Displaced Alabama Residents Stand Up to Trailer Ban

Mayor Jack Scott is banning tornado victims from accepting FEMA trailers

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Players: Mayor Jack Scott of Cordova, Alabma; James Ruston, Danny Banks, and other Cordova citizens who's homes were destroyed in recent tornadoes.

Opening Serve: Cordova, Alabama was one of many towns ravaged by this spring's recent torrent of tornadoes. As those familiar with the scenes of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath know, trailers are a key component to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's recovery efforts for places struck by natural disasters. But, despite the fact that "scores of homes, businesses and city buildings were destroyed or damaged by the time the winds died down," according to the Associated Press, Cordova's Mayor, Jack Scott, refuses to make an exception to the city's previously unenforced ban on single-wide mobile homes by allowing FEMA trailers to house those left homeless by the storm.

He told the Birmingham News, "We're trying to better Cordova. We're trying to clean up Cordova and keep it clean. We're trying to keep property values up. We're trying to get it to where people will want to build homes on these vacant lots." The local paper notes that Scott claimed "the city has worked out other options for the survivors...but declined to discuss them."

Return Volley: The trailer ban has not gone over well with Cordova residents who are now without homes. James Ruston, who's "house was knocked off its foundation...and is still uninhabitable," is just one of over 200 "angry citizens filling a meeting last week and circulating petitions to remove the man many blame for the decision, Mayor Jack Scott," the AP reports. Ruston was informed, after FEMA delivered a mobile home to his property, that "single-wide homes, like the FEMA one, are illegal in the city of Cordova." Ruston told the Associated Press that "he doesn't want to live in a mobile home forever, and he didn't want to leave Cordova to move in with a relative after his FEMA trailer was turned away," but is now considering leaving the city altogether. "If we're going to have a mayor like that I'll just go elsewhere," he said. Harvey Hastings, another Cordova resident, told the news agency, "there are trailers all over here but [Scott] wants to clean all the trash out. He doesn't like lower-class people."

Scott's response to the complaints? "I don't feel guilty. I can look anyone in the eye."

What They Say the Fight's About: Scott is adamant about taking advantage of the older law to ensure the quality and cleanliness of his city. Cordova's displaced residents insist that they are owed at least temporary housing to replace their homes lost in the storm.

What the Fight's Really About: The fact that this city-wide trailer ban has not been enforced since it was signed into law in 1957 could lend support to Harvey Hasting's claim, that this is just the mayor's way of keeping the so-called riff raff out of the city (despite the fact that many of those complaining owned actual houses before the tornado). Scott has allowed the city's police headquarters and City Hall to take refuge in trailers similar and even smaller than those provided by FEMA. He is standing in front of one of these trailers in the photograph above. So his objection probably isn't to trailers as trailers so much as uncontrollable trailers, a slippery slope. There's plenty of chaos to manage in the wake of the tornado, and it's possible he's worried about losing control of the riff raff issue as the city rebuilds.

Who's Winning Now: Alabama's Governor Robert Bentley has received several calls from Cordova residents attempting to circumvent the stubborn mayor. Alabama's local Fox station reports that "the governor has instructed state EMA officials to meet with Mayor Jack Scott and try to come up with a solution quickly." Though Scott doesn't look poised to give in to his constituents' demands any time soon, perhaps the state, national and even international attention this dispute has received--he's already been mocked by Taiwanese animators--will persuade or embarrass him into changing his attitude. If not, no one will win, least of all Cardoza's displaced residents.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.