Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The New TimesDaily and Us

The twenty-five year reign of the New York Times at our local newspaper is officially at an end. Since the Shelton family has elected to dismiss some of the higher ranking TD staff, we may infer that changes are in store. Many have e-mailed me to ask what changes. To be perfectly candid, I have no idea.

I understand that the NYT did not exercise total control over the local paper; I also understand that it did exercise at least marginal control. This control will now fall into the hands of a North Alabama family. I'm sure many changes will be immediate, while those on a larger scale will be implemented over a longer period of time. The Internet is no replacement for the printed page, and I hope that each of us will give the new TD a place in our daily lives.

That being said, the Internet is the place for rapidly breaking news stories. In our area, the ShoalsInsider does a fantastic job of keeping the public informed on late breaking news and those other topics that the TD has not felt worthy of space.

Similarly, it seems many still do not understand (or want to admit to understanding) the difference between a journalistic effort like the SI and a blog such as Shoalanda Speaks. Blogs are editorial in nature and, while often reporting the news, go much farther in offering opinions on what that news means to a community.

Shoalanda currently boasts around 1,000 unique viewers a week. Anyone may e-mail us (the address is conspicuously posted to the left of this column). So far, of all our readers, only one has sent us a rebuttal statement on any issue that we have covered. We printed the entire statement on the CITY program verbatim and are happy to do the same concerning any other issue. We have also made clear in the past which blogs we are affiliated with and which we simply recommend or showcase. Anyone who claims to find that nebulous is being intentionally obtuse.

If any have doubts as to the agenda of Shoalanda Speaks, let us be as direct as possible. We support:

Local charities which aid and enrich the citizens of the Shoals

Accountability for our tax dollars and elected officials

Accountability for teachers and others who work with our children/teenagers/mentally disabled

The stern and swift punishment of those who abuse women and other innocents in our community

If these are not your goals, may I suggest that they should be. The Shoals will not change without us. Let's make our voices heard.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Central Coach Greg Brewer Revisited

According to the latest reports, Central High School Coach Gregory Brewer's case was not dismissed. Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Jimmy Sandlin deferred Brewer's sentencing until the former coach/math teacher formally resigned and returned his teaching license to the State Board of Education.

This may sound good on the surface, but taxpayers are still providing Brewer with an income through June 10--all this while he's working another job. While it will be on Brewer's Alabama record that he forfeited his license because of nefarious activities, he may still apply to other states that perform less than thorough background checks.

What else could Judge Jimmy Sandlin have done? The maximum sentence for contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor is one year in jail and a $2,500.00 fine. Most accused of this type of crime do not receive a maximum sentence, but most are not teachers who have sexually kissed a twelve year-old student. If Judge Sandlin was not sickened and appalled by Brewer's behavior he should have been. It seems that Sandlin's campaign promises of saving local marriages have morphed into a soft on sex crimes approach.

On that note, for those who have asked about reporting local judges to Troy King in light of his new investigation into family courts: Yes, even if you and your family are no longer in the system, you need to report any suspicious or unethical behavior by any family judge with whom you've been involved.

For those who are mainly concerned about our tax dollars being used to support friends of various jurists, please continue to report this behavior to King's office, as well as filing complaints with the Alabama Ethics Commission. If we do not hold our elected officials accountable, we can never expect ethical government.

What's up with this: It seems more than physical characteristics run in some families; we've learned that a certain indicted rapist is not the first in his family to be arrested for a sex crime.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

FBI & Troy King to Investigate Local Family Courts

The following e-mail was forwarded to me from an extremely reliable source. It originated with a long-time critic of family courts/law in Alabama:

According to my sources, the FBI has finally agreed this morning to began an in depth investigation of the Jefferson County Domestic Relations Court and it's practices of NOT following the law and procedure as it relates to Divorce and Child Custody. Also, the Attorney General has sent us a letter promising to investigate Jefferson County, but more importantly do a broader state wide investigation on divorce cases and corruption of judges and lawyers.
I cannot name those involved nor can I comment on the details. I will post them as I that arrives, but you can also start focusing on the news every night.

Furthermore, we need everyone who has been affected by Domestic Relations (Divorce) court and believe laws, procedure and corruption affected your case to CALL the AG's Office NOW. It is very important that complaint's be made NOW. Now is the time to send letters and make calls to express your outrage at the lack of justice in your case. We have just cleared a major milestone with the FBI. On another note several Federal Lawsuits and civil suits have been filed against the judges and the State of Alabama in regards to the above info. Stay tuned to your news. I wish I could be more specific, but my info is limited, and is done this way for a reason.

In other words, even if you have already filed an ethics complaint against a local family court judge, now is the time to act further. Call, write, or preferably both, the office of Alabama Attorney General Troy King. Make your voice heard.


Corruption veiled in smiles and pseudo-wisdom is still corruption. Let's make sure it stops now.

What's up with this: It seem Shoals defense attorney Jeff Austin has filed so many motions in the Keith McGuire rape case that he's raised the ire of Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Terry Dempsey. I think that's how overkill got its name.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Is Your Neighbor a Sex Offender?

Do you know who among your neighbors is a sex offender? If you live in the East Florence community around Trade Street, there's one of whom you may not have been aware.

Gary Lee Coggins is a 46 year-old sex offender from Odessa, Texas. Coggins has a long history of crime, including assault, burglary, and fraud (he's also known as Tim Swaney); however, it's his sexual history that is of most interest to authorities.

In 1993, Coggins exposed himself to two young girls, one 4 years old, the other 17. After his release from a Texas prison, Coggins registered as a sex offender with the state, listing an address in Odessa. Per Texas law, Coggins had to periodically re-identify, a task the "moderate risk" offender had done routinely until last year.

For the past eight months, while Texas authorities were looking for him, Coggins has been residing at 519 Trade Street in the home of his mother Emma Coggins. On Thursday night, Federal Marshals tracked Coggins to the modest East Florence residence and took him into custody without incident. He is now lodged in the Florence-Lauderdale Detention Center awaiting transfer back to Texas.

