Being an elected official is no easy task, and no one knows that more than Huntsville City Council President Jennie Robinson.
She’s no stranger to public service, however, having previously served three terms on the Huntsville City Schools (HCS) Board of Education.
Robinson was first elected to the City Council in 2014 as a representative of District 3 and was re-elected in 2018. She’s been elected President twice, a feat accomplished by only one other woman in the Council’s history.
Robinson, who received her doctorate from Purdue University, is actively involved in the community. She’s served on several philanthropic boards, including Leadership Greater Huntsville, The ELM Foundation, Rotary Club of Greater Huntsville and United Way of Madison County.
She and her husband, Dr. Michael Robinson, have five children.
As part of our new “You Ask. We Answer.” series, Robinson took time to talk about her experiences as Council President.
Why did you want to become a City Council member?
After serving three terms on the HCS Board of Education, I discovered that I really liked helping people solve problems and I wasn’t finished yet. So, I decided to use the knowledge and relationships I developed working to solve problems for students, parents and teachers to focus on problems involving roads, ditches and garbage (and so much more). We have a great City with great resources and opportunities, and I want to help make it even better.
How has being on City Council challenged you both professionally and personally?
The City’s leadership team is probably the smartest collection of folks I’ve ever worked with. They challenge me to learn new ways to approach old problems, to expand our vision for the future and to stay calm in the midst of crisis.
I’ve also been challenged by constituents who want solutions and don’t accept easy answers. They’ve taught me not to take it personally when they call me names or make unfair accusations. We are living in a time when everyone is dealing with something really hard. So, I remember that and just listen. I may not agree but I look for ways to find areas of agreement so we can get unstuck and move toward solutions.
City Council members are often at the center of controversial issues, so why would anyone want the stress?
No one wants stress. They just want to make a difference and that sometimes requires doing hard things. Former Councilwoman Sandra Moon used to say, “Service is the rent you pay for your time on Earth.” It’s that desire to serve, to help, to find new solutions for tough problems that makes me feel good about the work we are doing, even when it’s hard.
When people attack us in the middle of controversy, it helps to remember that everyone is dealing with something tough in their lives. Fear and anger make people say and do things that they wouldn’t say or do in normal times. So, I extend grace and hope they will do the same for me.
What has been the highlight of your time on City Council so far?
When I first ran for Council, I heard from business owners who were concerned about the anticipated construction of the three overpasses on South Parkway. Two weeks after my election, I called those business owners and we met at Rosie’s to talk about how we could work together to help businesses survive the construction.
We formed the South Huntsville Main Business Association and it became the communication liaison between ALDOT and businesses along South Parkway. As a result, South Parkway businesses survived what could have been a devastating construction project and the overpasses were finished ahead of schedule and under budget. That success led to a Main Street Alabama grant and the ongoing revitalization of the South Parkway area.
I love it when people say, “Thank you for all the changes we are seeing in South Huntsville.” I am proud to tell them it is all possible because a group of business owners were willing to step up and serve during a crisis.
Why is it important to have diverse voices and backgrounds on City Council?
We probably have the most diverse Council we have ever had. We differ in gender, race, age, profession, political philosophy and many other ways. Our different perspectives are informed by varied life experiences and we bring those diverse voices to the Council conversation.
Despite those differences, we share a commitment to make Huntsville a great place to live. In that desire, we have found unity in the midst of our diversity. While we are each passionate advocates for our constituents, we also each keep an eye on the City as a whole.
In the end, we are all Huntsvillians, and I am honored to serve with Council members who set aside differences to work together for all our citizens.
Council President Robinson also answered a question submitted via social media, which can be seen below: