A News 5 fact check shows Bill Hightower’s claims that Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl pushed through a road project on Schillinger Road to increase the value of property he owns in the area are misleading.
Hightower, a former state senator, and Carl face off in the July 14 Republican runoff election for Lower Alabama’s congressional seat.
Hightower made the claim against Carl in a press release Thursday. The release claimed Carl “abused $10 million in tax dollars to expand a road adjacent to his property.” A mailer sent to voters this week says “Jerry Carl used his time as County Commissioner for a $9.6 million road project to benefit his own business.”
In question is the widening of Schillinger Road, south of Cottage Hill Road. Carl owns property at 7856 West Side Park Drive, directly off that stretch of Schillinger.
A News 5 investigation, however, shows the road project was planned in 2007, five years before Carl came into office, and six years before he voted to allow construction bids on the project.
In 2007, as part of the incentive plan for the ThyssenKrupp Steel mill project in Calvert, the Mobile County Commission agreed to cover $30 million in incentives for the State of Alabama. In return, ALDOT promised to pay back the amount by widening to five lanes the entirety of Schillinger Road.
“Louisiana had more than a billion dollars on the table for ThyssenKrupp,” recalled former Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine. “The state was cash strapped, so we made that deal. It would have taken the county 30 years to widen Schillinger by itself.”
In a special election in October 2007, Mobile County voters approved the ThyssenKrupp incentive plan. In November 2008, voters approved the Schillinger project as part of the Pay-As-You-Go Program. That funding mechanism allows voters to apply a property tax for a specific list of road or economic development projects.
The Hightower press release claimed the Schillinger project was “dead for years,” until Carl revived it. In actuality, county officials say Pay-As-You-Go projects can often take up to a decade to complete from the time they are approved by voters. Among the factors that can significantly delay a project are acquiring right of way property, and moving utility lines.
When presented with this information, Hightower’s campaign manager Matt Beynon switched the focus to whether Carl should have abstained from the vote to bid the project out, even though voters had already approved the road work.
“Jerry Carl should have abstained from voting on a $10 million taxpayer-funded project that directly impacted his property,” Beynon said in an email to News 5. “Not only did he not abstain, he made the motion for the project to move forward. That is a direct conflict of interest for any public official.”
Carl says any claim of wrongdoing is completely misguided.
“Either Bill Hightower is intentionally lying to the voters for political gain, or he is completely confused about the Schillinger Road project,” Carl said in an email to News 5.