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    Russell faces council critics in District 4 race

    BY Martin Burkey
    08/20/2004
    by Martin Burkey on 8/20/04.

    Aiming for a second term, Ronny Russell faces Decatur City Council critics Linda Kubina and Rodney Garrett in District 4.

    Russell, 39, is the accounts manager for Madison Mobile Storage.

    Kubina, 50, helps manage her family's Kalea II apartment complex and other rental properties.

    Garrett, 39, is a construction and maintenance worker at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant.

    Ronny Russell

    Russell said he likes to let voters know he was born and raised in District 4 in the house in which he still lives. Russell said he has learned a lot in his first council term and has tried to start working on the various infrastructure issues common across his established, older district. He recently won the endorsement of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce Prosperity PAC.

    Russell, who voted for the 2001 penny sales-tax increase, has reservations about immediately reducing it, although he supports working toward it.

    "I support reducing the sales tax, not by decimating the budget, but by working with a council that will sit down and develop a budget based on revenues with the tax reduced," he said. "I don't think going in and reducing it after it has been effect for 2½ years is feasible."

    Russell said he believes the council should work toward increasing revenues by increasing river-related tourism, improving Point Mallard Park, and promoting development of Decatur's Interstate 65 exit at Alabama 20 and other commercial property. He favors continued use of tax abatements to attract and grow industry.

    He noted that he's open to development of Point Mallard, but doesn't want to privatize the entire park. He said he's against spending money to study privatization or the possibility of a city marina on part of the land. He said the park doesn't lose money if its economic impact on tourism is included.

    Russell said the city needs to revise its sign ordinance to be more workable while maintaining safety by seeking more input from the business community.

    He supports a survey or feedback on complaints about the Business Department, but noted that regulatory agencies aren't popular. The council needs some way of learning specific issues and problems, he said.

    Linda Kubina

    Kubina tells voters she is more of a human rights activist than a politician. She became one of the council's regular critics for the way she said police handled the Karen Tipton murder case.

    A Decatur resident for 40 years, she said residents aren't getting the proper return on their investment for the 9 percent sales-tax rate.

    Kubina won the endorsement of mayoral candidate Terry Smith, president of the local Citizens for a Sound Economy group dedicated to eliminating the 2001 penny sales-tax increase. However, she noted, she is not a member of the group.

    She favors returning to the 8 percent sales-tax rate and proposes that the elimination of "giveaway programs" would mostly take care of any shortfall. She considers the city's support of the Community Free Health Clinic of Decatur-Morgan County a worthy cause. But she said she would privatize Point Mallard, eliminate funding for the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and better use the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts to become self-sufficient.

    Kubina said she supports continued allocation of one penny of the local sales-tax rate for city schools, but opposes the more than $600,000 in additional funding from the council in the past year. The school system should support those programs, she said.

    "I'm one of these basic people," she said. "When I grew up, our parents helped us read and write. If we continued to struggle, they hired a tutor. People have grown too dependent on the government, the taxpayer."

    Kubina said she also is against both giving city employees pay raises and picking up additional health insurance costs at the expense of the council's promise to return part of the 2001 sales-tax increase. She favors setting city employee compensation according to pay and benefit increases for other local workers in private industry.

    Kubina said tax abatements to industry are "a legalized form of bribery and extortion," but endorsed their use to compete with other communities that offer similar tax breaks as long as they're cost-effective. She said Decatur has "the most crippling, stringent sign ordinances known to man" and needs to drastically revise it.

    Rodney Garrett

    Garrett has been a periodic council critic and a previous candidate for the District 4 seat. He said he wants to rein in "reckless spending." He proposes working with local business to develop a revised sign ordinance. He supports continued use of tax abatements for new and expanding industry, but wants to tie abatements to the number of jobs going to Decatur residents.

    He's also for reducing the sales-tax rate and suggested tapping the local alcohol tax reserve to cover the cost of rescinding the penny.

    "I don't know all the numbers right now," he said. "But I feel there should never have been a tax increase. We have a lot of money we just waste."

    He cites as examples the council's decision to pay to renovate leased space in the old Social Security office instead of requiring the owner to renovate it and purchasing a building for the Decatur Business Incubator when it owned buildings it could renovate for that purpose.

    "We've got to cut the debt," he said. "Every department's probably got 3 to 4 percent fat."

    Garrett suggested that the council ask city employees to forego raises for two years following a tax-rate cut and then give them an 8 percent to 10 percent raise the third year.

    "If you ask somebody nice, you'd be surprised what you get," he said.

    Garrett said he wants to hold the school board accountable for spending city funding efficiently and ensure that the system meets specific classroom needs. He's for lowering classroom sizes, increasing the standards of neighborhood schools to the level of magnum schools, and upgrading parks and recreational ball fields and local sporting facilities.

    The series will end Friday with an article about District 5 City Council candidates Charles Irons, Dale Johnson and Ray Metzger. See decaturdaily.com for all stories in this series, as well as other stories about area municipal elections.

    Ronny Russell (I)

    39

    1707 Iris St. S.W.

    Accounts manager, Madison Mobile Storage

    Married to Tonya, one stepdaughter

    Linda Kubina

    50

    513 Ewell St. S.W.

    Property manager

    Rodney Garrett

    39

    1201 Arbor Ave. S.W.

    Construction/maintenance, Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant

    Married to Debra, two children