City Hall — Highland Park Neighborhood Politics

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April 07, 2005They may add up to nothing more than small community squabbling, but Highland Park Neighborhood politics are not for the squeamish. The six-month soap opera known as the Highland Neighborhood election is rich with intrigue. There are allegations of stolen campaign signs, the disappearance of neighborhood meeting sign-in sheets, and the disqualification of a write-in candidate because the city would not accept affidavits confirming his neighborhood meeting attendance.

On October 26, Alison Glascock was the winner of the Highland Park Neighborhood election after winning 411 votes from petition ballots and 99 votes at the poll. [When a candidate for neighborhood office has no opposition, that candidate can circulate (usually by hand) a sheet of paper collecting the signatures of those who support that candidate's election to office.] Her opponent, Doug Blank, owner of Highland Avenue’s high-profile rental venue the Donnelly House, received 100 votes at the poll as a write-in candidate. However, Blank called the results a “sham” and protested the election stating that the city had no representative at the poll (a fact disputed by Jaquelyn Hardy, Birmingham’s principal community resource representative). There were also complaints that Vickie Barnes, outgoing Highland Park Neighborhood secretary, was working the poll.

In a recent interview, Glascock said that petition ballots were employed when she ran unopposed in 2000 and 2002. “I went out and got quite a number of petition votes because I have previous dealings with Mr. Blank, and I didn’t know what he was likely to get up to at the polls,” Glascock explained. She said that she did not know that Blank would be a factor in the race four weeks before the first election when she gathered the petition signatures (Blank and Glascock have reportedly been at odds over the Donnelly House in the past).

There are allegations of stolen campaign signs, the disappearance of neighborhood meeting sign-in sheets, and the disqualification of a write-in candidate . . .

Dewayne Albright, who ran as a write-in candidate for vice-president of the neighborhood, reported Glascock to the police after he said he spotted her taking down Doug Blank’s campaign signs along Highland Avenue. Albright said that only Highland Neighborhood election signs were removed and that others were left intact. The initial police report says that Glascock took 150 campaign signs. Glascock disputes this. “The only thing that (Albright) got right on the police report is my name and tag number,” she said. Glascock readily admitted to removing 15 signs from the right-of-way on Highland Avenue, but she argued that she has always removed signs from right-of-ways until learning after the incident that political, religious, and labor-use signs are allowed. The police report made after Birmingham police went to Glascock’s home indicates the 15 signs that were discovered in her possession.

Much to the shock and dismay of Glascock, the Birmingham City Council heard complaints regarding the October neighborhood election on December 21 and voted to have it conducted again. “I would have strong objection to being inclined to break the rules that everybody else has to go by,” said Glascock of recalling the election. “This whole issue has been, right from the very beginning, that somehow I’m supposed to be governed by a whole different set of rules from anybody else. And if I hadn’t been, none of this re-do would have happened.” To her further surprise, Doug Blank was not to be her opponent. Instead it was Bob McKenna, a local counselor in clinical psychology. “I believe the intent of the Council was really just to let Doug and I go have a chance at it again together,” said Glascock. She insists that Blank’s supporters thought that McKenna had a better chance of beating her than Blank did. Doug Blank said that personal issues made him change his mind about running again.

The City Council delayed the election matter for two months. Then a resolution from Councilor Carol Reynolds was put on the Council’s March 8 meeting agenda “certifying the qualifications of Alison Glascock and Robert McKenna as candidates for the office of neighborhood president for Highland Park Neighborhood.” The resolution rescheduled the second election for April 19 until a terse memo two days before the council meeting from Mayor Bernard Kincaid to Reynolds, which was copied to the entire Council, City Attorney Tamara Johnson, and Jim Fenstermaker of Community Development, persuaded Reynolds to pull the item off the agenda. The Mayor’s memo had “HIGH PRIORITY” in bold letters at the top and read in part: “I read this item with utter disbelief!! Although the text of the “Resolution” was not included in my Council Package, I respectfully request that this item be withdrawn. My reasons for this request are as follows: 1) First, and foremost, the act of “certifying the qualifications” of candidates for neighborhood elections is purely an administrative matter—not a legislative one; hence, it is a matter under the province of the Mayor and Administrative Staff exclusively; 2) What you are suggesting in your proposed Resolution would be counter to the way we have conducted the other 98 elections for neighborhood officers to date for this cycle’s elections . . .” Glascock was appalled that Reynolds didn’t tell Councilor Valerie Abbott, in whose district Highland Park lies, about the resolution. “Interfering with somebody else’s neighborhood,” was Glascock’s assessment of Reynolds’ action.

