Keeping up with city government: Highlights from fall 2019 include election, groundbreakings, partnerships

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Keeping up with city government: Highlights from fall 2019 include election, groundbreakings, partnerships

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

CW / Joe Will Field

Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW and Zach Johnson | @ZachJohnsonCW

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Students make up nearly 40% of Tuscaloosa’s population, but as impermanent residents, city politics might be easy to ignore. With 2019 already behind us, here is a look at the highs and lows of local news in the last few months – and the impact they had on students.

AUGUST: 2020 BUDGET PROPOSED BY MAYOR

As students made their way back to campus, the City Council was already well into their 2019 year. In late August, Mayor Walt Maddox proposed his 2020 budget, of which Tuscaloosa residents and students will soon feel the effects.

Public safety was the major issue addressed by Maddox and his team of advisors when constructing the budget, with a large portion of funds going to expanding and modernizing the police force. It was here that Maddox also confirmed the increase in sales tax, effective on the first day of the following month. The cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport both saw a 1% increase, resulting in a total sales tax of 10%. 

SEPTEMBER: REMEMBERING OFFICER DORNELL COUSETTE

It was with great sadness that the people of Tuscaloosa, and Alabamians everywhere, spent the end of last September mourning the death of Officer Dornell Cousette. Killed in the line of duty, Officer Cousette served Tuscaloosa Police Department for over 13 years. 

In his honor, Bryant-Denny Stadium lit up blue, and students and community members gathered in front of his former patrol car during a candlelight vigil.

A GoFundMe quickly spread on social media, and contributors raised $20,000 for Cousette’s family. The 40-year-old left behind two daughters and a fiancee. 

OCTOBER: BUSBY JOINS CITY COUNCIL

In a special election, residents of Tuscaloosa’s District 4 elected Lee Busby as their city councilman in the first election since former councilman Matt Calderone resigned in July. The election also highlighted a decline in student voters, following a move to redistrict years prior. 

Busby, a retired Marine Corps colonel and Tuscaloosa native, ran on a platform of putting historic neighborhoods first and addressing what he called Tuscaloosa’s “growing pains.” 

“I’m very happy for the people who live in the district,” Busby said on the night of his election win. “I’m also mindful … that the challenge of this district is balance, because you have a lot of competing interests and the councilman’s job is to balance things and do the right thing. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Other candidates in the District 4 council race included Frank Fleming, the owner of Heat Pizza Bar, and local community activist John Earl

The District 4 seat will be up for grabs again in 2021. 

NOVEMBER: SWJ BREAKS GROUND, HIGH TIDE SHUTS DOWN

In November, German engineering firm SWJ Technologies broke ground on its new Alberta Technology Center on University Boulevard. 

“What we intend to do … is to actually increase the services that we do already provide to our customers, but we’d like to expand,” SWJ Technologies CEO Wolfgang Kneer told the Tuscaloosa City Council. “There will be new services such as measurement technologies, 3D rapid prototyping, advanced tool, die and fixture assembly, and a lot of engineering work that comes about.”

District 5’s Kip Tyner said the groundbreaking was critical.

“This is probably the biggest news in the history of this area,” Tyner said. “This is a very tradition-rich part of Tuscaloosa. Once, in its heyday, it’s where everyone wanted to work and wanted to live. [We] went through some rough times and have been waiting for a day like this. To think we’re home to an international German corporation that’ll bring hundreds of new jobs … It’s just thrilling.”

November also saw the Tuscaloosa City Council revoke the business license of the High Tide Bar following a shooting incident and a number of other charges, including overcrowding and selling alcohol to a minor. 

DECEMBER: BICENTENNIAL STATUE UNVEILED

2019 was full of bicentennial celebrations in the city of Tuscaloosa. On Dec. 13, the city revealed a new statue at the Park at Manderson Landing across from UA residential buildings off Jack Warner Parkway.

Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, tops the tall arched structure that sits right before the Black Warrior River. This is the same figure who appears on the University’s seal. Milestones of Tuscaloosa’s history, etched into the walkway leading into the sculpture, appeared in the shape of the winding river. 

The statue was created by Caleb O’Connor, a Hawaii native who has resided in Tuscaloosa for the last few years while working on pieces for the Federal Courthouse downtown. The sculpture stands 30 feet tall, and the spotlights surrounding the artwork allow the bronze figure to cast a golden glow at night, with a slender shadow cast over the foot of the park. 

JANUARY 2020: MAYOR KICKS OFF THE YEAR WITH NEW SCHOLARSHIP INITIATIVE

Earlier this month, Mayor Walt Maddox announced a new part of his Elevate Tuscaloosa program. Beginning in 2021, local high school seniors will be eligible to complete six free college credit hours through multiple accredited Alabama universities.

In order to qualify, students must be attending a Tuscaloosa City Schools (TCS) high school, live in a TCS residential attendance zone, be classified as a senior and obtain a certain grade point average.

“I want every child in the City of Tuscaloosa to have an opportunity, if they so desire, for a college education,” Maddox said in a press release issued by Tuscaloosa City Schools. “We couldn’t do this without our higher education community.”

Along with The University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College and Stillman College are also offering courses. This program aims to make college a little more affordable by cutting down the number of courses a student will have to take post-graduation. 

To keep up with everything the City government is doing this year, follow us on Twitter and check out the #CityHallCW tag.