Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reece Cosby: It Was All Too Short a Life

Last week we wrote about Decatur photographer Jeronimo Nisa; at that time our friend Mark Davis brought a similar blog to our attention. Gary Cosby Jr.'s blog, alittlenews, is also beautifully done and presents his own artistic interpretation of scenes around the Tennessee Valley. Gary's father is a retired Muscle Shoals firefighter, and we had plans to do a column on his blog in the near future, but unfortunately we're presenting it today.

We say unfortunately because Gary's son Reece passed away suddenly on Sunday morning. Gary and his wife Patti have lost a treasure, but they have chosen to share their son's life and his accomplishments with us via Gary's blog. We hope each of our readers will take a moment to view the photographs of Reece, a beautiful little boy filled with joy and love. We should all be so complete.


Our apologies to Tim Milan, candidate for Colbert County District Judge. A recent column reported that Mr. Milam at one time had practiced corporate law in Florence. Mr. Milam contacted us concerning the error, and, upon checking with our sources, found that the Colbert candidate had been confused with Tim Corley of Lauderdale County. Our apologies to Mr. Corley also.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nathan Johnson Seeks Colbert Office

Leighton native Nathan Johnson has joined a growing field of Democratic candidates attempting to succeed Colbert District Judge George Carpenter. Previously, Johnson has unsuccessfully sought the offices of legal counsel for the Colbert County School Board and Colbert County District Attorney.

Currently, Johnson serves as city attorney for his hometown of Leighton as well as engaging in an active criminal defense practice. Some of Johnson's more controversial clients have been Elias Devila, convicted of raping a ten year-old girl, and Kenneth Quillen, convicted of sexual abuse of a three year-old child.

A 1997 graduate of the University of Alabama Law School, Nathan Johnson currently practices in Sheffield. He will face Chad Coker, Tina Miller Parker, and Polly Ruggles in the June 2010 primary.

What's up with this: If you owe any past due court costs in Lauderdale County, Chris Connolly will soon be sending you an offer you can't refuse: Pay up or face 10 days in jail. It's certainly good for the county to be actively seeking this revenue, but does an actual jail sentence help the debtor in his or her repayment attempts?


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dirt Therapy (Phillip Oliver Style)

Dirt Therapy: Doesn't that sound like a wonderful name for a political blog about the South? If it does, the name is unfortunately already taken, or should we say fortunately. Dirt Therapy is a pleasing blend of gardening, cooking, and other interesting tidbits; and it's all wrapped up in exquisite form and brought to us by Phillip Oliver right here in the Shoals.

A recent blog featured "Gardens of the Shoals," altogether designed to produce a huge case of green thumb envy here with us. More to the point, it inspires us to produce something lovely with our own back gardens.

Some time ago, we discovered a glitch in our "Must Read Sites;" apparently for whatever reason we are no longer able to add sites. The road to Hades and all that, we've not taken the time to redo our links, but you can bet your aspidistra that when we do, Dirt Therapy will be on the expanded list.

Know a local author or other artist that deserves some space here? Be sure to contact us:


Saturday, September 26, 2009

James E. Hall II Announces for Lauderdale District Judge

Florence Municipal Judge James Edwards Hall II has announced his candidacy for Lauderdale County District Judge. Many have speculated that Hall would seek the nomination for Circuit Court judge to succeed Jimmy Sandlin. Sandlin has indicated he will not seek a second term in that position.

Still early in the race, we can only speculate on others who might choose to run against Hall in the Democratic primary. Many, including us at Shoalanda, were surprised that Hall was not Gov. Bob Riley's choice to finish out the term of retiring Circuit Court Judge Mike Suttle; Hall now would appear on the road to an easy victory in the June 2010 primary.

This presents the political conundrum of Hall opposing Republican Carole Coil Medley in the fall general election. Mrs. Medley is well-liked and has acquitted herself well since Gov. Riley appointed her to the office vacated by Deborah Bell Paseur. A race between Hall and Medley would be close to call, but more to the point, the necessity for such a choice sets Lauderdale County up for a tremendous loss of talent no matter the outcome.

From our editor, commenting on Andrew Scott's recent appearance on WAFF: "I haven't seen so many inappropriate smiles since Jimmy Carter was in office."