Yes, ideally sex offenders register with the proper local authorities, but most such offenders are far from ideal. Most of them pose a greater than moderate risk and tend to lurk where our children congregate. Know your neighbors. It's better to be nosey than regret the actions you didn't take.

What's up with this: It seems Tammy Irons and Mike Curtis are fence sitting again. One would think those pointed pickets would be uncomfortable...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rejoice Dear Hearts!

If you think of Lewis Grizzard as the original Southern comic, then you have never heard of Brother Dave Gardner. Brother Dave was a native of Columbia, Tennessee, later calling Jackson home. His career was tragically cut short by a heart attack at the age of 57, but if you missed him the first time around, you can catch his current incarnation at Sheffield's Ritz Theatre on March 31.

Originally studying to be a Baptist preacher, Dave Gardner first entered show business as a drummer and aspiring singer. After some modest success as a vocalist, he was asked to perform on the Tonight Show where he peppered his routine with jokes about the Southern way of life.

Gardner's star shot to the top, but only briefly. After suffering serious injury in a plane crash, Gardner lost most of his fortune to the IRS. The death of his wife Millie brought him to the edge, but a chance meeting with an old friend turned his life around. Not only did the old friend help resurrect his career, she became his second wife. With Judy's help, Dave was soaring to a comeback when he suffered sudden cardiac arrest while on tour.

Playwright David Wright was so taken with the story of Gardner's life that he developed and performs in the one-man tribute to the late comedian. Wright will bring his play to the Ritz for one night only at 7:30, March 31st. Tickets are $10.00 in advance or $12.00 at the door.

Not only will you be supporting the Ritz, you'll have a chance to step back into the 1950s. Brylcreem and pony tails are optional.

What's up with this: Don't forget the special Ritz yard sale on April 4th. Located in the Foodland Shopping Center, the semi-annual sale makes productions like Rejoice Dear Hearts possible.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Shoals Healthy Marriage Coalition

The State of Alabama has the sixth highest divorce rate per capita in the country. Many blame Alabama's no-fault divorce laws for the soaring number of marriages that end in failure; others blame an educational system that fails to fit the average citizen with adequate emotional coping skills.

Whatever the reason for our high divorce rate, obviously no one is proud of it. Ask anyone if they're in favor of divorce, and see how many answer yes. In other words, the anti-divorce stance is just good politics.

Therefore, it's not surprising to find that Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Sandlin campaigned on lowering the divorce rate in Lauderdale County. One of the programs he initiated is the Shoals Healthy Marriage Coalition.

We think anyone who visits this site
will be impressed; however, we also hope that more than 50% of this program is just "blah-blah." Perhaps the good judge has been too busy with other activities to check out all of his own programs.

What's up with this: Former Central High School coach Greg Brewer will be paid his full salary through June. Isn't it time the citizens of Alabama take a stronger stand against sexual predators in our schools?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Shoals Suzuki & James Michael Self

If you purchased a new automobile from Shoals Suzuki, you are automatically part of a class action suit against the Sheffield dealership and its general manager James Michael (Mike) Self. Self is no stranger to the court system, having been indicted last year for embezzling $70,000.00 from Tom Jones Financial Services of which he was Chief Operating Officer. After Self's partner James Harris agreed to drop the criminal charges, Self then sued Harris for malicious prosecution.

The son of the late broadcaster D. Mitchell Self inherited Self Broadcasting, a company that included the historic WLAY radio station in Muscle Shoals. After selling his interest in 2000, Mike Self helped found Odyssey Broadband and Supernet Services, as well as buying into what was then known as Tom Jones Insurance Agency in Tuscumbia. The 1979 graduate of Muscle Shoals High School is also Muscle Shoals' representative on the Airport Authority Board, his term expiring in March 2010.

It remains to be seen if this class action suit will actually recoup any of the money lost in warranties purchased through Shoals Suzuki. Legal eagles say such a victory would be extraordinarily rare; however, if you are the unlucky holder of such an agreement, don't toss the document just yet. You could win a victory based solely on the court's past experience with Mike Self.

What's up with this: Engineers for the Avalon Avenue construction project say the end is in sight. One extra lane, two miles long, three years in the making--sounds about par for any state project.

Note May 31st correction to this article.

Elizabeth Stockard Watts

Congratulations to Elizabeth Stockard Watts on her appointment as trustee for the University of North Alabama. Watts, 53, grew up in Florence and is currently employed by Sunbelt Golf, the management company for Robert Trent Jones Golf courses.

Watts' sister was the late Coby Stockard Brubaker, for whom Coby Hall was named. Obviously Watts has a personal interest in the university and will make its advancement a priority.

For too long, many trustees of our local university have placed meetings and other related activities on the back burner. Gov. Riley has made an excellent choice, and we wish Ms. Watts the best in her work with UNA.

What's up with this: Kudos to Sen. Bobby Denton for taking a stand on the Florence annexation of St. Florian property adjacent to Target. Tammy Irons and Mike Curtis should do likewise.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coach Gregory Ryan Brewer Resigns

Central High School sits in the western end of Lauderdale County. The 4-A institution is rich in history and justly proud of its athletes, known as the Wild Cats. When Steve Mayfield took over as head coach in 2006, he had hopes of restoring Central's football team to its former glory. Yet after two years at the helm, Mayfield was fighting lymphoma and reflecting on a 1-19 record. On May 7, 2008, Coach Steve Mayfield officially resigned from his position stating that it was time for someone else to take the helm.

Few doubted that the someone would be Assistant Coach Gregory Ryan Brewer. Brewer (pictured at right) was 31 years old and had been employed at Central High School for nine years. A member of the Northwest Alabama Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Brewer taught 7th grade math as well as coaching both football and basketball. A one-time TimesDaily baseball coach of the year, Brewer was married to the former Andrea Jill Hagood, a counselor at Central. The Lauderdale County Board of Education appointed Brewer interim coach, a strong indication that the permanent position would go to the assistant coach when announced on the afternoon of May 27, 2008.

