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The Political Round-Up

Should mayor's pay match mayor's job?;
Saraland, Creola play footsie;
Graddick, Stuart have history & herstory;
Insurance reform body to meet here;
At Nodine's Beck & Pascal; Counts out;
Ouch ... now I get it; Crime time

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Odds and ends, jetsam and flotsam.

Look for a Mobile city councilor to propose a pay hike for the city's mayor from its current $89,000 annually to $200,000 a year. The reasoning? In the private sector, any chief executive officer worthy of the title draws a salary of at least $200,000 a year. If Mobile wants genuine competence in its executive leader, it should also expect to pay the going market rate. If adopted, the pay hike would not take effect until after municipal elections in two years.

Preliminary talks have begun discreetly among municipal leaders in Creola and Saraland aimed at merging the former into the latter. While economies of scale in providing services figures in the discussion, the primary benefit, for Saraland, is greater access to commercial property along I-65 and, for Creola, safe harbor for public education within the Saraland city school system. With a population of just 2,000, some Creola families consider themselves unhappy hostages of the Mobile County Public School System.

More than 30 years ago when he was Alabama's attorney general, Mobile County Presiding Judge Charlie Graddick hired Lyn Stuart fresh out of law school. The Atmore native is now a justice on the state Supreme Court. Although Gov. Robert Bentley appointed his chief of staff Chuck Malone as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to fill out the unexpired term of Sue Bell Cobb who stepped down earlier this month, some state pundits and politicos regard Graddick and Atmore native Stuart as potential frontrunners to win a full term on the high court in elections next year.

Insurance reform commission
to meet here Aug. 29
The Alabama Affordable Homeowners Insurance Commission (AHIC) will host a public forum here Monday, Aug. 29 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Mobile Convention Center downtown, according to AHIC member and state Sen. Ben Brooks.

Coincidentally, the forum will take place on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley, the 30-member AHIC is charged with developing innovative solutions to tumultuous times in the insurance market stemming from recent hurricanes and tornadoes. Bentley has said, perhaps ill-advisedly, that he will call a special session of the Legislature this fall if AHIC has produced proposals that are guaranteed to win passage. Critics have grumbled that such a pre-condition serves to give an upper hand in negotiations to industry interests that prefer the status quo.

The session will take place on the second floor of the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center on Water Street in the West Ballroom. Free parking beneath the convention center will be available.

Former Foley Mayor and current Baldwin County Probate Judge Tim Russell is chairman of AHIC. Russell tapped Brooks to serve as the Baldwin/Mobile regional chairman for AHIC. Brooks will moderate the forum. According to Brooks, the program will be allowed to run past the allotted 2.5 hours if participation warrants. He said guests would be allowed to sign up to speak up until 5:30 p.m. The program calls for two hours of citizen input with a five-minute break in-between. A final hour or so of "brainstorming" among commission members will conclude the session and the public is welcome and encourage to remain for AHIC's discussion.  

Speakers will be chosen randomly.

Brooks emphasized the importance of a healthy turnout by Alabama's coastal communities. A paltry showing would send a message of Mobile/Baldwin apathy to other areas of the state and possibly dampen enthusiasm for action as AHIC members from throughout the state carry their observations home, said Brooks.

At Nodine's Beck and Pascal
Baldwin County criminal defense attorney John Beck has signed on gratis to assist court-appointed lawyer Pascal Bruijn in defending former Mobile County Commissioner Stephen Nodine against murder charges in the shooting death of Nodine paramour Angel Downs 15 months ago in Gulf Shores.

Beck's profile in the criminal defense world heightened dramatically with his win in the acquittal of Eric Buzbee who was accused of murdering Spanish Fort service station owner and community elder Bobby Wilson. Buzbee was tried three times in the high profile case before a jury found him not guilty. The case figured prominently in the political campaign last year when Hallie Dixon triumphed over her former boss incumbent District Attorney Judy Newcomb.

