ALABAMA (WHNT) – The Huntsville City Council District 2 race includes a crowded field and five candidates vying to succeed Frances Akridge who decided not to seek reelection.
The Huntsville Municipal Election will be on August 23.
News 19 asked the candidates a series of questions concerning their background, ideas, positions and hopes for the future. The answers, in full, are below:
Question #1: Tell us a bit about your background. How has it shaped you to serve in the office you’re seeking?
DRAKE DAGGETT: I learned leadership at the United States Air Force Academy and then throughout my 20 year military career. I’ve started two small businesses here in Huntsville (custom woodworking and a small real estate venture with a friend). I am an Eagle Scout. I am civic minded. I often think that ‘government’ is not applied equally to all of the citizens, and I want to ensure that is not the case with MY city government.
I’m a complete novice to the political process, which I think has its own advantages and disadvantages. It’s fascinating to me to just participate in the process. People/agencies/organizations are contacting me asking about my viewpoints on a variety of issues, and it is somewhat surprising to me that so many people are interested in what I have to say.
The reason why I am entering into local politics at all is because of the s*** show that is national politics. National politics is so extremely partisan right now. I could go on and on about this, but this isn’t the right forum. I am running because I’m a moderate, and I think that there is room for a moderate in today’s political climate, particularly in a non-partisan race.
BRIAN FOY: I graduated from Sparkman High School. After graduation, I received my undergraduate degree in Management Information Systems (MIS) from the University of Alabama, a Masters in Management from UAH, and an MBA from the University of Denver. After graduating from the University of Alabama, I worked in management and leadership roles in software development, software service delivery, and process improvement for Fortune 500 companies Amazon, Emerson Electric, and McKesson as well as small businesses and software startups. I have successfully managed large, diverse teams and multi-million dollar projects. Currently, I am the Service Delivery Executive and co-owner of a small software services business in Huntsville.
I am running for City Council to provide a strong, and accessible voice and champion for the concerns and needs of District 2, bring a fresh perspective to the City Council, increase transparency and civic engagement, and ensure Huntsville maintains a long-term vision to ensure the city remains vibrant, affordable, and safe through its exponential growth.
DAVID LITTLE: I am lifelong resident of Huntsville. My wife and I have raised our 3 children here. I have worked in the local business community for over 25 years and have served on numerous non-profit boards. I am a graduate of Leadership Greater Huntsville Flagship-30, Connect 10 and Impact 3 and feel like I have good understanding of what makes our community tick.
I was appointed to the HPD Citizens Advisory Council when it was created in 2010. Huntsville has attained some great accolades over the years as a great place to live work and play. I want to work with the mayor and other council members to maintain our lofty status in the state, region, and country.
Relationships are important in the business world, and I feel like there isn’t enough emphasis on the power of relationships in local government. Many challenges can be met if a solid relationship exists between all involved.
DANNY PETERS: I graduated from the US Naval Academy with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering. While in the Navy I started out as a Surface Warfare Officer in San Diego and Japan. I then switched to what the Navy calls an Information Professional, focusing on communications and cyber, I was with the National Reconnaissance Office outside Washington DC. While in the DC area I was fortunate to go back to school and earn a Master of Public Management degree along with a graduate certificate in Public Sector Finance and Acquisitions from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. After leaving the Navy in 2018 I joined a nationwide general contractor as an engineer to gain exposure with large infrastructure projects. The construction industry is what brought me to Huntsville to support the FBI Headquarters project. When my firm asked me to relocate again my wife and I decided we wanted to stay in Huntsville and remain in this vibrant community.
The decision to run for office was the byproduct of two factors. For starters I have always been interested in policy and how it can impact our lives and help us move in a direction. The idea of politics was always in the back of my mind, but the constant moving with the Navy and construction always kept the idea of politics as a “one day” dream. The second component is Huntsville. Finding a community we want to call home has created the drive to be a part of the solution. I see Huntsville at a pivotal point in its development. As we have experienced immense growth, the decisions we make over the next decade will send us on a path. Making the right choices now will allow us to continue to grow as Huntsville, a resilient and eclectic community; or we will become just another city in America seeing the issues of uncontrolled sprawl, increased traffic, and depleted resources.
BILL YELL: I spent 40 years working for Huntsville Utilities, retiring at the end of 2018.
