2012 one for the books for politics and controversy



 

 

The article below summarizes headlines throughout the year for 2012. It covers events of the year as they appeared, edition by edition, in The Blount Countian. Only the highlights were selected and the choices were somewhat subjective. The emphasis is on major public affairs matters, although some important cultural and athletic events are included.

If it seems there’s an over-representation of election-related news and certain controversial subjects, that’s unfortunately the way it was (and still is) in the county’s current history. The boldface, italicized lines were the actual headlines that appeared in the paper. Some needed the accompanying explanation provided, while others seemed to stand on their own. Mike Criswell unopposed as he seeks fifth term as circuit clerk.

The June Fling brought a crowd to downtown Oneonta.

The June Fling brought a crowd to downtown Oneonta.

January 4 Holiday Slam. Oneonta High School Redskins swept their own holiday tournament as both boys and girls varsity teams bring away victories over Hueytown and New Hope, Miss., respectively, in the finals. Jackie Sivley qualifies for county school board place 2.

January 11 Warrior ‘tax grab’ case settled. Following discussions with the Blount County district attorney’s office, representatives for Warrior agreed it will not attempt to collect sales or license taxes from Blount County businesses operating within its police jurisdiction. How do you charge for a $1000 leak? The question arose following a case in Snead in which an elderly couple was charged some $1,800 for two months service from the Snead Water Department – more than 20 times the normal billing – for that period. The usage

Dry weather early in the summer was tough on area farmers.

Dry weather early in the summer was tough on area farmers.

apparently stemmed from a leak – though one was never found – in the line between the water meter and the customer’s house. The case raised the question of whether all water systems, not just a majority of them, should have a hardship policy to reduce financial distress created by such castrophic and unexplained cases of excessive water loss. Snead had no such policy.

County officials and activists welcomed the reopening of two of the county’s three covered bridges.

County officials and activists welcomed the reopening of two of the county’s three covered bridges.

January 18 Standridge announces run against ‘Goliath’ Bachus. Probate Judge and Commission Chairman David Standridge announced his

candidacy for the District 6 U.S. House of Representatives seat against 10-term incumbent Spencer Bachus – a race he described as “David against Goliath.” Green unopposed for top county job. Chris Green announced his candidacy for the position of Blount County probate judge/commission chairman. No one else qualified to run for the job.

Anniston’s Ellen Hardy was crowned 2013 Miss Covered Bridge in October.

Anniston’s Ellen Hardy was crowned 2013 Miss Covered Bridge in October.

January 25 Sherry Burns is unopposed in district judge election.

February 1 The race for circuit judge. King asks voters to consider performance, experience in re-election bid; Reid emphasizes unique mix of legal, other experience as basis for qualification.

February 8 County engineer Spraggins will retire after 35 years. At 35 years and nine months, the state County Engineer of the Year (2005) had one of the longest careers in Blount County public service history. No reason given for retirement, but Spraggins said he preferred not to comment on the record. Incumbent Craig Johnson and challenger Rodney Dabbs vie for Hayden school board job.

The Redskins fell to UMS-Wright in the 4A title game.

The Redskins fell to UMS-Wright in the 4A title game.

February 15 R.C. Smith, Gary Stricklin square off for District 4 Commissioner.

February 22 Four candidates vie for District 2 commissioner. Profiles on Roger Bullard, Andy Neill, Carthal Self, Jeremy Smith. Susan Moore wrestlers win state. Cody Self, 1st place – 195 pound class; Freddy Hernandez, 2nd place – 170 pounds; Dylan Bishop, 2nd place – 145 pounds; Ty Sissom, 3rd place –113 pounds; Andy Waller, 3rd place 182 pounds. (group photo).

February 29 CASA calls for reinforcements as budget crunch approaches. Three-year United Way grant providing two-thirds of group’s funding expires this year. Board must replace funding to keep organization which provides court advocate services to foster children viable next year.

March 7 6th District U.S. House candidates respond to questions. Scott Beason, Al Mickle, David Standridge interviews; Bachus did not respond.

