Scott Johnson: Hamilton council shoots the messenger

The Hamilton City Council has decided that Retail Strategies should no longer represent the City of Hamilton.
The council voted 5-1 in against renewing its agreement with the Birmingham firm at its council meeting on Monday, Sept. 17.
Hamilton Mayor Bob Page was the lone wolf to vote in favor of Strategies; councilors Tami Lewis Williams, Gene Sanderson, Bobby Joe Irvin, Kenneth Cochran and Herb Winsett all gave the firm a thumbs-down.
I’ve had trouble figuring out how to approach this column. I know the members on this city council—perhaps not as much as some of you—and I get the chance to sit at a table with them almost weekly and report on their actions.
Our city councilors are good people. They’re smart, keen and truly public servants. There are good reasons they were elected.
So, I will not jump to  the severity that so many like to jump to on Facebook; I won’t be calling for their resignation or saying that they are the antithesis of progress—they are not.
However, I could not disagree more with their recent decision to not renew the city’s three-year partnership with Retail Strategies. I’ve been knocking my head against the wall the whole week thinking about it.
Gene, Herb, Bobby Joe, Tami and Kenneth, respectfully, you got this one terribly wrong. You missed the forest for the trees.
When you guys  agreed to a three-year partnership (Tami Williams was the only “no” vote), you were plainly advised—and for that matter, reminded numerous times recently—that you should wait 18 months before seeing the fruit of your agreement. We didn’t even make it 13 months.
Strategies’ reputation for recruiting retail up and down Interstate 22 is only mounting. I cringe to think how this prematurely-ended agreement could elongate the development of our interstate exits even more (we have four!).
If our council is to seek a partnership with another firm, I have a hunch that the message will be the same; they will probably need a year or two to build groundwork and start conversations.
We just hit the hard reset button on our momentum and there is a chance we’ll have to watch it come back up to speed for some time.
From the outside looking in, our councilors got obsessive over the details of Jack’s proposed tax incentive, had their feathers ruffled with the facts and then were too blinded to see reality.
Councilors, while you apparently couldn’t work with this firm, they were working great for this city. They had unusually quick success in getting a restaurant to break ground in 12 months.
Gene, your conversations with Sibley Oil took multiple years to incite them to locate in Hamilton—you said  it yourself in a work session.
There were a number of retailors in Strategies’ hopper as well, which very well may have just slipped from our grasps.
The firm has represented the City of Jasper for the last six years and there is no mistaking it, the firm has helped to fill empty retail space and spark a bloom of incoming retail in town and on their Interstate 22 exit, Exit 65.
With that large white cross towering over that exit, it is continuing to look more and more like a promised land of sorts.
The Daily Mountain Eagle News Editor Ed Howell published a column on Thursday, Sept. 20, boasting about the firm’s success in the city, pointing to the successful recruitment of TJ Maxx, Aldi, Shoe Carnival, Petco, Hobby Lobby, Zaxby’s, Mattress Firm, Badcock Furniture and Planet Fitness.
“Well, if Hamilton don’t want them, I’ll settle for this firm any day,” Howell wrote.
On the topic of Jack’s tax incentive request for half the local sales tax for 10 years, you guys worked yourself into a tizzy believing  Retail Strategies was trying to pull one over on the city. You are mistaken.
I enjoyed reading one Facebook comment on 49 County News’ live video feed of the Hamilton Council meetings. It said, “Why does the council always go back, back, back to Jack, Jack, Jack’s.” Mr. Facebook commentator, I’m wondering the same thing.
I quote Strategies’ chief operations officer: “I’m glad that the council did not give a deal to Jack’s.”
Strategies’ chief executive officer made a point to appear in person to emphasize this; the team from Jack’s who appeared in August also tried to get that clear, too.
Cochran hammered the CFO and COO when they appeared at the city council meeting earlier in September. He went as far as to allege that the firm had no part in connecting Jack’s with landowner Gerald Logan.
But Strategies had emails and conversations in hand to show that none of the councilman’s accusations had substance. They reiterated that their only role was to be the liaison.
The firm’s responsibility is to pull retailors to the table. Plain and simple. And they did that very successfully. Now, a $2 million restaurant is being constructed and the city is expected gain $51,000 in sales tax revenue annually.
Council, you shot the messenger. And a good one, from the looks of it.

See complete story in the Journal Record.
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