Stoner: Hartselle's always home
Councilman's Decatur move based on personal, professional reasons
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
When Allen Stoner brought his family back to Hartselle some five years ago, he was returning to the place where he was born and raised. His mother's family had called this area home since the late 1800s and his father, though a Pennsylvania native was a prominent local resident, once serving as chairman of the Hartselle School Board.
For his wife Rhonda "Cookie" Stoner and their two children, Camille and Ben, the move meant adapting to life in a small town.
"We had been living in Montgomery and I knew I wanted to open a law practice and there were so many attorneys practicing in Montgomery that it was going to be hard to do," Stoner said. "So we came back here, which meant an adjustment for my family."
The Stoners made that adjustment, however, and quickly became involved in the community. In 2000, Allen Stoner was elected to the Hartselle City Council. He joined a law office in Hartselle, and then, last year, moved to a solo practice in Decatur.
Now, some three years later, the Stoners are moving to Decatur and Allen is preparing to resign from the city council. The move, Stoner said, is prompted by his family's desire to return to living in a larger city.
"My reasons for moving are professional and personal," Stoner said. "We've always liked living in a larger city because there are more things to do and you have access to many types of things and many types of people. And, our new home is in a neighborhood just behind my office."
Closing on the Stoner's house is set for June 26. The moment that is done, Stoner will send his resignation letter, stepping down from the council.
Stoner said his time on the Hartselle City Council has been "interesting and informative."
"I've enjoyed being on the council, but it's been frustrating. Before I was on the council, I never knew how much work goes in to running a small municipality. Being on the council is like owning an old house. You're always seeing things you want to do but you don't have enough money to do them. You have to pick and choose your projects."
Stoner said he felt this council was not afraid to confront change.
"The majority of the members of this council were not afraid to take the heat and push for change. Several of us on the council were not interested in reelection, we just wanted to get in there and make the changes for the betterment of the town."
That wasn't always easy. Stoner said too often, people's desire for status quo outweighed effort to improve the town.
"It's human nature to oppose change. I think the town is headed in the right direction, but it still needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century."
No other issue has demonstrated the resistance to change better than last year's unsuccessful effort to legalize alcohol sales in the city, Stoner said.
"This biggest disappointment I've had during my time on the council has been the rejection by this town of the tax revenues that would have been generated by alcohol sales without stepping in with a property tax or sales tax increase to fill the gap. It was a big disappointment to me."
Some of the votes against alcohol weren't for moral reasons, Stoner said, but for preservation of some people's image of the town.
"There are a number of people I know who consume alcohol but they voted against it not because of a moral issue but because it would change their vision of the town. It's much easier to be against something than it is to be for it and I really learned that through all of this. It's much easier to stand on the outside and throw bricks at the windows than to dare to go inside and try to fix things."
The defeat of the wet/dry referendum and the unsuccessful efforts to introduce a property or sales tax increase has left the city in a precarious position.
"Those who voted against the wet/dry issue ignored the reality of alcohol consumption in this city. They also ignored the need for tax revenue."
Some of the most controversial issues dealt with during Stoner's time on the city council have been those dealing with the school board.
Stoner said he's always been a proponent of the Hartselle School System, but felt it needed to be "tweaked" in order to improve.
"I'm proud of the Hartselle School System. But it wasn't perfect when my father was chairman and it isn't perfect now and we shouldn't be afraid of change. People think you're either for something or against it and that wasn't the case."
Still, Stoner said he is realistic when it comes to the state of our schools.
"People think we're (school system) the best in the state. We aren't. We are one of the best in the state for a town our size."
Stoner came under heavy fire last year after comments he made following the collapse of two Hartselle High School students. School officials initially said drugs were not involved in the incident, but later said one of the students had tested positive for marijuana.
Both students were members of the Hartselle baseball team and Stoner's comments about the incident prompted a firestorm of controversy among coaches, parents and players.
Stoner said he has no regrets over his handling of the incident.
"It needed to be aired out. There shouldn't be any sacred cows for any particular sport. The fact that so many people got so mad about it showed that it hit a nerve."
The controversy continued recently, when the council appointed a new school board member. Stoner and Councilmen Dick Carter and Frank Jones and Mayor Clif Knight voted for appointing Greg Cain to the board, while Councilmen Don Hall and Tom Chappell wanted other candidates.
Stoner said his vote was another effort to shake up the board in an effort to improve it.
"My disagreement with the school board is not personal. I just thought it was out of balance. My vote for the school board was one to try and achieve balance."
Stoner said he hopes the council will appoint a replacement to his position. They could opt to leave the position vacant, a move Stoner said would be a mistake.
"They really need six people up there. It's important. But there's definitely going to be some political maneuvering for the seat."
And while he won't be serving on the Hartselle City Council, he isn't ruling out any future runs for political office.
"I wouldn't mind taking a look at a political office in the future but it would have to be at a local level, not state or county. Locally, it would be fun."