It's time to send Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong a bill for $320,000. That's the latest cost estimate for yesterday's special election to decide the decidedly non-emergency question about whether the county needs to ditch its current taxation/collection structure and install a Revenue Commissioner in its place.
The latest results from the Madison County Probate Judge's office show that just 10,260 out of 233,840 eligible voters showed up - 4.5% turnout - and those who did vote rejected the change 62% to 38%.
The special election cost the county approximately $31.18 per vote.
Why did this need to be decided immediately? County Commissioner Dale strong would have us believe we needed the cost savings, assuring voters that the election "would pay for itself in three years."
We would only pay one revenue commissioner instead of a Tax Assessor and Tax Collector. BUT.... the Revenue Commissioner by law would be paid $10,000 MORE than the Assessor or Collector. AND there would be "deputy assessor" and "deputy collector" positions that had to be filled (not by the voters; perhaps Strong already had some buddies in mind) and those people would, by law, make 90% of the salary of the Revenue Commissioner.
I'm not that great at math, but even I can do this one....
Let's use some easy numbers as an example and assume that both the Assessor & Collector make $50,000/year, so the county spends $100,000 on salaries. A Revenue Commissioner would be paid $60,000 ($50,000 + $10,000), and his/her two deputies would each make 90% of that, or $54,000.
Current Structure: $100,000
Dale Strong's Cost Saving: $168,000
Math: it's a marvelous thing.
But let's remember that Dale Strong wasn't the only person pushing this stupid, unnecessary special election. He had to have allies in the Legislature because of course the current Alabama Constitution doesn't allow counties to make even the most basic decisions for themselves. Hell, we can't even pass a a vicious dog ordinance without legislative approval. No way any county would get to have a Revenue Commissioner without permission from our legislative overlords.
Madison County voters should commend the Madison County commissioners and especially our local state legislator, Mike Ball, for their cooperation, teamwork and vision in placing this referendum on the ballot.
After this resounding defeat though, Ball might prefer the public shunning.
What Madison County voters would prefer though is to have our $320,000 back in county coffers.
It's no joke campers, and the answer is NO. Even if it were a great idea, there is absolutely no reason for a special election to decide this question. It could have easily have been on the ballot during the 2014 primary or general election.
"The Revenue Commissioner allowed property to be reduced in value without adequate documentation," the audit said. "Property values were reduced for many taxpayers without going through either the informal hearing process or meeting with the Board of Equalization as provided in the Code of Alabama 1975, Section 40-3-16."
Some of those changes were made on land owned by the commissioner and his family members, according to the audit.
Further, the commissioner gave homestead exemptions on two separate properties owned by a family member, when Alabama law only permits a property owner to claim a homestead exemption on a single residence, according to the audit.
Revenue Commissioner Joey Masters, accused of misconduct in a November audit, continues to draw his $67,000 annual salary despite the fact that he stopped coming to work seven months ago - and one county commissioner is fed up.
Madison County currently has a "separation of powers" in county taxation and collection. The Tax Assessors office determines valuation of each parcel and the Tax Collector's office collects the appropriate amount of tax per parcel. This represents one of them most basic "Accounting Controls" that I learned in college: the people who process the invoices shouldn't be the same people who collect and process the payments.
Why? Marshall County comes to mind....
In fact, the current system has worked well in Madison County:
The 2012 annual audit of the Tax Collector Office found only a $0.20 difference for a total amount of $200,000,000 collected.
The the legislators gave for the change is to "save money," but how the heck is spending over $300k for a special election on this one topic saving money? It's not like the proposed structure is "leaner & meaner." Instead, it hands citizens a large unelected bureaucracy to navigate:
Passing HB616 would not only put a single person into position, replacing the two. The law as written would require the establishment of two additional, highly paid positions--an Assistant Assessor and an Assistant Collector. By law each must be paid at a rate of 90 percent of the Revenue Commissioner’s salary. Additionally, the new Revenue Commissioner must be paid $10,000 more than the current tax collector or assessor.