"We are at a critical stage in the case and I've asked John Beck to assist me," said Bruijn. "The state's recent disclosure of critical evidence (i.e. Angel Downs' blackberry) has allowed the defense to counter the charges head-on and I'm excited to have John Beck assist me in preparing the case for trial."

Nodine was tried nine months ago but the jury could not come to a decision. Dixon has said new evidence in the case has come to light and she will take the case back to a grand jury for review. Many in the Mobile/Baldwin legal community expect to see the grand jury, whose members and proceedings are secret, to "no bill" the case, leaving the doused political firebrand Nodine convicted only of minor drug charges and a quirky federal conviction for being a drug abuser who also possessed a firearm. However, others anticipate that "lesser included offenses" maybe added to the indictment, allowing a petit jury greater leeway in assigning some degree of guilt to Nodine in Downs' death.

"The recent forensic testing of my client's clothing was conclusive and conforms with what we've been saying all along: Mr. Nodine did not shoot Ms. Downs," added Bruijn.

Downs, 45, died of a gunshot wound to the head in the driveway of her home off Fort Morgan Road on Mother's Day in 2010. Witnesses reported seeing Nodine drive away not long after hearing the gunshot. Nodine's defense, previously headed by Mobile criminal defense attorneys Dennis Knizley and John Williams, argued that Downs committed suicide, citing her alleged abuse of alcohol and prescription medication and a previous attempt. She and the married Nodine had a longstanding tempestuous relationship.

The value of Beck's pro bono contribution to Nodine's defense is about $100,000, assuming representation from indictment through trial to a jury verdict, according to knowledgeable sources in the Mobile/Baldwin criminal defense bar. If a grand jury "no bills" the case, the investment of time and resources would be considerably less, although the value would be difficult to gauge if Beck's involvement somehow plays a role in a new grand jury's reconsideration of the evidence in Nodine's favor.

Baldwin County Circuit Judge Charles Partin is presiding over the case.   

Counts out
Longtime member of the Ladd Stadium Board of Directors Braxton Counts has exited. Appointed more than 20 years ago by then Mobile City Councilman John Peavy, Counts' term has expired and he has not requested reappointment to the unpaid position. Counts served as chairman of the board for about two years. 

Ouch ... now I get it    
"If the US Government was a family, they would be making $58,000 a year, spending $75,000 a year and possessing $327,000 in credit card debt. They are currently proposing "big" spending cuts to reduce their spending to $72,000 a year. These are the actual proportions of the federal budget and debt, reduced to a level that we can understand." — Dave Ramsey, Financial Peace University.

Crime time
"Counties in Crisis, Assessing Quality of Life in Alabama," an 80-page Alabama State University study ranking Alabama counties, was mailed recently to 1,500 elected officials across the state. It ranks Alabama's 67 counties based on four indicators: economy, health care, public safety and education.

Mobile County is listed as having the highest number of juvenile arrests at 2,883 in 2009. Jefferson, Madison, Montgomery, Calhoun and Mobile counties had the highest number of reported rapes.

The best counties overall? Shelby, Madison, Baldwin, Jefferson and Limestone scored highest.

Another study was released Monday by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. It examines crime reports between 2006 and 2010. According to the report, 12 percent of all violent offenses involve relatives harming each other. Thirty percent of all simple assaults involve family violence. Although victims and their attackers may be related, statistics show that police solve just half of those cases.

Courts crippled
Funding cuts to Alabama's courts system will force more than 250 new layoffs of personnel in circuit clerk's offices at courthouses across the state, according to circuit clerks.

Some smaller counties will be left with only two employees in their clerk's offices, said the president of the Alabama Circuit Clerk's Association, Chambers County clerk Charles Story.

Story said the cuts will cause delays of trials and long lines for citizens coming to clerk's offices to take care of business such as paying fines or filing court documents.

Former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb authorized clerks to cut office hours by as much as 10 hours a week. But Story said that was not to save money, but to allow clerks to leave offices unattended so staff could assist judges.
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