City – County collaboration pays dividends despite confusing geography

single-meta-cal October 18, 2018

You know Venn diagrams. The tidy little graphics where circles intersect, where shared territory is noted and where they stand clearly separate.

Imagine a Venn diagram done by Picasso.

That would describe the intersecting between the five City Council districts and the six districts of Madison County.

Understand that not all of Madison County falls inside the Huntsville City limits; in fact, barely more than a quarter of its 813 square miles does so. Meanwhile, Huntsville’s boundaries aren’t contained in Madison County. It has annexed land in both Limestone and Marshall counties.

When your goals are aligned, everything just happens easier.”

Nor does the overlap between City and County fall neatly. There is little rhyme or reason. For instance, City police officer/County Commissioner JesHenry Malone’s district includes pieces of four different Huntsville City districts.

(Want to really confuse district lines? Mix in the state representatives’ territory; House District 21, for instance, reaches into three different city districts.)

What’s essential – both to this story and to the progress of the City and County – is that roughly 200 square miles shared inside this Picasso-esque Venn diagram.

No districts overlap with more territory and, arguably, with more effectiveness than the South Huntsville area which is included in City Council Member Jennie Robinson’s District 3 and Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick’s District 5.

A long relationship

“We have a history with each other,” Robinson says.

Well, that explains it – but the quote itself begs for explanation.

They go back to the days when their sons were in the same class at Mountain Gap Middle School and they served together on the PTA board. Their paths continued to cross through various elected and non-elected roles.

“We’ve had a long relationship,” Riddick says. “You live in a town as long as I have, you get to know a lot of people.”

“We know each other, we work with each other, we trust each other,” says Robinson, adding that the two will typically talk two or three times a day by phone at minimum. They also have regular face-to-face meetings, sometimes involving State Representatives Mike Ball and Howard Sanderford and Huntsville City School Board member Elisa Ferrell.

Their relationships aren’t unique. There is a general spirit of cooperation among the six County Commissioners and five City Council members.

“It’s easier to get things done when you’re working with somebody instead of working separately,” Riddick says. “The cooperation there is very helpful. When your goals are aligned, everything just happens easier.”

Many shared accomplishments

Ask about accomplishments, it’s as if Robinson and Riddick are sharing the same notes, not just the same geography.

There is the Sandra Moon Complex on the site of the old Grissom High School. It will include a public library branch that Robinson championed, as a school board member, in meetings with Riddick not long after his appointment to the Commission in 2011.

They have been active in the revitalization of Ditto Landing. They worked together to enhance Southside Park. The formation of the South Huntsville Business Association was also a partnership of the pair’s vision and leadership.

One of the more recent developments, which has served as a great convenience to residents, is transforming part of the Huntsville Police precinct on Bailey Cove Road into a license bureau. The City provides the space, the County has funded the necessary renovations.

“We’ve gotten some amazing things done,” Riddick says.

This summer, there was an event at Green Mountain to announce improvements at the county park there. (Just to confuse the issue, the park is actually in County Commissioner Craig Hill’s District 3.)

As they were leaving, Riddick stopped Robinson.

“So where are we going next?” he laughed.

Wherever it is, the City of Huntsville – and Madison County – will be the better for it.