Monday, November 30, 2009

Who Thinks Sheffield Can?

A show of hands, please--who really thinks Sheffield can return to its former state of prosperity? Okay, I see Steve Wiggins' hand. There's another one; no, that one belongs to Steve's brother Rick and he lives in California, so he doesn't count. Hmmm, okay, now I see Ian Sanford's. Anyone else?

We here at our blogging group would also raise our hands, but none of us lives in Sheffield either; however, we're going to make ourselves honorary citizens of Sheffield for the day and give some pats on the back. First, we're sure it wasn't easy to just say no to storefront churches in downtown Sheffield. Early Christians met in homes, so we're not of the belief a church building must have stained glass and a steeple. We do believe that buildings built for business should house enterprises that engage in commerce of some form and return tax dollars to the city in which they are built. Kudos to Ian Sanford and the town council for enforcing this law.

Automotive repair shops downtown? Yes, they do pay taxes, but they do not bring in as much out of town traffic as other retail establishments. Florence long ago rezoned that fair city and, for the most part, made a variance as rare as a six-toed cat. That brings us to Steve Wiggins and his stand against such establishments. Steve has vision. He sees the forest. It wouldn't hurt to listen to him.

Photo: Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in1970s

For your enjoyment: If you haven't seen Steve Wiggins' film City Hanging Over a Cliff, here's your chance--link.


Who Killed Rudy?

On Friday afternoon, Vincent Lavert Ingram turned himself in to Florence police for the murder of Harold (Rudy) Stanback. Authorities say the shooting that took the life of Chris Stanback's older brother was the culmination of an ongoing argument. Readers have e-mailed us to ask if there is any connection to Chris' murder. While we can rule nothing out, we are highly doubtful that the two are related.

Ingram is 30 years old and, according to friends, not currently employed. In May of last year, he was living with his mother Kathy Doss at 2371 Norwood Boulevard in Norwood Park, a Florence subdivision, when he was arrested for possession of a controlled substance. Ingram's record shows two similar arrests from 2006 while he was living at 331 Cherokee Street in West Florence. The specific charges in those incidents involved marijuana and drug paraphernalia. In 2004, Ingram and a roommate, Torrey Levar Hampton, were charged with second degree assault and given probation.

Authorities are still looking for Gerald Bernard Doss, Ingram's half-brother. Doss also has a 2005 arrest for possession of a controlled substance. Sources say police are also attempting to question Trudy Simpson whom phone and utility records list as the householder of 424 West Irvine Avenue where the murder occurred. At one time, Simpson worked as a teacher's aide for West Way, a public child care facility sponsored by the city of Florence.

Another reader informs us that Chris and Rudy's sister Tara is also no stranger to law enforcement. In 2005, Tara Michelle Stanback shot bystander Carlos Thompson while attempting to shoot her estranged boyfriend Thad Lewis. She was charged with assault and given probation. It would seem the Stanback family is a walking poster for gun control. We hope others will learn from these incidents, but we're not holding our breath.

What's up with this:
No national championship for the University of Alabama? According to our own Madam Zara, the Crimson Tide is about to suffer its first loss of the season. Wonder if they're listening in Vegas?


Saturday, November 28, 2009

First Chris Stanback; Now Rudy

Christopher Eugene Stanback (pictured) would be 32 years old if he had lived. Instead, Chris died fifteen years ago in a murder that is still unsolved. Last year we wrote about Chris' death and the effect it's had on his family. The Christopher Stanback Murder has produced as many comments, if not more, than any of our crime blogs. Yet, no one has any real evidence, any new information that will help authorities solve his homicide.

Now, his brother Rudy, 33, is also dead, the victim of a needless shooting at what was intended to be a Thanksgiving celebration. The fatal party took place at the home of Trudy Simpson, only three blocks west of the University of North Alabama. Another life has been lost, and the lives of two other young men have been radically changed forever. If any good can arise from this, we hope those who have information concerning Chris' death will now come forward. There's a $20,000.00 reward and a grieving mother still waiting.