Friday, September 25, 2009

Greg Wright - Finally Justice

Now Lauderdale County investigators were faced with three conflicting statements in the murder of Greg Wright. Father William Nard accused his son Greg of the crime, while the son accused his father. Accomplice Ernest Widdowson (pictured) maintained total innocence in the act itself, while both men averred their friend assisted in the murder and robbery. Lauderdale County prosecutors prepared their cases against the men, initially considering charging all three with capital murder. Denying bail to the trio, the county housed Widdowson in the Lauderdale County Detention Center, while placing William Nard in the Franklin County jail and Greg Nard in nearby Walker County.

With court dockets in Lauderdale County backed up, the wheels of justice turned slowly in the Wright case. In the ensuing months, forensics proved all three men were indeed inside Greg Wright's rural manufactured home; the blood found on the storm door and porch of Wright's home proved to be that of William Nard, who was injured in the struggle. Court appointed attorneys filed various motions, but in the end, all were denied, and prospects of the death penalty faced the three Iron City residents who had crossed the state line to commit the crime.

In an attempt to avoid death by lethal injection, Greg Leon Nard admitted to killing Wright and pleaded to the charge of capital murder with the promise of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. William Nard, who had assisted his son in the actual murder, pleaded guilty to felony murder and robbery. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life with the possibility of parole. Such consecutive terms are highly unusual and are perhaps a de facto sentence of life without for the elder Nard who is almost 50 years old.

Ernest Widdowson pleaded guilty to felony murder, but was found to be innocent of charges of robbery in the theft of cash and a small stash of marijuana. Widdowson's testimony had backed up William Nard's in implicating Greg Nard as the actual assailant. Widdownson also freely admitted to assisting in holding Wright against his will, as well as not reporting the crime after returning to Iron City. For his part in the murder, on September 21, 2009, Judge Mike Jones sentenced Widdowson to twenty years in prison.

In all probability, Greg Wright would be alive if the Nards had not decided to spend their night drinking. In all probability, Ernest Widdowson would not have joined the Nards in their quest for the small sum of $70.00 if he too had not let alcohol cloud his judgment. Statistics show at least 80% of all violent crimes are fueled by the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. In this case, it cost Greg Wright his life.

This series of columns on the murder of Greg Wright is dedicated to his friend, whose life will always be diminished by the loss.


Thursday, September 24, 2009


Bank Independent customers across the valley are reporting debit card failures tonight. Readers have e-mailed us that merchants began declining the cards around 6:00 p.m.

One reader states he was forced to borrow money for gasoline to reach his job in Decatur, while another states she has no food for her children.

We have differing reports of bank failure, 100% card failure, or failure of older cards not replaced after Bank Independent's records were compromised last month.

If you have been inconvenienced, you may call their toll free number at:
(866) 478-5010.

Our series on the murder of Greg Wright will continue tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Greg Wright - Cell Phone Dropped at Murder Scene

No one had seen Greg Wright since the previous Saturday; nor had anyone seen his vehicle moved from the driveway of his manufactured home in the Greenhill community. It was 7:30 the next Wednesday when a neighbor decided to check on the unemployed roofer. Reaching the steps to the wooden deck, the neighbor discovered a dried brown substance on the planks. The same substance dotted the flooring of the deck, and upon reaching the storm door in the mid-winter darkness, the neighbor's fears were confirmed as he once more saw the substance, now dark red against the glass and streaked across the storm door.

Inside, the body of James Gregory Wright lay on the living room floor, face down, rivulets of dried blood surrounding it. Lauderdale deputies arrived minutes after receiving the call, initially determining that Wright had died from blunt force trauma to the head. Friends and family who arrived at the scene could offer no insight into Wright's death; his mother and stepfather terming him universally liked.

Fortuitously, investigators didn't have to wait for blood and other trace evidence to be evaluated; Greg Leon Nard had dropped his cell phone during the struggle. When questioned by investigators in Iron City, Nard quickly offered his father William (pictured) and companion Ernest Widdowson as alibis. Upon further questioning, Widdowson confessed to accompanying the father and son to Wright's Alabama home to collect the $70.00 debt, but stated he remained in the vehicle during the crime and couldn't be sure which Nard had inflicted the wounds that claimed Wright's life.

Now, sure of their case, but unsure of just who did kill Greg Wright, deputies then questioned the Nards separately. Each accused the other.

Tomorrow: Justice


Greg Wright - Murdered for Seventy Dollars

How do you measure success? Obviously, we each have different bench marks in our appraisals of others, as well as ourselves. If we count success in friendship, then James Gregory Wright was a successful man. If we count success in dollars and cents, Greg Wright was lacking, and this lack led to his murder.