On the morning of May 27th, rumors began to circulate around the school. Greg Brewer was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a 12 year-old female student. Instead of an offer to become Central High School's head football coach, Brewer received orders to take an administrative leave. In early June, the Board appointed Zachary Cooper to replace Brewer during his absence.

Both the school system and the state Department of Human Resorces investigated the accusations that Brewer engaged in text messaging with the pre-teen, as well as indulging in embraces and kisses. After an investigation of several weeks, the Board and DHR turned over their findings to the Lauderdale County District Attorney's office. Since the Lauderdale office employed a relative of Brewer, Chris Connolly immediately turned the case over to the Colbert County District Attorney to prosecute.

William Hovater represented Brewer in his appearance before family court judge Jimmy Sandlin. On Friday, March 20, 2009, Sandlin dropped the charges against Brewer on the condition that he resign from his position at Central High School. Brewer also still retains his teaching license. At this point, the citizens of Lauderdale County have paid the former coach his full salary while on an administrative leave totalling nine months and three weeks.

Now Gregory Ryan Brewer is free to take his teaching certificate and apply for work elsewhere within the State of Alabama. We will be watching.

What's up with this: Rumors are already circulating that Brewer also voluntarily gave up his teaching certificate. Wise man?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lauderdale County Children's Policy Council

Do the children of Lauderdale County and the Shoals area need help? I'm sure many of them do. The salient point is what kind of help and who should provide it.

The Children's Policy Council consists of over 60 Lauderdale County citizens, each of them knowledgeable in his or her field. These individuals, under the leadership of Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Sandlin, have formulated policies with many admirable goals and some not so admirable. The council membership list and its agenda may be viewed at:


After reading the council's policy, I am confident that this group excels in its ability to manufacture acronyms, if nothing else. Many of the council's goals are also the goals of the Lauderdale and Florence school systems; in other words, duplication again rears its ugly head. Other goals are nebulous or should not be the concern of the public at large.

While I'm sure adults with self-esteem and a good self image make better parents and caregivers, is it really the job of the general public (read: taxpayers) to make sure these individuals cultivate a positive image? Perhaps we could better understand this goal if the agenda provided specific examples.

The same could be said for the council's advocacy of character awards. If one expects an award for doing good, is it really a positive character trait or an example of the general moral deterioration in our society?

Somehow after reading the goals of the Lauderdale County Children's Policy Council I'm reminded of signs in fast food franchises that tell us coffee is hot. Yes, coffee is hot and corruption in government is theft.

What's up with this: It seems attorney John Caylor, husband of Alabama Board of Education member Mary Jane Caylor, is paid $60,000.00 a year to formulate policy for the CITY program. The state director of CITY says that Caylor's services are invaluable. I somehow doubt the taxpayers feel that way.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sex and Lies in Leighton

The mayor of Leighton is in the news again. Lawayne Harrison, pictured here with his wife Anna, was previously the target of an ethics investigation in 2007. The 71 year-old mayor told authorities at the time that he didn't know it was unethical to try to sell insurance to city employees. Harrison endured a reprimand and small fine, but retained his position as mayor of the small Colbert County community.

Now, a woman who rents a building from Harrison has accused him of sexual harassment. Melissa Grimes has stated Harrison approached her as often as three times a day for sexual activity. In desperation, Grimes began to record the conversations and eventually turned the tapes over to the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. On the tapes a male voice identified as Lawayne Harrison tells Grimes that they do not actually have to engage in sex, but should indulge in mutual masturbation (the exact wording has been sanitized for this column).

Harrison has retained Colbert County attorney Billy Underwood who claims his client was just "flirting." Underwood proffers that Harrison is more of a talker than a doer. Both Underwood and Harrison are Democrats, so he may just be right.

What's up with this: It seems that Rick's Barbecue in Elgin is finally set to open next month. Here's hoping it will be worth the wait.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Twilight Party Tonight!

Unless you've been living in a cave, you've at least heard of Stephanie Meyer's wildly successful series of Twilight books. Tomorrow marks the DVD release of the first movie based on this series, and Books-A-Million in Florence is throwing a party.

Starting at 10:00 p.m. tonight, all fans are encouraged to visit the store, preferably in costume. If you're not sure of the appropriate vamp garb, prom attire is acceptable. You may bring your own camera or pose for photos taken by the store's professional photographer.

There will be prizes for the best costumes as well as in the scheduled trivia contests. Those who hold membership in the Books-A-Million book club are eligible for special discounts on all Twilight items as well as a book of money saving coupons for other merchandise. The highly sought after Tonner action figures are for sale to members at 10% off, and if you aren't familiar with these, hold your breath as you check the price tag. Most teenagers hate it when their parents scream and faint in public.

Then at the stroke of Midnight...well, 12:01 a.m. actually, the coveted DVD will be offered for sale. I've actually been invited by an extremely handsome 16 year-old, so I may see you there.

What's up with this: We hear Tammy Irons is working behind the scenes to ensure North Alabama will be included in any bingo legislation. We hope plans for this will come via the ballot box and not strictly through Goat Hill.

Letter to a Judge

To the Hon. Judge:

When you were elected to serve the citizens of your county, I had high hopes for you. You replaced an honorable man who had served his constituency well, but things change. You had plans to improve your office, to make a difference in the lives of those who reside in your county. I wished you well.

Some time ago, I begin to hear that things were not well with you. Gossip is just that and is often politically motivated. After all, not everyone is going to like every judge. Just the fact that you made some enemies indicated to me that you were doing what you promised when elected.

As time passed, the gossip increased. I still remained neutral. Mistakes in your personal life do reflect on your character, but they do not always interfere with your vocation. I encouraged others to distinguish your private life from your public and to focus on your performance while on the bench.

Yet, with each passing week, more and more tales of your malfeasance in office have come to light. Friends in the legal profession tell me you are not fit to sit on the bench; they say you're out of control. I receive daily e-mails concerning your support of special friends and the taxpayer money you have funnelled to them. Accounts in various state newspapers back this up.