Math. A simple concept that escapes our Republican legislators.
Apparently, the GOP supermajority motto is: "If it's working, break it (to prove that government doesn't work). And send the bill to the taxpayers."
You see these two fellow travelers have declined to beat the anti-Common Core drum enthusiastically enough for the committee's conspiracy theorists. And it's getting personal, y'all:
"Mary Scott shows a lot of the earmarks of the liberal," said Hugh McInnish, an executive committee member who voted for the censure of Hunter. As for Holtzclaw, said McInnish: "He's as bad. We're going to give him some attention."
McInnish, if you recall, was last seen cavorting with birthers in an effort to have President Obama removed from the ballot. Hey, he had to try something after his much-anticipated "white paper on Obama's birth certificate" failed to generate enough outrage. Ridicule, it appears, just wasn't an acceptable substitute.
Unable to take down a sitting President, McInnish and his allies have now turned to easier targets: their own Republican Party elected officials. You know, those same folks they let on the ballot in the first place.
Well, the committee isn't happy with them now. Here are the charges laid out in their "elephant court:"
Hunter, a Republican who represents North Alabama on the state school board, was accused of helping block legislation that would have repealed national standards, known as common core, for Alabama's public schools. Holtzclaw is accused of the same.
Republican leadership at state, national and county levels oppose common core. McInnish accused Holtzclaw of "bragging" to business leaders about defying party leadership.
But don't worry, guys.... there's still hope:
The next executive committee meeting will be the third Monday in September. "If he wants to come and repent of his wrong doing, we'll listen," said Johnson of the senator. Johnson said he advocated censuring elected officials by name last year.
Since 2007, we've covered some of the antics of this group, so let's indulge in a quick review on the flip:
Madison County Sheriff Blake Dorning told WHNT News 19 that his office will not enforce new gun control legislation if he feels those laws violate the Second Amendment. Dorning said he has serious doubts about President Obama’s latest proposals, stating that any gun laws which do pass would have to be in line with the U.S. Constitution and Alabama state law in order to be enforceable. [...] “As long as you are a law-abiding citizen, then I don’t see a problem with law-abiding citizens being able to arm themselves however they so choose,” said Dorning, who pledged to ignore any law that would call for the confiscation of assault weapons or any other firearm. “Our people in our communities and homes need not fear that the Sheriff of Madison County or his deputies would come to their homes and make an attempt to disarm them. It will not happen under my watch.”
Holy Marbury vs Madison, Batman! Do not pass Go, do not ask SCOTUS for review, just call up the Madison County, AL Sheriff for Constitutional law advice!
Notice how deftly Dorning tosses in a strawman about "disarming" people at the end of that statement. It plays totally into the paranoid conspiracy theory that the feds - backed by UN black helicopters & copies of the fanciful Agenda 21 - are just waiting for marching orders from the half-Kenyan, half-Muslim, half-Socialist, half-Fascist non-American spawn of Hitler occupying the White House. Don't bother to point out that no person can be "four halves" because these are not people who can be swayed by either logic o.r math
It's really amazing: thesheriff of one of Alabama's most populous counties has the time to do his job, the aptitude to study constitutional law, and the legal expertise to interpret laws. Oh, and he also possesses the total chutzpah to think that he has the authority to choose which laws he'll follow and which laws he won't.
That hasn't worked out so well for us in the past.
Let's visit those not-so-thrilling days of yesteryear, why don't we....
Lynching. Now, murder has always been against the law, but Southern law enforcement officials ignored that fact when it came to lynching. Southern politicians prevented the passage of a federal anti-lynching law and the US Office of Civil Rights (part of the DOJ) obtained its first lynching conviction in 1964 after a lynching in Florida.
Hate Crimes: We have federal hate crimes laws because - once again - local officials have had a tendency to ignore crimes committed against marginalized groups: GLBT, Native Americans, minority religions, etc.
The President cannot get the two major revisions unless Congress signs off, but Sheriff Dorning said even if they do, Washington is not his final authority.