Wright was a 42 year-old roofer who lived by himself in the Greenhill community of Lauderdale County, just a mile south of the Tennessee State line. Due to the economy, Wright had been out of work for some time, forcing him to live frugally in his manufactured home. At some point in 2006, Wright purchased a set of used tires from Greg Leon Nard (pictured) for $70.00. Those who knew Wright say that he would have paid Nard when he went back to work, but Nard became upset over the debt.

On the night of January 27, 2007, Gred Nard, 25, his father William David Nard, 47, and an acquaintance, Norman Ernest Widdowson, 42, were out joyriding. All three were residents of Iron City, Tennessee, but Widdownson had moved from Maryland only three months before. After a night of shooting pool and drinking at the Nard residence, the father and son suggested to Widdownson that he accompany them on a drive; they wound up at Greg Wright's residence on Lauderdale County Road 130. The three men were the last to see James Gregory Wright alive.

Tomorrow: Father and son turn against each other.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Troy King's Pioneer Effort in Uncharted Territory

Troy King is about to take the State of Alabama into what his office is calling uncharted territory. The Attorney General's office is referring to King's attempt to prosecute David Gabriel Watson for the murder of Tina Thomas Watson, his wife of eleven days. King's problem with such a prosecution is a little thing called double jeopardy. Gabe Watson has just been convicted in a Queensland, Australia, court of manslaughter in the death of his young bride, a woman whom he had just insured as the couple began their Australian dream honeymoon.

King's office is the first to admit the Alabama prosecution may be just a little iffy. Even if Watson plotted his bride's death in this state, the crime took place in Queensland, and Australian courts have already adjudicated the murder. Legal experts are already chiming in on King's "pioneer effort," but such actions are not all that pioneering for TK the AG.

Only last year, King attempted to bar the State of Maryland from releasing Arthur Bremer, the man convicted in the attempted assassination of then Alabama Gov. George Wallace. King's legal, or perhaps illegal, ploys failed to work against the system of another American state; we can hardly imagine what he hopes to accomplish by attempting to circumvent the legal ruling of a Queensland court.

Is Gabe Watson the proverbial piece of trash (if you prefer, you may insert an even less delicate word here)? Certainly. Does our Attorney General, no matter how loved by some in the Shoals, have any authority to re-prosecute Watson? We're sure King knows the answer to that question. We're also sure the fact that King has no aspirations for the 2010 governor's race does not preclude any such lofty goals in 2014.

Can't get enough TK the AG? Try these sites:
Official website of the Alabama Attorney General
TK on Facebook
TK on Twitter


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jeronimo Nisa, Artist with a Camera

Since the parent company of the Decatur Daily purchased the Shoals' TimesDaily, local readers have seen several new names credited with bylines and photographs in what is often termed the "Daily Disappointment." We noticed the name Jeronimo Nisa in connection with photos of the Russellville-Hartselle game last week and decided to Google it. We're glad we did.

Mr. Nisa is an artist with his camera; his blog Jero's Picture Journal showcases his extraordinary talent. We hope the editors of the TimesDaily will use more of Mr. Nisa's work in the future. We have an idea Nisa could make even the annual Spirit of Freedom celebration look inviting.

What's up with this: Apparently rumors of the restoration of Sweetwater Mansion are just that. Sadly, if someone does not act soon, there will be nothing left to renovate.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Trail of Tears Dried Up in Florence?

Nothing talks like money, and apparently Tennessee has more of it than the Shoals area. This marked the first year for two competing trails in the annual observance of the mass removal of Cherokee Indians to Oklahoma Territory.

According to news reports from Huntsville, approximately 250 bikers left Bridgeport in what was termed a drizzling rain. By the time the group left Madison at 11:30 a.m., only a handful more had joined the riders as they entered Highway 72. Those reaching Florence then had the choice of remaining at McFarland Park or traveling on to Waterloo, the traditional end of the trail's land trek.

By some accounts, there were as many vendors at McFarland as there were bikers. As with the Independence Day Spirit of Freedom celebration, it's impossible to determine the exact revenue Florence and the surrounding area gain from this annual event. From speaking with law enforcement officers over the years, we know the influx of bikers requires extra police patrols that cost the city in overtime pay. Many stores on the route close due to blockaded entrances and the dearth of shoppers willing to brave the traffic.

Would the Shoals be better off without an active part in the Trail next year? Our answer is a resounding yes. Despite its admirable roots, the Trail of Tears bike ride has become for many just another excuse to party. Surely, those who suffered the deprivations of the original trail deserve a more fitting remembrance.

