Mayor says farewellPublished 4:09pm Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Though Mayor Barbara Young will be leaving office in less than a week, knickknacks from her time as mayor still adorn her office.
Visitors may notice a painting of a beach scene with a palm tree and umbrella, a wooden relief that reads, “Relax – God is in charge,” or the paddle leaning against the wall reading in Sharpie, “Stay in budget or else” – the paddle being a nod to Young’s lifelong profession in education.
Young said since she was elected in 2004, she has striven to update the city in multiple areas.
“The duty of the city is to provide services for the citizens in the most efficient manner and as inexpensively as possible,” Young said. “The government can’t be all things to all people. But what we can do is try to provide services in the best way that we can.”
Young highlighted three of what she sees as some of the greatest accomplishments the city has made in her time as mayor – increasing the city’s cleanliness, strengthening the animal control ordinance and bettering the city’s technology.
“When I came into office, people said to me, ‘Barbara, please clean up the city,’” Young said. “So I employed a code enforcer who was responsible for getting rid of our dilapidated buildings … as well as being responsible for property maintenance.”
Young said the code enforcer has worked to rid the city of having debris in yards – such as too-tall grass or out of control weeds, or old, unused cars on blocks. The city has also been rid of around 120 dilapidated buildings under Young’s leadership.
“We burn down dilapidated buildings only if we can use them to give our police and fire departments practice,” Young said. “We don’t just do it for the heck of it.”
Young also said the city employs two full-time personnel to handle litter control.
“We had a bad litter problem, which this city has always had,” Young said. “It was something we needed to pay a little more attention to. They spend five days a week and eight hours a day picking up trash.”
Young said though changes to the animal control ordinance began during her years on the city council, major changes have been put into place in the last year.
“They have expanded their schedule and are doing some work on the weekends now,” Young said. “And while the current ordinance is for the protection of people, we expanded it a little more to include the protection of animals.”
The city now no longer allows chaining of dogs and charges pet owners with making sure animals have proper water, food and shelter.
Young also said she has worked with all departments the past eight years to bring the city into the 21st century.
“I can only take credit for the fact that I helped push it and see that we had financing for the technology,” Young said. “When I came on board, we were very much behind technologically.”
Young said the city installed networking to connect the city’s several buildings and also added an in-house IT position as the city’s technological needs grew.
“We also added our geographical informational services (GIS), which makes us more efficient in all of our operations,” Young said. “We now know where every line, every manhole, every fire hydrant, every street sign is. With all of our infrastructure pieces, we can now go online and know where they are and what condition they’re in.”
Young said she also worked with the council to implement long-term plans for refurbishment of the city’s streets and water systems, which in some areas had fallen into disrepair.
Other accomplishments Young mentioned included renovations at the T.C. Russell Airport, acquiring the old Russell pool, expanding programs in the parks and recreation department, beautifying the city through landscaping efforts, making improvements at Lakewinds Golf Course, making improvements to the city’s webpage, having higher levels of training in both the police and fire departments, and integrating fleet management in order to cut down on redundant equipment within the city.
Young said her favorite part of serving as mayor has been the city’s “great employees.”
“I have a very personal relationship with the city employees,” Young said. “I’ve seen them progress, and I see them take real pride in their departments and their work. I think the respect each department has for the other and how they all work together has been amazing. They all have different jobs, and they’re all important.”
One of the hardest parts of the job, Young said, was learning that she could never satisfy all of the citizens.
“I love this town, and so many of these people I’ve had in school when I was a teacher or a principal,” Young said. “When they come in and ask for certain services that we can’t do by law, that’s the hardest thing.”
Despite the hard times, Young said she had enjoyed the position.
“I have been so blessed to be able to do this,” Young said. “There’s no way I can thank the people of Alexander City enough, even those who complained because sometimes those complaints turned into me sitting down and thinking about what to change.”
Young said she’ll also miss her assistant, Laura Bell Oliver, who worked with her during both her time in education and her time as mayor – more than 30 years. Oliver became Young’s secretary at Russell School from 1970 to 1972 and then worked with Young until she retired from Radney School in 1989.
Young said when she was elected, she could think of no better person to serve as her secretary.
“I realized retirement wasn’t for me, so I called Laura Bell and said, ‘Do you want to come out of retirement?’” Young said. “She said, ‘Yeah, where are we going?’ We walked into this building in October 2004 and put it all together. I’ll be really lost without her.”
Young said her advice to Mayor-Elect Charles Shaw was “don’t come in here unless you love the people.”
“And of course he does,” Young added. “I told him to be objective, open and honest with the employees as well as the citizens. They may not be pleased with you, but you don’t ever need to have somebody say you’re not honest. Honesty and transparency are so important in this job. You also have to rise above a lot of criticism that’s unjust. You know what you’ve done and whether you’re right or wrong.”
During her retirement, Young said she plans to “take a trip or two” and then volunteer where needed.
“I’m hopefully going to work with some economic development … and maybe answer phones over at Parks and Recreation,” Young said. “I’ll pick out what I want to do and the environment I want to be in. I just like to be around active, happy people.”