Kudos: To Jen's Cafe on South Pine Street in Florence for once again serving a free Thanksgiving meal to one and all. We hope all our readers will try Jen's, known for its fantastic lunches and delicious deserts.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Byron Marc Newsome to Appear at Parker Fundraiser

The Shoals’ very own Byron Marc Newsome, nationally known actor and motivational speaker and 1993 graduate of Muscle Shoals High School, will be the guest speaker at a December fundraising dinner for the Tina Miller Parker for Colbert County District Judge campaign. Ms. Parker is also a graduate of Muscle Shoals High.

Byron, who now resides in Los Angeles with his wife Holly Anderson Newsome, formerly of Florence, currently has two national television commercials running--one for Buffalo Wild Wings and one for Samsung/NFL. Recent TV appearances on
The Young and the Restless as a news reporter and Days of Our Lives as Police Officer Bennett have opened up other new and exciting opportunities for the Shoals native. Byron is filming another episode of Days this December. You can also catch Byron in the 2009 movie release of Jessica Sinclair’s Thug Love.

Byron will be speaking to the audience and sharing a video presentation of his acting work. A grilled chicken dinner will be catered by Whole Hog Express of Leighton, Alabama, and door prizes will be given away.

The event will take place at the Muscle Shoals Recreation Center from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 22, 2009. Tickets are $15.00 and can be purchased by calling (256) 710-4724 or (256) 386-5590.


Tina Parker

Committee to Elect Tina Miller Parker

P.O. Box 2029

Muscle Shoals, AL 35662

What a bargain: The last grilled chicken dinner I had cost $18.00, and there was no handsome man involved. Let's all turn out to support Tina Parker in her bid for Colbert County District Judge.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Thanksgiving Challenge

The woman rushed from her car to the door of the fast food restaurant; the February wind was howling and it felt like snow was on the way. Once inside, the woman approached the customerless counter and began to speak to the young girl behind it--a girl who was obviously crying. As she waited for her order, the woman could not resist asking another employee about the girl who appeared on the verge of sobs. It seems it was Valentine's Day and the girl's boyfriend of almost a year had not remembered.

As the woman quickly ate her sandwich at a back table, the girl behind the counter continued to cry. It's not easy to be young, the woman thought as she exited the building to encounter even colder temperatures than when she had entered. As she opened her car door, the dome light illumined a small package on the back seat. The woman had taken some trinkets to nursing home patients and she had one left. Quickly she picked it up and ran back toward the restaurant. When she handed it to the surprised young girl, she actually saw what could have been a smile. It seems even the girl's parents had not given her a gift; the small present from a woman she had never met was the only gift she had received. The woman rushed back to her car through the blustery chill, but somehow she felt warmer inside.

Today we are truly thankful for all God has given us; today we present a challenge to our readers. We assume that most of you who read this blog are like us--perhaps not Bill Gates, but also not wanting for any of life's needs and few of its luxuries.

We ask you to go to the Dollar Tree, or a similar store if you live outside the Shoals area, and purchase 30 gifts, small presents. These token gifts can be as utilitarian as a pen set or as whimsical as a shoe-shaped emery board. Place these gifts in your car, wrapped or unwrapped, and for the next 30 days present one each day to the girl behind the counter at McDonald's or the young man who bags your groceries at Southern Market or whomever you usually encounter without thinking, or even looking.

We promise if you take this challenge, you will not only make others just a little happier, but yourself as well. Happy Thanksgiving 2009!

Quote from our friend Morris Lentz:


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jennifer Hampton: Her Death Demands Justice

Valentino Vasquez Miranda brutally beat, raped, and murdered Jennifer Lee Hampton. He then disposed of her body in a nearby lake where it remained for seven days. His skin and semen were found on Jennifer's body, and his victim's blood was found on the clothes Miranda wore the night of her murder. Rosa Hernandez, Miranda's common-law wife, saved the clothes her husband wore that night, clothes with Jennifer's blood on them. Now Miranda's defense attorney says his client has been illegally detained for the past 14 months. Why? Valentino Miranda did not understand his Miranda rights when they were read to him.

Joe Fanduzz (pictured), Miranda's court appointed attorney states that his client understands little or no English and may not have comprehended the fact that he did not have to answer the questions posed him by Knoxville, Tennessee, detectives. Did the Knoxville police not provide an interpreter for the suspect?

