Small towns, big troubles: St. Clair County
Or why I oppose constitutional reform
Editor’s note: With fewer real football stories taking place, we are entertaining ourselves with commentary on other issues involving the state. We’ll try to append a note at the top of each in case you’d rather just skip the stuff that isn’t football.
Living in the Birmingham metro area gives one a chance to see the comedy of bad governance on the large (Jeffco & Birmingham) along with the smaller scale (St. Clair County and its cities.)
For the last few weeks (months) my Birmingham News has been filled with stories on towns dissolving themselves, merging, allegedly corrupt school officials and now one town trying its best to undue an economic development project.
One town, Branchville has voted to dissolve itself and merge into its neighbor Odenville. Odenville was the model of good government, and Branchville has long been a joke. So, the nonsense of its leaders drove Branchville citizens to dissolve the political bonds and look for a better solution.
And the fight rages over whether Argo will become part of Springville. By far, this fight is a disgrace because local officials have done everything possible to obstruct the will of the people. Why? Because they want to preserve their own powerâ€”their own fiefdom.
Howâ€™s that for government? When the people decide they want to vote on something, the town decides to stonewall and violate the very spirit of the law. Argo is the model for why Alabamians have been reluctant to support constitutional reform. It is bad enough these idiots have limited power kept in check by the state, just imagine them with more power and without any supervision.
And before someone says the voters can supervise them, these thugs are doing everything possible to prevent the people from votingâ€”Argoâ€™s city leaders are attempting to thwart the will of its citizens by looking for a way around holding a vote.
The probate judge Wallace Wyatt has certified a petition; however, the town has not scheduled a vote and is looking at ways to avoid it. We are a nation of laws, and if our political leaders ignore or violate the law, then there is no hope for our future.
And as long as municipal governments behave like Argo, there will be no constitutional reform in Alabama. Period. Despite surveyâ€™s showing a growing public willingness to accept constitutional reform, donâ€™t be deceived. Alabamians will not vote for any plan that would raise taxes or give these yahoos more power.
â€¨The St. Clair county school system was rocked last week as details were made public about a long-rumored, but never publicly reported (until now) sexual link between a retired superintendent (Tom Sanders) and a high school bookkeeper (Amy Murphree) guilty of embezzlement.
In court documents the bookkeeper admitted to using most of the $140,000 she stole from Ashville High School to fund the affair: Murphree used just about all of the money taken from the school to pay for hotel rooms for the affair, trips with Sanders, purchase Viagra for Sanders, prescription pills for herself and Sanders, food for both of them, along with other items during the affair with Sanders,â€ her attorney Lance Bell wrote in a sentencing memorandum to St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Charles Robinson.â€
Of course, Sanders was unavailable for comment to the newspaper that reported the story. But, those allegations linking Murphree to Sanders were just the beginning. A tape appears to show Sanders cashed a campaign check and gave it to Murphree after she was placed on leave by the school board, the Daily Home reported.
While the project is moving forward, the city is upset it has to share tax revenues with St. Clair County and its neighbor Moody. The problem? Leeds couldnâ€™t have done the project without the cooperation of the county and city (Note: the actual development rests in Jefferson County, but Jeffco wouldnâ€™t help Leeds and since Leeds straddles Jeffco and St. Clair, the forward thinking St. Clair Commission and City of Moody were approached to help with financing the project.)
Now for some reason Leeds is upset it wonâ€™t get a larger share of the revenue. Boo-hoo.
Leeds never would have landed the store without Moody and St. Clair County and now for some reason the council has gotten greedy and wants more. Well, beggars canâ€™t be choosers. They needed help, and a deal was structured, which the city approved dozens of times.
Now it isnâ€™t a good deal? It would serve Leeds right if Bass Pro pulled out and located in a more professional and modern city, like Trussville.
Taxes have consequences
â€¨Another note for cities and towns: raising taxes or creating fees have consequences; Beware, lawyers have long memories and many different clients. When the City of Moody was involved in a license/tax dispute with a car auction business, ADESA, it probably thought it could win and raise its tax revenue.
But a few years later, when Jenkins Brick was considering building a plant near Moody (just outside the city limits), the lawyers representing Jenkins Brick were the same ones that previously represented ADESA.
While Jenkins Brick located outside the city limits, and the company made nice donations to the city and buys methane from the nearby dump (giving the city a boost of revenue) the lawyers made certain the plant could never be annexed into Moody. They got the county to turn the plant site (along I-20) into a county industrial park, and since county industrial parks cannot be annexed into a city, the plant is safe from the fiat of an unstable future administration.
Without the strong work of the countyâ€™s economic development team and the county commission, the project may never have happened, thanks to the short-sighted tax mindset of one local government.
â€¨Municipalities should learn, shortsighted solutions can cause long term harm. And as long as autocratic, shortsighted politicians run municipalities, constitutional reform will be a tough sell. I intend to vigorously oppose any expansion of local powers thanks to the example of Jefferson County, Birmingham and all the small towns of St. Clair County.