What's up with this: Alabama Attorney General Troy King has announced he will pursue murder charges against Gabe Watson. Watson has already been convicted in the jurisdiction where his crime took place--Australia. Perhaps TK the AG has never heard of double jeopardy.


Sweetwater Plantation: The Rumor Mill Grinds it Out

Photograph from Library of Congress

Sweetwater Plantation lies on the eastern border of Florence, deserted and dilapidated. Susan Leigh Smithson of Atlanta currently owns the property, but may, or may not, be willing to part with the historical gem for a mere six million dollars. So far Smithson has refused interviews with local media--a practice that has left her actions open to both speculation and what can only be termed nasty gossip.

At some point in the 1980s, the plantation was placed on the market for $400,000.00. After no serious buyers came forward, the property was withdrawn, only to be relisted in 2006. Since 2006, 12 acres of the original 22 have been sold to the Holiday Inn group for a new motel complex to front Florence Boulevard. Now, in 2009, the asking price for the eight room plantation house and 10 remaining acres is still six million, causing some to question just how serious Smithson is in her attempts to sell the estate, currently listed with Cypress Realty Group.

This past week rumors began to circulate that Smithson is planning to open the home for tours to commence in October. The plantation house was completed by former Alabama governor Robert M. Patton in 1835 and is widely reported to be haunted by Patton's son Billy, a Civil War casualty, as well as others who have resided in the mansion over the years.

Smithson is said to have removed any remaining furniture from the home where renovations are in progress. Locals who have toured the home in the past few months doubt the edifice will be ready for the Halloween tourism that has boomed in the Shoals in recent years. Others aver the home will be presentable, with local volunteers acting as guides and portraying various historical characters associated with the Patton family.

While we fervently believe in historic preservation, recruiting volunteers to turn the plantation home into a money-maker for owner Smithson seems something more akin to the actions of a yam dankee than the southern aristocracy.

What's up with this: Apparently an excellent video on Sweetwater Plantation has been removed from YouTube. Yep, removing quality videos about the Shoals is certainly one way to keep those tourist dollars out of the area.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Iron City Blues (Please Help Me, I'm Falling)

Iron City, known as Arrn City to the locals, is a small town--small as in a population of 368 in the 2000 census; however, this small town has a big reputation for crime. The Tennessee village lies just north of the Alabama state line, straddling Lawrence and Wayne Counties. Once a prospering municipality whose early growth was based on iron ore mining, hence the name, the town's fame now lies in its reputation for crime both organized and otherwise.

A 2007 film, Iron City Blues, even won an honorable mention at UNA's George Lindsey film festival. One would have thought a movie about goobers would have placed higher in the annual event, but perhaps the judging panel that year inadvertently included a film buff from New York City.

Now Iron City is in the news again due to the death of a Florence man. Douglas Lawson, 26, and his girlfriend Megan Dennis, 29, were visiting a local tourist attraction aptly named "Insurance Bluff" due to the number of stolen and stripped vehicles residing at the bottom of the seventy-foot gulch. After an evening of scintillating entertainment tossing either beer cans or rocks (depending on Dennis' changing versions of the event) from the bluff, the woman decided to leave her companion. Lawson then stood up to follow, lost his balance, and fell from the precipice. Dennis states she saw his eyes as he fell--a pretty neat trick in the rural darkness--then fell herself from the opposite side of the bluff. Dennis was uninjured in what she termed a fifteen-foot plummet down the other side of Insurance Bluff, a side locals describe as a slope of only inches.

The death in still under investigation, and Lawrence County authorities have not ruled out bringing charges against Megan Dennis. Assuming Miss Dennis is indicted in Lawson's mysterious death, we see another film in the near future. In fact, American International Pictures should base a studio in Iron City; there's certainly enough material.

What's up with this: Elmer Lopez of Russellville has just been arrested in connection with the rape of his fifteen year-old friend, according to reports in the TimesDaily. We're pretty sure in this case reporter Tom Smith misused the word "friend."


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Haunted History of the Shoals

If wafting leaves and foggy mornings haven't yet made you aware, autumn is in the air. In the Shoals, that also includes the super entertaining ghost walks with local author Debra Glass. This year Debra has added a Facebook page to promote her annual spirit-seeing tours, Haunted History of the Shoals Ghost Walk.

