Perhaps the most interesting race on today’s ballot is that for the position of New Albany alderman-at-large.
It pits incumbent Republican Keith Conlee against challenger Independent J. Lynn West.
Alderman-at-large is one of only three positions in municipal government who is elected by all the voters in New Albany. While the alderman-at large has no more power on the city board than aldermen elected from the city’s four wards, he is elected from the entire city. He is an alternative access to city government for citizens who might not be comfortable with dealing with their ward aldermen. Thus, it is an essential job.
The other two officials elected by all the voters in the city are police chief and mayor.
Incumbent Police Chief Chris Robertson has no challenger on today’s ballot. He has done a good job for two terms, has grown in the job, and potential challengers – and the city’s voters – decided to keep Robertson on the job.
Mayor Tim Kent has served four terms and is likely to be elected to a fifth four-year term. Kent is a low-key mayor whose leadership skills are never bombastic or flamboyant, but always quiet and very effective. New Albany has benefitted from Kent’s extraordinary ability to recognize opportunities and seize them for the benefit of New Albany. The city’s prosperity during his four terms has been unprecedented.
Kent’s challenger, Democrat James Dean, is a good man, who would probably serve honorably as mayor, as he has served his country and community. However, Dean got only 226 votes to win the Democratic nomination. That’s less than half as many votes as Kent got in the Republican primary – against an energetic and well-funded Republican challenger. Except for an act of God, Kent will be re-elected today.
Which finally brings us to the race for alderman-at large.
Writing this article is one of the more difficult tasks I’ve undertaken in a long lifetime of news writing. The reason is simple: I like and respect both Conlee and West. I finally decided, therefore, to write it as an opinion piece, giving moderately free rein to my personal opinions of both men.
Keith Conlee is a smart man and a good one. His lineage is from old and respected Union County families. He is a successful sales executive for a major national company in the healthcare industry. It’s a job that keeps him away from New Albany many days every year. Conlee is obviously very good at his work, which benefits many Americans, who are healthier because of his company’s products and services.
Conlee’s service during his first four-year term as alderman-at-large has been intelligent and attentive. I have not agreed with every vote he has cast on the city board, but have never doubted Conlee voted his best judgement, which may well be better than my own.
Long term, Keith Conlee has the temperament and skills to be an exceptionally good mayor for New Albany. I hope he is a candidate for that job when Tim Kent finishes what will surely his final term four years from now.
J. Lynn West, the Independent for Alderman-at-large on today’s ballot, is an extraordinarily intelligent man, and is radically honest. West, too, is from a longtime and distinguished local family,
He may well be the most knowledgeable person on today’s ballot when it come to the details of city government. For more than four decades, J. Lynn West has attended well over 500 city board meetings as a news reporter. Except for retiring Ward Two Alderman Johnny Anderson and City Clerk Frankie Roberts, West probably knows the details of the city budget better than anybody alive.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell NEMiss.News readers that West has been my friend and colleague in the news business for more than two decades.
Not only is West exceptionally smart, he loves New Albany and Union County more than any man I know. While we have not always agreed during our two decades of camaraderie, I have never for a moment doubted West’s personal integrity. I have seen him endure many personal travails and have told several people that, in spite of his unassuming manner and appearance, “he is the toughest son-of-a-bitch in Union County.”
Whether Conlee or West wins today’s race for New Albany alderman-at-large, the city will be well served.
Whichever loses the race for this unrewarding and underpaid job, will continue to serve our community competently and loyally for years to come.
J. W. ShiverdeckerMS politics, New Albany MS, Northeast MS news, Union County MS