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Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
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The Political Round-Up

Pots of gold and will the center hold?
Collier calls annexation meeting;
Obama speaks tonight, local Dems set open house;
Lawyer tribal wars 

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Chalk up Merceria Ludgood's temporary departure from the District 1 seat on the Mobile County Commission to collateral damage from the political bombshell of the city's latest annexation drive.

The political backlash scuttled a tentative agreement that would've financially satisfied wrongly ousted County Commissioner Juan Chastang, according to several sources, while allowing Ludgood to continue in office for the remaining 11 weeks until she begins a full four-year term for which she is unopposed in the November general election. A preliminary agenda item to that end vanished just before the most recent county commission meeting.

Various state legislators, other elected officials and some of their constituents who would be affected by, but not be permitted to vote in, the annexation referendums remain distressed over the city's tactics in trying to expand the city limits and double its tax take from commercial districts just outside the present city limits. They describe it as cynically calculated, heavy-handed and exclusionary -- identify a big pot of increased tax revenues, couple it with a nearby pocket or pockets of malleable voters, dazzle them with promises of parks, street lights, garbage collection and improved police and fire protection, call for a vote, take the money and run.

Left on the outside grumbling, in the view of City Hall's critics, are the very consumers who are largely responsible for the "pot of gold." 

Architects of the annexation proposals counter that detractors would deny areas desiring to join the city the right to determine their own fate, and underscore that delegates from the neighborhoods in question first approached the city about annexation. Further, in the view of City Hall, it is unreasonable to expect the city to take in additional territory and residents without offsetting the increased obligations with a source of revenue to pay for the enhanced services and amenities due newcomers to city residency.

Legislators were irritated that they were blindsided by the city's proposal, that no straight forward show of cooperation and good faith was shown to elected representatives of the areas. Jones' dismissal of their concerns -- he said he sent letters to all of them inviting them to go over the plans, but none responded -- particularly rankled because the letters were dated Aug. 15, postmarked Aug. 18 and not received and read for several more days, well after press conferences and media reports of the proposals. Their input and influence was not solicited, but then again it was not required, as the mayor's letter makes clear. Jones offered to meet with the legislators and provide them with a "briefing" and "detailed explanation" of the plan. 

Jones expressed (reportedly with sarcasm) his appreciation for the legislators' willingness to provide input, but assured them that city officials could handle the city's business successfully. Most, if not all, of the legislators and officials who felt slighted by Jones' words and actions are Republicans. Elephants are said to have long memories. And the legislators are equipped with tools for score evening. Today's smug officials could become tomorrow's angry and frustrated ones and vice versa. Gamesmanship and pettiness on either side jars and clangs alongside the mayor's praise for the area leadership's "continuing efforts on behalf of our great community."    

From the "take it for what it's worth" category:

There have been rumblings that the city should expect anything but a warm reception in Montgomery next spring when it brings its initiatives before the state Legislature.

Another intriguing, though unverified and perhaps unverifiable, read has it that the city's annexation plan includes two "lay down" districts, the residential neighborhoods off Schillinger and Snow Roads in west Mobile where annexation is a near certainty; one "straw man," the Moffett Road area where rejection is likely and not unexpected; and one battleground, the Theodore-Tillmans Corner area where the real money is -- $8-10 million in additional tax revenues -- and the outcome could go either way.

Besides the money mainly being in Tillmans Corner/Theodore, annexation would also enhance Jones' re-election prospects next year, adding significantly to his strongest demographic base support. In other words, in the Tillmans Corner/Theodore section, there are 1,340 blacks; 1,018 whites; and 37 "other." The Moffett Road/Semmes section shows a break out of 1,074 white; 107 black; and 21 "other." Thus the theory of a "straw man." Taken in total the four voting areas reflect white to black racial majority of 62.5 to 35.7 percent. However, if annexation is voted down in Semmes/Moffett Road and up in the other three areas, the city's racial percentages would be unchanged by the addition of 1,503 whites and 1,365 blacks.     

Ordinarily, the Theodore-Tillmans Corner area, even one tailored by annexation proponents, would be an iffy proposition. However, disgust with drug-related crime and prostitution as well as a general sense of unmet needs bodes more favorably for annexation than in years past, according to some community leaders.

The current climate has spawned any number of rumors, some more plausible than others, suggesting at least in the early tumult that the center may not hold.

Among them:

If the city limits were extended to take in the existing police jurisdiction, Mobile would gain almost 60,000 residents, soaring past the 250,000 population mark and becoming Alabama's biggest city as well as a potential rival to any Gulf Coast city other than Houston.  
A little background: GOP Gov. Bob Riley appointed Chastang to fill out the remaining term of office left open when then-County Commissioner Sam Jones, now the face of an expanding Mobile, was elected mayor of Mobile. Democratic state legislators successfully challenged Riley's right to make the appointment and Jones' political ally Ludgood won a special election to the District 1 seat. Ultimately though, Riley was upheld. Attorney General Troy King questioned the legal propriety of paying Ludgood. Ludgood resigned office, casting a gimlet eye on her way out at fellow Commissioner Steve Nodine, a Jones' nemesis and a Riley/King ally. Whether the District 1 office is again vacant or merely awaits the return of Chastang has not yet been made clear.

