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Chip Drago
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the 4:08  report

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Not every house on fire is an accident nor is it necessarily arson or even an act of God. Sometimes that house fire was set by fire fighters themselves with the smiling property owner looking on.

Those fires are training exercises for the fire department. They are tax breaks for the owner. And it is street theater for the neighbors who are drawn like moths to the flame.

"People sometimes donate a house and they get a tax write-off and we get a training opportunity," said Steve Huffman, spokesman for Mobile Fire and Rescue.

There are some requirements before the department will accept the donation -- clear title and suitability for training purposes being high on the list.

"Not just any ol' house will do," he said. "It has to have elements that make it useful for our purposes. It's got to have a roof, a floor, doors and windows. It can't be too close to other residences or power lines. There has to be an adequate water supply, meaning two sources of water, usually meaning a fire hydrant and a tanker truck." 

Benefits for the owner include the tax deduction and lower costs for demolition and removal of the debris -- not to mention free entertainment for the neighbors. Also, it's pretty good PR for the fire and rescue department.

Huffman said MFR doesn't have a fixed schedule for house fire training because it depends on the rate of donations.

Property owners with a house they are interested in donating should call 208-2863, said Huffman. MFR will send someone to inspect the house to determine its suitability for training purposes.

On another MFR matter, Huffman said department leadership, in the tradition of Boy Scouts everywhere, was developing a plan to address fire and rescue concerns in Prichard should that financially strapped neighbor and its fire department be crushed out of existence under the weight of its debt.

"We've looked at that possibility," he said. "We're already putting in the planning just in case. There's a very good possibility (responsibility would fall to MFR) if that's (bankruptcy and dissolution of the city) what ends up happening. But they've been there before and survived."

Judgment day draws nearer?
Federal and/or state grand jury reports this week may deliver major developments in the controversy surrounding ex-Judge Herman Thomas and his tenure on the circuit court bench here, courthouse sources say. Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Steve Giardini, identified by Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. as his office's lead prosecutor in the Thomas matter, has been unavailable for certain proceedings this week because of his presence with one or the other of the two grand juries.

Do the math
Informed sources say Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. is unlikely to run for re-election in 2010 because he has reached that point in public service where his retirement pay would approximate his working salary. Political animal/public servant though he may be, Tyson or anyone working for pennies on the dollar would be hard-pressed to justify the arrangement.

To the rescue?
The Gulf Coast Classic's quest for good news may soon bear fruit. Reports are circulating that the highly-scrutinized event highlighted by a football game last fall at Ladd-Peebles Stadium between Alabama State and Southern is nearing terms with a title sponsor, said to be Circle K in a three-year pact totaling $1.5 million. None of several calls to Circle K regional marketing director Liz Jack were returned. The city funded the 2008 game with $275,000, an allocation that the City Council settled on after sharp debate. Area hospitality industry leaders suggested business generated by the GCC was minimal. GCC owners, the Gulf Coast Scholar and Sports Foundation officials are scheduled to meet next week in a CitiSmart session to assess the event, its economic impact and its worthiness for future funding. 

Mark of a judge
Mobile attorney Mark Erwin has been assisting as a municipal judge in Saraland at the request of City Judge Holmes Whiddon. Erwin's role in handling dockets in the north Mobile County municipality appears likely to grow. Erwin is a Saraland native and former chairman of the Mobile County Republican Party.

The odd up in a down time
The value of industrial waterfront property in Mobile is highest of any port on the Gulf Coast, according to an industry source.

"There's only so much of it here," he said. "Supply and demand. Demand is high relative to supply. That means the buyer pays a premium."

Who's biting?
A new webpage from the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) offers a pathway to many Internet sites that provide valuable information to recreational and commercial fishermen.

The page includes links to information about northern Gulf Coast tides, reefs, water temperatures, fishing regulations, boating and fishing forums and more.

“There is a lot of good information on boating and fishing available on the Web,” said Rick Wallace, Professor Emeritus with the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center. “However, there are not many Web pages that provide a simple, straightforward directory of links to some of the most essential fishing information for the northern Gulf of Mexico.”

Bama Girl coming to town  
The 2008-2009 Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers concludes with ‘Bama Girl,' a documentary following a young black woman’s quest to become Homecoming Queen at the University of Alabama. In her campaign, Jessica Thomas is running against not only 15 other co-eds but against a strictly segregated Greek system, internal black politics and a secret political organization called “The Machine” that has dominated student politics at the University, including the Student Government and Homecoming Queen elections, for most of the past century, although black students were elected homecoming queen as long ago as 1973 and SGA president in 1976. 

‘Bama Girl' is part of a program that begins with the short film I Always Do My Collars First: A Film About Ironing, and includes a question-and-answer session with ‘Bama Girl's filmmaker Rachel Goslins and a coffee-and-dessert reception. The program starts at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 23 in Bernheim Hall of Mobile Public Library’s Ben May Main Library (701 Government St). Admission is free.

Make an entrance
Gateway to the Gardens, Pathway to the Park, Tennis Way, Golf Drive, Boulevard of the Arts. Any number of catchy, or not, names are possible if plans to use federal stimulus package monies to resurface Springhill Avenue from I-65 to Municipal Park include beautification of the median to create a showy entranceway from the interstate for visitors to the Museum of Art, the Playhouse in the Park, the youth ballfields, Azalea City Golf Course, the tennis center and the Botanical Gardens. City Councilwoman Gina Gregory said she would investigate additional funding to incorporate median beautification into the project. 

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