It seems the Knoxville Police Department did indeed provide Miranda with an interpreter, but the individual used was not certified by the correct authorities, whoever they may be. Does that mean the interpreter did not adequately inform Miranda of his rights--rights guaranteed by the United State Constitution? No, it seems that point is not really in question. While Miranda did not sign a release (apparently he cannot write his name), he did nod in agreement and acceptance. Fanduzz's argument is simply the lack of official status of the interpreter. A Knox County judge is set to rule on the defense motion on December 15th. Miranda's trial is still scheduled to begin January 11, 2010, at which time Fanduzz and his step-father John Eldridge will attempt to defend Miranda.

We say attempt to defend, because there can be no defense for what Miranda did. Does he deserve the death penalty? In most cases, we oppose the death penalty for a variety of reasons. In this case, we have no doubt of Miranda's guilt and feel that he, unlike most of us, would actually enjoy a better life in prison than he would in the free world. Pray for justice for Jennifer Lee Hampton.

Yes we said it: God help us, judging by his photograph and a little Freudian psychology, if we ever need Joe Fanduzz to represent us.


Jennifer Hampton: Coming Home for the Last Time

After medical examiners identified the body found in the lake as that of Jennifer Lee Hampton, her family in Lauderdale County began to make funeral arrangements. At first, family members were concerned over a lack of funds, but individuals who had never met Jennifer stepped in and took over.

Police departments between Knox County, Tennessee, and Lauderdale County, Alabama, escorted the former homecoming queen's body to the Morrison Funeral Home in the Central Community. KK Edgil-Hargett who works with rape victims and their families assisted the Hampton family in getting a reduced rate from the funeral home. Even as Shoals residents came forward to aid the family locally, stunned residents of Knoxville had begun their own efforts to collect funds for Jennifer's family.

After Jennifer was laid to rest in a private ceremony on October 2, 2008, it had become clear that the initial expenses had been more than taken care of by the generous outpourings of those who had never met Jennifer during her short life; but others, still in shock at the brutal murder, wanted to contribute.

Two female Lauderdale deputies initiated a nursing scholarship at Northwest Shoals Community College in Jennifer's honor. Bette Terry, a Registered Nurse who also works with rape victims, had already begun a fund in Jennifer's memory. Tina Parker, current candidate for Colbert County District Judge, assisted with the collection of funds and suggested memorializing Jennifer in the next Safeplace fundraiser. When it became apparent that the minimum funding to enter the walk would fall short, a Florence businessman who wished to remain anonymous contributed the difference. Jeff Miller designed the tee-shirts, and on April 4, 2009, a team honoring Jennifer Hampton participated in the annual Safeplace Walk-a-Mile-for-a-Child.

Jennifer Lee Hampton now lives on in the memories of those who knew and loved her. We hope those who have contributed in her memory to scholarships and the eradication of violence toward women know that they also have ensured Jennifer's memory will influence future generations of young women.

FYI: For those who have asked, there are a few copies of Nick Winn's book Life with the Canalers on sale at Bank Independent in Killen. They are $20.00 and no tax is charged. We urge you to get one of these few remaining copies.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Jennifer Hampton: Murdered by Illegal Immigrant

Valentino Vasquez Miranda had migrated to the United States illegally and, like the Guatemalan immigrant of our earlier tale, was living with a common-law wife over whom he exerted total control. Miranda and Rosa Rodriguez Hernandez shared a room at the Days Inn on South Lovell Road in Knoxville, the motel at which the Florence Mama Blues' employees were housed during their stay. When Jennifer Lee Hampton entered Room 148 on the night of September 19, 2008, she had no idea it was to become her death chamber.

Nick Patel, m
anager of the Days Inn, had hired the 19 year-old Miranda and 38 year-old Rogelio Dominguez Melchor to do maintenance work at the motel. Both immigrants presented illegal social security cards--a fact that Patel vehemently hangs on to in his assertion of total lack of responsibility in the crime. Both Miranda and Melchor possessed key cards allowing them entrance into the guests' rooms. As recently as the week before, a female patron had complained of Valentino Miranda entering her room in the middle of the night, but management refused to respond to her charges.

