By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
MONTGOMERY — Gardendale officials and local members of the Alabama legislature are working on a plan they hope will bring both sides of the Mt. Olive annexation debate together — but they can’t say what their plan is just yet.
Mayor Othell Phillips and city council president Stan Hogeland met with Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale), Rep. Allen Farley (R-McCalla) and Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris) last week in Beason’s office at the State House, just as the latest legislative session was getting under way.
The primary purpose of the meeting was for Phillips and Hogeland to convince the lawmakers that the city has the financial resources to provide police and fire protection, as well as street repair and other city services, to the large portion of unincorporated Mt. Olive that is proposed to be annexed into the city.
Once that task was done to the satisfaction of the legislators, the group then came up with a plan that would try to provide some sort of compromise that would please as many people as possible — or in Beason’s words, displease as few as necessary.
“They brought their ideas down, and we brought in lawyers from the Legislative Reference Service,” Beason said. “We came up with an idea that I’m having checked out [by LRS] to see if it can be done at all. I told them I wouldn’t discuss it until I found out if it could happen.”
The LRS staff, which serves the legislature by putting all proposed bills into proper legal form, is continuing to give that compromise the once-over. Phillips said it would likely take another week.
Beason did say that the plan is different than what is being proposed by MO Matters, the group that wants to annex the part of Mt. Olive in which school children are zoned to attend Bragg Middle and Gardendale High schools.
“I think it will be more palatable for all sides,” Beason said. “But again, there’s always going to be some people who are upset.”
Currently, the community is deeply divided over the partial annexation, with those outside the so-called “red box” — the Bragg/GHS zone — generally opposed to the plan for a wide range of reasons. Much of the opposition stems from the possible fate of the Mt. Olive Fire District, which would have much of its service area, and therefore its dues-paying base, taken away.
The two sides met with Beason, Farley, Treadaway and city leaders in sometimes-contentious opposing forums two weeks ago.
When the compromise is given an OK by the LRS, it then has to go through the Jefferson County Delegation for approval before it reaches the floor of the House and Senate. In addition, a rule requires that local legislation out of that delegation must be advertised for four weeks, and any changes made during that time restarts the clock on the four weeks.
That limitation means that any bill, whether it be a compromise or the original plan for a vote of residents in the “red box,” faces a battle against the clock to get the issue approved before the end of the legislative session in April.
Meanwhile, even as Beason, Phillips and Hogeland work on their compromise, Mt. Olive Fire District president Dwight Sloan sent an email to all members of the county delegation in opposition to anything the group proposes.
“This process of going to the State Legislature for an annexation bill undermines the current laws available to those who wish to pursue annexation through the local probate court system. It continues to appear that there is some type hidden agenda by Sen. Scott Beason for the process that is a local issue to be diverted to Montgomery,” Sloan wrote.