The Political Round-Up
Airbus aside, budget accord elusive
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Mobile County District Judge Mike McMaken will step down Oct. 1, the Mobile Bay Times has learned.
McMaken is the longest serving judge, state or federal, in Mobile County, with more than 25 years on the bench.
McMaken, 65, confirmed the move with MBT late Thursday afternoon.
"It's the right thing to do," he said. "I've been doing this for 25 and a half years. I have a son going off to college in 10 days, a daughter with one more year of high school. I want to try to make use of my time a little better where my family is concerned. But I am going to miss it."
Now a Republican, McMaken won election in 1986 as a Democrat and took the oath of office in January, 1987. He was re-elected in 1992, 1998, 2004 and 2010. In the fall of 1993, McMaken assumed duties as the judge of the Mobile Drug Court, presiding over Drug Court cases in addition to his duties in the District Court since that time.
McMaken said he would like to remain involved in the Drug Court if possible.
"If they want me to, I’ll keep helping a little with drug court," he said. "We're about to have our 100th graduation. 100 classes is pretty impressive. Not everybody benefits. Some fail. Some don't try. But in almost 20 years, how many have benefited is astounding. When it works, there is nothing like it. It’s wonderful. So I would like to help there if possible. I hope to stay busy, maybe in some way with drug court, with mediations and some pro bono work through the bar association."
McMaken has a long list of civic, church, charity and public service accomplishments over the course of his career.
McMaken has battled health issues for several years and has occasionally been sidelined for brief stints while undergoing treatment.
The governor may possibly appoint state Sen. Ben Brooks to the vacancy on the bench if the Tillmans Corner product is one of the three names submitted for the governor's consideration by the Mobile County Judicial Selection Commission. Brooks is unopposed as the Republican nominee for the Mobile County Circuit Court slot held by the retiring Judge Jim Wood. After Brooks is sworn in as circuit judge in January, the governor would again get to fill the district judgeship with an appointee.
In tapping Brooks, the governor might save the state some money by setting a special election to fill the state Senate opening in conjunction with the general election in November. State Rep. Jim Barton has already erected campaign signs. Mobile County Commissioner Mike Dean has said he will run. Others drawing mention include recent county commission contender Nick Matranga and Mobile County Circuit Judge Charlie McKnight.
Typically, the five-member Mobile County Judicial Selection Commission screens applicants for the bench and sends a list of three prospects to the governor. The governor has 90 days to chose one or the appointing authority transfer to the chief justice of the state's Supreme Court. Presently, presiding Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick and attorneys Danner Frazer and Billy Bedsole are on the judicial selection committee. Two non-lawyers are picked by the county's legislative delegation to serve with the legal community representatives on the committee. Those two slots are open.
Armistead Mobile bound
State GOP Chairman Bill Armistead will be the special guest at the Mobile County Republican Executive Committee's fall meeting Monday, Oct. 1. A 6:30 p.m. reception will precede a 7 p.m. meeting. The place is to be determined.
Heard of late
Mobile County Commission attorney Jay Ross and his longtime associate Buzz Jordan have broken up their law firm, Ross and Jordan. Ross reportedly will join the law firm of Adams and Reese LLP, a defense firm headquartered in New Orleans with offices throughout the Southeast and in Washington D.C.
The Mobile County Metro Jail is never the most pleasant place, but the summertime with its scorching temperatures and soaring inmate populations make it a sort of purgatory for all parties who toil or tarry behind its walls.
According to Warden Trey Oliver, the jail population always soars during the summer and this year has been no exception. In fact, he said, a couple of weeks ago
the jail set an all-time record of 1,806 inmates. Of those, there were 259 women, 18 of them pregnant and three those "high risk" pregnancies. The jail was designed to house a maximum of 1,187 inmates.
Nevertheless, the warden considers himself the lucky one.
"My job is fun," he said. "Those poor officers in the back, their job is very stressful and difficult on a GOOD day ... the noises, the odors, the slurs, the disrespect, the mental illness, the bad behavior, the thefts, the assaults, the crowded conditions, the homeless, the needy, the bitchy, the dangerous, the suicidal."
"I should be writing a book," he said. "Most folks have no clue what goes on behind these walls."
