The Political Round-Up
Downtown Y members sue;
Nodine wants trial moved;
Mobile lawyers in $15 billion Facebook suit; Dean not done? Eyes state Senate 35 opening; Wallace looms over mayor's race;
City Hall and the ruby red slippers
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
This and that along the political trail of late ...
A lawsuit by members of the Moorer Branch YMCA seeking to block the relocation of the downtown fitness facility is set for a hearing in Mobile County Circuit Court at 10 a.m. Friday, June 1.
The plaintiffs -- Dan McCleave, Jean Arnold and Dr. David Martin, III -- as representatives for members of the Moorer Branch of the YMCA of South Alabama ask Judge Rusty Johnston to bar the Board of Directors of the YMCA of South Alabama from moving the branch from its present location at Water Street to a smaller venue at the Kress Building on Royal St.
The named defendants are the YMCA of South Alabama, its board of directors, board chairman Ted Bennett, CEO Mark Hanke and Kress Investments.
The suit alleges a variety of irregularities in a secretive bid to sell out the downtown Y members to the benefit of other YMCA branches, particularly those in Baldwin County.
The YMCA of South Alabama has struggled under the weight of $5 million in debt. The present Moorer Branch building as been appraised at about $1.7 million. Its maintenance issues have reputedly also contributed to the Y's financial straits. The plaintiffs complain that they would lose many amenities in the move to a smaller facility, including covered, on-site parking.
Hanke declined comment.
Nodine wants trial moved elsewhere
Former Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine, accused of murdering his paramour two years ago, has asked that the trial be moved because of "intense" publicity that has inflamed public opinion against him so that an impartial jury could not be seated.
Nodine's motion contends that 17,400 articles have been published in connection with Nodine and the alleged murder of Angel Downs at her townhouse in Gulf Shores on Mothers Day, May 9, 2010.
Nodine's defense argues that Downs died of a gun shot t the head by her own hand. A previous trial ended in a hung jury, 9-3 for conviction.
The defense notes that even the prosecution, now headed by Baldwin County District Attorney Hallie Dixon and not her predecessor in office, Judy Newcomb, concedes the inadvisability of obtaining a conviction only to have it overturned on appeal because an overriding atmosphere of prejudice in Baldwin County.
The motion cites a number of derogatory comments about Nodine that were posted in response to articles on al.com, including references to him as "a scumbag" deserving death and "a druggie, trashy, woman-abusing murderer."
A trial free of prejudice in which Nodine's right to due process is protected can only be gotten at a remove from Baldwin County and nearby counties, according to his lawyers.
Should the trial be moved, Dothan has been mentioned as the most likely site of a second trial.
Mobile law firm in $15 billion suit vs. Facebook
A Mobile law firm is involved on behalf of plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed in California on behalf of Facebook users whose digital privacy was allegedly violated by the massive social networking site.
In addition to co-lead counsel, the court has appointed a Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee which includes Burns, Cunningham & Mackey of Mobile.
Filed in San Jose, CA Friday, the class action stems from "the revelation in September 2011 that Facebook was
improperly tracking the internet use of its members even after they logged out of their accounts," the action states.
The California filing consolidates 21 related cases lodged in more than a dozen states in 2011 and early 2012.
The plaintiffs assert claims under the federal Wiretap Act, which provides statutory damages per user of $100 per day per violation, up to a maximum per user of
"Even if Facebook’s alleged actions constitute a single violation of the Wiretap Act per class member, that implies more than $15 billion in damages across
the class," the lawyers assert.
The class action is being led by court-appointed co-lead counsel Stewarts Law US LLP and Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson & Gorny, P.C.
David Straite, a partner at Stewarts Law, said, “This is not just a damages action, but a ground-breaking digital privacy rights case that could have wide and significant legal and business implications.”
Dean down, not out
Political veteran Mike Dean, trounced in his bid to extend his career representing south Mobile County on the Mobile County Commission, said he isn't necessarily ready to retire from politics.
