SEMMES, Ala. (WALA) - The City of Mobile's desire to expand in 2008 was met by a determined opposition group in the Semmes community. They fought annexation and then incorporated the community into Mobile County's newest city. Judy Hale, Semmes first elected mayor was a part of that group. She recently shared why Semmes became a city, its successes the last two years and its challenges. Hale also shared that she had no intentions of being an elected official.
"People here in Semmes, we're a little different. You know, we're a community, and we didn't want to lose that sense of community that we had. And becoming a part of a larger municipality, if we would have annexed into Mobile, we would have lost that identity. That's the most important reason that we really wanted to become our own city," remembered Hale.
Hale was first attracted to Semmes more than 20-years ago. She was born and raised in Pascagoula, but Hale and her husband wanted more land and a community less urban. So they scouted the Gulf Coast.
"It was a selection process. We went on a tour from Baldwin County to Gulf Port Mississippi. Where did we want to live, where did we want to raise our family, we chose Semmes and there were a lot reasons. We liked the community, we really liked the little bit more laid back there. I tell people that we chose Semmes because it has a lot to say about the character of the people and the community that people want to come here to live," Hale reflected.
Five years ago as Mobile looked to expand farther west, Hale joined Semmes residents who decided to incorporate. On May second 2011, Semmes officially became Mobile County's newest city. Hale thought her job was done.
"I had no intentions at all of being on the council or definitely running for mayor. My first thing was to just try to get the city incorporated. Somebody else I thought would probably step up and be mayor. A lot of friends said, ‘Judy you need to do this. You know more about what's going on. We really need you to be the one that runs for mayor.' I really thought long and hard about it, and I finally said okay. I will.
I wanted to make sure that we were able to get off on the right foot, so that's what made me decide to run for mayor," shared Hale.
To her surprise, she was unopposed. Now it was time to lead a developing city. Hale brought with her nearly two decades of experience at an international chemical products company.
"Nothing, nothing prepared me for this. This has been something I've just kind of grown into. It's been a major learning curve for me. You have to learn a lot all at one time. Every day I'm studying; I'm reading. I'm trying to figure out the best way to do things, but I've really enjoyed that. I've probably enjoyed that more than anything. Bin mayor is so different than any other job. Instead of having one or two bosses to answer too, you have 3,000," Hale said with a laugh.
Starting a city from scratch Hale has not hesitated to call on the expertise of state organizations like the League of Municipalities or her city's attorneys. A fiscal conservative, Hale proudly shares that currently Semmes a city of a little more than 3,100 residents, has several million dollars in the bank and is debt free.
"I wanted us to be efficient as a local government. I have to be a good steward of the citizen's money, before we spend money it really has to be justified. So that's one thing I would say I probably brought from a prior job into this one," stated Mayor Hale "I put a lot of emphasis on public safety. We've purchased new engines, new pumpers and new rescue trucks. We now have 10 paid firemen, full time firemen. Now, we have three guys on shift all the time and their job is to be there and be ready for the calls when they go out, so the response times are low. We want to make sure that Semmes remains a very safe place for us to live and work and raise our families," stated Hale.
Two years after incorporation, Alabama requires cities to begin taking care of its roads and right of ways. With U-S 98, Moffett Road, and Schillinger and Snow Roads as major roadways in Semmes, Hale considers that her city's biggest challenge. For her personally, it's all about hours in a day.
"Time, I don't seem to have quite enough time. I'm very involved in everything that goes on in the city, everything from public works to the fire department and planning commission. The day to day activities in the city and I do attend all the committee meetings. I want to have input and I also want to hear what they're telling me back. I wish I could squeeze another 24 hours in each day or at least another 8 hours of work time," said Hale.
Looking ahead the challenge in Semmes' future may be how to keep the community which first attracted Hale.
"Public input, that's going to be a very important thing. Where do we want to be going down the road, what direction do we want to take," states Hale. I feel very good about what we've accomplished in two years. I
don't think that's just my opinion of how well we've done, but I've talked to other mayors and some of the other municipalities here in the state of Alabama. And they have been impressed with how far we've come in such a short period of time. I would do it all over again. I would do it for my family, my neighborhood and this community it has been very much worth it, absolutely," shared Hale.
Mayor Hale said two other successes were contracting with the Mobile County Sheriff's Office to provide police protection for the city, and annexing all of the Wal-Mart in Semmes into the city limits. She and the City Council are now working on a comprehensive and master plan for Semmes. Hale is also ready to start on the city's first park which she said will be an Honor Park located on Wulff road.
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