Another wrinkle in the dispute over the county commission seat vacated by Jones involves legal expenses. In ruling for Riley, the court assessed costs to the individuals who challenged Riley's appointment of Chastang -- state Reps. Yvonne Kennedy, James Buskey and Bill Clark. An amount and any measures under way to collect it were not readily available. Likely though there is a distinction between court costs and lawyers' fees, meaning that Kennedy, Buskey and Clark would be liable for a fairly negligible figure having to do with filing fees and not the $100,000 or more that the state incurred in paying lawyers.

And to think, just a few short months ago at Ruth's Chris Steak House here, the governor, the mayor and a small coterie of their supporters/community leaders were breaking bread together and toasting one another.

Collier calls meeting in Irvington
State Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Bayou La Batre, has called a community meeting at the First Baptist Church of Irvington Thursday, Sept. 4 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the city of Mobile's annexation proposal for the area. For further information, contact Collier at  654-1540. Collier said he is especially troubled by the annexation proposal's potential to stretch Mobile's planning jurisdiction so that it overlaps with Bayou la Batre's. Collier said he did not want "to wake up one morning to find out I have to go downtown to Mobile to get approval to build a shed in my backyard."

Obama's moment
Mobile area Democrats will gather at party headquarters at 3165 Dauphin Street at 6:30 p.m. Thursday for an open house and to watch a television broadcast of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

Next week GOP takes stage
Area Republicans are invited to gather for GOP presidential nominee John McCain's acceptance speech at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4 at Mobile County Republican headquarters in the YesterOaks Retail Center on Airport Blvd just west of I-65 near the Boiling Pot ( formerly the Lone Star Steakhouse). For more information contact Pete Riehm, Mobile GOP vice chair, at 251.442-4349.

Alabama lawyer wars         
(an exchange taken from a website apparently frequented by some of the state's barristers)

Newly: Most difficult lawyers are in Mobile. Can't do anything by agreement ... Second biggest bunch of turds practice in Huntsville. Kill those bastidges off and practicing law would be less stressful by 40 percent.

Bates: My impression is that the Mobile lawyers ... drink more heavily than the 'Ham lawyers but aren't as tricky, even though they wish they were.

Inigo Montoya: We Mobile lawyers have a gentlemen's agreement not to cooperate with you carpetbagging bastiges from the 'Ham.

Newly: That explains it.

Bama220: Never had a case against a Mobile lawyer.

Newly: Consider yourself fortunate.

Marius:  At least you can trust the word of most Mobile lawyers, unlike B'ham. ... as for Mobile, it's all a matter of whose Mardi Gras organization you belong to.

Belle: LOL. But kind of true.

Newly: Stop it. My sides are hurting.

CSN: I can promise you this is a joke. B'ham lawyers are a-holes of the first degree. Mobile lawyers still retain some measure of civility in the bar. You probably just think you can push someone around and don't like it that you can't. I deal with them all, all of the time and B'ham loses this contest hands down.
Newly: You're ***** wrong, kid.

CSN: 15 years of litigating heavily says you're ********* wrong kiddo.
Newly: 20 here, Sport.
CSN: Still delusionally wrong.

Newly: You must be a Mobilian.

CSN: You must be a crybaby Hammer. I have dealt with lawyers from all over the country and you guys give them all a run for their money and not in a good way.

Judge: One Mobile lawyer can do the work of five Birmingham lawyers. As for Huntsville, I treat that place like a foreign state. Should be re-named Turdsville.

Great One: Watch it, Bay Boy...

Newly: You've been drinking too much water from the Bay.

Elvis's Colon: "I'm in Mobile and there are a lot of lawyers like that, but not all of us are."

Newly: Pffftttt.

Marius: Newly, ever deal with New Orleans lawyers? Now that's some kind of fun.

Inigo Montoya: You should have spent 10 years dealing with those Mississippi yahoos.

Marius: In Mississippi, its the judges you have to look out for (g).
Inigo Montoya: The only time in 20 years that I wanted to rip a lawyer's head off and defecate down his neck involved a Mississippi lawyer.

Newly: The ******-******* group. We're usually co-counsel, though.

Marius: We deal with them pretty regularly. Very few good ones. Sorry you are having "problems" with one of my Mobile brethren. If you need "insight" re who you are dealing with or re your Judge (if it's here) give me or J a call.

Newly: One of them? LOL. I kid, I kid.
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