Um... yes it is.
George Wallace. Schoolhouse Door. Enough Said.
The amazing thing here is that it's Sheriff Dorning who thinks President Obama is out of line and overstepping his authority.
Please Sheriff, remove the log in your own eye before worrying about the speck in anyone else's.
Alabama Democrats have reason to celebrate! The ADP is planning a grand opening at its new Birmingham Field Office tomorrow, Jan. 17th at 4:30 pm. Join the party for a ribbon cutting at the headquarters (2024 4th Ave. North). A reception follows at the Harbert Center (2019 4th Ave. North).
You know how we've been dunning you and even begging people to donate to the ADP for over a year now? Well.... here it is again!
Some people have been reluctant to donate because of dissatisfaction with how the party operated in the past. They doubted whether Judge Mark Kennedy could actually change anything - if indeed he really wanted to.
It's always a bit of a circular argument: people want to see results before they donate to an organization, but it's hard to get results without money. So hats off to those donors who did have faith in Kennedy and his staff.
Those of you still hanging back and wanting to see some real change can see - and visit it - in Birmingham.
As the nation prepares for the 57th inauguration of a new President, we have a lot to celebrate! Although emotions ran high and the rhetoric was pretty hot, our citizens accepted the results without violence. In America, we're used to that, but it's certainly not the case in other parts of the world. This election showed the resilience of our political process and our commitment to our political institutions.
Madison County Democrats are planning to do more than feel proud though: they're getting ready to party and everyone is invited!
Here's the flyer with ticket information:
We'll be celebrating many things:
Our chance to move this country forward with a fairer tax code and increased opportunity for all.
The wisdom of the American voters, who saw through the smokescreen of misinformation and elected the candidate who will work for us - not just the 1% at the top & the big money donors.
All the new friends we made during the campaign.
Even though we didn't turn Alabama blue this time, there were victories had, friendships formed, and a foundation for the future was laid.
Is your county party celebrating the Inauguration? Please let us know about it in the comments - or in your own diary.
The Madison County Democratic Party wants YOU to celebrate the 2012 headquarters this weekend. If you'll be anywhere near Huntsville, drop by between 1& 5pm for music, food, and fun fellowship with fellow Democrats. The HQ is open from 10-5.
The headquarters is located on the southwest side of the intersection of North Memorial Parkway & Sparkman Drive:
2835 North Memorial Parkway Huntsville, AL 256-227-9972
I've been involved with the Madison County party since I was in college in ... cough, cough... 1984.... and I don't remember the party ever opening a headquarters office this early in a presidential election year. We generally open right around the time of the nominating convention because that generates a lot of interest and excitement.
But this year, we don't have to gin up excitement, Madison County party chair, Clete Welti, explains:
"Excitement about the upcoming elections and building the party has been difficult to contain, and that’s an especially good turn."
There's a new kerfuffle facing the Madison County Republican party: a challenge to the winner of a county District Court judge seat. Chris Messervy defeated Linda Coats in the runoff - although Coats led in the primary. Now, Messervy's win is being challenged two local Republicans:
The complaint filed by two Madison County Republicans, George Barry and Phil Williams, seeks to have Messervy disqualified as a candidate based on violations of the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act.
Both men are supporters of Linda Coats, who Messervy defeated in the runoff after he captured 61 percent of the vote. Coats won the March primary with nearly 49 percent of the vote.
The Candidate Committee of the Alabama Republican Party is holding a hearing in Birmingham today to hear the complaint.
What's the issue? The complainants allege that Messervy didn't follow the rules for campaign disclosure:
According to Alabama Secretary of State records, of the 22 filings required since September 30, Messervy had at least 15 late filings, 11 of which were less than a week late. One filing due March 9, was filed on the date of the primary election, March 13. His March monthly filing due March 31, was a month late.
This isn't a minor thing. If a candidate for judge can't follow the law in his/her campaign, how careful will he/she be on the bench?
Of course, there's one little problem. The Coats supporters didn't think to secure their own glass house before casting stones:
Coats has two late filings, according to the secretary of state's website.