Sometime after 3:00 a.m. on the morning of September 20th, Miranda entered Jennifer's room with the intention of raping her. Miranda is the only living person who knows what happened next, but forensic pathologists have stated that the former Waterloo homecoming queen put up a prolonged fight. When a shaken fisherman found her nude body seven days later in Melton Hill Lake, Jennifer was missing a tooth, showed marked defensive wounds, and signs of sexual attack and strangulation.

Now, with a body in their possession, the Knoxville authorities arrested Miranda, charging him with First Degree Murder. Hernandez had willingly handed over the bloody clothes Valentino Miranda had worn that night, and semen from the sexual assault kit matched Miranda. The Knox County District Attorney announced that it would, in effect, be a slam dunk case. We hope so.

Photo by J. Miles Cary

Tomorrow: Jennifer Hampton comes home for the last time


Sunday, November 22, 2009

"Save Cypress Creek" Meeting

Our Series on Jennifer Hampton will continue tomorrow.

The newest environmental group in Florence is Save Cypress Creek, and they want you to join them in spirit, in person at Tuesday's meeting, on facebook, and in accomplishing something for future generations. From their press release:

On Tuesday, November 24, Shoals Environmental Association will host a public meeting to inform the public about some of the issues involved and to discuss strategies for stopping the proposed expansion of the Florence landfill.

The meeting will be at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library, in the conference room.

5:00 pm: refreshments, informal discussion & informational tables.

5:30-7:00 pm: meeting, including a presentation and a group discussion for formulating an action plan.

For more details about the meeting, call Charles Rose at (256) 366-1937.

SEA members were among the many who protested the landfill expansion at the Nov. 17 Florence City Council meeting. Despite the large turnout in opposition, the council approved the city's purchase of the Florence Golf & Country Club property for the proposed expansion.

Florence Golf & Country Club is situated on 157 rolling acres along Cypress Creek, a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking, tube floating, swimming, birding, and fly fishing. The Florence landfill lies just to the south of the country club property.

David Cope, a University of North Alabama math professor, Charles Rose, president of Shoals Environmental Alliance, and John Crowder, an environmental consultant, have recently called attention to what they think are serious problems with both the present landfill and the old landfill in West Florence.

They say the limestone karst terrain in this area is a poor choice for siting a landfill.

Storm water runoff from the landfill has silted Cypress Creek, creating a large gravel bar.

Cope and Rose have evidence that leachate from the landfill is entering the groundwater and polluting seven springs along a 1,000 ft. stretch of Cypress Creek.

Cope, Rose, and Crowder say that expanding the landfill will just compound these already existing problems. They fear that pollution from the landfill could despoil the creek and harm aquatic species.

There is another polluted spring flowing into Cypress Creek at the site of the old West Florence landfill.

Residents along the creek are concerned that property values will decline if the landfill expansion takes place.

Scott Ruffrage and other residents near the present landfill already complain about offensive smells and noise.

A grassroots group, Save Cypress Creek, was formed Nov. 15 when about 80 people, mostly Florence residents, met to organize opposition to the landfill expansion. The meeting, organized by Scott Ruffrage and Adrienne Freebairn, was also attended by Elizabeth Salter, Watershed Organizer with Alabama Rivers Alliance, and Barbara Evans, Organizing Coordinator with Wild Law, an environmental law firm in Montgomery.

Save Cypress Creek members, who made up the majority of the landfill opponents at Tuesday’s council meeting, are currently circulating petitions in opposition to the landfill expansion. They will be in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. They say they are determined to put a stop to what they think is a disaster in the making.

On August 11 of this year runoff from the landfill created a huge silt plume in Cypress Creek. The runoff also created a huge unnatural-looking gravel and silt bar in the creek.

Excessive silting means death for many aquatic species, including snails and mussels.

A species of special concern, the Warty Rocksnail, is known to inhabit Cypress Creek and has been found right at the point of the landfill runoff.

The state has given this snail its highest rating of “S-1”, meaning “Critically imperiled in Alabama because of extreme rarity…especially vulnerable to extirpation from Alabama.”