Since we've had a relatively mild summer and early approaching fall, we've heard many say they're hard pressed to wait for the last week in October to make the annual trek to some of downtown Florence's most spirited domiciles. Rest easy, you don't have to wait. If you have a group of ten seekers of chills and thrills, Deb will be happy to conduct a special tour any evening of your choice.

In the mean time, be sure to befriend the tour on Facebook. All the best guisers and ghouls will be there. (We hope to make it at least one night and would love to meet you there--Ed & Gayle)

What's up with this: The Reedtown Rapist, Mark Hurley has again been indicted on rape charges. We have every confidence that Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing will make it stick this time.


Toy Airplane Responsible for Fatal Fire?

The toy airplane is made of Styrofoam and hardly seems worth the $40.00 retail price at which it sold in 2006. Now Robert Tuten is asking the courts to consider this recalled toy may be the cause of the August 16, 2008, fire that claimed the life of Mason Scott.

Today Franklin County Circuit Judge Terry Dempsey refused to order a new trial for Mason's mother Christie Bray Scott, recently sentenced to death for the murder of the six year-old. Tuten and his associate Nick Heatherly only recently added the information concerning the recalled toy to their appeal of Scott's conviction. What are the chances that the Spin Master toy actually did ignite bedding in the room Mason shared with his younger brother Noah Riley?

According to experts, the chance that the Air Hogs RC Skywinder plane caused the fatal fire is infinitesimal. The source of the recall for the Toys-R-Us plane was the battery powered remote controller. No fires have ever been attributed to the device, but the small controller was found to emit heat in sufficient amounts to produce first degree burns on the hands of youngsters who operated the toy.

Further, only 7,500 of the planes produced by the Canadian toy company were involved in the recall. Since the toy in question was consumed in the fire, there can be no way to ascertain if Mason's plane came from defective stock.

Now, Christie Bray Scott has returned to her death row cell at the Julia Tutwiler Prison in Wetumpka where she awaits her next appeal, an appeal that will in all probability not be heard for six months or even a year. In the interim, her legal bills are mounting and her husband and son have begun a new life in another town. How can anyone doubt that life under such circumstances is a more effective punishment than a swift injection given under heavy sedation?

What's up with this: The city of Tuscumbia is considering new uses for its former downtown post office. No mention has been made of its historic mural from the Roosevelt Works Projects Administration era. Hopefully Tuscumbia town fathers are aware of the treasure and are prepared to save the art at all costs.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Check Out the New Asylum

No, our blog today doesn't concern any new machinations arising from the Alabama State Legislature. Today our spotlight is on Greystone Manor, that sprawling connection of corridors that comes alive each year in early fall. Perhaps alive is not the proper word; perhaps we should say this premiere haunted attraction becomes undead as the first falling leaves spiral to their destination of similarly dying grass.

Several of our readers have been concerned this brainchild of Vinnie Grosso and Shane Dabbs has fallen victim to the recession. Have no fear, or at least channel this timely emotion in another direction; due to the economy, Greystone will not open this year until October 1st, but it promises to provide even more terror than in years past. Admission to Greystone is still just $15.00, but this year for an added $5.00, one may tour the new Asylum wing. Killen may never be the same.

What's up with this: Be sure to check out our link to Why, Judge Suttle? for some interesting new material.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nothing Says Priorities Like Dragon Ladies

We invite everyone to visit the Shoals to enjoy the area's unique shopping and dining experiences. Want to take in an IMAX film while in the area? Well...okay, maybe we don't have that, but there's so much shopping. Oh...well, maybe most of that is at Target or Wal-Mart, but there's all the wonderful restaurants in the area. You can't say there's not a MacDonald's or a Hardee's on every corner in the Shoals.

Uh...this wasn't what you had in mind? Okay, you got us, the Shoals isn't exactly a tourist mecca in several areas, but do we have it made in the fake acrylic nail department. No, we in the Shoals may not want to shell out those big bucks for a gourmet meal or an Omega watch (What? You didn't know Mefford's Jewelers stopped carrying this line last year?), but we certainly know how to do artificial nails good and fancy. Just look at the newest addition to Regency Square Mall. How have we managed all these years without a 2,400 sq.ft. nail emporium? There are just some new businesses you don't have to worry about surviving.