I don't know if you plan to run for re-election or not. I don't think the citizens of your county are willing to wait that long. I know that ethics complaints have been filed against you and that more are coming. If you care about your family and any connection you may have left with them, I would encourage you to step down now, before you're forced to do so.

Gov. Riley is ready to appoint Judge James Hall or a similarly qualified jurist to replace you. Isn't it better to leave now than to force the citizens of this county and your family to be dragged through further scandal? I urge you to consider these things and then do what's right.

Sincerely, Shoalanda

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The State of CITY

The Alabama Board of Education has not yet pulled the plug on the CITY program, but it has drastically cut funding to the beleaguered entity, the most recent cut lopping 75% of the organization's workforce. In Lauderdale County, the state's most recently opened CITY site, only director Rhonda Bogus (pictured at left) and one instructor will remain.

Franklin County has been hit equally hard. Both State Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville and Lauderdale Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Sandlin have vowed to save the program. This may not be easy.

From what has been reported, the Florence CITY program, begun in 2007, has a budget of $500,000.00 and is already $1,000,000.00 in debt. In other words, the Florence based program would not hit the green until October 2011, even if they spend zero dollars until then. Where has their money gone? Did I say their money; excuse me, where has our money gone?

The program is worthwhile, but does consist of duplications of services offered elsewhere. It's certainly admirable to give youths a second chance, or a third, or...whatever it takes, but unfortunately most of us do not receive that second chance without paying for it. My friends who have changed careers in midstream have worked odd jobs or slung hash in order to obtain the second chance they so wanted. I believe they appreciate it more.

Local personnel with the program have gone on record that it now may become nothing but a babysitting service when the reduction in personnel is implemented. Do we the taxpayers wish to pay $500,000.00 a year for a babysitting service for wayward youth? I think not.

What about the money already spent on this endeavor? A local pundit in the legal field has stated that Rhonda Bogus' salary is "off the charts." I have no idea the actual amount of her salary, but I intend to find out. Is it off the charts? Well, I have a friend with a master's degree in social work who by day is the assistant director of a facility for the handicapped in Franklin County, yet by night she toils as a Wal-Mart door greeter in order to make ends meet. This is Alabama, and this is a public job, not a position in the private sector where most of us work.

As for Ms. Bogus' qualifications, looking at her Plaxo resume' online, she lists only the CITY job; nothing about Ms. Bogus is made public before 2007. What are her qualifications? How did she learn of the position? Who hired Ms. Bogus?

If you value your tax dollars, these are all questions the citizens of Lauderdale and Franklin Counties should be asking.

Tomorrow: An open letter to a judge

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Divorce Shoals Style

Most couples manage to make it through Christmas, either just for the sake of family or appearances or a myriad of other reasons. I knew one man living a thousand miles away who refused to tell his dying mother that he was divorced. No one wants their marriage to end in divorce, but what if there is nothing else for it? What if one partner has been so abused in various ways that a legal negation of their marriage vows is the only answer?

Over the past few weeks, I have written various columns relating to the problems in a local family court. The amount of negative feedback concerning such judges, especially one, has left me stupefied as to what can and does happen in such situations. Many of these e-mails ask for advice concerning legal problems and requesting the names of divorce attorneys.

Rule One - Hire your own attorney! I don't care how amicable you say your divorce is going to be, it can rapidly devolve into World War III, and if you don't have proper representation, you can lose money, children, social position--the list is long. Don't rely on what your spouse's attorney tells you. He of she is working for your spouse--not you! Once the decree is signed, it's too late to make changes.

Rule Two - Don't hire your cousin the real estate attorney simply because he is family. He may be giving you a reduced rate, but you will lose much more in the long run by retaining him. Seek out an attorney who specializes in family law. He or she is in divorce/family court for much of his/her practice and knows the ins and outs. You should settle for nothing else.

Rule Three - Consult your friends who have been through a divorce. Ask them what they liked about their attorneys and what they didn't like. Fancy offices count for nothing; fancy legal footwork is what matters. Make sure you know why your friends preferred the attorney they are recommending to you.

Rule Four - Many divorces go beyond messy, they achieve the status of a crusade in a short amount of time. Husbands refuse to hire female attorneys, but more often wives prefer them. I can assure you that just because an attorney is female, it doesn't make her more qualified to represent the scorned wife. It is her relationship with the judge and her knowledge of the law that either makes her the one for you or not. Don't hesitate to retain a lawyer of the opposite sex simply because you currently have hard feelings toward that gender. You may receive more commiseration, but what you need is legal action.

All that being said, I'm always asked who is the best family attorney in divorce and child custody suits. The best for one person might not be the best for everyone, but generally it is. I don't seek to use this blog to promote certain individuals, but to help readers. Yet, sometimes, doing the latter is also doing the former.

If you need the name and number of an excellent attorney who will work with you to achieve what you want, who will offer sound legal advice and not pie-in-the-sky, then please e-mail me at:

I hope none of my readers ever need the services of such an attorney, but if you do, I can assure you that you will be well represented.

What's up with this: It seems various links to the Courthouse Forum are often down due to high traffic. Could this be partially because of intense interest in a certain local judge?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is Marcel Black One of Us?

Does North Alabama need bingo? No matter your answer to that question, the point is obviously moot to State Rep. Marcel Black. Even though he represents this area he seems more interested in helping those who can help him.

We received much feedback from our column on Rep. Black, Democrat. Over 90% of it was negative. The little that was of a positive bent defended the good that he has done for this area and supporting the "small" 62% raise that Mr. Black voted yes to in 2007.

Various forums have recently been discussing Mr. Black, some of them offering incorrect information. Black indeed did redecorate his office at taxpayer expense immediately after his raise was enacted. The total of two bills from Bargainier Interiors was almost $8,000.00. Barganier is located on Zelda Road in Montgomery, and we're sure that any who have visited the Zelda Road area will attest to the fact there are no bargains to be located there.

