By Cady Inabinett
Montevallo youth and adults alike took a stand against Mayor Rusty Nix’s recent decision to remove the Montevallo Junior Council’s seat on the city council dais, with the council’s Sept. 13 meeting being dominated by residents speaking in favor of the seat being reinstated.
Junior Mayor Olivia Gilbert once again addressed the council, advocating for her seat on the dais. She pointed out that MJCC boosts youth civic engagement in the city, saying, “While other communities search for ways to have youth participate in civic life, the MJCC has brought these young people to the city’s doorstep.”
Gilbert responded to Nix’s prior comments that only elected officials should have a seat on the dais by saying, “This seat does not diminish anyone’s role on the city council,” and that it “represents the city of Montevallo’s commitment to its youth.”
She closed her address by pleading the council to, “not only re-invite the junior mayor to the dais, but, also, to actively engage and learn from and with these civically minded youth.”
Nix responded to Gilbert by thanking her for her input, but said, “the youth voice is very important, but, there again, that’s why you have the opportunity to speak to the council.” He added, “I stand firm with elected officials and appointed officials on the dais.”
MJCC member Luke Amilliano addressed the council in favor of the MJCC seat as well, describing the loss of the dais spot as, “kind of heart-wrenching because seeing a student— a high schooler, on the council with you guys was really impactful.”
In total, eight middle school and high school students addressed the council. All spoke in favor of restoring MJCC’s seat on the dais, often saying that MJCC works as a voice of Montevallo’s youth.
Abigail Heuton, a sophomore at the University and former Montevallo Junior Mayor, addressed the council in favor of MJCC as well, saying that sitting on the dais, “really impacted me,” during her time as Junior Mayor. Heuton went on to say that she thinks it’s “disrespectful” to stop the Junior Mayor from sitting on the dais, due to, “the amount of work that they do for the city to get youth involved.”
Lee Pastor, a government teacher at Montevallo High School, spoke in favor of MJCC’s representation on the dais as well. She pointed out that “the political efficacy is very low” amongst 18–24-year-olds, and that MJCC helps foster civic engagement—saying, “One of the things that I’ve always been extremely proud of being part of the Montevallo community as a teacher is the embracing of our youth in civic involvement— in projects, in planning and that sort of thing.”
Council member Kenny Dukes spoke up following Pastor’s address to the council, saying that he supports “the youth and their involvement and their role sitting on the dais” and added that he would be in favor of a council vote on the issue.
Gilbert’s parent Greg Reece responded to Nix’s comments comparing the junior mayor to a department head, saying that, “It’s a different thing all together,” and that, “The MJCC is not like other city boards, it doesn’t have the same mission, it doesn’t have the same purpose, it’s not working towards those same kind of goals.”
He went on to say, “I can’t think of any better way of learning how to practice democracy than having the junior mayor sitting there with you on this dais as a nonvoting member,” and as “someone who has a stake in the life of this city.”
Residents speaking on the MJCC issue were not the only ones to address the council. Patrick Johnson addressed the council on behalf of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization that Johnson describes as a “veteran lead, community collaborative project” that works to complete revitalization projects in overlooked areas of cities.
Johnson said he hopes to start a project in Montevallo to build a basketball court at the Scott Village affordable housing community. In addition to the basketball court, Johnson said The Mission Continues would like to add amenities such as benches, planter boxes, pavilions and solar-powered lighting. He did not offer a timeline for this project.
Adele Nelson, executive director of the Montevallo Chamber of Commerce, provided an update on the long-running Soul Spot project on Main Street. Nelson said the restaurant did not open on their set Sept. 18 opening date because, “they don’t have enough people to work,” but added, “They are going to open next month, for sure.”
She also confirmed that the owners are “closing down their Calera location,” so they can focus on the Montevallo location—referencing back to an announcement made on the Soul Spot’s Calera location Facebook page on Sept. 13.
Additionally, the council approved an ordinance setting new operational hours for city parks. City parks will now be open from dawn until dusk, unless an event has gotten prior approval from the city council to use the parks after hours. According to the ordinance, these rules do not apply to lighted athletic facilities at Stephens and Orr Parks during sporting events and “Owl’s Cove Park during organized after hours events.”
Additionally, the ordinance sets penalties for violators—a $50 fine for the first offense, a $100 fine for the second offense, a $200 fine for the third offense and the potential for jail time for the fourth and any subsequent offenses.
The next City Council meeting will be held Monday, Sept. 27, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be livestreamed on the city’s Facebook page. Citizens may also attend the meeting in person at City Hall.