Correction: Joey Rushing tells us the rape trial of Angus Eledge will be held in Lauderdale County. While the six year-old victim is a resident of Franklin County, the crime took place in Lauderdale. We know that due to the age of the victim, a plea bargain may be in her best interest as well as Eledge's; however, we hope Chris Connolly will request a maximum sentence in this particularly heinous crime.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Angus Leon Eledge: A Waste of Oxygen

Lauderdale County authorities have found accused child rapist Angus Leon Eledge living in his car at a camp ground in South Elgin. Eledge is accused of raping and sodomizing a six year-old Franklin County girl in January. It's taken almost nine months for the wheels of justice to move this far in Eledge's case; we hope his trial will be swift and his punishment, if found guilty, severe. Eledge faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted by a jury of his peers.

Just who is Angus Leon Eledge? According to public records, his most recent permanent address was 100 Lakeshore Drive in Killen. His profile on a social networking site provides little more information.

Born on November 4, 1975, the 33 year-old claims only two friends in Facebook--both adult woman named Amy. Amy H. lists Eledge as her only friend and proclaims her love for the accused child rapist. Eledge repays her comment by asking the identity of the two pre-school age girls in her photo album.

Recent comments on various local forums have portrayed Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing as inept. Let's hope the evidence will speak for itself in this case and that Eledge will remain incarcerated for the rest of his natural life.

What's up with this: Last night Russellville High School introduced students in its new ROTC program during halftime ceremonies at its opening home football game. Congratulations to RHS for this forward-thinking program--and they did it all without Roger Bedford's help.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Scott Fire - The Discussion Continues

Christie Bray Scott returned to Russellville today for a hearing that will be the first step in determining the outcome of her appeal for a new trial in the death of her six year-old son Mason. Judge Terry Dempsey has delayed his decision until next week.

In the interim, the discussion of Scott's guilt or innocence is again the topic of local forums. Much that is being written is simply a rehash of previously discussed theories; however, one forum may offer the public some new insights into the case.

Phorum 5 is a venue for discussing fires, arson, and related topics. The Scott case currently has several active topics in the forum and offers something the TimesDaily and other regional websites do not; James M. Munger, fire investigator who testified at the Scott trial, Chris Bloom, and John J. Lantini are active participants currently answering reader questions concerning the August 16, 2008, conflagration. The forum is open to the public, and we highly recommend it as a means to obtain more in depth information on the Scott fire, as well as others of interest.

Pictured is Russellville fire from June 2008.

What's up with this: We understand the TimesDaily forum has initiated another round of bannings during the last 24 hours; included was long time forum favorite DeepFat. At this rate, there will be no one left to post.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tim Milam Announces for Colbert District Judge

Shoals attorney Tim Milam has announced his candidacy for Colbert County District Judge. Milam will be running as a Democrat in his quest to succeed retiring Judge George Carpenter. He joins a large covey of candidates that includes Chad Coker, Tina Miller Parker, and Polly Ruggles.

We have not received any personal word from Mr. Milam concerning his platform, but the following was posted in the official Facebook site he requested we join:

You would not believe what other people are telling me that other people are doing. They should be embarassed (sic), but are not. I have not changed one thing in my life because I am trying to serve the community by being the Judge. I want to be positive about the election and myself instead of negative about others, so I dont (sic) talk about the other things going on. I am a lifelong Democrat running as a Democrat. However, I have life long republicans that are telling me they will vote for me and help but they cannot do it publicly. I am proud that not only Democrats are voting for me. I am the most experienced person running and will stand on my record. I think it is important to have a broad background and work experience for the District Court Judge.

Milam at one time practiced corporate law in Florence. We wish him luck in this pivotal Shoals race--with the large and accomplished field of candidates, he will need it.

Notice: A trust fund has been set up at Bank Independent for the family of the late Sammy Tidwell. One may donate at any branch. Mr. Tidwell was well known in the world of Shoals cyberspace, and we offer our sincerest condolences to his family.


Too Many Dogs, Too Many Weeds

As Community Services Director, Todd Nix oversees both the Florence Animal Shelter and the Florence City Cemetery. These adjacent entities lie in the southeastern quadrant of downtown and share similar problems--too little to deal effectively with too much.

Apparently a local breeder recently chose the overnight hours to drop off several miniature Doberman Pinschers. The Florence-Lauderdale Shelter, already teeming with seasonal puppies and kittens, now faces the unwanted task of disposing of the additional overflow. MinPins are extremely intelligent dogs and make excellent house pets due to their temperament and compact size. We urge anyone seeking a new canine-American companion to visit the shelter first.

One would think an abundance of grass would be easier to bring under control, but according to Nix and Florence Cemetery Sexton Frank Townsell, lawns that need to be mowed every four days are now cut on the average of every nine. Some months ago we personally spoke with cemetery workers concerning shrubbery that had encroached on the graves of a prominent early Twentieth century Florence family. These groundskeepers reported they did not usually trim or prune shrubs or trees, leaving that to the families of those buried there.