For those who have an interest in how Marcel Black is spending the tax dollars for which you have presumably worked so hard, here's a link to the actual invoices for the much needed items Black purchased with your money: http://blog.al.com/ht/DC_2501266.pdf

How many of you plan to vote for Marcel Black in the next election? And pray tell, what's a cart wheel?

What's up with this: It seems the Lauderdale CITY program serves 33 individuals in comparison to Franklin's 30. Per capita, the Franklin program seems to be getting much more bang for its buck.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunshine Week

Today is the first day of Sunshine Week, an annual event designed to focus on not just transparency in government, but accountability as well. The emphasis of this year's campaign is local records, particularly those posted online. So how does the Shoals stack up?

If you live in Franklin County, not technically a part of the Shoals, you have absolutely no online access to public records. Neither Franklin nor its county seat of Russellville has an official site where records are available for public consumption. This survey (see link below) did not consider privately funded websites or sites erected by such public entities as fire and police departments.

Looking north to Colbert County, we find a website for the county, but not for the county seat of Tuscumbia. The city of Muscle Shoals does provide a site at which some of its records may be obtained; it is the only municipality within Colbert to do so.

Moving on to Lauderdale County, the availability of online records increases, but is still found to be wanting. For instance, the website connects to one offering court dockets, but once there we find only the most recently completed docket, with no information concerning future trials. Inside Lauderdale, only the county seat of Florence provides a website where any such records may be easily obtained.

Obviously, this area has far to go. I think it's safe to say it won't improve until we call our elected officials accountable and demand an increase in easy access to these public records.

To see how other Alabama counties stack up, check out this year's Sunshine Project from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa: http://chrisrob.com/sunshine

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Florence's Alice Martin

If any wondered whom indicted Lauderdale County teacher Allen Wilson favored over Mike Jones in a previous campaign for Circuit Court judge, it was Alice Martin of Florence, now a U.S. Attorney. Obviously Martin lost, but only technically. The position of attorney in the Federal courts has brought Martin fame as well as infamy.

Originally from Huntsville, the former Registered Nurse changed her career path early on, deciding law much more to her liking than medicine. The Republican attorney moved to Florence after wedding Florence industrialist Louis Martin II. After setting up practice in the Shoals, she rapidly advanced to Florence Municipal judge before being appointed to the Lauderdale County Circuit judgeship, a position she lost two years later to Democrat Mike Jones.

As the Bush administration wound down, we blogged that Alice Martin was hurriedly putting the finishing touches on several cases, including one against former FloGas manager Roger D. Lovelace. Her position was and is none too secure under a Democratic president who had campaigned on the theme of cleaning house.

Perhaps President Obama has other more pressing considerations than to cull less than desirable Federal attorneys, or could it be that Martin is now attempting to make her continued presence more desirable to a Democratic Chief Executive? It's been reported that Martin's investigation into Republican Attorney General Troy King is indeed an attempt to make nice with her new top boss.

Even if true, an investigation into the long rumored corruption of this office is welcome on many fronts. Perhaps the Shoals will not have Alice Martin's return to look forward to after all.

What's up with this: Speaking of Martin Industries, as badly as the City of Florence needs space, failing to buy the old Martin headquarters on Tennessee Street seems a real blunder. Now Shoals residents will have the distinct displeasure of seeing it become even seedier in the days to come.

The Decatur Daily?

It seems the TimesDaily is in financial trouble. This is not news to many. The subsidiary of the New York Times has been downsizing for months and its sale or demise has been speculated on in several venues. Now it's probable our local paper will be sold to the Decatur Daily.

If the TD should become part of the Sampson family stable, as the Moulton Advertiser did some years ago, what can we expect? If the TD has not been profitable for the New York Times, it will not be a money-maker for anyone else unless some changes are made.

What changes? Indeed, that is the question. Less local news? Perhaps fewer weekly editions? The Moulton Advertiser is not published seven days a week. Albeit, this Lawrence County news bearer reaches a much smaller audience than does our local TD, but in this economic downturn, who knows?

We here at Shoalanda Speaks have always suggested our readers rely to a large degree on the ShoalsInsider for breaking news, as well as for news not commonly reported in the print media. We have also advocated following local and state blogs for similar information.

This is the future, and apparently the future is here now.

What's up with this: On the very day a possible sale of the TimesDaily is announced, the building is evacuated due to strange chemical smells. It certainly does smell.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Best of the Shoals Forum

Another new forum? Yes, and we think you'll like it. The newest forum in the Shoals area is Best of the Shoals, and the appellation fits. So, why is it best?

Obviously best is subjective, but BOS does offer some rather unusual and innovative categories. Has the downturn in the economy generated a vegetable garden in your backyard? Then BOS has a category for you. Like to write? You guessed it, BOS has a special place reserved for your literary efforts.

For those die hard news fans, there's a traditional news category, but BOS is more concerned with helping its members grow and reach their full potential than it is about debate. Oh, did I mention humor? Obviously, you'll find quite a bit of it also:


Shoals Radio: While one of our polls indicated few readers get daily news via the radio, we would like to hear from those who do. E-mail us with the station call letters and the type of news reports featured on the station. Thanks.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Misty Kay Robbins

Misty Kay Robbins was 10 years old when she died late Saturday afternoon. The Iron City girl was reportedly driving an adult-sized All Terrain Vehicle, commonly known as an ATV or quadcycle. Her 15 year-old brother was also injured in the accident near their home.

Perhaps the most shocking part of her death is that it isn't at all unusual. The American Academy of Pediatrics has asked the Federal Government to ban anyone under the age of 16 from either driving or riding on an adult-sized ATV. Yet most parents who have lost children in such accidents report they had no idea of the danger involved. How is this possible?

It appears that despite increased educational campaigns, most parents don't realize that a child under 16 is twice as likely to die while operating an adult ATV. Concerned Mothers for ATV Safety, a group founded by women who have lost children to ATV accidents, along with several other consumer safety groups, is seeking to make it illegal for children under the age of 16 to ride on adult ATVs. This age group currently makes up 20% of adult ATV related fatalities, and of this group 92% were engaging in activities specifically mentioned as dangerous in ATV educational materials.