March 14 2012 Republican Primary winners. U.S. Representative, 6th district – Spencer Bachus Circuit Judge – Steven King District 2 Commissioner (runoff) – Carthal Self, Andy Neill District 4 Commissioner – Gary Stricklin Blount BOE, place 1 – Craig Johnson Blount BOE, place 2 – Jackie Sivley (unopposed)

March 28 Points of view on charter schools. Two viewpoints on charter schools, both negative, emphasizing it’s an unproven concept that further weakens funding for existing public schools.

April 4 New medical clinic planned for Locust Fork. Projected to be inoperation by late summer. Sen. Shelby holds town hall meeting. Meets with Blount County citizens for 26th consecutive year.

April 11 County commission asks to impose fee on out-of-county driver’s license renewals. Citizens attempting to avoid hours-long lines in Jefferson County have been showing up at the Blount County courthouse for driver’s licenses, causing delays for local citizens and prompting the county commission to request a local law for a $5 surcharge for serving non-residents.

April 18 Two members resign over Solid Waste Authority vote. Board chairman Bob Shows and board member Tommy Chambers resigned immediately following a 3-2 vote to recommend approving B&B Tire Landfill’s request to expand its scrap tire coverage area to include four additional states. Both resigning members voted against approval.

April 25 BBQ Cookoff winners (or local boys beat the big boys). Cam’s Barbeque of Rainbow Crossing and Big Daddy’s of Warrior swept the awards as out-of-staters struggled. Need a ride? Don’t forget Blount County Transit. Article highlights availability within served municipalities of county transit system’s demand/response service.

May 2 Self defeats Neill for District 2 commissioner. In close runoff, Self won 663-624. Farmers market gets off to early start May 5. Mild winter and early spring combine to bring vegetable crops in a month early as market for local produce opens Saturday at Agri-Business Center.

May 9 Commission close to county engineer hire. Six qualified candidates interviewed for job, three of them progressing to follow-up interviews. Selection decision is imminent.

May 16 Winston J. Sitton hired as county engineer. Senior from Shelby County engineering staff hired at annual salary of $88,543. Sitton hails from County Line, named for the Blount/Jefferson county line, where it is situated.

May 23 Oneonta Pubic Library to use collection agency to recover overdue materials. Increasing costs of unreturned books prompt library to contract with collection agency to secure return of loaned materials; failure to comply within reasonable time results in downgrading patrons’ financial credit rating.

May 30 New WCRL owners focus on local coverage. Blount County’s only radio station changed ownership after being owned by the same family for 59 years,. Robbie McAlpine of Alpine Advertising and local business owner Mark Sims purchased the station from the Bentley family. New state House, Senate districts set by Legislature. Redistricting plan breaks Blount into four separate House districts; two Senate districts remain, only slightly altered.

June 6 New principals named. Blount County Board of Education named new principals at four county schools: Susan Moore High – Chris Pullen; J.B. Pennington High – Brian Kirk; Blount County Learning Center – DeWon Farmer; Cleveland Elementary – Randy Walker. June Fling draws crowds of all ages. Annual event kicks off summer season in downtown Oneonta.

June 13 Blount County Educational Foundation awarded $90,000 grant. Grant given by Community Foundation

of Greater Birmingham to be spread over three years to cover “Expanding Horizons,” a program which provides summer library access and summer camp opportunities for students in all grades. Urgent Care South clinic open for business in west Blount. New urgent care clinic serves area in west Blount from Gardendale to Cullman and from Hayden to the Walker County line.

June 20 State scholarship program named for Richard Spraggins. Scholarship program of the Association of County Engineers of Alabama, providing two $2000 awards annually to prospective engineering students, was named for formed county engineer here, one of program’s architects and a main supporter over the years. Oneonta-based law firm merges with Massey, Stotser, and Nichols. Sherrer and Sherrer, one of county’s oldest law firms at over 100 years of continuous operation, merges with the 12-attorney Trussville firm.

June 27 Public hearing favorable for B&B coverage area expansion. By a count of 15 in favor to two opposed, speakers at a public hearing supported B&B Tire Landfill’s request to expand its scrap tire coverage area to four additional states outside Alabama.