While all this is just delicious, at the same time, it points to a huge weakness of the the Madison County Democratic Party. There is no Democratic challenger on the ballot in November. If the state GOP committee decides to toss both candidates, then they get to "appoint" someone to the post. No election required because there's no Democratic candidate.
Howard Dean preached the necessity of contesting every seat in every election at every level of government. With new leadership in the ADP, here's hoping that Alabama Democrats take that sermon to heart in 2014.
See a runoff election decided by just 32 votes. See the loser pay $750 for a recount. See the Madison County GOP vote to cancel the recount - after spending the $750. What do we "see" here? Republican notions of "fairness" on full display.
It appears that Madison County Republicans belong to "no organized political party," but instead affiliate with an organization controlled by a cabal of 7 members who set policy according to their own whims.
A recount of Eddie Sisk's narrow win over Parker had been set for Wednesday, but the campaign committee of the Madison County Republican Party voted 4-3 Tuesday not to allow it, said county GOP chair John Noel. [...] After losing by 0.86 percent of the vote (or by 32 votes) in the April 23 runoff, Parker - a teacher and the boys basketball coach at New Hope High School - immediately sought and received permission from Noel for a recount. Parker paid $750 for the recount last week and has been told he won't get that money back, either. [...]
Noel said opponents of the recount said there was no proof offered that there was an issue with the initial results and that it would set a bad precedent to have the recount. Had Sisk's margin been less than .5 percent, a recount would have been automatic, Noel said.
As for the $750 Parker paid for the recount, Noel said it went to a business in Birmingham that prepared the ballots for recount. Those services were rendered, Noel said, so the money is gone.
Yep. Making sure that all ballots are counted and the results are accurate would set a bad precedent, wouldn't it? Just ask Al Gore.
That Executive Committee is a busy bunch:
The executive committee voted to block longtime Democrat Tom Butler from the ballot for the District 2 seat on the County Commission after Butler changed parties in October 2011. Butler eventually lost an appeal to the state Republican Party.
The local executive committee also voted to stop Jeff Cooper, Sisk's opponent in the general election, from running as a Republican.
There are no guarantees in politics. In general, you pay your money and take your chances. But at least if you pay your money, you expect to get a chance. Joey Parker just got taken.
As for the county committee? What a bunch of losers.
Former Governor Bob Riley was all excited last month as he endorsed former Alabama legislator Tom Butler for the Madison County Commission. Butler had spent decades in the legislator as a Democrat. After losing his seat in 2010, he suddenly decided he was, in fact, a Republican.
Not surprising at all. Butler's legislative ability fits right in with those jokers. After all, he's the guy who gave us the infamous sex toy ban.
Provisions of Alabama’s 1998 Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act prohibit distribution or production of “any device designed or marketed as useful for the stimulation of human genital organs,” the Huntsville (Ala.) Times reported Tuesday. Although possession of sex toys isn't a crime, violators of the law face up to a year in jail and a maximum $10,000 fine,
State Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, the bill’s sponsor, said the 14-page measure was originally intended to end nude dancing in parts of Madison County and not ban sex toys.
It was a breathtaking bit of legislative incompetence (and "unintended consequences") that Scott Beason could only dream of.
But there's a snag in Butler's plan. Looks like he's getting the "Parker Griffith treatment" from the local Republican Party:
Monday night, a divided Madison County Republican Party executive committee approved a motion that bars Butler from seeking the GOP nomination for the open District 2 County Commission seat. [...] "Tom Butler is a likable gentleman and a good, moral man," GOP Executive Committee member Hugh McInnish told The Times before the meeting. "But he's a Democrat and a liberal, and he does not fit the Republican Party."
I agree with McInnish here. There's certainly no room in the Republican party for anyone who's likeable or moral. How do you think Beason & Hammon ended up in the GOP?
Benjamin Bird, the Democratic candidate for Madison County Board of Education (District 5), briefly addressed the Madison County Democratic Executive committee earlier this month.