After returning to the cemetery, lopping shears in hand, we remembered an anecdote heard in childhood. The Florence City Cemetery Sexton of that era was a teetotaling Baptist who, much to the chagrin of his wife, was each Christmas flooded with bottles of Scotch and similar potables by the surviving families of those who had fallen under the sexton's care. Perhaps such an offering today might just encourage the mower's wheels to turn a little faster.

What's up with this: A ShoalsInsider article from yesterday questioned whether the TimesDaily Forums were still up and running. While they are still very much with us, they do seem to be on life support.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Phil Baggett, What Are You Thinking?!

Until retiring with a heart condition, Josiah Lewis was a chemist with TVA. His wife Koleta owned several antique shops in the Shoals area before her health forced her to retire. Elizabeth, their only child, died unmarried at a relatively young age. Now, years after their deaths, a local businessman is about to destroy the final resting place of the Lewis family's Great Danes, and there's no one to stop him.

Many who knew the Lewis family state they buried the canine members of their household in the small Hough Road pet cemetery in order to avoid this very fate, but the death of the cemetery's owner Paul Johnson left the land in the hands of a mortgage company more than willing to sell to those seeking to develop the now commercial property.

We're sure there are other such animals buried there, animals whose human families are no longer part of the Shoals and who know nothing of the fate that's about to befall the cemetery. No one will dispute that the land has fallen victim to neglect; grass covers unmarked graves as well as those where expensive bronze plaques mark the final resting place of those who no longer have anyone to defend them.

Phil Baggett is a native of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, and owner of Baggett Oil Company. Surely, Mr. Baggett could remove these graves to another piece of property. It would not only be the right thing to do, it would establish Baggett as one who truly cares about the Shoals area and not just what he can gain financially from it. We ask Phil Baggett to carefully consider how this will affect the community, a community from which he earns his livelihood.

What's up with this: DFU president and former mayoral candidate Van Morgan has stated he favors the removal of downtown parking meters in Florence. Perhaps he can tell us how the city will then fiance operations of the Pine Street parking deck, a facility that loses over 40K each year?


Monday, September 7, 2009

Who Killed Leo?

October 3, 2009, marks the University of North Alabama's homecoming. This year's theme is Leo. No, not the male lion housed with his female companion on campus, but those who have donned the lion's suit over the years. All former Leos are being asked to contact Carol Lyles for information concerning special events in their honor. We know with certainty that one Leo will not be there.

Ronnie Perryman was a Florence native who attended UNA in the early 1970s. A large, outgoing young man, Perryman was perfect for the role of the university mascot, a position he held for two years before transferring to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

By the mid-1970s, Perryman was living alone in an apartment complex near the campus. It wasn't unusual for the sociology student to be without contact with his family for days at a time. No one knows the exact hour that Ronnie Perryman died, murdered in his own apartment. Crime scene investigators theorized he had been dead a week when his body was found.

Tuscaloosa authorities have never solved Perryman's murder, although they periodically request any new information the public may have concerning the brutal crime. Since Ronnie's death, both his parents have passed away, still waiting for some answer to their many questions. After 35 years, there may never be an answer as to who killed Ronnie Perryman. We hope he's remembered on October 3rd with the others who have played Leo over the years. He deserves no less.

What's up with this: Winner of the UNA Purple Reign contest was the Lauderdale County License Commissioner's office. One of our contributors who visited the office that day had praise for the effort, but two thumbs down for the flying feathers wafting about the building. Ah Choo!


Sunday, September 6, 2009

What Says Labor Day? Spring Park!

Since tomorrow is Labor Day, we're sure many of our readers will visit the annual Spring Park celebration in Tuscumbia. While looking through images to illustrate our blog today, we found the one at right. While it's not an image of the end-of-summer get together, it's so impressive that we wanted to share it with our readers.

The artist responsible for the work is Tommy Thompson. Tommy has several blogs that feature his beautiful work; we particularly like Painting Under the Sun. According to his contact information, Tommy is a Shoals resident, and we hope to bring you more on him at a later date.

To all the working men and women of the Shoals, we wish you a happy Labor Day tomorrow. You've earned it.

Goodbye: Scott Stantis is leaving the Birmingham News after almost thirteen years as editorial cartoonist. We wish Mr. Stantis well, but fear no one else can sketch Troy King with a pompadour half as well.