During that time, I was the Communications Director for the organization representing all divisions of HU. I was also assigned to be HU’s representative to the Huntsville City Council for several years. In my role at HU, I was involved in every major event that affected Huntsville/Madison County and was the voice of HU to the community. The other half of my career at HU I spent in the Operations side of the organization in various management roles.
My leadership background includes:
Huntsville Tree Commission member for 30 plus years. Graduate of Leadership Huntsville-Madison County, Class 14. Former board member of the Land Trust of North Alabama. Served in leadership roles within national Utility Trade Associations. Named a Senior Practitioner of Public Relations by the Southern Public Relations Federation in 2007. Madison County Emergency Planning Committee-Chairman of the Community Awareness Committee. Madison County Chairman for Boy Scouts of America. Daycare Association of Huntsville board. Communications Chair for March of Dimes Walk America campaign.
I have bachelor’s degrees from The University of Alabama and Athens State University.
Question #2: Describe an issue you’d prioritize if you are elected. What immediate changes would you consider?
DAGGETT: I want to bring visibility and transparency to the negotiations between the police union and the city. I think the police union has too much power, and I would like to report to the citizens of Huntsville what the negotiations are between the city and the police union.
As an example, Crystal Ragland, Iraq war veteran and having PTSD, was shot and killed by HSV police, May 2019. The Huntsville Police Department, in a statement released with the video, said it would not have released the footage without a court order because of its “sensitive nature.” Is this standard procedure negotiated by the police union? Why isn’t all body cam video footage in the public domain? The Huntsville 2022 budget has over $56 million dollars budgeted to policing, and is by far the largest single line item in the city budget. Is that the right amount? How much power does the Police Union have when negotiating with the city? If those negotiations are closed to the public, why? If they are open to the public, why is the process not more visible?
FOY: One issue I would prioritize is addressing public access to city facilities to support quality of life. For example, Huntsville has invested millions of dollars into adding new multi-use turf fields at Merrimack Soccer Complex and upgrading fields and facilities at Merrimack and John Hunt Park; however, these facilities do not have any open public access. They are only available to approved organizations through a per player or team fee structure or for private rental. This is also the case for most field space in Huntsville. I am an advocate for more public access to city facilities and smart reinvestment and redevelopment and will work to ensure our residents have open access to city facilities.
LITTLE: Our public safety departments need to keep up with our growth, and that is a challenge. The police department needs to add another precinct and recruiting quality applicants is important. Our fire department faces similar issues, and they need the support from the council to insure they are staffed and equipped in a way that serves all of Huntsville.
PETERS: Limiting our environmental impact is a high priority. Adding the Land Trust of North Alabama to the list of lodging tax disbursements will increase their revenue stream and support the important programs and initiatives they do to protect and showcase our environment. Additionally allocating the appropriate level of funding for stormwater management can limit erosion and pollution. As Huntsville grows and creates more impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots, buildings, etc) we are going to divert more water. We currently experience standing water and many residents live in a FEMA flood plain. Finding solutions from grant money or the city budget can mitigate the risk and further protect our greenspaces by properly managing our rain water.
YELL: With the rapid growth in Huntsville, we need to make sure that we keep up with infrastructure needs. This includes roads, wastewater management, utilities, and basic city services along with law enforcement and fire services.
The immediate need is to review budget projections to ensure we can meet the rapid expansion of this community.
We also need to make sure we are spending taxpayer funds the correct way. New flashy things are great and attract more people to the community, but we need to make sure we are meeting the taxpayer’s basic needs.
Question #3: What are some of the major challenges that the city of Huntsville faces? What will you do to address those issues?
DAGGETT: Outside of policing, I think that a major challenge is keeping the infrastructure in pace with the booming development. I would work to put bike lanes into new road construction and expand bus routes to support the expansion that Huntsville is experiencing. Also, there is a significant housing shortage that can be mitigated by the city government by removing barriers to building while ensuring that the right density of housing is being built.
- Infrastructure: Balancing infrastructure sustainability and spending while supporting the exponential growth Huntsville is currently experiencing. I will work to ensure expansion investment is coordinated and controlled to ensure smart and balanced growth of roadways and public services to prevent a future retraction due to overspending.
- Affordability: I will work to ensure affordable housing options (including home ownership) are available for our workforce: teachers, nurses, firefighters, law enforcement, young professionals… Huntsville must remain a place where our workforce and young professionals can live-work-play.