Dean, 56, said he may run for the State Senate District 35 seat. A special election will be scheduled after present state Sen. Ben Brooks joins the Mobile County Circuit Court bench later this year. In April, Brooks won the GOP nomination for the circuit judgeship held by Judge Jim Wood. No Democrat qualified for the post, so Brooks is unopposed in November.
State Rep. Jim Barton, R-104, is already running for the Senate seat. It was whispered during the County Commission, District 3 campaign, ultimately won by political newcomer Jerry Carl, that Dean might seek to reclaim the House seat he once held if his county commission hopes were dashed.
However, Dean said he had his eye on the state Senate and claimed stronger credentials for the seat than Barton.
“A lot of people think I ought to run for the Senate as someone who is well-qualified, moreso than Barton,” said Dean.
Barton declined an offer to respond.
Dean also noted that a Barton win would burden the taxpayers with the cost of yet another special election, as the need to fill the vacancy in House District 104 was created.
“If I decide to run again, it would probably be for Senate instead of the House,” said Dean. “I haven’t made my mind up yet. I’ll wait til the first of the year and see how things look.”
Despite the defeat, Dean was relieved to have the campaign over -- “It just feels like a whole piano has been taken off my back.”
“I’m just keeping my options open and enjoying the time I have (remaining in office) between now and November,” he said.
Led by well-known Baptist minister Fred Wolfe, supporters of Carl rallied “like it was a crusade for them,” said Dean. “I’ve never campaigned against a pastor before. But I have no regrets. It was a great run, 12 years. Nobody thought I’d make two terms.”
"I’m proud we didn’t run a negative campaign and we had lots of opportunities to do that,” said Dean. “We took the high road and decided to run on my record and I guess that wasn’t good enough.”
One consequence of Dean's political fall was the ouster of the Atchison Firm from all county legal work relating to District 3.
In a message to County Attorney Jay Ross last week, Dean advised, "Effective immediately, please direct any and all legal work that The Atchison Firm previously worked on, or would normally handle, to J. Michael Druhan. I do not want The Atchison Firm to work on legal matters regarding District 3. This is non-negotiable."
“I was shocked to find out (Jim Atchison was backing Carl),” said Dean. “Absolutely no loyalty. I was loyal to him for 12 years and he couldn’t be loyal back to me. I don’t want to jeopardize my last few months (in office)."
Dean said big things were on the horizon for Mobile County.
“Not a county in this state can compete with us,” he said. “Absolutely none. We’ve got everything covered, everything in place. We’re poised to go after some major, major opportunities. The chamber has 16 projects on line.”
"It’s just a matter of doing county business with people I can trust. Without that trust factor, you’ve got nothing. I didn’t know he was going to treat me like that. I was also shocked at how many Republicans jumped ship on me for no reason at all."
Atchison said he had no comment for the time being.
Wallace may run for mayor
A former Mobile police officer resigned Friday as he mulls a potential campaign for mayor in city elections next summer.
Ron Wallace, 39, who stepped down after eight years in law enforcement, confirmed his interest in Mobile's mayorship.
“Yes, I’m thinking about it,” he said, admitting that the move was “a little bit” tied to his political future.
“We need change,” said Wallace. “If you are living in the city, you know that.”
Incumbent Mayor Sam Jones has said he intends to seek a third term at City Hall in the August, 2013 elections.
Spending restraint, transparency and public safety would be the bedrock of his prospective campaign, said Wallace.
“We need to really watch how we’re spending; that’s a key factor to our future as a city,” he said, adding that more transparency in municipal finances would result in greater credibility among the citizenry and ultimately a stronger and more united community.
“We need to be more transparent with the citizens and let them know what’s going on,” he said. “If we’re doing things how we’re supposed to be doing them, we shouldn’t have anything to hide from anyone.”
Wallace also pledged to forge “a good relationship” with the City Council, regarding them as colleagues and associates in the delivery of good government.
“We need to work together,” he said. “You can’t be at each other all the time. I know there will be disagreements from time to time, but you need to get past those, start fresh on the next issue and do what’s best for the citizens and the city.”