Mr. Bird discussed his background and listed his priorities if elected to the school board.
He stressed the need to increase the quality of education and bring accountability to our schools in Madison County. Also, Bird mentioned three specifics:
Reduction of the bureaucratic process.
Reducton in the hassles with funding flow and standardized testing and emphasize actual quality education.
The need to mandate a local flow of funding in Madison County and fund our local schools at adequate levels.
Bird actually addressed this last point here at LIA last week. It's a thoughtful diary about how the current political process hampers educational process and offers solutions to local funding for education.
I've met Mr. Bird several times and have always come away impressed by his intelligence and ideas about how to improve education locally and in Alabama.
He's from Pennsylvania and had previous school board experience there, as well as and experience with charter schools, which he opposes.
It's really exciting this year to have new people coming into the party and stepping up to run for state and local offices. These local races, especially, are the "bench" for our next generation of leaders.
Kudos to them for making the sacrifices necessary to run for office!
Learn more about Benjamin Bird at his Web site and view the video (it's only about a minute long) on the flip.
(I wish I lived in Mr. Bird's district! - promoted by countrycat)
As many of this blog readership may already know, I am Benjamin J. Bird, the Democratic candidate for the Madison County Board of Education, District 5.
I have been initiating research as to the rationale for the intensive lack of funding afforded to our public schools in Madison County.
As part of my campaign I am attempting to study and understand the current dynamic associated with the barriers to adequate funding for education in North Alabama. I understand the lack of revenue streams due to the repudiation of local tax modifications that would generate moderate income by the public at large; however, I am having trouble placing a direct correlation to individual political motives of those charged with the responsibility of stewardship in regard to our public schools.
Should it not be the case that our civic leaders need to educate and inform their constituents about the opportunity we are facing in the shadow of an impending population explosion?
Madison County is no longer a purely agrarian culture, with the tax burden shared by only a few thousand people. The current increase in residents multiplied by only a modest ½ cent tax implementation would leverage enormous financial power, including allowances for the effective matching of monies to take advantage of several state and federally sponsored funding streams. However, “tax” is a dirty three letter word, most often resulting in political death [especially to a newcomer], so that I will not mention “tax” in reference to my platform.
In lieu of the word “tax” I will focus on education and conversation.
No, it's not the good behavior that's spreading, but you probably guessed that.
Challen Stephens wrote a very informative and well researched piece for the Huntsville Times yesterday about money handed out by Madison County Commissioners in the form of "discretionary funds." He's not talking peanuts here either, it amounts to $5 million over the last 3 years and it really is discretionary -- the commissioner alone decides what to do with the money. No discussion, no votes, no oversight to speak of. Some commissioners give the money to schools, museums, fire departments, etc. and some hire extra employees or spend the money on charities, one even gave $80 K to a marina that isn't even in her district.
[Commission Chairman Mike] Gillespie suggested that the county's discretionary accounts were no different than those employed by state legislators. "We are not the only body that does this," Gillespie said.
"But Mom, everybody's doing it! Even the Alabama Legislature" That never worked with my parents and there are good reasons it shouldn't work for government entities. There's a distinct lack of transparency when the Legislature hands out money this way and it isn't healthy for local governments to decide that because Montgomery gets away with something, they should, too.
"Most counties have gone away from that, just because of the inherent problems," [Jackson County Commissioner Horace ]Clemons said, adding of Madison County: "When you have one of the wealthiest counties in the state doing what's being done there, you're asking for problems."
Most Alabama counties don't have much discretionary spending, and Madison County didn't until a dozen or so years ago:
The commissioners didn't used to give out so much cash. Most of the money for public works was spent on road projects outside the city limits. But that began to change in 1996.
"It first started increasing when Mo (Brooks) got on the County Commission, and Dale was willing to go along," said Dyer. "And it's evolved more since Bob Harrison got on the commission."