- Safety and Security: Ensuring that our first responders have the technology, tools, and training they need to continue to properly serve and protect our growing communities.
- Connectedness: Huntsville’s growth further disconnects our communities. I will work to increase the walkability, cyclability, and green space that will further connect our neighborhoods and communities while improving the health and welfare of our residents.
LITTLE: Our city is growing at a rapid pace and maintaining and expanding our infrastructure will be critical. Traffic is increasing in areas and our city streets will need to be expanded and improved in areas.
Homelessness has increased over the years and there is not an easy solution, but I will work with other city leaders, and our non-profit community to ensure our city’s homeless populations is cared for.
As stated above, continuing to grow and support our public safety departments.
PETERS: One challenge Huntsville faces is development. How we continue to develop to accommodate the growth and influx of residents is critical. Finding ways to efficiently use our land, create housing options, and ensure easy access to amenities such as grocery stores, restaurants, etc. will keep us from becoming another example of uncontrolled urban sprawl. We can accomplish this by using our zoning codes to allow for more mixed use spaces. This will create opportunities for different housing options that will support all residents and it will keep the concept of a “15 min city” at the forefront. The idea of the 15 min city is fostering an environment where a person’s home, work, grocery store, restaurants, parks, etc. are nearby. This promotes a community feel, improves quality of life, and alleviates traffic among other things.
Another challenge we face is public transportation. Huntsville has made great strides in improving its transit options. But a continued focus on multi-modal transportation will improve traffic, lessen wear and tear on our roads, and improve quality of life. By expanding pedestrian and bike infrastructure citizens can safely and easily walk or ride to events and places of interest. Increasing the frequency of Orbit routes will create a bus system that is more user friendly and dependable to arrive on time for appointments, meetings and employment. Investing in more Orbit Access options can expand coverage windows and user experience by providing the same spontaneity other residents experience, allowing everyone to share in our vibrant community.
YELL: As stated above, growth is a major issue that we are facing. We must keep up with it. We need to immediately address the road situations and work with the State DOT to make sure Huntsville remains a priority for them.
We also need to make sure that proper decisions are made with new development that they do not become problems in the future that taxpayers will have to fund to fix.
The expanding homelessness issue must be addressed. This is a problem that has many sides, but the major contributing issues here seems to be mental illness and housing. We need to address this as best we can.
Question #4: Who is someone you’ve been inspired by? What effect has that had on your life?
DAGGETT: It’s cliche, but my dad and my mom. My dad worked so hard on the farm. He used to say that he met himself leaving work on his way to work. I hope to have even half of his work ethic. My mom gave me and my brother the most normal, boring, drama-free childhood ever. She is also an amazing golfer and regularly beats me.
From them I’ve learned my work ethic, the value of the right tool for the job, solving a problem with a solution that isn’t a band-aid fix, that honest mistakes are to be forgiven and also used as a learning opportunity, and ‘stick-to-it tive-ness’. I remember that I wanted to quit the wrestling team my freshman year in high school. Mom talked me out of it, and I eventually earned a JV letter from a Div IA wrestling program as a walk-on, and that is one of my proudest achievements.
FOY: My mother and father have been sources of inspiration for me, but my mother’s journey as a first-generation American has had a profound impact on my life. She left her entire family in Korea when she married my father. After arriving in the U.S. in 1976, my mother had to learn English, learn how to drive, gain citizenship, find employment, and overcome prejudices. Watching my mother successfully navigate the immigrant experience allowed me to appreciate the struggle. It prepared me to manage adversity, armed me with a sense of gratitude, and provided me with a positive example of resiliency and work ethic. You are not entitled to anything. Hard work and proving yourself is the only currency. These lessons have shaped who I am and prepared me to serve and be a leader for District 2 and Huntsville as a member of the City Council.
LITTLE: My father, who served our area as an elected official for 15 years. He is thoughtful and measured in all he does and treats everyone with dignity and respect. He listens more than he speaks.
PETERS: Army Major Hugh Thompson Jr was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. He along with his crew chief and gunner are credited with stopping the infamous My Lai Massacre. They were on station to provide air support for the US Army, but realized American soldiers were killing unarmed Vietnamese citizens. Major Thompson confronted the US leaders on the ground, and radioed headquarters of the situation to no avail. Major Thompson then began rescuing innocent civilians, and enlisted the help of two other pilots. Upon going back to the base to refuel he found the superior officers to report on the atrocities and the operation was finally called off. Major Thompson showed immense courage and took the hard path, because it was the right path. Learning this story during an ethics class at the US Naval Academy always stuck with me. People, even good people, are capable of doing terrible acts in certain circumstances. We must keep our ethics and human decency at the forefront.