Wallace challenged for the City Council, District 3 seat in 2009. Although longtime incumbent Clinton Johnson was ousted, it was Jermaine Burrell, not Wallace, who emerged as a council newcomer.
An eight-year veteran of MPD, Wallace spent five years as a detective and three years in patrol. He also served for a time as a department spokesman.
Wallace said also that he would reach out to the community and city employees because their input could prove invaluable.
“'Help me help you' would be a slogan in my campaign and what I mean by that is I want your ideas,” he said. “I want to take into consideration what people have to say. We may not do it (implement every suggestion), but the point is to ask the citizens to help you do the job. Give them some input with the city. After all, you have a stake in where you live, where your livelihood is.”
Wallace said he would be a visible and supportive mayor, regularly encouraging and supporting city workers for their efforts.
Lastly, said Wallace, public safety would be paramount in a Wallace administration and “I just can’t say that enough.”
“There have been things going on in the city for the last several years, crime and all, that we cannot let stand,” he said. “Coming from law enforcement, I would make sure that public safety was our No. 1 priority along with sound finances.”
Wallace served in the U.S. Marines for eight years. A graduate of John S. Shaw High School, Wallace said he has some college credits but does not have a college degree. Wallace was a U.S. Olympic hopeful in 2000 in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints.
Wallace said he had no timetable for reaching a decision and officially announcing his candidacy.
Through a spokesperson in the mayor's office, MBT extended an offer to Jones to comment. The mayor did not respond immediately.
City Hall and the ruby red slippers
Like Dorothy with her ruby red slippers, the city of Mobile apparently has had the power to close its eyes, and click its heels together three times and repeat 'there's no tax revenue like new tax revenue' and magically ... well, not land in Kansas ... but go home to a fully-funded government, or at least much closer to it.
On March 10, 2009, the city amended Storm Water Ordinance 65-007 assessing fees against residential and commercial properties under a formula assigning "equivalent runoff units" according to the properties' size and use.
If collected, the fees would generate more than $10 million annually. "If collected" is the critical point. Despite adopting the ordinance, the city never collected the revenue.
There is a little more to it than an oversight, according to Barbara Drummond, the city's Executive Director for Administrative Services and Community Affairs. Much as with a garbage collection fee, storm water fees are "cumbersome" to collect whereas with the sales tax, the system is already in place.
City Council President Reggie Copeland's recently disbanded advisory committee on city finances discovered the ordinance and included its enforcement among its recommended revenue enhancements and spending cuts.
The advisory committee forecast almost $10.5 million in storm water fees by 2016-17 -- nearly $3 million from residences and almost $7.5 million from commercial properties.
Drummond said much remained "up in the air" about how best to address the city's financial conundrum. However, plans were proceeding to increase employee health insurance contributions and to get the Legislature to approve the installation of cameras on traffic lights at 20 major intersections to ticket motorists who run red lights.
Currently, city workers here pay just 18 percent of the average of workers in other jurisdictions throughout Alabama, said Drummond.
According to Drummond, in order to project revenues from traffic fines generated by traffic light cameras, Mobile was studying results in Montgomery where the program is already in effect. The monies would be split 80/20 with 80 percent devoted to offsetting the $126 million unfunded liability on the Police and Fire Fighter Pension and 20 percent toward maintenance of the cameras and administrative costs.
Among the intersections where cameras would be installed are:
- Airport Blvd. and McGregor Avenue, 83,000 cars pe day;
- Dauphin St. and Springdale Blvd., 43,000 cars per day;
- Airport and University Blvds., 89,000 cars per day;
- Cottage Hill and Hillcrest Roads, 45,000 cars per day;
- Azalea and Cottage Hill Roads, 43,000 cars per day.
This will be the second time the city has pushed for traffic light cameras. The first effort failed and included the puzzling opposition that the program constituted racial profiling.
It looks to be a long, hot summer at City Hall unless some good news (Airbus announcing that it will manufacture jets at Brookley Field?) falls like manna from the heavens.