Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Mayoral candidates answer hot button questions

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You have questions, they have answers. We asked Gulf Shores and Orange Beach mayoral candidates for their answers to a variety of questions ahead of the Aug. 25 election.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach’s incumbent mayors are running opposed for the first time since being elected in 2008. Gulf Shore Mayor Robert Craft is being challenged by John E. Bays, Jr. and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon is being challenged by Dan Hayes.

John E. Bays, Jr.

Challenger

What would you do in your first 90 days if elected?

In my first 90 days of being elected I would learn how everything works with the council and the city. Provide an open door policy to all Locals to voice their concerns and opinions on things that need to be addressed for our city and work hard to find solutions to solve the major problems we face along with the help from all city officials.

Some people in the community say that we have traffic problems. What do you think? How would you mitigate those concerns or change the situation?

This will be my first project that I will work on with the help of the state, DOT and my council members. For one thing I will try my best to halt all new construction of condominiums and apartments in the city til there is a solution with the traffic flow. Every time a 300-unit structure is built that is 600 or more cars in the neighborhoods and on our major highways. I understand there will be several limitations I will have to consider. But I believe if the council members and the citizens stick together, we can achieve a plan. 

What makes you stand out from the other candidate?

I am running to stand for the locals. I feel the people of Gulf Shores need to be heard and have a say. I will be there to listen. I feel the city needs a change and council with new and better ideas. The residents are tired of not being heard. 

What is the one major issue you plan to address?

Traffic and infrastructure. 

Do you feel the current planning and zoning regulations are in the best interest of the property owners? What changes would you make?

No, I do not. I feel we need to work for the benefit of the residents and not the developers.

Do you feel residents and their quality of life are prioritized over tourists? If no, what would you do to put residents first?

No. I understand tourism is important for our economic growth, however we need to prioritize residents first, then tourists. Like I said before, their voice is important, and I will be there to listen. We have to stick to the town's slogan Small Town Big Beach.

Is there anything I have not asked that you want to add?

I would like to add that I feel the city is not implementing the rules and regulations at our beach’s. I have seen too many uncaring tourists with pets on the beach, trash, drinking and vandalism of turtle nests that are very important to us. There needs to be a better plan to control all of this.

Robert Craft

Incumbent

What would you do in your first 90 days if elected?

In the first 90 days, we must finalize our agreement with ALDOT to build another connection between the Beach Express and State Highway 59. This ALDOT funded +/- $20 million spur road will connect to the existing eastern terminus of Waterway East Boulevard providing a third way into our city. It will also provide an opportunity to have a future new bridge off the island from Gulf Shores, if and when that becomes necessary. Also, we are close to finalizing the RESTORE and Build Grants, both are Transportation improvement grants totaling close to $50 million, again improving traffic issues and concerns on the Alabama state highways within our city.

Some people in the community say that we have traffic problems. What do you think? How would you mitigate those concerns or change the situation?

Completing the projects mentioned in the first 90-day goals are designed to alleviate some of the congestion by providing significant improvements to Highway 59, our only north/south road. Our plans include adding a third lane south from Coastal Gateway Boulevard to Fort Morgan Road which includes a third lane south on the Holmes Bridge and an improved intersection at 20th Street.  By adding this third lane, we remove any pedestrian capacity on the bridge, therefore, we receive the funds to build a separate pedestrian and bicycle bridge connection across the Intracoastal from 2nd Street at LuLu's to 2nd Street at Tacky Jack's and the Brewery.  All east/west roadway connections to Highway 59 are also improved in this project.  We have very few options now or ever to build new roads in Gulf Shores due to existing development and wetlands, so a focus on growth management is vital or the traffic will only get worse. We have focused on education and medical improvements to enhance the low-density growth of families and retirees, continuing this thought process is the only way to preserve our existing quality of life.

What makes you stand out from other candidates?