Don't we already have enough laws? One would think so, but apparently we don't have the right ones if our children are dying at this rate and parents are doing nothing to prevent it.

What's up with this: The Shoals Suzuki website says "Testimonials" are "coming soon." Somehow we doubt it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Judge Mike Jones and the Two Teachers

Today Judge Michael Jones refused to recuse himself in the the Allen Wilson assault trial. Wilson (pictured at left), an instructor at Allen Thornton Vocational School, is accused of an unprovoked attack on another teacher. Defense attorney Tim Case requested Jones' recusal on the basis of Wilson's campaign contributions to a former opponent of Judge Jones.

However, last fall, Jones did recuse himself in the rape trial of Keith McGuire (pictured at right). McGuire is a former Clements teacher who has also been accused of sexual misconduct with at least four students at that Limestone County School. McGuire's father is Bobby McGuire, the current mayor of Lexington and one of the founders of the Lexington Rescue Squad, the basis of Jones' recusal.

Gil Self has not yet been sworn in as the second Lauderdale County Circuit Court judge, a fact that would delay Wilson's trial if Jones had agreed to Case's request. Still, every citizen should both desire and expect the judiciary to avoid any appearance of partiality. If Wilson is found guilty, Mr. Case will undoubtedly use Jones' actions as a basis for appeal, an appeal that will cost the taxpayers of Lauderdale County.

What's up with this: A reader informs us that Sue Schmitz, former director of Decatur's CITY project, also claimed to have performed work for Florence's sister project. Well, at least she was versatile in the work she didn't do.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Marcel Black and Your Phone Bill

Do you live in a rural area? Do you have land line telephone service? Then Marcel Black has something for you: A probable increase in your monthly telephone bill.

Currently, AT&T is the largest provider of telephone services in the State of Alabama. One would assume that this mega-company is doing well, considering that designation; however, they feel they could do even better if the state would completely deregulate telephone service.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham and Rep. Marcel Black of Tuscumbia recently introduced a bill that would indeed remove every vestige of regulation for telephone companies. Both Smitherman and Black are members of the Commerce, Utilities, and Transportation Committee, an entity of wide influence in Alabama business.

The bill passed the committee on a voice vote and is now before the Senate. Interestingly, Alabama Attorney General Troy King, usually a staunch proponent of such deregulation, opposes this bill on the basis of what it is apt to do in the rural sector.

One has to wonder what's in it for Marcel Black, he who has already voted himself a 62% raise and redecorated his office at taxpayer expense.

What's up with this: Rep. Tammy Irons of Lauderdale County is one of six state legislators who have not made public their stance on the Compassionate Care Bill. Whether she is for or against this bill, surely there can be no reason for keeping her opinion under wraps until the actual vote.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Southgate Mall

Would the Southgate Mall serve our area better by renovation into offices, perhaps a complex of medical offices? We understand that Muscle Shoals Mayor David Bradford doesn't think so.

A current Yahoo blurb for the mall states: Shop the many unique speciality shops and major department stores. Located near many fast-food and fine restaurants.

One has to wonder if Bradford himself was responsible for this purple prose.
Of course, any municipality earns more revenue from retail sales than other businesses, but what if the businesses aren't there? Apparently, there is not enough rented store space to pay for taxes and upkeep on the Southgate building. Surely converting this space to offices is preferable to tearing down an edifice that once served to put Muscle Shoals on the map.

For those of you who live within the Muscle Shoals City limits, I suggest you contact Mayor Bradford to make your wishes known. You may write the mayor at Post Office Box 2624 or e-mail him at mshoals@hiwaay.net

When the economy rebounds, retail outlets will return to Muscle Shoals, building new stores as they come. For now, the citizens of Muscle Shoals would do well to consider the bird in the hand.

What's up with this: A loyal reader informs us that Steve Wiggins has not added new content to The Catfish Wrapper in some time, asking us to remove it from our list of "must reads." We're sure Steve has been busy with other projects, but we are removing the link to this site for the time being.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Does Jimmy Sandlin Oversee Lauderdale CITY?

A few days ago, we commented that Lauderdale Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Sandlin oversees the CITY project. We based this on the following statement taken from Tom Smith's January 24th article in the TimesDaily:

"Lauderdale County District (sic) Judge Jimmy Sandlin, who oversees the local program, said the reason given for the proposed closure of the local program was that all postsecondary employees on probation will be eliminated."

Further, bubbaluck on the TimesDaily Forum commented on March 6th:

"He (Sandlin) was responsible for bringing the program to our area and he oversees it. Its director is Rhonda Bogus. It is a very worthwhile program with admirable goals. In a time of economic distress however, it does not appear to me to be a responsible use of very limited resources. I understand it has a half-million dollar budget and only serves a few students.

I was told just last night that due to reduction in staff it will only focus on students attempting to get G.E.D.s and while that is essential there are more economical programs available. Social Service Workers in the area tell me that those that run this program, especially Ms. Bogus, are paid salaries that are off the charts for similar work in the area."

However, we also today received a courteous and informative e-mail form Donna that states Judge Sandlin does not oversee the local program:

"The Lauderdale County C.I.T.Y. Program is not overseen by Judge Jimmy Sandlin. The state-wide program is administrated by it’s (sic) central office which is comprised of a director and three regional coordinators (due to cut-backs, there will now be a director and one regional coordinator). Judge Sandlin refers at risk youth to the C.I.T.Y. based on recommendations by the local Juvenile Probation Office. He in no way supervises any of the C.I.T.Y. Program employees, including the program coordinator.

The problem with Sue Schmitz is strictly at the State Level. These are the people who hired her and these are the people who signed her paychecks. The Decatur family court judge had nothing to do with the hiring of Ms. Schmitz, just as Judge Sandlin had nothing to do with hiring the Lauderdale County program coordinator. The C.I.T.Y. Program is funded at the State level, not the county level. If people want to pay close attention to how these programs are run, seek out your local state senators and representatives. The employees at all the C.I.T.Y. programs in the state are dedicated employees who work diligently to make a difference in the lives of the children that are referred to them. These are not exactly the highest paying jobs and the employees who work at these programs do so because they care about these children and want to make a difference in their lives. Most of the employees have degrees that would enable them to have higher paying jobs, yet they remain in their positions because they want to. They develop relationships with these children that are sorely missing in young lives.

