Ruth Page-Nelson was living in Atlanta when a pastor told her she needed to move somewhere else so she didn’t lose her kids to drugs.
“I moved to Dothan on a word from God,” she said. “I didn’t even know Dothan was on the map. I didn’t even have a relative on the map.”
After starting her two children out in Dothan’s public schools, then later transferring them to Houston Academy, Page-Nelson watched them go off to college. It was then that she decided to move from Dothan’s west side and into the downtown area with plans to buy houses, fix them up, and resell them. She had worked as a general contractor in Georgia and her husband was an electrical contractor.
Page-Nelson also formed Smart North America in 2008 to provide training in the energy industry. She is interested in solar energy and putting people to work. That actually had an impact on how she became a community activist, a role she is still in today.
As she worked downtown with the less fortunate, Page-Nelson said she began to see a pattern of people being disenfranchised.
“I feel like there are issues that people are being left behind on,” she said.
That is why she said she tried to start a green jobs training center, with the goal of obtaining the former Saints Apartments building and turning it into a futuristic training center and dormitory to prepare workers for green energy jobs. She claimed she was pushed aside from the purchasing process and the property — which later burned — ended up being bought by the Downtown Dothan Redevelopment Authority. It is now the site of Peggi James Crawford Park.
Page-Nelson said her personal experiences with the Saints Apartments and from people who approached her about other issues is what led her to put Smart North America on the back burner and spend her time in the activist role.
“I wasn’t really looking for followers, I was just looking at things that were wrong,” she said. “Right now I’m pretty much a full-time activist.”
She began appearing at Dothan City Commission meetings to address complaints against Dothan police, but following a January 2016 meeting, the Dothan City Commission changed the rules on public speaking at commission meetings to exclude repetitive topics and to set a process in which those who wanted to address the commission must provide advance notice.
“I felt I was beating a dead horse,” she said. “I feel like the environment that was created was extremely disrespectful. I did not want to be confrontational. I simply want to get things solved.”
Page-Nelson said nothing has been done about complaints of corruption in Dothan, and the FBI investigation into the Dothan Police Department still remains unfinished. She is also dissatisfied with how the city’s new policy on delinquent payments and deposits for new Dothan Utility customers was passed without what she believed was a proper public hearing.
The issue was first raised at a Dothan City Commission meeting months before it passed, in part because some commissioners said they needed more time to process feedback from the public.
What Page-Nelson said she would like to bring to Dothan’s city government is transparency, including putting the city’s expenses online so residents can see how taxpayer funds are being spent.
A general overview of the city's monthly expenses and all individual purchases of $15,000 or more are already published online along with each City Commission agenda.
Critics of Page-Nelson believe her approach is divisive. She disagrees.
“I believe that I can make a difference because I can go in and reintroduce transparency and reintroduce inclusion,” she said. “We have some serious divisions in that town that need to be welded back together. Let’s erase the division.”
Page-Nelson said she wants to bring in high-tech jobs and renewable energy to Dothan, which will help reduce residents’ power bills.
“We could be a shining star in the Southeast,” she said.
As a candidate, Page-Nelson said getting people to look beyond race and gender will be a challenge, but she feels her background and knowledge make her the best candidate.
“My background is very diverse, working with very diverse people. I bring that to the table,” she said. “Find a problem and fix it, that is the story of my life.”
If she wins the election, Page-Nelson wants to fix problems quickly and not have people coming back over and over to seek answers.
Page-Nelson said it was God who assigned her to come to Dothan and she doesn’t know what her next calling will be after the election.
“I don’t know what my next assignment will be or where it will be,” she said.