July 4 Citizens group urges petition for alcohol referendum. Citizens for Blount County’s Future began distributing copies of a petition calling for an election to permit sale of alcoholic beverages in Blount County. The group estimated annual tax revenues in connection with legalizing liquor sales could be as high as $1.24 million annually, with much of those funds going to county school systems. Drought endangers crops. Early summer abnormal drought affects cotton, soybeans, peanuts and corn, with corn showing the worst affects with stunted development from lack of adequate rain. Affects on crops other than corn mitigated somewhat with advent of midsummer rain.

July 11 Commission approves B&B Landfill contract; replaces 911 head in dustup. One mild controversy is laid to rest as another, more rambuctious one is touched off in protracted struggle over whether to locate the new disaster resistant 911 center in Oneonta or in Cleveland.

The Oneonta site eventually prevailed, mainly because of a substantial cost advantage. West Blount Chamber holds first meeting. County’s second chamber of commerce was organized to promote business development in the fastest-growing section of the county, capping a groundswell of several years’ duration in the perception of the need for a separate organization there.

July 18 Anti-alcohol interests gird for possible referendum. “Dry” interests met at First Baptist Church in Oneonta to begin rallying supporters and organizing a campaign for a probable referendum this fall on legalizing alcohol sales in the county.

July 25 New DHR director Maria Dresser signs on. After sharing a part-time director for five months with Walker County, the Blount County DHR office got its own fulltime director with the transfer of Maria Dresser from the assistant director job in Calhoun County at Anniston. She holds a bachelor’s degree in social work, is a licensed graduate social worker (LGSW), and has served 10 years with DHR in various child welfare jobs. Commissioners identify roads for $1 million improvement project. Three roads, county roads 21, 28, and 41, were identified for an emergency allocation from the county capital reserve fund. Purpose was to stave off loss of federal funding by upgrading these roads on which federal funds have been spent and that have failed annual state inspections for three consecutive years.

August 1 Texting ban begins. Statewide texting ban goes into effect today, bringing $25 fine for first offense, $50 for second, and $75 for third and subsequent offenses.

Each conviction deducts two point off offender’s driver’s license. Nothing to LOL about. Mining suspended at Rosa Mine; MCoal future plans uncertain. McCoal idled its operations at Rosa Mine in May this year and has no definite plans as of this date to reopen in the future.

August 8 County administrator: on the payroll but not on the job. This was the first of 14 articles leading up to the firing of county administrator Ralph Mitchell and subsequent hearings before the county commission and Blount County Merit Board. The matter galvanized public opinion, led to choosing up sides among supporters and detractors, and generally stirred up the courthouse for much of the late summer and early fall. Rising college costs put higher education increasingly out of reach for poor, middle classes. Opinion on rate of increase of college costs relative to means of less affluent citizens, and comparison of costs of a bachelor’s degree at various postgraduate public universities.

August 15 Burns pursues rescue package for juvenile probation office. District Judge Sherry Burns told the county commission that the county needs to raise $47,000 to avoid losing an administrative support job critical to the operation of the Blount County juvenile probation office. The state Administrative Office of Courts eliminated state funding for this job and one other last year. Anti-alcohol group begin fundraising for referendum. Opponents of legalizing liquor sales in Blount County, reinstating their name Keep Blount County Special from the antiliquor campaign of two years ago, met Sunday afternoon to muster both facts and funds for a possible referendum on Nov. 6, if opponents manage to collect enough petition signatures to trigger the election.

August 22 Commission votes to fire county administrator. The Blount County Commission voted 3 to 1, with Commissioner Allen Armstrong dissenting, to fire county administrator Ralph Mitchell. Mitchell was sent a notice of termination specifying six charges taken from the Blount County Employee handbook and listed as dishonesty, abusive conduct, conduct unbecoming an employee, conflicts of interest, fraud in personnel matters, and failure to comply with ethics law. Commission chairman David Standridge excused himself from the meeting for a probate court hearing. Thomas retires as state representative; accepts job heading regulatory agency. Elwyn Thomas retires after 14 years representing District 34, accounting for about three-quarters of Blount County. Special election called to fill House Seat 34. Governor Robert Bentley set dates for a primary election to fill House Seat 34, vacated by Elwyn Thomas at his retirement Sept. 1. The primary date is Oct. 23. If a runoff is necessary, it will be held on Dec. 11.