Budget accord elusive
In a missive to "my fellow Mobilians" captioned "Mobile's Future Outlook," Mayor Sam Jones explained that he missed his self-imposed July 15 deadline for submitting a balanced budget because of the implications of the anticipated announcement of Airbus's arrival here and a desire allow the City Council's Citizen Budget Advisory Committee time to complete its analysis of city finances.
The mayor assured in his newsletter that he will meet an Aug. 20 deadline for submitting a balanced budget as required by state law.
The mayor's newsletter implied that a deadlock between his administration and four or so skeptical city council members over the necessity of reinstating temporarily a $30 million annual tax increase might be broken by the good news. Airbus has announced its plan to build a $600 million assembly line at Brookley Aeroplex. More than 1,000 workers would be employed building the French-based company's popular A350 commercial jet. As many as 3,000-4,000 additional jobs are anticipated as suppliers flock to the central Gulf Coast.
"The old adage, 'What a difference a day can make,' is so appropriate for Mobile," Jones wrote. "In this time of global economic crisis where cities across the country are grappling with a dwindling tax base, Mobile stands at the brink of economic success."
Just a month ago, pre-Airbus announcement, Jones pointed out that budgeting process included the possibility of a future that many citizens might find unrecognizably spartan. And his tone in the newsletter suggests that with better times in the not too distant future, an additional one percent sales tax in the city would be more palatable to the council and others as the city seeks to seque into a brighter economic future rather than welcome Airbus to a skeletal city.
"... we are mindful of the need to show the resolve of Mobile and its ability to deliver world class services ...," Jones wrote.
"Though we are still confronted by extraordinary budgetary challenges that require us to come together, as a community, to reconfirm our priorities and define the kind of City we want to be - Mobile's future is brighter, thanks to Airbus," Jones enthused.
City Councilman John Williams said, while the Airbus news was most welcome, it changed nothing about the proper approach to city finances, which could be summarized as 1) live within your means and 2) prioritize. According to Williams, Airbus would be pleased to partner with a fiscally conservative city that managed its money soundly, rather than one that maintained a rote tax and spend mentality.
"Sally" has ruled the city's budgeting process for far too long, said Williams, explaining that "Sally" was an acronym for "same as last year."
Williams said the city seemingly has a zombie-like approach to the budget, dully trudging in its same well-worn path, straying only slightly to reward a "good" department with a five percent increase or punish a "bad" department with a five percent cut, thus keeping all in line.
Williams said Jones, both in his public utterances and in private conferences, has failed to convince him the $30 million tax is essential, although the mayor's tenacity that all present city programs, properties and employees are indispensable continues to confound him.
Not surprisingly, Jones see things differently.
"My administration has diligently worked to slash spending and work in a collaborative fashion with every appointed committee to insure that our city's future is charted with all voices/opinions be heard," the mayor maintains.
Williams took exception to the mayor's claim of collaboration.
"He met with me but I don't think collaboration is any part of this administration's M.O.," said Williams. "They scheme and -- I don't use this word very often -- strategize to position themselves to some advantage and proclaim dire circumstances. They are not collaborative. I wish it wasn't like this, but it appears to be the case now. I send messages trying to get information and they go off into a black hole. If I get any response, it's smart-alecky. Same old thing, just a different day."
Williams said he noted that Jones actually used the word "priorities" in his newsletter, a first to the bemused Williams' recollection.
"That's the first time I've ever heard him mention priority," said Williams. "If he has any sense of priority, I'd like to know what it is. He told me the other day that every service we do is absolutely critical, all of it, everybody is equally important; we could not do without anyone."
According to Williams, the mayor has as many as 200 city employees supplying him with financial information whereas the council has virtually no access to data except through the mayor. And too often, he implied, it seems as if they don't have half the pieces to the puzzle and some of those go with a different puzzle.
It is symptomatic of the city's unhealthy financial situation that officials can't agree on the size of the impending deficit, the mayor asserting $29 million and various council members thinking it might be closer to a third of that.
"I don't have any other way to ask," Williams said. "It's not like the banks are coming forward, one saying I've got 17 accounts, another saying we've got 23 here, another saying 45 accounts with us. There are a multitude of accounts out there. What are those dollars? How are they being accounted for? It's scary that we can't say where we stand to the dollar. If my household is off a couple of dollars, that literally means a dollar or two."
