Carl Cole is the only new face in the Decatur mayoral race, bringing both a fresh perspective and inexperience.
The lack of in-depth knowledge about city government is not likely to be a significant hurdle for Cole. He has a Juris Doctor, a master's in law and is a successful business lawyer. He speaks intelligently about issues facing the city, but like anyone new to the job he will face a learning curve.
Cole has a populist streak, and his campaign has focused on an April 2010 referendum in which Decatur residents voted to change the form of government. City officials — for reasons that are in dispute, but with the blessings of the city attorney — chose to reject the referendum.
Cole has an innovative solution to the mess city officials created. He figures — probably correctly — that the main point of the referendum was to relegate the mayor to part-time status and require the City Council to hire a full-time city manager. Cole would accept only half the mayoral salary and push the City Council to hire a city manager. If the council does not cooperate, he said he will be a full-time mayor at half pay.
The ironic downside to his campaign promise is that Cole would probably make an effective full-time mayor, lessening the popular desire for a city manager. He insists that city government cannot simply ignore the referendum, and he makes a good case for the long-term benefits of a city manager.
Whether as a part-time or full-time mayor, Cole has a specific and attainable vision for Decatur. He recognizes the central role Decatur City Schools has in the city's economic development, and has ideas on ways the city can help the school system.
Cole views the recently opened Alabama Center for the Arts as having tremendous potential for transforming Decatur's reputation, provided the city encourages complementary development and aggressively markets the facility. He believes it is a critical step in making the city attractive to young professionals, which all the candidates recognize as a Decatur shortfall. At 37, Cole seems to have a better grasp than his opponents of how to attract this demographic.
He is realistic about the need for abatements to attract industry, but wants to focus incentives on diversifying the city's economic base and encouraging more high-tech companies to locate here.
Even the most competent mayor will be ineffective if he or she cannot get along with the City Council, an issue that has dogged all of Cole's opponents. Cole is entirely untested on this, but he has an easy-going approach that seeks out common ground.
Cole would change the direction of city government. Change brings risk, but also opportunity.
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