Mayors summit

I wanted to take a quick moment to go through the prison information. Here is a timeline and correct information.

The Department of Corrections for the State of Alabama has been under the gun by the Department of Justice for the number of correctional officers per inmate and the overcrowding in the Alabama prisons. Alabama prisons are at 170% capacity. The state is trying to not become like California and be forced to release prisoners to get the numbers down. It is already hard enough to put them in prison now with the overcrowding.

Shortly after I was elected mayor I was contacted by Elmore County Industrial Development Authority (ECIDA) which is mostly funded by the Elmore County Commission. The executive director asked if the city had 216 acres in our industrial park available. I then called Rick Dorley with the IDB and asked if we had that kind of acreage available. Keep in mind I have no idea what this would be for at this time. Dorley responded with, no we do not have that much land available.

Through the next year, I received calls from ECIDA asking questions about our water, sewer and gas systems — if we could handle 200 million gallons of water, 100 million gallons of sewer and 30 million BTUs of gas. I said yes to all but the sewer. I told them it would be 2021 before the new sewer plant would be in operation to handle additional loads like that size. Keep in mind I still do not know what the project is at this point.

Then I was asked by ECIDA to enter into a non-disclosure agreement before we went any further. This is common practice in the world of economic development. After agreement to enter the NDA, I met two representatives from CoreCivic and was made aware they were along with other companies looking at land that meets a certain criteria all over the State of Alabama to build three prisons. The initial shock of prison floored me. I have learned a long time ago you do not bite the hand that feeds. If the State of Alabama who has helped our city with over $4 million worth of grants wants me to work with a company to help them do a study on a piece of property then I am going to do it.

At this time, I was concerned and started doing my research. ECIDA asked if I wanted to visit some of these super prisons built by CoreCivic. I talked it over with the engineer who the city uses and he said he needed to see the infrastructure and how he would have to design it to tie in. I personally wanted to see it and also talk to mayors and other city officials to see what the impacts would be. The city officials I spoke with said at first people were scared and pushing against it. Now years later the economy has had a positive impact and people who work for the prison system are great members of their community — coach baseball, members of civic organizations, etc.

Now I only visited three towns in Arizona. So, I understand other towns across the USA could have a different opinion. I never once spent any money to buy these people food or entertainment. The city paid for my plane ticket, the engineer's plane ticket and some meals while we were in Arizona. ECIDA paid for the hotel rooms for the week. CoreCivic to this day has never paid for a meal or anything else for me or my staff. The city did have to pay CDG Engineering for the time spent in Arizona and the time to design the infrastructure to the proposed site. This altogether is around $10,000.

I was made aware the primary site was on the other side of the county beside Draper prison but the state wanted multiple sites to choose from. I figured if CoreCivic was going to use a couple million dollars to study a site in our utility district we most likely would not get but I could use that information later with the infrastructure design to help promote the site with the Department of Commerce to get in the rotation for the next big project to come to Alabama.

Later the ECIDA executive director resigned. I knew the county had been working with CoreCivic on the other side of the county so I decided to let them know that we had a site too. At this point, I was asked to meet with a few county commissioners and other members in Elmore County. At this meeting, I was made to feel I needed to push back on this project because all the workforce is on that side of the county. By the way, over 700 jobs in Elmore County are DOC. The county told me this would hurt the water department on that side of the county if those prisons closed. I said well it sure would help my water, sewer and gas if it comes to our location. I told them I would not push back and we needed to just let this thing play out because the end goal is to keep the jobs from moving out of the county altogether.

I have only done what I am paid to do as the superintendent of utilities for the City of Tallassee. The county commission has an ax to grind because I see them for what they are. For the past three years, they have tried to overlook us and throw us a few crumbs while the meat and potatoes go to their side where their families own businesses and will profit from the growth. I have been to many Elmore County Commission meetings and witnessed this happening. How many times have any of them decided to come to our city council meetings? The answer is zero. They are trying to paint this picture to scare you about a prison to turn you against me and make sure it ends up over on the other side of the county where they will reap the rewards. I said from Day 1 I was a team player but this is getting ridiculous. They have this town in an uproar on something that odds are we will not even get.

Have you ever heard of the golden rule in the financial world? It's a simple concept: He who has the gold rules. And you might wonder, where is this going? Well from a small-town aspect, it's a little something like this: The traditional/generational families that own the majority of the properties and or businesses as well own the gold and they rule. They love the small-town atmosphere; they oppose growth; they have prospered financially. They are on all the bank boards, BOEs, etc. — they run the town. They convince people growth is bad; they have their elected officials and life is good. However, there are those who really want growth — more shopping places, more services, etc. They feel competition is a good thing — competitive prices, more choices for products and services. But alas, they have no financial power or political clout and the vicious cycle repeats itself. Eventually the town withers on the vine; downtown is a ghost town, places of business boarded up, slumlords thrive, nobody does a thing about it because what good is it going to do to fuss about it anyway? They own the town in practically in every aspect. People have wised up over the generations; they have moved away to places with an opportunity for them as well. They leave behind a town they once loved and thought had potential. That is what kills small towns — not prisons, not industry, not a competition, but a greedy self-serving few who have lived by the financial golden rule. They look around and everything is gone and it's all because of them — self-inflicted wounds. How do you end this? How do you break through? How do you get representation to be brave for these people who want to see a town grow? Two separate golden rules — one to live by and one to die by.

Johnny Hammock

Mayor of Tallassee