In my 12 years as your mayor, we have created significant personal and professional relationships in Washington, Montgomery and Bay Minette that are absolutely necessary to guide this city forward.  Dealing with the Great Recession of 2008/2009 required a high degree of business experience, which this council clearly possesses.  We established policies to adjust expenses and protect revenue which was the only way to assure the financial stability of our city.  The BP disaster was another leadership challenge that put me in D.C. twice to testify at congressional hearings representing all of impacted Alabama in the financial settlements with BP.  I continue to be one of 10 leaders to sit on the RESTORE council which is responsible for distributing the $750 million allocated to Mobile and Baldwin counties.  During my tenure as mayor, my relationship with Governors Riley, Bentley, and Ivey has allowed me access to understand any and all opportunities that are available and the processes required to pursue them.

What is the one major issue you plan to address?

Growth management is the most overwhelming challenge we face.  It requires the legal understanding of complex planning and zoning details.  When a property is zoned, it has certain entitlements that become legal rights; therefore, when a property has certain “allowed by right” designations, the owner is legally entitled to build that product. We recently had an issue exactly like this and it was a development no one wanted to see built, with that product, in that location.  Understandably the neighboring owners wanted us to deny the building permit, which we could not legally do. To avoid this in the future we have already begun reviewing current zoning entitlements in certain zoning districts BEFORE applications for development are received.  We are working within the legal requirements to adjust entitlements where needed.

Do you feel residents and their quality of life are prioritized over tourists? If no, what would you do to put residents first?

Our residents are and should be our primary concern in all decisions. The residents of Gulf Shores are a wonderfully diverse group ranging from young couples starting a family, to families with grown children working every day to pay the bills and keep their businesses open, to older couples wanting a comfortable calm retirement.  Keeping all residents’ concerns and desires requires achieving an appropriate balance.  All cities have business and industry conflicts and ours is no different.  Tourism is our industry which provides the needed jobs to the community and the revenue necessary for the city to operate and provide all services needed throughout the city and maintain reserves necessary to recover from our annual storm threats. Our 2021 budget is approaching $55 million and to achieve our goal of 70% of budget held in reserves is close to $40 million.  Thanks to the strong leadership of our Finance Committee, chaired by Jason Dyken, and Cindy King and the Finance Department we have achieved that for the last three years and it is included in our 2021 budget.  This unique strategy has raised our bond rating to AA+ which allows us to borrow monies at a greatly preferred rate and establishes us as a well-managed and financially stable city.  

Is there anything I have not asked that you want to add?

Running this city is not only the mayor's job, a diverse and capable council and staff are absolutely required.  We created Vision 2025, along with multiple citizen input meetings, to direct us to a collective goal for our city.  With existing council and staff working diligently, we are well underway with all of the five major goals that were selected.  My ask is that you consider the "proven results" of this existing team and keep this council together as we work with you to create Vision 2035.

Dan Hayes

Challenger

What would you do in your first 90 days if elected?

This time would consist of meeting with all of the department heads and find out what the status is of the ongoing projects throughout the city. This is the first step in creating priorities that are needed to efficiently utilize resources and keep the community advised of our current and upcoming projects. I also intend to create a true citizens advisory board. A sounding board that will give the people of Orange Beach a true voice and a say in the way the city does business. People should have a say in the way their money is being spent.

Some people in the community say that we have traffic problems. What do you think? How would you mitigate those concerns or change the situation?

Of course, we have traffic problems. You can’t move over a million people around the island every summer and not have congestion. I would like to develop a productive working relationship with ALDOT and reexplore the plan for a raised road down the existing Powerline Road. I would also like to work on a bypass road that would start at Pep Boys and exit south of McDonald’s with access to the Commons shopping center. This would relieve a lot of traffic at Canal and Highway 161 and make the shopping area there much more accessible.  I would like to explore the possibility of a city trolly service and operate it like the shuttles during the Hang Out festival. Have designated stops in front of condos, restaurants and attractions. I think people would like not having to get in their car to go out and it would relieve some of the traffic.