Ninety-five percent of the students referred to the C.I.T.Y. Program have endured and seem (sic) more in their short lives than most adults see in their lifetime. Most are from single parent homes and the existing parent is ill-equipped to raise their child (money, drugs, emotional problems, etc.). Few have fathers in their lives (drugs, incarcerated, or just drop-outs). Most have either never seen their fathers or haven’t seen them since they were small. These children come to the C.I.T.Y. program because everyone else has given up on them. They come to the program with little hope and very little self-esteem. They are behind in academics because they have given up. Some are in gangs because that is the only place they feel they fit in. The C.I.T.Y. Program provides intensive academic training and treatment. The students are able to get back on track academically and either get back into the school systems or obtain their GED. This gives these children confidence and a sense of purpose that’s lacking with they come into the program. The programs not only provide counseling but also teach leadership, morals, social skills, and how to be productive members of society.

It is one of the best programs in the State of Alabama and Alabama is the only state that has a “C.I.T.Y. Program”. The program was established by Ed Earnest, who was a convicted felon and spent much of his youth in and out of prison. Somewhere along the way, he was given a second chance by some caring individual and he recognized the need for this type of program. He was the founder and director of the C.I.T.Y. Program until he passed away a few years ago. The program does have problems, but these problems are at the State level. I hope that the Governor and legislative branches of the state will do their job, root out the problems, and allow this wonderful program to continue. Anyone concerned about the youth in their community should write the governor and their state and local representatives and ask for this program to continue. The future of the State of Alabama and its communities are at stake.

Because of severe cut-backs, each program will not be equipped with enough personnel to provide for the needs of these children. The state office indicates that in October, more funding will be available and the programs will be provided more personnel. This is very doubtful since the program has been running on the same budget this fiscal year as it will be the next fiscal year and the program at present is over a million dollars in debt. The C.I.T.Y. Program is in grave danger of closing. A lack of oversight is definitely an issue with this program but this is not the fault of the individual local program employees. They have done their jobs and have given their all to this program and the children they serve. The students presently at these programs are very upset. These are children who have been bounced from one place to another, only to find more instability. Once again, they are being in moved into another unknown. This will be a huge setback from which some won’t recover."

Obviously, everyone seems to have differing views as to Judge Sandlin's relationship with this project. From what we can ascertain, it is an informal oversight, with Sandlin having neither the power to hire nor fire.

While the program is one of the most worthwhile that we have seen initiated at the local level in some time, it seems the cost effectiveness is doubtful to some. Who can place a price on a wasted life? We would suggest that all citizens of Lauderdale County support this program, while at the same time continuing to monitor its financial problems.

What's up with this: Sources report the owners of SouthGate Mall in Muscle Shoals are currently negotiating its sale to a group of investers. Once sold the mall would be converted to offices, with no retail space remaining. Considering the trend in destination shopping, perhaps this is the best move possible.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Questions? Answers!

Question: (Sent to E.T.) I need to contact Shoalanda and I can't find her e-mail address. Help?
Answer: We apologize that it's been hard to find. Look to the left of the blog in the section labeled "Contact Us."

Question: You listed the address for Halt. Contacting them doesn't do any good when you need to file an ethics complaint. Can you publish the correct address?
Answer: The link to Halt listed the information at the bottom of their first page (for ethics complaints against judges only); here is the address:

Judicial Inquiry Committee
Post Office Box 303400
Montgomery, Alabama 36130-3400

Question: Is there an easy way to copy and send your blogs? My touch pad mouse isn't very handy with cut and paste.
Answer: If you would like to send the entire column, complete with graphics, find the column in the index, click on it, then print. If you wish to just e-mail the column, you may click on the envelope icon at the bottom of each blog. You will need a Google account to utilize this feature.

Question: I tried to leave a comment about Jimmy Sandlin on the Courthouse Forum and couldn't find a way to do it. Any ideas?
Answer: You first have to complete the survey form in order to leave a comment. We have also linked both the Alabama forum and the completed comments on Lauderdale Family Court to the left of this blog.

Question: What's the new blog Shoals Crime supposed to be?
Answer: Shoals Crime will include past columns on local crime as well as new articles about older Shoals crimes. Today we are reprinting the column on the Chris Stanback murder, since it was featured in Friday's TimesDaily. The Shoals Crime blog is also linked at left.

Please feel free to contact us with further questions and ideas for articles.

Thanks, SS

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Real CASA

When most in the tri-county area hear the acronym CASA, they immediately think of "Court Appointed Special Advocates." This incarnation of CASA, having been introduced to the Shoals area by Judge Larry Mack Smith, is a much needed organization and well deserving in the praise it routinely receives.

However, there is another CASA, one that is not as widely known in this area. We hope to change that. If one says CASA to a citizen of Madison County or one of its adjoining communities, he or she immediately thinks of "Care Assurance System for the Ageing."

Supported by the United Way and partially administered by the Red Cross, when CASA was first instituted it became an immediate success and soon added the home bound to its list of recipients. Anyone over the age of 60 or unable to leave home except for worship services and routine medical appointments qualifies for the services of CASA.

Perhaps CASA's best known endeavor is the retrofitting of homes with bathroom grab bars and wheelchair ramps at entrance ways. While this is the organization's main focus, they also provide fresh garden vegetables for those who request them, as well as assisting the Red Cross in the distribution of disaster kits.

Certainly the local chapters of the United Way have many requests for assistance each year, all of them worthy. I would suggest that with the aging of the Shoals area, CASA may prove the most worthy of all.