August 29 County administrator hearing set. County administrator Ralph Mitchell is entitled to question accusers and present evidence of his innocence in connection with his Aug. 21 firing by the Blount County Commission. Accordingly subpoenas have been delivered to 14 witnesses requested by Mitchell’s attorney, Greg Reid. The hearing is set for Sept. 6. At the hearing, the commission may uphold it’s original ruling, overturn it, or over-

turn it with conditions. 911 board plans new Oneonta center. The Blount County 911 Board met in regular session and finalized plans to build the new 911 emergency response center on Jack Fendley Drive in Oneonta. The group decided to expand the existing 4300 sq.-ft. plan by 1000 square feet to allow room for future growth.

September 5 Standridge retires from county office; announces run for state representative. It’s a family tradition. Chris Green is sworn in as probate judge/county administrator, succeeding recently retired David Standridge. Green elected to the office early this year was appointed to assume it four months early by Gov. Robert Bentley. Administering the oath of office is former probate judge/commission chairman Frank Green, father of the younger Green. Municipal election results. (Winners of mayoral elections only) Blountsville: Mike Glass; Cleveland: Jerry Jones; County Line: Buddy Self; Hayden: Larry Armstrong; Highland Lake: Gail Bailey; Snead: Curtis Painter. Budget approved but system ranks next to last in per pupil expenditure. The Oneonta City Board of Education approved a 2013 operating budget in excess of $12 million. Including all revenue sources, Supt. Scott Coefield asserted the city school system ranks 131 out of the state’s 132 systems in per pupil expenditure, adding that it has done well with the limited resources available.

September 12 Commission confirms county administrator termination. The county commission upholds its original vote to fire county administrator Ralph Mitchell on an identical 3-1 vote with Commissioners Pitts, Calvert, and Neill voting in favor and Commissioner Armstrong against termination. The biggest party in Blount County. The Blount County Fair’s annual visit. Gregg Armstrong sworn in as revenue commissioner. District 34 primary turns into free-for-all. Six candidates qualified for the District 34 House of Representatives seat: Bill Burns, Mark Butler, Joe Hughes, Chris Latta, Jim Murphree, and David Standridge.

September 19 Fired county administrator requests merit board hearing. Ralph Mitchell has filed a request for a hearing before the Blount County Merit Board to appeal his employment termination by the Blount County Commission. The appeal will be scheduled in early October.

September 26 Merit board hearing on Mitchell case subject to schedule rearrangements. Merit board struggles to coordinate schedules among multiple parties; hearing date stretches to mid-October. Blount County will vote on sale of alcoholic beverages Nov. 6. Citizens for Blount County’s Future presented their petition requesting a referendum on alcohol sale in the county to Probate Judge Chris Green, who certified it as having more than the required number of 4251 valid signatures. The referendum will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

October 3 Crowe found guilty. Thomas Doyle Crowe, 34, of Blount County was found guilty of capital murder, and the jury voted 11-1 in favor of the death penalty. Judge Steven King has not yet ruled on the death penalty or lesser sentence of life without parole. County commission passes 2013 fiscal year budget. Expenditures were projected at $16,275,888 on anticipated revenues of $15,617,244. Oneonta approves $6.623 million 2013 budget.

October 10 Merit board pre-hearing reset in Mitchell matter. Hearing date reset to Oct. 18 from previously scheduled date of Oct. 12. Short hearing will establish time requirements for full hearing to be set later. If Blount County goes wet, commission will lose money. According to Probate Judge Chris Green, the county will definitely lose approximately $400,000 in ABC Board funding if the county votes to legalize alcohol sales in the county.

October 17 Oneonta adopts liquor ordinance ahead of vote. The City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance intended to severely restrict liquor sales within the municipality in the event the county votes to go wet.

October 24 Runoff set for District 34. David Standridge and Chris Latta will face off in the District 34 runoff on Tuesday, Dec. 11. Miss Covered Bridge 2013: Ellen Hardy. Ellen Hardy of Anniston crowned 2013 winner. Bridges open as promised in time for Covered Bridge Festival. Covered Bridge renovation is almost complete as two bridges are reopened and a third is nearing completion after having been closed to vehicle traffic since mid-2009.

