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Candidates step up as qualifying for city elections begins

Dozens of candidates for city councils and boards of education threw their hats into the ring Tuesday, the first day of qualifying for municipal elections. 

All of Calhoun County's cities — and cities throughout most of the state — have elections coming up Aug. 25. People who want to run for mayor, council or school board in cities with their own school system have until July 21 to sign up. 

Those elections could produce more turnover in public offices than usual, said Greg Cochran, interim director of the Alabama League of Municipalities. As the population ages, he said, more mayors and council members are deciding to retire rather than run again. 

"A lot of officials are saying 'I just don't know if I have the energy to do this again,’" Cochran said. 

City elections often take voters by surprise, at least a little. In most of the state, they're held in presidential election years, though the vote comes months before the federal Election Day. Only a handful of cities, including Gadsden and Talladega, hold elections outside of that four-year cycle. 

Cities typically see a turnover of about 35 percent on their councils with each election, the combined effect of retirements, council members switching to mayoral runs and officials losing their re-election bids. 

Cochran said the league has already heard from a number of elected officials across the state who say they're not coming back. They're typically older, and are veterans of the country's last recession, in which cities had to cut spending significantly. 

The League is again expecting big budget cuts in most cities due to coronavirus and the related shutdown of many businesses in April. A reluctance to go through cuts again is one reason some elected officials are retiring, Cochran said. 

The news isn't all bad: Cochran said many cities are reporting rises in revenue in May. Lake and beach communities weren't hurt as badly as expected, he said, in part because people who owned beach houses often chose to ride out the shutdown in their vacation homes. College towns, on the other hand, lost thousands of consumers instantly when schools shut down.

"College towns across the state will see a loss they'll never recapture," he said. 

People across the country have been protesting against police policies in recent weeks. That's an issue that's typically dealt with at the local level. But Cochran said it's too early to say whether those protests will increase the number of people who go into city politics. He said it's typically easier to interest people in a municipal run, compared to a run for state or federal office.

"Towns are where you find the links to real life," he said. 

About 20 percent of Alabama's towns — typically very small towns — won't hold an election in any given election year, Cochran said, because there's only one candidate for each office. 

Ranburne, in Cleburne County, hasn't held an election in 28 years. The town is home to 398 people, according to the Census Bureau.

Candidates have until 5 p.m. July 21 to qualify to run for office, by filing paperwork with the city clerk in the town where they're running.  According to state law, candidates must have been residents of the city and ward where they're seeking election since at least May 25. People who wish to run also have to file a declaration of an appointment of a campaign committee with the Calhoun County probate judge's office by July 24.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.