FLORENCE — Mickey Haddock will be sworn in to the office of mayor in just more than a week, and one of his top priorities is to promote unity of purpose between his office and the City Council.
"We've got a really good City Council," he said. "All of them sought their positions for the right reasons — they want to serve.
"I want us to make decisions based on improving the quality of life for all the citizens of Florence. I know we're not always going to agree, but I want to be a strong enough leader to move us on," Haddock said. "I don't want us to get stuck."
The current council and mayor were at loggerheads over some key issues the past year and a half, particularly what to do about the landfill and the purchase of the former Florence Golf and Country Club.
The key to working together will be open communications, Haddock said. That will extend to the Lauderdale County Commission, which has some shared interests with Florence and neighboring cities.
"I'm not sure that we are communicating as we should," he said of the city and county. "Maybe if we just sat down in a room and shared a meal and talked from time to time. We have a lot of common areas, such as the library and the animal shelter."
One area that might cause some friction with neighboring Colbert County is the construction of a new hospital to replace Eliza Coffee Memorial. RegionalCare Hospital Partners bought then-publicly owned ECM almost two years ago with the goals of building a replacement facility. Sheffield's Helen Keller Hospital is publicly held, and has formed a business partnership with Huntsville Hospital. The relationship between the public and private entities is less than cordial.
Haddock is keenly aware of that, and said he will work hard to keep governmental relations across the Tennessee River as friendly as possible.
"I think we all agree the hospital in our county needs to be replaced," he said. "We made a commitment, and a commitment was made to us, for a regional hospital. It will be a tough balancing act."
Florence has struggled with plans for an entertainment district for almost a decade. Originally, the east Florence business district was designated for the development of restaurants, shops and clubs, but that quickly lost traction for a number of reasons.
This year, the Legislature passed a bill allowing cities the size of Florence to create downtown entertainment districts in which alcoholic beverages may be consumed on sidewalks and streets. That has met with mixed reactions in the city.
"Alcohol is an issue in Florence," Haddock said. "There are people who wish we had no alcohol.
"The key is, how do we control it? We have some good measures in place now," he said. "There are some who want open containers downtown, but I don't want to see the downtown be like New Orleans."
Instead, referring back to the hospital issue, where RegionalCare wants to build its new facility between Veterans Drive and Huntsville Road near the river, he said the potential for an entertainment district would develop in that corridor if the hospital is built.
"If the hospital locates there, Veterans Drive corridor could become our river walk, with upscale shops and venues for local musicians and events," he said. "It could blossom into a gateway for the city.
"I realize that we are college town, and that students are looking for social gathering settings. It all comes back to, whatever vision we have, it is all about how we control it," he said.
The mayor's office could become much more contemporary with how it communicates with residents. Haddock said he wants to create a Facebook account for his office, and possibly send regular emails to residents to keep them more directly informed about city business.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.