October 31 Commission sets date for Oneonta school tax vote. In a special meeting called Oct. 30, the Blount County commission, in a 3-1 vote, authorized a special election to be held on Jan. 15, 2013, for Oneonta citizens to vote on a proposed 5-mill school tax increase. Plenty of choices on next week’s ballot. Two national offices (including President), 11 state offices, nine local offices, and 10 constitutional amendments are riding on next week’s election.

November 7 Merit board hearing set next week on firing of county administrator. Testimony in merit board hearing in case of Ralph Mitchell will begin Nov. 15 and Nov. 16.

November 14 Blount County official general election results. (Major office winners) President – Mitt Romney; U.S.House, 4th District – Robert Aderholt; U.S. House, 6th District – Spencer Bachus; Chief Justice, Alabama Supreme Court – Roy Moore; Circuit Judge – Steven King; District Judge – Sherry Burns; Judge of Probate – Chris Green; Commission District 2 – Carthal Self; Commission District 4 – Gary Stricklin; County School Superintendent – Jim Carr; county school board, place 1 – Craig Johnson; county school board, place 2 – Jackie Sivley. Wet/dry referendum: dry victory in close vote. Symbol of brewing controversy. First of two-part series on upcoming court case with statewide implications regarding use and occasional abuse of county roads by private enterprise – in this case logging interests – and the county’s legal right to enforce road-use regulations. November 21

Merit board session goes into overtime. Hearings extended beyond the two days scheduled, and are set to resume next week. New commission gets off to rocky start. Headline says it all as first meeting with new commissioners starts contentiously with a rare tie vote requiring the chairman to break the tie on an inconsequential matter and a split vote on approving the 911 Board’s request for authorization to spend funds for the new 911 center, long a subject of controversy. The request was approved after much debate.

November 28 Endorsements, spending, last questions for District 34 campaign. Last – and hardest – questions for runoff candidates Standridge and Latta – as interview focuses squarely on issues of personal character and fitness for office. Mitchell merit board hearing suspended for settlement talks. Prospect of settlement talks arise near end of hearing, which is suspended to allow time to confer. Holiday giving ‘best it’s ever been,’ says Hope House director Bud Jones.

December 5 Merit board hearing resumes; no dice on settlement. Hearing will resume, but board struggles to find date to meet schedules of all parties. Jeremy Oden resigns as state representative; another election looms. Oden’s District 11 includes about one– fourth of Blount County, located along its north and northwest boundaries. Oneontans call for right to vote on alcohol sales.

December 12 Redskins come up short in Auburn. Oneonta football team, on a run to the state championship, come up one game short as they fall from self-inflicted wounds to UMS-Wright. They finish with 14-1 record, losing state 4A championship for second year in a row. House District 11 election set for Feb. 12.

December 19 Standridge sworn in as District 34 State Representative. David Standridge wins house seat with 54 percent of vote, takes office at possibly momentous moment (if you’re an astrologist):12 midnight on 12/12/12. Controversy over use of county roads builds toward February climax. Hearing Feb. 12, 2013, in circuit court on lawsuit against Blount County Commission and District 1 Commissioner Allen Armstrong by county logging interests with statewide backing. Article examines more than year-long background to case and elements of each side’s argument. Four Republicans qualify for District 11 State Representative. All candidates in district embracing parts of three counties are from Cullman County: Danny Alldredge (Holly Pond); Mike Graves ( Vinemont); Lydia Haynes (Fairview); and Randall Shedd (Fairview).

December 26 Commission action upheld; Ralph Mitchell dismissed. The merit board found sufficient evidence on two charges – abusive conduct and conduct unbecoming an employee – to uphold the commission’s action in terminating his employment. Mitchell may appeal the ruling to the Circuit Court, but no decision on appeal has yet been made. Kelly Evans qualifies as Democratic candidate in District 11 race. Now residing in Hanceville, the former Blount County resident and business owner entered the race on the last day for qualifying.