North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

November 7, 2013

Breaking Away: Debate over property-tax vote migrates from face-to-face to Facebook

By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News

GARDENDALE — The issue of creating a new Gardendale city school system, and how that new system would be financed, has generated intense debate among residents.

But unlike past years, where discussions would likely be held at a barber shop or over a backyard fence, the forum of choice is now online social media — especially Facebook.

Much of the communication done by those favoring the new system and the increased property tax, such as FOCUS Gardendale, has come through Facebook. Mayor Othell Phillips and members of the City Council have also used the service extensively to promote the system and the tax referendum.

Additionally, the group MO Matters — residents of Mt. Olive who support annexation into Gardendale if the new school system comes to fruition — was also organized largely around a Facebook page.

In recent days, opponents of the tax increase — particularly businessman Jerome Cantrell, who has paid for advertising against the tax increase largely by himself — have also taken to the site to argue their case.

The North Jefferson News reached out to viewers of its Facebook page and Twitter feed, asking people to weigh in on how they stood on the system and the tax vote. Most responded that they support both, though a few sided with Cantrell in opposing the tax while supporting the new system.

But reaction on the NJN Facebook page is nothing compared to that conducted in a comment thread started Sunday by someone whose name is more closely associated with Fultondale.

John Douglas, the owner of Home Field Sports Grill who has battled Fultondale officials over rebuilding the tornado-battered business, is no stranger to social media. His discussion started with a simple request: “If you’re planning on voting, please post ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ and a short comment. Let’s be civil, please.” (Douglas added that he had no position on the issue.)

As of midday Tuesday, a little more than 48 hours after Douglas started the conversation, more than 600 comments had been posted.

Among those joining the fray were Phillips, councilman Blake Guinn, businessman Dennis Gamble (who’s allied with Cantrell against the tax), supporter David Crockett and a host of others.

Pamela Honeycutt, who supports the tax, posted: “This is about education and I want the best for my grandson and all the other children in Gardendale. I would vote yes if my grandson didn’t go to Gardendale. I also think it will help our property value. Gardendale needs to jump into the current century.”

But Gardendale resident and tax opponent Thomas Bills responded, “Political games being played. They are telling citizens it is only to cost about $300 a year in extra property taxes…. Tax the businesses and commercial property owners in Gardendale, what are they going to do? Raise prices on all goods sold to the bottom feeder consumers, you and me.”

The discussion started by Douglas is just one of dozens that have taken place on Facebook in the past couple of weeks.