated.

Our policy in accomplishing this is:

“No matter how well intended is the goal, reaching it with less than dignity and complete honesty and integrity taints achievement of the goal and compromises the character of those promoting it.”

We feel that in conscientiously adhering to this policy that we have suffered a disadvantage in competing with a campaign, by opponents of legalization, which has presented slanted, misleading and irrelevant information to prey on the emotions of voters and violate their trust, to wit:

1. The glossy burgundy/red mail-out brochure to residents of Hartselle, postmarked Oct. 6:

(a) In stating the “Truth About Bars, Lounges and Nightclubs,” voters were told that a sole act of three council members would vote to bring in Bars, Lounges and Nightclubs.” Only after the Decatur Daily pointed out (Oct. 15) that the mayor can veto a three-council member action, was this corrected by an inconspicuous, undated enclosure to a mail-out letter dated Oct. 4 and postmarked on Oct. 20. The initial mail-out and the letter of Oct. 4 were both misleading and the information was corrected only after public exposure by the newspaper.

(b) Jasper was selected for a comparison of crime to Hartselle. Why Jasper? As reported by the Decatur Daily on Oct. 15, Jasper Mayor Sonny Posey stated that Jasper is the shopping hub for a six-county region and the population almost doubles during peak shopping hours on the weekend. He further stated that Families for a safe Hartselle had chosen the wrong city for comparison.

It is interesting to note that the brochure only compared numbers of crimes in Jasper to those in Hartselle in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Although conveniently omitted in the brochure, please be advised that during the period from 1985 (when Jasper went wet) to 2009 the increase in total crime was 168 percent in Jasper and 179 percent in Hartselle. (See comparison chart on the front page of the Oct. 18 Hartselle Enquirer.)

(c) Business logos used in the brochure beg the question of copyright release. One local business stated that permission to use their logo was neither requested nor granted.

(d) The mayor’s quote relative to business potential and our posture for economic growth is presented out of context. Being prepared for development is one thing – making it happen is yet another. To the uninformed, the statement as used suggests that more recent success will be followed by imminent and naturally occurring retail expansion. As chairman of the Hartselle Industrial Development Board, I agree with the mayor’s statement that Hartselle is prepared. However, being prepared does not assure success. Having been involved for 11 years in preparation for and recruitment of new businesses to Hartselle, let me assure you that sure and imminent development is far from the case. During those 11 years, I have been intimately involved in trying to recruit new business to Hartselle. I have provided information to and worked diligently with more than 20 highly desirable individual retail businesses, including restaurants, to recruit them to Hartselle. I worked with one restaurant chain for 28 months with no success. Three of the 20 have now located in Hartselle, but only after six or 10 years from initial contact and only through concerted team effort by city government, Hartselle Utilities, the Chamber of Commerce and Hartselle Development Board, with support of the County Commission, prominent Hartselle business owners and federal and state legislators.

In addition, I have worked with 10 developers to stimulate their interests in developing shopping complexes here. These efforts have been intensive with hundreds of phone calls made, information provided, numerous on-site meetings and provision of courtesy meals at my personal expense. Current success has been achieved through extreme effort, and future recruitment will be equally or more difficult as we compete with communities which have legalized alcohol sales. I call your attention to my column published in the Hartselle Enquirer that published Oct. 14, which quoted three major developers with whom I have worked. Their consensus opinion is that future economic development without legalized alcohol sales will be limited at best and difficult to achieve.

2. In an article in the Hartselle Enquirer on Oct. 21, attorney Jeff Johnson, committee leader for Families for a Safe Hartselle, referred to two documents, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation” and “Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences,” which supported the “vote no” position of Families for a Safe Hartselle. The Pacific study involved researching neighborhoods in New Jersey and urban and rural California, including 74 cities in Los Angeles County, Calif. No details were given concerning the Hispanic Journal Study. What’s the relevance to Hartselle, Alabama of far-distant studies involving non-comparable cultures?

It is interesting to note that surveys made in Texas show that completely dry counties had more than 350 percent the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities per capita than did the completely wet counties.

Information provided to the Hartselle voters should be relevant and not that from California, New Jersey, Texas or other remote regions with unlike cultures.

It should also be made very clear to the citizens of Hartselle that the Jeff Johnson leading Families for a Safe Hartselle is an attorney and is not to be confused with the Jeff Johnson employed by the city of Hartselle.

3. As reported in the Decatur Daily on Oct. 6, a local minister received an anonymous letter, provided by the director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program. The organization opposes legal sales. The anonymous letter was attributed to a “local mayor.” This anonymous letter was printed in the minister’s weekly newsletter. Phantom letters have no place in supporting one’s effort to promote his or her agenda.

4. Hartselle’s quality of life and safety is exemplary and will continue so after legalization. Voters should not succumb to such doomsday tactics as “Defend our City,” and “Keep Hartselle Safe.” Nor should they be subjected to the gory, immature and tasteless displays of horror, alleged to be related to the sale of alcohol in Hartselle.

Please remember: Alcohol is now legally transported to and consumed in Hartselle. Nothing will drastically change except revenue will be gained from the directly associated licensing and sales. Even more importantly, economic development will be significantly enabled resulting in more jobs and associated revenue.

The outcome of the vote will be largely influenced by the bloc vote of churches. However, I like to think many church members are independent thinkers and will vote their personal opinions on the issue, influenced only by personal convictions and not be peer and organizational views. Also, contrary to the referendum in 2002, voters have been presented compelling reasons to approve legalization of alcohol sales, which along with emphasis on registration and encouragement to vote, should offset bloc votes. Even more important than the outcome is that all voters exercise the right to vote. Do not let any issue or candidate for office be determined by a minority of eligible voters.

Although battle lines have been drawn in his heated issue, Nov. 3 should find both advocates and adversaries coming together to promote Hartselle’s best interests in the future.


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