The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber sent the following questions to candidates, to help you learn more about the people running for Huntsville City Council District 2. The runoff is October 9. Here are the responses from Frances Akridge:
Q: We all know there is a limited amount of money to meet a large variety of requests the City Council receives. If elected, how would you prioritize the requests for support that come before City Council for consideration?
A: The ways that I will prioritize requests will include:
Q: What would be your top priority if you are elected and how would you address it?
A: My top priority is infrastructure. To truly address the problems we’re experiencing as a result of our rapid growth we must expand our understanding of infrastructure to include urban streetscapes such as bike lanes, greenways, transportation options and investments like LED street lights to improve security. I’ve knocked on thousands of doors across the district. Common complaints include traffic and potholes. It would be easy to stop there but doing so would be the “band aid” solution. My more comprehensive approach will not only address traffic and pothole concerns. It will also promote economic development and quality of life.
Q: One of our greatest strengths is that we have a “small town feel” with mid-size city amenities. Do you agree with that statement? How would you approach your role as it relates to maintaining what is unique/special about Huntsville?
A: Certainly, I agree we have small town feel with mid-size city amenities— as it is built out today. As we spread out and built more subdivisions, that is hard to maintain. The residents often feel disconnected by geography and inadequate personal interaction from their representative. I approach my role to maintain this small town feeling by showing up and connecting people to each other. Frequent and constructive attendance at community events, community meetings, and regular written communication is a must for maintaining a small town feel in our hamlets and neighborhoods. My strategy for improving communication and maintaining a small town feel is to build a network of strong community associations and sharing best practices. I’m already in touch with people who are resurrecting and starting associations with a defined service area, building on the success of the NE Huntsville Civic Association under my watch for the last 3 years. It’s exciting to see all the attention Huntsville is receiving but I want to preserve our small town feel and avoid typical big city problems as we grow.
Q: How do you feel the City of Huntsville and the Huntsville City School System should work together to ensure that our young people receive a quality education?
A: Citizens choose their representatives and expect them to do their jobs with competence. Elected officials have to be respectful of staying in their lane. I support the school board by promoting their efforts and keeping citizens informed of those efforts. It’s also important for neighbors to invest themselves in the schools in a way that matches their gifts and contributes to learning during or after school. We can also expand our definition of “neighbor,” by being intentional about interacting with people outside our socioeconomic group. It’s recommended by many churches and community organizations and it’s easy to get started. There are people at First Baptist Church, at Cornerstone Initiative, at Boys and Girls Club who embrace this mission and will welcome your participation. The more we dedicate ourselves to expanding our definition of neighbor, the more we establish Huntsville as the “Star of the South.”
Q: What specific action or activity do you feel would most positively impact the attraction and retention of young professionals to our community?
A: Recruiting young professionals is as simple as playing to our strengths. Huntsville has a diverse job market with well-paying salaries, an attractive cost of living compared to other cities, and easy access to nearby outdoor activities. To retain talent, it’s important that young people feel invested in their community and to feel invested they need to get out IN the city. By encourage design on an area-wide basis, laying out each space as a collection of physically connected neighborhoods with community centers, sidewalks, greenways, art, and open space the city can encourage that involvement while adding to the identity and solidarity of the area.
Q: What do you feel is our community’s greatest strength, and how do you propose we build on it?
A: Our community is made of a strong fabric of diverse people: racially, economically, and culturally. We can build on that by intentionally facilitating interaction between neighborhoods and celebrating their accomplishments, no matter how small. One way to elevate neighborhood identity and cultural diversity is to encourage collaborative, public art projects across the city.
Q: What do you feel is our community’s greatest weakness, and what is your plan to address it?
A: Our greatest weakness is a sense of isolation. Modern conveniences like cell phones, air conditioning, streaming services, and even our cars are wonderful but they can interfere with our ability to connect in meaningful ways with other people. Considering these challenges when designing and renovating areas of the the city is crucial. We should be encouraging neighborhood interactions by creating walkable, bikeable spaces and public areas where people can gather and interact.
Q: In your decision-making process, how would you balance the needs of working for your district with those of the City of Huntsville as a whole?
A: I am accustomed to mediating situations and weighing priorities to reach a goal for the common good. I’ve done that as a project manager. I understand that that there will be times where the needs of one district will come before another. I also recognize that a rising tide lifts all boats. The concerns of District 2 do not exist in isolation. In fact, there are issues (opioid addiction, for example) that affect all districts across the city. Where there are intersections of concern, there are the greatest opportunities for progress. I’ve seen first hand how making improvements to benefit one area can also improve others.