YELL: My grandfather and father instilled in me a high work ethic at an early age. That greatly led to success in my work career. I also sought out several mentors during my career who help guide me along the way and established the principles that I follow.
Question #5: What are you hearing from voters on the campaign trail?
DAGGETT: Affordable housing is a recurrent theme. I feel the demand is going to be constant, so this essentially becomes a housing supply issue. I would try to encourage more high density housing and remove barriers to development.
I’m hearing that people want reform within the HPD and a principled approach to government.
FOY: My interactions and conversations with the residents of District 2 have confirmed my campaign’s priorities. The focus is on sustainable growth and connectivity. Investing in upgrades to roads and street lights, adding sidewalks, bike lanes, and green spaces, functional mass transit, smart planning of high density residential that includes affordable home ownership options like townhomes and condos, and community safety.
LITTLE: Concerns about traffic and maintaining our roads are most often mentioned, but I also hear concerns about schools keeping up with the city’s growth.
Many citizens I meet love living in Huntsville and want Huntsville to continue to be a safe and healthy community.
Additionally, they want to see a local government that works well with each other.
PETERS: As my team and I are going door to door talking to neighbors, and creating events to interact with the community we have found a lot of citizens resonate with the platform. We have heard stories that directly align with the message, and seen the excitement in their faces as they realize they are not alone in their concerns. It has been a rewarding experience and people are on board.
YELL: Things I’m hearing from the voters; slow down the speeders on our streets, fix drainage issues, repair the roads, and keep up with growth.
Question #6: What is your view of the job HPD is doing? Does the police department need to do more to improve public confidence and trust?
DAGGETT: See my answer above.
FOY: I support HPD and respect our officers who answer the call to serve and keep our communities safe. HPD has a very difficult job and is not immune to the challenges Huntsville’s accelerated growth has on policing. HPD needs to be provided the tools, technology, training, and support to properly serve and protect Huntsville, reduce crime rates, and respond to mental health related calls and emergencies. Transparency, visibility, and community engagement are critical to not only growing trust, but maintaining public safety and contributing to effective policing. It is not a one-way street, HPD is most successful when our communities are cooperating and engaged with our officers.
LITTLE: I think we have one of the greatest police departments in the country, but there is always room for improvement. I have been intimately involved with HPD since 2010, when the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) was created. The department has been in near constant reform: Working to improve diversity, modernizing its fleet and technology, training, to include implicit bias and mental health training. They have added body-worn cameras and added tasers to their assigned equipment Recently, through the work of the CAC, Wellstone, HPD and the city, the Huntsville Police Department has trained most of its officers in Crisis Intervention Training and has 4 “co-responder” teams to address those in mental health crises in a non-confrontational way, with more to be rolled out soon.
The department conducts 2 academies a year to maintain and grow its strength.
The CAC receives quarterly reports on complaints received and HPD seeks the counsel of the CAC on disciplinary matters.
PETERS: Policing is a very difficult job, and the officers provide a valuable service to the community. America in general places a lot on the shoulders of its police departments. We certainly need to look at ways to alleviate crime before it happens with better social programs to help community members instead of placing all the responsibility on the police. I have never been a cop, but I was a boarding officer in the US Navy. I would board foreign vessels while we conducted counter narcotics operations in Latin America. While not the same as a cop, we did go through extensive training and detailed policy to ensure all members understood the gravity of the responsibilities we were given. We were held to a high standard to make the correct decisions in dangerous and uncertain environments. I feel rigorous training and transparency are just as important when it comes to policing. Reading the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council’s report from the events of 2020 echo this. Appropriate training, consistent adherence to policy, and detailed records were the recommendations and I feel that is where it starts. If these recommendations from the report were implemented and transparency was displayed I believe the Huntsville PD would be able to regain the trust of citizens who have become trepidatious by the events referenced in the report. Accountability and transparency go a long way in the public’s eye, this goes for all departments within the city. Putting an emphasis on this will set our police department up for success and allow us all to heal.