Jones remains confident in his leadership and a Mobile future buoyed on Airbus' wings.
"Whatever circumstances we face, be assured that I will run this City in a fiscally responsible way and keep my pact with the public to put their interests before all others," the mayor pledged. "Airbus will transform our character and strengthen the city's future."
Hubbard to head regional group
Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was the unanimous pick to head the Southern Legislative Conference which met recently in Charleston, WV. The SLC will hold its annual meeting next year in Mobile.
Founded in 1947, the SLC is the largest of four regional legislative groups operating under the Council of State Governments. States represented are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
Young Repubs in Baldwin County
The Young Republicans Federation of Alabama will hold its summer meeting Aug. 10–11 in Fairhope. The event will be held at Holiday Inn Express Fairhope (Meeting) and the Grand Hotel Marriott (Welcome Reception). Registration Fee is $35 (includes catered meal on Saturday). Reservations must be made by Aug. 3. For more information, contact Jackie Curtiss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GOP Road Trip
Mobile Republicans are planning a road trip to Washington County for Mobile's northern neighbor Republican Executive Committee’s first ever "Meet and Greet” for GOP candidates. The event, on a date to be determined, will feature a dinner at Jake's Restaurant. For more information email email@example.com.
Mobile Area Education Foundation granted $150,300
The Toyota USA Foundation has awarded the Mobile Area Education Foundation (MAEF) with a $150,300 grant to support the EYE on STEM Leadership Academy.
The Engaging Youth through Engineering (EYE) on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Leadership Academy will develop STEM leaders comprised of teachers, administrators, teacher educators, and business/industry leaders who will expand on the implementation of STEM curriculum to middle schools in the Mobile County Public School System and rural counties in southwest Alabama region.
"Toyota believes in supporting programs with long-term sustainable results. The Mobile Area Education Foundation has a successful history of providing educators and administrators with key resources in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics," said Patricia Salas Pineda, group vice president of national philanthropy and the Toyota USA Foundation. "Given Toyota's manufacturing presence in Alabama and our commitment to this great community, we are incredibly proud to support this important program."
MAEF will host a STEM for ALL Leadership Conference for 140 STEM leaders from throughout the region Aug. 6. The STEM for ALL Leadership Conference will offer a variety of speakers, lunch panelists and breakout session leaders representing national, state, and local perspectives on STEM in K-12 classrooms including Keynote Speaker Elizabeth Parry-Chair, K-12 Division, American Society of Engineering Educators (ASEE). The conference is the first of many sessions scheduled for the EYE on STEM Leadership Academy.
Vigor students to host
Prichard mayoral candidate forum
A group of teens from C.F. Vigor High School (VHS) will host a mayoral candidate forum Tuesday, Aug. 14, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the Vigor High School Auditorium, 913 Wilson Ave N, Prichard, AL.
About 15 students have been studying local government and preparing for the forum under the direction of the League of Women Voters of Mobile (LWVM), which has partnered with Jessica Norwood of Emerging ChangeMakers Network, an organization she founded that "pairs emerging leaders with allied supporters committed to making change happen in communities that have been historically disenfranchised."
This group’s aspirations go far beyond the election event. Troubled by the common perception that in order to survive Prichard, one must get out of Prichard, these high school seniors, juniors and sophomores endeavor to improve their city so that residents will want to stay and raise their families there.
“We can't blame the politicians for all of Prichard’s problems. Sooner or later the community has to take responsibility for its part,” said Shamaica Lewis, who is entering her junior year at Vigor.
The event is open to the public.
The VHS Civic Engagement Project aims to:
- inform the community about issues impacting Prichard;
- provide an opportunity for citizens to engage in an open forum with mayoral candidates; and
- bring teens and adults together to work collectively to build a better Prichard.
Issues of particular interest to the students include crime rates and police response time, blighted property, bad roads, and a lack of parks and recreational areas. The group dreams of making Prichard a desirable community where people want to live again.
“I feel excited because these young adults are connecting to their community, to what matters to them, and they are discovering that they can make a difference. They recognize that voting is one way to have an impact, even though most of them are still too young to vote,” said Mary McGinnis, special projects director for the LWVM. Training and funding for this project was provided in part by NeighborWorks America.