Northport Council Candidates Cite Proposed Resort As Biggest Issue

NORTHPORT, AL — The Northport City Council on Thursday interviewed three finalists vying to fill the open District 5 seat, with all three citing the proposed University Beach mixed-use resort development as the biggest single issue facing the city.

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As Patch previously reported, the District 5 seat on the Council became vacant with the untimely resignation of Council President Jeff Hogg. This followed a deluge of public backlash over the proposed $350 million University Beach project, with Hogg saying his family had received threats and that the future of his job selling commercial insurance was in jeopardy due to the pushback.

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Following Thursday night’s interviews, which lasted roughly an hour, City Administrator Glenda Webb asked elected leaders to consider the candidates ahead of Monday’s upcoming council meeting, where the decision will be announced.

Patch previously reported that a total of nine candidates applied to fill the open District 5 seat, with city leaders opting to interview the three finalists on Thursday — Anwar Aiken, co-owner of The Grand Event; Danny Higdon, chief school financial officer for the Tuscaloosa County School System; and retired Tuscaloosa Police Captain Gary Leddo.

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The candidate chosen by the Council will fill out the remainder of Hogg’s unexpired term, which is up for election again in 2025.

If the council, for whatever reason, is unable to reach a simple majority on an individual candidate, the appointment will be made by the governor.

The interviews on Thursday were conducted solely by City of Northport Human Resources Director Joseph Rose, with no follow-ups from elected officials.

Here is a digestible synopsis of each interview in the alphabetical order (by last name) that they were conducted:

Anwar Aiken

Rose asked each candidate the same list of pre-formulated questions, with Aiken the first up to interview. Several of the questions were simple, with all of the candidates giving fairly similar answers to the following:

To reiterate, all three candidates answered the questions with different variations of the same responses, so there’s little need to delve into them.

Originally from Minden, Louisiana, Aiken and his wife first moved to Tuscaloosa before moving to Northport a decade ago to raise their family and start their business — one that was named Northport’s Business of the Month in early March.

“There’s a lot more to Northport than I first thought,” he said when asked about his understanding of District 5. “There’s a lot of hidden gems here.”

Still, Aiken was the first of the three candidates to cite the proposed University Beach development as the single-biggest issue facing the City of Northport at present.

Rose asked each candidate the same question and, while their second and third answers varied slightly, all three candidates pointed to the controversial resort concept as their primary platform issue going into the appointment interviews.

“There’s unrest in the community amongst the city and the people, because I don’t guess they feel like they’ve been heard,” he said, before pointing to improved lines of communication for City Hall and the people they serve, along with transparency.

Two of the more relevant questions asked of the candidates focused on how they would handle harsh criticism from the community and how they would approach unpopular decisions.

Aiken was candid and cited his lack of intimate familiarity with the proposed development. But as a private citizen who cares about his community, he said this fact was partly the reason he decided to apply for the open seat.

“I don’t understand the project,” he said. “I didn’t understand when it happened, I don’t know anything and people don’t know anything.”

One of the final questions asked was if each candidate would run for election in 2025 after filling out the unexpired term. The question was a bit unwieldy and wordy, with Aiken answering the first part but not the second when asked if he would run for election to the council if appointed.

Aiken confirmed to Patch following the meeting that he planned to run if selected to fill out the rest of the term.

Danny Higdon

An accountant by trade, Higdon worked in Northport City Hall as an auditor before starting with the Tuscaloosa County School System in 2005. Higdon also ran an unsuccessful campaign for the District 5 seat in 2016.

Still, Higdon said his longtime connections to the city, understanding of municipal law and his familiarity with the district make him uniquely suited for the role.

He then reflected on the changes seen in Northport during his time, ranging from the construction of the Northport Police Department headquarters and the extensive development of the Rose Boulevard corridor where Higdon calls home.

“When I campaigned in District 5, I walked just about every bit of it,” Higdon told the Council when asked about what he knew about the district. “I thought that’s how you did campaigning.”

Like Aiken, Higdon cited the University Beach development as the biggest issue facing the city, pointing to concerns over its location and the city’s transparency relating to the project.

Higdon then elaborated on the question of the three biggest issues, pointing to the quality of roads in Northport and the financial stability of the city.

“People are never going to agree with you on every subject,” Higdon said when asked how he would handle making unpopular decisions “I’m married and that just doesn’t happen. So let’s hear their point of view and don’t brush them off. Everyone deserves to be heard, regardless of their opinion.”

To improve transparency, Higdon also suggested hosting community meetings for large-scale initiatives like the proposed resort as a way to open up dialogue and allow citizens to be heard.

“I was here the other night when the council voted on the resort and [citizens] were limited on time,” Higdon said. “So more opportunities to express concerns and procedures. I think it’s vital you have those kinds of community meetings.”

As it relates to financial transparency, Higdon pointed to one of his platform issues on the campaign trail in 2016 and insisted the city post its financials and audits online.

“I feel like that would be viable and it’s an easy thing to do to be that transparent and be that open,” he said.

Higdon said he planned to run for election in 2025 if appointed and decided to apply for the vacant seat after long conversations with his family and careful consideration.

“I’ve always cared deeply for the city of Northport, it’s not just the time I worked here,” he said. “This is my home. We’ve raised our sons here and now they are raising our grandchildren here … I want my grandchildren to stay here.”

Gary Leddo

Leddo has lived in Northport since 1986 and is a retired captain with the Tuscaloosa Police Department.

As was the case with Aiken and Higdon, Leddo also mentioned University Beach as the most pressing matter facing the city.

He followed this by underscoring what he views as a “distrust” of city officials by residents of District 5 and saying that the city was dealt a “black eye” when it was announced that the Kentuck Festival of the Arts would be moving to Tuscaloosa.

“A city councilperson is supposed to represent the interests of their council district and citizens,” he said. “Meet with your members regularly and find out what they are thinking about on certain issues and do your best to get things done.”

Leddo said the University Beach project will personally impact him and said that sometimes elected officials have to make hard decisions in doing what’s right.

“If it’s going to upend a whole neighborhood or neighborhoods and affect a whole lot of people then sometimes you have to do what’s best for your district,” he said.

Leddo pointed out that he is not on social media, but would likely adopt the practice if appointed to office as a way to better communicate with the people he is serving.

“I want to do what’s best for the citizens of District 5,” he said. “Right or wrong, they haven’t had the right representation over the past several years in my opinion. I would have loved to run for office previously but I didn’t think Jeff Hogg was beatable in an election and after he stepped down, I saw my opportunity … I want to be a part of the solution.”

When asked if he planned to run for election if appointed to the seat, Leddo was the only candidate to express uncertainty.

“To me, it’s first things first and I want to get through the year and a half,” he said. “I don’t wanna step on anybody’s toes but there are a lot of upset people in District 5 and I don’t know if they would vote for an appointed person at this point. If I get this position, I’m hoping to change their minds and work with them a little better than the previous council member did and take their thoughts and considerations into mind.”

The Northport City Council’s next meeting is set for Monday, April at 5:30 p.m. in the city council chamber at Northport City Hall.

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