What makes you stand out from other candidates?

I am a regular guy that doesn’t seek attention for my accomplishments. I believe in having a transparent agenda and respecting the voice of the of the people I serve. I am not the type that people will be intimidated by and they can feel comfortable coming in and talking to me. I will listen and respond to all inquiries honestly and in a timely manner.

What is the one major issue you plan to address?

Infrastructure is a big problem in this city. We are on an island with major drainage issues. Clogged culverts with standing water are a common occurrence and it is obvious that there is insufficient water runoff throughout the city. With the building of the golf cart paths and sidewalks, these issues can begin to be addressed and corrected. The foul smell along Canal Road from standing water along with the sewer lift stations presents a breeding ground for mosquitoes as well as a potential health risk. This has persisted for far too long and I will make it a priority to find a solution. There are many other issues that will have to be addressed in a thoughtful and determined way.

Do you feel the current planning and zoning regulations are in the best interest of the property owners? What changes would you make?

Residents frustration with the development of our city has continued to grow. I understand that we have limited options in addressing this issue, but this is a topic to tackle with citizen input and a competent legal team. I value our visitors and I will seek to find a way to provide our permanent residents continued quality of life as our city experiences year over year explosive growth.

Do you feel residents and their quality of life are prioritized over tourists? If no, what would you do to put residents first?

Not a chance! As the city grows, city services should grow with it. The citizens of Orange Beach are prohibited from even using the fields at the sports plex that they paid for. The city should sponsor sports programs for the youth and adults of the city, as well as make all the city facilities free of charge for the residents. (pool, tennis courts, gym, future splash pad). As our revenue continue to increase, I believe that the citizens of Orange Beach should reap the benefits.

Is there anything I have not asked that you want to add?

I would also like to add that we should take better care of our city employees. Without their hard work, our city would not be the clean and safe place that it is now. They should be thanked and rewarded with a compensation worthy of their skills. Their benefits were reduced when the recession hit us, and they have never been restored. This is unacceptable and needs to be addressed for us to keep our staff.

I love this city and its people. I am out working among them every day and truly want what is best for all of us today and in the future. I will restore the ability of the citizens to be heard and their opinions respected. I will be proud to be your mayor.

Tony Kennon

Incumbent

What would you do in your first 90 days if elected?

On behalf of the citizens who put their trust in me for another four years, I promise to continue the progress that myself and the City Council have made possible over the past 12 years. In the first 90 days, the long-term project to widen Canal Road to five lanes will be complete and will be a welcomed traffic flow improvement in the city. I'll be watching the finishing touches be put on the Orange Beach Performing Arts Center, which was made possible through a partnership between the city and Baldwin County Board of Education. I’ll continue to help guide the completion of other capital improvement projects, including the new 24/7 Adult Fitness Center, which will also be well on its way to being completed on the Recreation Center campus. Once that is complete, it will free up some much-needed space in the main Rec Center building for our Expect Excellence after-school program.

I will be supporting the principals, staff and students at the new Orange Beach Middle and High School, which will be in its inaugural year in the permanent facility. I’d look forward to carrying on the city’s Expect Excellence program that provides advancement for all children as they work toward middle and high school achievement.

Within the first 90 days, I’d also look forward to seeing the final plans approved for the three-laning of Canal Road East, between Doc's Seafood and Wilson Boulevard, as well as the first phase of adding multimodal paths along the same stretch of Canal Road to improve safe golf cart movement along city streets. Half of this project's cost is covered by RESTORE Act funds.

There are many quality of life improvements in the works throughout the city and one of the main reasons for me running for office again was to see the projects through. I want to stand with the City Council and complete what we started for the betterment of Orange Beach and future generations of our city.

Some people in the community say that we have traffic problems. What do you think? How would you mitigate those concerns or change the situation?

Being a major tourism destination with over 6.5 million visitors coming to Baldwin County annually - most of them to the beach, traffic is an ever present challenge but I feel we, as the City Council, have made great strides in improving our traffic flow. As mentioned in the previous answer, having five lanes on Canal Road between the Beach Express toll bridge and Alabama 161, has been a major achievement for the city. Much of the thanks goes to ALDOT and Director Cooper for their support and understanding our unique challenges of being a city of 6,000 but having anywhere from 30,000 to over 100,000 people in town depending on the time of year. ALDOT has also worked with the city to improve traffic flow on the beach highway, greatly reducing accidents and improving pedestrian safety. We know now that the traffic pinch point is at the toll booth/bridge. Hopefully, this will be rectified with a new bridge span over the Intracoastal Waterway in the next three years that will improve traffic flow by adding two more lanes. In the next 18 months, we expect to see more toll lanes and more Freedom Pass lanes at the toll booth as well.

 What makes you stand out from other candidates?

I think my track record in good times and in times of crisis, together with that of the sitting City Council, speaks for itself. Through town hall meetings and opening the floor at each council meeting for public comments, we have proven that we are listening to our residents. We have vastly improved customer service to our residents, tourists and everything in between. I have been and will continue to be accessible and available for any need. My cellphone number is 251-979-7881. Please call me anytime for anything. The mayor and council understand the need to improve traffic flow and invest in infrastructure improvements but at the same time also give back to the residents through quality of life improvements, such as the new 24/7 Adult Fitness Facility, tennis court renovations, cleanliness of the city, additional sidewalks, upcoming improvements at our Kids Park, and many more quality of life amenities.

What is the one major issue you plan to address?

I do not have one major issue; I have a dozen major issues and all are equal in their need to be addressed. One that stands out is our efforts to secure a residents-only beach. We’re also continuing to expand health care opportunities for our residents, provide the best public safety possible, protect our environment, maintain a safe and clean city, and add multimodal pathways/sidewalks, among other major issues. I have always used the term "Disney Effect" when referring to our clean and manicured rights of way and public properties. This investment in resources has proven its worth for residents and visitors alike. We want Orange Beach to always be a special place and most cities and counties cannot carry this out, but we can.

Do you feel the current planning and zoning regulations are in the best interest of the property owners? What changes would you make?

I think we have done a lot as a council to protect property owners, such as limiting short-term vacation rentals in traditional residential neighborhoods and never up zoning property to a higher density. As for making changes, I see us holding the line on keeping the coastal feel of our city and not becoming a cookie cutter town with no character or personality. I see our city as “Mayberry on the Beach.” I hope to see additional road improvements in a few years, such as the Canal Road bypass to Alabama 161 that will allow for the creation of a downtown atmosphere in the area around the current Canal Road/161 intersection.

Do you feel residents and their quality of life are prioritized over tourists? If no, what would you do to put residents first?

I live here and I am raising a family here, so I am invested in our community. Prioritizing quality of life issues has been the goal of the mayor and City Council all along. We know our residents make sacrifices every summer when tourists are in town and to balance that we continue to invest in many quality of life improvements for our residents, such as our recreation facilities, parks and our Coastal Arts Center to name a few. Keeping taxes and fees low for our residents has proven to be our primary philosophy. We strive to be “family friendly” and our actions carry that goal while protecting our community.

We also know health care is such a critical part of everyone's life. Our city is now providing exceptional emergency service to the doorstep of a hospital with our new ambulances and partnership with USA Health, and soon a freestanding Emergency Department near the airport will add to that critical service. We are saving lives and raising the bar for what a city can do for its citizens. I want everything we do to reflect our motto “Life is Better Here.”

Is there anything I have not asked that you want to add?

Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions. I hope I have proven myself to be a public servant, not a politician, and will be forever grateful and humbled by the opportunity to serve the folks of Orange Beach for another four years.