That’s noteworthy because large signs placed at the park may have played a role in Freeman’s victory in Tuesday’s runoff election. That’s what Freeman said by phone Wednesday.
“I think the signs did play a role in helping all of us (challengers).” Freeman said.
In the weeks leading up to the runoff, someone placed large signs at the property, which is owned by former mayor and scrap yard owner Charlie Fagan. One sign read “Send the incumbents home. Save the Park.” Around that time, the park’s grass was allowed to grow, and smaller “No Trespassing” signs were placed along its edge.
Another large sign at the park read “Twenty-five million reasons to send the incumbents home. Bond debt for thirty years you must pay.” That sign is likely in reference to the municipality’s current $13 million bond, plus compounded interest.
Both large signs were moved to a parking lot a few blocks from the city’s polling place some time prior to Tuesday’s election.
Freeman defeated current city councilman and mayoral candidate Brent Morrison for the mayor’s office, and incumbents lost in three of four council races in Tuesday’s runoff. Asked if the signs helped him win the election, Freeman said, “It could have. People in Piedmont are real different. The turnout yesterday proved it. They were sending a message that they were ready for a change. The signs probably played a role in it. I would have to agree that they did.”
Freeman said he’d like the city to lease, or possibly buy, the park from Fagan once he takes office. The city held a $1 yearly lease with Fagan for the park after he bought it, along with the nearby cotton mill, in 1995. Piedmont Mayor Brian Young took office in 2008, and his administration chose not to renew the lease.
“The city did not own it, and it and it did not have a long-term lease,” Mayor Young said Thursday by phone. “I just didn’t think it was wise to be investing money in someone else’s property.”
While the lease itself was next-to-nothing, Young said maintenance costs for the park could be significant. Some playground equipment was in need of repair, and while it may not have been an expensive fix, “we could take that and go to the Memorial Park” and spend the money, Young said.
The city took down the park’s pole-mounted lights last year, Young said.
“The city was paying for them, and they were lighting up private property, which we make everyone else pay. So (Fagan) didn’t choose to keep them up,” Young said.
Several attempts to reach Fagan for comment this week about the signs were unsuccessful.
Shortly after Freeman learned he’d won Tuesday night, he said he and Fagan spoke and Fagan agreed to have the grass cut the next morning.
Once he takes office in November, he’ll likely lease the property from Fagan, Freeman said, “and hopefully we can look and see what the price is and just buy everything out there.”
Young said his administration looked into buying the park from Fagan, but that Fagan never set a price for the land.
“It’s his. He doesn’t have to sell it if he doesn’t want to. But then again, the city doesn’t have to maintain it either. We chose not to, and the next group will get to choose whatever they want to choose,” Young said.
The park has been in headlines before, when in 2009 Fagan lined the street in front of the park with junked cars, this shortly after Young chose not to renew the one-dollar lease.
Star staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563 or on Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.