October 26, 2020

21-year-old college student elected mayor of Alabama town

The new mayor of an Alabama town faces a couple of unusual challenges: Namely, going to class and doing his homework.

Auburn University student Messiah Williams-Cole defeated an incumbent to be elected mayor of Camp Hill, Alabama, last week. Besides operating the town of about 950 people, he’s getting ready to graduate next May with a degree in interdisciplinary studies.

The 21-year-old led Mayor Ezell Woodyard-Smith by a margin of 259-156 in last Tuesday’s runoff election.

Williams-Cole said he has a vision of teamwork to move Camp Hill forward.

“I think we have to create a winning culture,” Williams-Cole said. “I think we have a good foundation. I believe it will take good communication from residents, council and mayor.”

Williams-Cole said Camp Hill had a great energy to it more than a decade ago. It was when Edward Bell was a K-12 school serving the students nearby. But Williams-Cole said that energy has diminished in recent years.

“I think Camp Hill has had a united community,” Williams-Cole said. “The last 10 years it has declined. We have to find something to rally behind; we have to build our pride back up.”

“A lot of people who grow up here leave and come back,” Williams-Cole said. “They come back after family or a career has worn them down. We need young people to bring Camp Hill back. Everyone is optimistic about me being mayor and being young.”

Williams-Cole can trace his family back four generations in Camp Hill and believes his youth will be an advantage.

“I have plenty of energy and not yet in my prime,” Williams-Cole said. “I figure I will get more.”

Williams-Cole sees where he can help improve the image of the town, and it will help solve some of the problems in town hall.

“I think one thing we have done a terrible job of is separation of powers,” Williams-Cole said. “Everyone has to be on the same page as to duties from town clerks, to the mayor and the council. We have to have good communication.”

Williams-Cole understands everyone might not agree but discussions can be civil to get to a common ground. To help make sure he doesn’t overstep his bounds as mayor of Camp Hill, Williams-Cole said he is reviewing the handbook from the Alabama League of Municipalities. Studying the handbook, Williams-Cole said leading the town is a group effort.

“The council has a lot of power as a unit,” Williams-Cole said. “I think we can have disagreements about things and still work together.”

Williams-Cole said current Camp Hill Mayor Ezell Woodyard-Smith has done more than just congratulate him and wish him well.

Williams-Cole is already planning open lines of communication with Camp Hill residents.

“We will have a public town hall meeting in November,” Williams-Cole said.

Williams-Cole said he will not make quick changes in Camp Hill.

“We need to take a look and see what our issues are,” Williams said. “We know we have financial issues. We need to look and see what those issues are before I make changes beyond common sense.”

Just like the future changes needed to grow Camp Hill, Williams-Cole said his professional future is still in the planning stages.

“I know after graduation I want to future my education,” Williams-Cole said. “I just don’t know yet if it will be grad school or law school.”