Bliss Block: The Fleecing of Florence

"Bliss Block, what a crock," the reader wrote. Our faithful follower expresses how many in Florence have felt the past few years when it became obvious the city would in all probability never recover the small fortune it had lent real estate developer Jimmy Neese.

Named for a nineteenth century attorney who practiced in the 100 block of South Court Street, the name Bliss later became primarily connected with the buildings at 101, 103, and 105 South Court. After Best Jewelers closed its doors, the building at 101 had generally fallen into disrepair, and the other two buildings were hardly in pristine condition as well; city fathers were more than happy when James Martin Neese announced his plans to purchase the properties for approximately $250,000.00 and restore them to their original grandeur.

Incorporating as Bliss Block Ltd, Neese then requested a loan from the city in order to finance the renovations to the three buildings, as well as a fourth storefront located diagonally across the street. In the last decade, it was common for the City of Florence to offer low interest loans to local businesses seeking to expand. The program itself was later found to be an illegal use of city funds, but at the time, Neese was certainly not the only local entrepreneur to take advantage of the program.

However, while the economy was growing, not every one who negotiated one of these business loans was able to repay the debt. Over the years, Bliss Block fell farther and farther behind until it became apparent the city was in danger of never recouping its loan. It seems the Florence loan was known legally as a "no recourse" loan, meaning the city had almost no legal remedy available to it. A second Neese loan of $250,000.00 from First Southern Bank of Florence, as well as another large loan from a Huntsville bank, were also in default.

After months of waiting for any payment from Neese, the City of Florence sued Neese for nonpayment in 2007, but lost the case in Lauderdale Circuit Court. No recourse meant exactly that--Florence had little hope of enforcing the contract with Neese. Neese himself was always prepared to present the books for Bliss Block Ltd, books that showed no assets, but where had the money gone?

After purchasing the Bliss Block property for $250,000.00, Neese received a $325,000.00 tax rebate for his historical preservation of the site. He also negotiated to pay off his $250,000.00 loan at First Southern Bank for only $100,000.00. First Southern, fearing they would lose the entire amount, was more than willing to settle. Coupled with the $600,000.00 loan from the city, Neese netted a grand total of $825,000.00. Certainly some of that amount was used to refurbish the three Bliss Block buildings, but Neese's company contracted with construction firms in which the realtor had a financial interest. Jimmy Neese's financial gain from these financial transactions may never be known.

There are rarely any good outcomes in divorce, but perhaps Neese's split with wife Delana Darby Blake will have a silver lining. Perhaps now citizens of Florence will know exactly where the city's money went and what it financed.

What's up with this: Work continues on the renovation of loft apartments in the 200 block of North Court Street. Thanks to those who assist in the preservation of these historic buildings--at least those who do it legally.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Cherry Hills (Sic) Drive?

The citizens of Florence and many others who commute through this area on a regular basis suffered for months while traveling on US 72 during the final stages of the AL 133 extension. Detours and bottlenecks were the norm on US 72, commonly known within the city limits as Florence Boulevard, yet our elected officials asked us to be patient. The end results would be worth it all.

Certainly those who can now take AL 133 from south of Muscle Shoals to Helton Drive have benefited, but what about Florence Boulevard traffic? The Alabama Department of Transportation added two signals on this much-used thoroughfare where the north and south off ramps converge with the Boulevard. Certainly, these traffic signals were needed, and even welcomed by most Shoals drivers, but what about the Tune Avenue intersection?

At one time, city and state officials had indicated they would remove the signal at the Tune Avenue/Florence Boulevard intersection. Located just mere feet east of the US 72/AL 133 juncture, Tune Avenue leads from US 72 to a quiet residential neighborhood, a neighborhood that no longer includes the now defunct Powell Elementary School--the initial and primary reason for the traffic light.

Instead, the entrance to a Florence housing project, Cherry Hill Homes, has been widened, making that junction appear to the casual eye a four-way intersection. The City of Florence has even given the widened entrance a name: Cherry Hills Drive.

It's discouraging enough to have a light remain at this ultra low-traffic junction; to have the new "street" misnamed adds insult to injury. Cherry Hill Homes development was built on Cherry Hill. Notice the singularity of hills in both appellations. If Shoals drivers are going to be forced to wait needlessly at this signal, please at least get the name of the northern approach right.

From the mail bag: "Bliss Block, what a crock." Tomorrow, more on the fleecing of Florence.