YELL: Huntsville has an excellent Police Department. I recently completed the HPD Citizens Academy. This nine-week program gave me an opportunity to learn about all facets of HPD operations here. They are well trained and very professional. There will always be in every organization some issues, I’m confident that HPD will handle all issues with performance that develop.
HPD has many outreach programs. The community would have more confidence if they would take an effort to learn more about the Police Department and their role in the community.
Question #7: How will you gather public input, and how will that inform your behavior in office? How would you get more people involved in government?
DAGGETT: I like the incumbent Frances Akridge’s approach of sending out regular emails and having town halls at various community centers in the district. I will continue that. I also plan on sending out many press releases about various topics that are being discussed by the City. Transparency between government and the citizens is absolutely vital. I expect that I’ll get lots of feedback from those various forums.
FOY: It is critical to be accessible to understand the needs and concerns of our constituents and gather their input. Gathering input includes hosting community town halls, physically being present in the communities we serve, scheduling open office hours, being available via phone, email, and social media. Feedback and input are critical to raising awareness of issues and concerns and understanding the pulse of District 2 and Huntsville. This ensures District 2’s voice is heard and considered as part of Huntsville’s planning and decision making.
Increasing civic engagement is one of my priorities. Civic engagement has to be made easy to increase participation. Huntsville needs to evaluate a comprehensive engagement platform that allows our residents to have easier access to information and services, enable opt-in communications, allow for feedback opportunities for public meetings, huntsvillal.gov website, and city services. We need to look to cities like Nashville and the enhancements they have made to streamline their process, increase transparency and responsiveness, and communicate with their residents as an example for Huntsville to follow.
LITTLE: As I spend time in the community, I will always listen. Citizens will be encouraged to contact my office via phone or e-mail. All citizens of district 2 need to be represented equally, and I want to make sure they are heard.
I would like to appoint more young professionals to boards and commissions where appropriate. I was a YP once, and my involvement in local government was and has been rewarding.
PETERS: As a young candidate I feel I can help reach younger residents and encourage them to get involved. I can show by example that the government is not an exclusive club. It merely takes passion and a desire to make a difference and focus on solutions. I will engage in the traditional ways of newsletters, town halls, and emails from residents. But I also realize we are living in the digital age. I will take input from all forms of social media. By being accessible in more ways, more neighbors will be encouraged to participate. I want, and need, participation from my neighbors. As a representative for District 2, I need to know what other folks are seeing. I cannot physically put eyes on every square inch, participation and engagement is paramount to the success of our city. Together we can create the best solutions to serve the community.
YELL: As the former communications director of a large public utility, I understand the great need to have open channels of communications with the community you serve. I will utilize all modes of communications including townhalls, social and broadcast media along with meeting constituents at their locations to better understand their needs and issues.
How do you get more people involved in their government? That is a tough question. You can’t force them to be involved but you need to create better opportunities, so they feel that their elected official is listening to them and works for them.
Question #8: Tell us something about you that might surprise people…
DAGGETT: I play the saxophone (badly) and bass guitar (also badly).
FOY: I am a huge soccer fan. I have enjoyed watching my daughters play for their club and schools and being active in Huntsville’s soccer community. I’ve had the privilege to serve on the Board of Directors for the North Alabama Soccer Coalition (North Alabama SC) – a non-profit soccer club based in Huntsville – since 2015 and as President since 2017, as Treasurer for the Huntsville High School Soccer Booster Club from 2016-2018, and was the Alabama Soccer Association Volunteer of the Year in 2015. I am excited that professional soccer is coming to Huntsville next year and can’t wait for the first match!
LITTLE: I went down Bankhead parkway on rollerblades.
PETERS: I lived on a Japanese warship for over a month. While in the Navy I was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. I was a member of a Destroyer Squadron Staff. We would deploy on the aircraft carrier and would oversee the surface and subsurface warfare of the Strike Group Operations. My particular role dealt with operations and exercises with any foreign military. The United States and Japan were strengthening their bilateral operations by having a Japanese ship join an American Strike Group for the very first time during patrol. This was a monumental time in the US and Japan allyship. I was selected to be the US representative to the Japanese Ship Sazanami. I was responsible for working with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force to ensure operations were successful. What I received was great friendships, a unique experience, and an affinity for Japanese game shows.
YELL: I played a year of junior college golf at a school in the Tampa, Florida area. I also am a licensed amateur radio operator (HAM radio).