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.