Here's what they spent in the last three years:
District 2 - Faye Dyer (R) - $1,953,319 District 5 - Mo Brooks(R) - $1,859,571 Chairman - Mike Gillespie (D) - $796,582 District 6 - Bob Harrison (D) - $249,023 District 4 - Dale W. Strong(R) - $192,387 District 1 - Roger Jones (D) - $142,118 District 3 - Jerry Craig(D) - $121,080
For those who don't know the players, Brooks (who is running for Congress now) was in the State House back in the eighties and early nineties and apparently brought this great idea back from Montgomery. Jones, Craig and Strong represent rural districts and do very little in the way discretionary cash payouts. Most of their "discretionary" funds go for road maintainence, tree trimming and so forth. The commissioners with city districts are the ones who can afford to hand out tens of thousands of dollars (or more) at a pop.
"The truth is, that's all part of being re-elected," said Rich McAdams, president of the Madison County school board. "I don't like the discretionary money period, the way state legislators want to run to a PTA meeting with a $1,500 check. It's taxpayer money."
Too true. This is a way to buy goodwill, if not actual votes. Is it an appropriate way to use public money? Chances are none of these Commissioners is foolish enough to spend money in actually inappropriate ways, but without oversight there's no assurance they're spending the money in anything approaching the best way in terms of public good, either.
The Madison County legislative delegation held a forum last Monday to listen to the concerns of constituents. Apparently they do this once a year (why only once?) and anyone with an issue can sign up for 3 minutes at the microphone. Great, I thought. We'll go and hear people voice their concerns about Constitution reform, campaign reform, tax reform, the whole gamut of critical issues facing this state. In hindsight, gamut was the perfect word.
One of the rules was that the people get to talk -- as much as they can say in three minutes -- but the legislators have no obligation to say anything afterwards. For the most part, a polite "thank you" from Sen. Tom Butler (who acted as spokesman for the Madison County delegation) was the only response on offer. "Crickets" was the sound most frequently heard from the legislators. OK, I'm down with that. They're not talking, they're listening to constituents just for this one night.
No explanation was offered for the absence of my Senator, Lowell Barron (D, SD8). Of course, the Senate district 7 seat once held by Parker Griffith is currently vacant. So, the stage is set. Follow across the flip to see what burning issues Madison County constituents wanted to lay before their elected representatives.
The Madison County Legislative delegation will hold a forum this evening at the Huntsville City Council Chambers (308 Fountain Circle, downtown) from 7 to 9 pm. Questions and comments (limited to 3 minutes) will be permitted but you need to sign up to speak so if you have a pressing issue you really want to bring up, better get there about 6:30.
May I suggest Constitution Reform? Tax reform? Campaign finance reform? They are expecting to hear a lot of concern about the economy and proration. You may also bring printed handouts to distribute to the legislators.
Obama/Biden yard signs arrived today at the Madison County Democratic Headquarters. They're going like hotcakes so don't let the grass grow under your feet coming down to 2227 Drake Avenue, Suite 26 in Huntsville to pick one up. Donations welcome, but not required.
On June 3rd, Madison County voters handily defeated a proposal to increase the sales tax by half a cent. The school board had promised to use the increase for school construction.
Growth in Madison County - particularly in the unincorporated areas has been huge over the past decade, with the county school system averaging over 400 more students each year. That's almost another school's worth of kids each year.
Unfortunately, due to the outdated Alabama Constitution, the school systems have very few options to raise additional money to help accomodate growth.
What shall we say about these residents who stubbornly refuse to raise their taxes to help pay for education? Don't they care? Is it a symptom of "I've got mine, who cares about you" syndrome? Do people just think taxes are too high now or that the system wastes money?
All of the above, but there's something more. Something that few of the business leaders, developers, and elected officials never want to acknowledge or discuss.
Unregulated, uncontrolled growth and development create unsustainable strains on infrastructure and quality of life. We're told over and over that we must grow, that growth is good, but the cost is only discussed when the existing residents are asked to pony up more money to help pay for the additional services required by the new residents.
States and local governments all over the country have found a partial solution that I think would work here as well: Impact Fees.