Kincaid’s objection apparently concerned Bob McKenna’s method of inclusion on the ballot. McKenna, who said he received an e-mail from the Mayor indicating there would be a problem, had been told by Community Development that he had not attended enough neighborhood meetings to be a candidate. Rules require at least four attendances in the past 12 months. McKenna insisted that he had attended five meetings and gathered 15 affidavits within 24 hours affirming his presence after Community Development chief Jim Fenstermaker informed him there was not enough time to get the affidavits before the second election deadline. According to McKenna, Fenstermaker then told the candidate the issue would have to be decided by either the Mayor’s office or the City Council. McKenna met with Robbie Priest of the Mayor’s office, but no action was taken. The issue then went to the Council.

 

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Several Highland residents have expressed concern about petition votes because verification can be difficult. A petition ballot includes the name of the person for whom the signee is casting a vote. In this case, a signature represents a vote for neighborhood president, vice-president, and secretary, all of which were unopposed positions. Regardless, collecting petition signatures is within the rules of the Citizens Participation guidelines for neighborhood elections. Alison Glascock said that 300 of the petition votes she received in the first election were collected by hand (The petition ballot for the October 26 election included president, vice-president, and secretary of the Highland Park Neighborhood Association, since all three ran unopposed). Glascock said that Highland vice-president Terry Gunnell gave a petition ballot to a UAB graduate student who took the petition to her residence and collected approximately 25 signatures. Glascock added that another was placed in the Sheraton Apartments (which is key-access only, according to Glascock) next to the elevator by either a manager or resident. She said that she asked no one to put the petition in that spot, where she received about 30 votes. Regarding the complaint that anyone could sign that petition, Glascock said that the Sheraton manager checked the names and unit numbers to certify that all on the list lived at the Sheraton.

Regarding McKenna’s claim that he signed five meeting sign-in sheets though apparently some were lost, Glascock, who collects the sheets after each meeting, admitted that the July meeting sign-in sheets were misplaced. (McKenna does not maintain that he was at to the July meeting.) McKenna said that there had been three sign-in sheets circulating at the neighborhood meetings he attended where his signatures were not found, but Glascock said there are only two at each meeting. “She lost all of July,” McKenna told Jim Fenstermaker. “Why is it such a stretch that she may have misplaced the other sheets?” McKenna also complained that the sheets were not being turned in monthly. Glascock explained, “I’m supposed to turn in sign-in sheets every month, but I usually turn in several at a time.” As to McKenna’s insistence that he had been at five meetings, Glascock responded, “I will swear on the Bible and take a lie detector test, he was not at the three meetings that he claims he was and that his ‘little buddies’ have signed statements to say that he was at.”

Another complaint was that Glascock’s husband, Charles Glascock, had been a poll watcher. Though his position obviously represents a conflict of interest, it is within neighborhood election guidelines for him to serve in that capacity. As to complaints that her husband helped to count votes, Glascock admitted that her husband did just that. She said a poll worker needed help since another poll worker, the current neighborhood secretary who has worked with Glascock, was forced to leave when voters protested that they felt intimidated by her presence. Glascock said an independent observer was present, so the process was open for the public to observe. Glascock said that if she had been trying to rig the polls, she and her husband didn’t do a very good job, as Blank got one more vote than she did.

The final tally for the second election was 290 votes for Alison Glascock (poll votes) and 92 write-in votes for Doug Blank. The City Council certified the election at the March 22 council meeting. &


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