What's up with this: Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly is said to want a 10 year sentence for convicted "instigator" Rosie Ingram. Too bad he didn't try rapist/murderer Shaun Shapley for the same crime.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CITY: Sue Schmitz & Rhonda Bogus

CITY stands for Community Intensive Treatment for Youth. There are currently 11 such programs in Alabama, a cash-strapped state that uses the words "budget pro ration" with the same regularity teenagers spout the word "like."

The idea behind CITY is certainly commendable; youths who have not finished school, but who have been in trouble with the law, are given a second chance at an education. I doubt that anyone would find fault with that premise. What the average Alabamian should find fault with is the misuse of his or her tax dollars.

Each CITY program employs a coordinator. In Decatur, it was Sue Schmitz. In Florence it is Rhonda Bogus. If the name Sue Schmitz is familiar to most readers, it's not because of her work with CITY. Ms. Schmitz boasts of attending meetings, making speeches, and instigating publicity for the Decatur CITY program, but little else. During her tenure as CITY coordinator, a period of 45 months, she was paid $177,251.00, an amount in addition to her salary as a state legislator. Now Ms. Schmitz has been convicted of not fulfilling her role as coordinator for the Decatur CITY program and ordered to repay the State of Alabama her salary. Ms. Schmitz is currently appealing her conviction, but if the charges are true, there is apparently little supervision in the CITY programs.

In Lauderdale County, Rhonda Bogus coordinates the CITY program, while Judge Jimmy Sandlin is listed as the overseer of the project. When the State attempted to shut down the Lauderdale CITY program, Sandlin personally travelled to Montgomery in order to save the project. CITY currently serves 33 troubled youths in Lauderdale County and has an outstanding record since its inception.

Whether it be Lauderdale County or any of the other ten CITY locations, it would be advisable for taxpayers to keep close watch on this program due to the problems related to the Decatur office. We work hard for our money; those in government should also.

Tomorrow: The real CASA.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Judge Jimmy Sandlin & Ethics

Perhaps no column since the inception of this blog has generated as much feedback as the recent article on Lauderdale County Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Sandlin. As stated in earlier columns, all judges will have routine detractors, but none more so than family court judges.

It seems that there is no middle ground in comments posted on the Courthouse Forum--Judge Sandlin's curve is a wide valley, rather than a bell. Perhaps that is indicative of these comments being totally subjective. How can any jurist be either the Lauderdale County version of Dudley Dooright or his antithesis Snidely Whiplash? So, where lies the truth?

One Florence citizen has such lack of faith in this family court judge that she has started a grass roots campaign demanding his resignation. For those who wish to join in this effort, the address is:

Coalition for Justice, Post Office Box 611, Florence, Alabama 35631

If indeed there are problems with this court and this judge, we suggest those with documented complaints contact the Alabama Ethics Commission:


Lauderdale County families deserve the best, whether it be Jimmy Sandlin or someone else. You the citizens and voters need to make your voices heard.

Congratulations to Gil Self upon his appointment as Lauderdale County Circuit Court Judge. We feel this is a step by Gov. Riley to raise the judicial bar in Lauderdale. We are also pleased that James Hall II will be running for county judicial office in the near future.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Does Florence Need a New Stadium?

The Tom Braly Municipal stadium is located on the campus of what is now the Florence Freshman Center. After an initial addition in 1980, a second edition to the East stands brought the seating up to 14,215. In 1995, a new scoreboard was added at the cost of $175,000.00, and a new pressbox was installed three years later. Blurbs for the stadium call it one of the best in NCAA Division II. Unfortunately, others don't agree with that assessment.

The Field Finder, an online guide to college athletics, gives Braly stadium only one star out of a possible five. Visitors to the annual Division II championship game often leave Florence praising its citizens while commenting on the lack of modern amenities at its stadium. Just last December, one sports writer compared the barbed wire fenced area to a prison. If his view has merit, are the citizens of the Shoals looking at the stadium through rose-colored glasses?

While the East stands may be structurally sound, their visual appearance does nothing to support that claim. Parking is so severely limited that UNA provides shuttles connecting the campus to the stadium.

In the early part of this decade, the University of North Alabama played the University of North Dakota on the Bison's home turf. The game was televised across North Alabama, giving local residents a close-up look at the Fargodome, an 18,700 seat covered stadium built in 1993 at a cost of 48 million dollars. Local viewers may also remember the condescension in the North Dakota announcer's voice as he described the awe the dome created in the UNA players. It was not our local university's finest moment.

Many contend that after 23 years, the Division II championship game is not leaving the Shoals. The same was once said of Ford, Union Carbide, and Reynolds. When someone suggests the next sportsplex or golf course, we hope those blessed with more rational thought will settle for nothing less than a new stadium.

What's up with this: Sadly, the founder of the Voice of the Shoals Forum has shut down the site; however, we understand that several other new forums are in the works and will be highlighted here as they go online.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Braly: Stadium with a Future?

Thomas Braly Jr. was principal of Coffee High School from 1945 until his sudden death in 1963. When he began his tenure at the end of WWII, Florence's largest school was housed in the old Appleby building on Hermitage Drive, now the site of tennis courts. Almost immediately Braly and the Board of Education began plans for a larger, much needed replacement, and Coffee moved to its new plant in the late 1940s while construction on several buildings was still incomplete.

The stadium located off Royal Avenue became the jewel in the school's crown. Known simply as Coffee Stadium, it stood relatively unchanged until Tom Braly's untimely death to a heart attack. Seeking to honor the late educator, the Board changed the name to Tom Braly Jr. Stadium, a designation it partially retains today.

Serving as the home field for what was then called Florence State College, the stadium was already showing wear and tear by 1967. That year a surge of baby boomers and influx of students from the county necessitated the creation of Henry A. Bradshaw High School, adding still a third institution to call Braly its home field.

The Florence Board of Education wisely let the City of Florence take over part of the stadium's upkeep, and Tom Braly Municipal Stadium was born. Now 40 years later, these same entities must decide the fate of Braly stadium in a time of unprecedented economic downturn.

Tomorrow: Does Florence Need a New Stadium?