Small-town politics can have big-time impact

Published 3:09 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Staff Writer

WESTOVER – While national elections often generate more discussion and interest, municipal elections like the ones held across Shelby County and the rest of Alabama on Aug. 23 can have a significant impact on peoples’ everyday lives.

Westover elected a new mayor, Larry Riggins, so the town will have someone new leading a local government that makes decisions about water service, zoning, economic growth and other important issues.

Riggins, along with incumbent Town Council members Jeanne Champion-Fisch and Annette Tyler and their supporters, set up a tent on Election Day across Westover Road from Town Hall, where all voters cast their ballots.

The public officials waved at everyone pulling their vehicles into the Town Hall parking lot and had conversations with many.

“I don’t want them to forget who’s running,” said Riggins, who served for 15 years on the Town Council before deciding to seek the mayor’s seat. “I’m glad people are coming out and taking an opportunity to vote.”

The strategy seemed to work: In addition to Riggins winning by a comfortable margin, Champion-Fisch and Tyler were re-elected to their council seats (see the story on Page 1A for full election results).

Ed and Mary Stowell voted in their first Westover election after formerly voting in Chelsea and said the candidates did a good job of getting their messages across.

“I would say they’ve been proactive,” Mary Stowell said.

While the candidates are the faces of local elections, town clerks like Marie Mallory are the ones doing the work behind the scenes.

Mallory and other municipal employees are put in an awkward position during elections in that they must ensure a fair process that sometimes results in the ouster of the person who hired them and are their current bosses, as happened with Mallory and Westover mayor Mark McLaughlin.

Mallory lives in the Westover home she grew up in but is relatively new to the clerk’s position. She was hired in February after contacting the mayor and presenting her skills and qualifications.

“I had never done anything in government,” Mallory said. “It’s been enjoyable. It’s been a learning experience.”

The clerk began training for the election in June with an Alabama League of Municipalities Summer Conference in Montgomery.

She said the greatest challenge was finding poll workers. Westover needed five poll workers, and Mallory said she started at the top of the list of the town’s registered voters and started making phone calls.

Although there was confusion about where to vote (voters in municipal elections often cast ballots at a different location than during national, state and county elections), Mallory said the election went well.

“It’s my first one and a lot of these poll workers’ first one, so we kind of freaked out, but it’s been really smooth,” she said.

Andria Gaither, wife of a Westover firefighter, brought her three daughters Madelyn, Makinley and Molly to the polls with her.

Madelyn is studying politics as a third grader at Chelsea Park Elementary School, and she and her sisters left with “I Voted” stickers and an understanding of how the process works.

“It was a neat opportunity to teach them,” Andria Gaither said. “I like Westover. I like our little small town.”