There are also reports that the Eastern Hellbender salamander has been observed in the creek. It is a species of high conservation concern, listed as “Endangered” in many states, and “Threatened” in many other states.

Landfill expansion opponents are hopeful that Cypress Creek can be protected, for the conservation of these species and for the enjoyment of Shoals area residents, their children and grandchildren.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Jennifer Hampton: Child without a Home

Jennifer Lee Hampton was 21 years old when she died, scores of miles from her high school friends in Waterloo and the various homes in which she had lived in her short life. According to officials at Waterloo High School, Jennifer lived with a sister while attending school. Her mother was barely in the picture, and no one knew if a father even existed.

If these things discouraged Jennifer, she tried not to show it. While at Waterloo High she was voted Homecoming Queen her senior year and acclaimed the most dependable. If one looks at photographs of Jennifer, one may not see the type of girl that is normally elected homecoming queen. She wore no fancy frock or lashings of make-up. Jennifer won the title because of what she was on the inside.

Neither was Jennifer rich; she had little or no money for college and was unsure of what she wanted to do with her life. After working in restaurants for a little over a year, Jennifer announced she wanted to be a nurse. Accepted at a local nursing school, Jennifer continued to work for what she wanted. Living in an apartment in Muscle Shoals, she worked as a server at Mama Blues Restaurant in Florence. Jennifer was so proficient in her job that owner Steve Barnhill chose her to be on the team that trained new employees in other towns.

Friends say Jennifer loved the opportunity to travel and was eager to train workers at a new Mama Blues in Knoxville. It was in Knoxville that she encountered illegal immigrant Valentino Miranda, the man who brutally raped and murdered her.

Tomorrow: Valentino Miranda

What's up with this: Richard O'Neal Matthews has been indicted in Franklin County on a fifteen year old rape case. We wish Joey Rushing the very best in prosecuting this and any other vermin guilty of the sexual abuse of a child.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Miranda, Rights, & Immigration

The young Guatemalan had walked for miles. He was determined to make it to the United States for a better life. As he walked, he thought of all he would need when he arrived in his new home--a companion came to mind, one who spoke Spanish. By now he was in Mexico, having hitched enough rides to make good time in his trek. He stopped in a village filled with the poorest of the poor, a village where some families lived in cardboard shacks.

When the young man left the village, he resumed his trip north with a 14 year-old girl for whom he had paid the equivalent of $20.00. This terrified child was to be his companion for the next five years as he made his way to Athens, Alabama, and began work in the Sweet Sue plant.

His "bride" was not allowed out of the house or allowed to learn any English with the exception of what she gleaned from television. She attempted to escape, but the birth of her first child chained her to her captor. It was during her second pregnancy that the neighbors on the quiet Athens street heard her screams from the latest beating and called the police. The Guatemalan quickly headed south, ostensibly returning to his homeland. The girl was now 19, heavily pregnant, and forced to live off the charity of a Hispanic family in Decatur.

When she delivered her second child, she arrived at the hospital in so late a stage of labor that the physician would not give her any pain medication. Holding the hand of a student nurse who stood next to her while communicating in Latin and praying for the young woman and her child, the girl gave birth to a second son. Now she had two anchor children, no education, and no money. What became of this young woman and her children? We don't know...

The above story is true and is related here to present two very different sides of immigration. Are we against all Hispanic Indian immigration? No. Do we see the problems illegal immigration brings? Yes.

Valentino Miranda is a man very much like the one in this story. Last year he killed a young Florence woman who was visiting Knoxville, Tennessee, on business. Now his attorney says he didn't understand his aptly named Miranda rights when he was questioned in the death of Jennifer Hampton. Will this stop his trial? No. It probably won't even slow down the judicial process that will bring a sure punishment to this brutal rapist and murderer. What punishment does Valentino Miranda deserve? Our individual answers to that question say a great deal about us.

Tomorrow: The Short Life of Jennifer Hampton


More on Roger Bedford and the Forgotten Audits

We reported earlier in the week on the lack of state audits for two of Roger Bedford's pet projects, the Marion County Community Development Association and the West Alabama Development Association of Fayette County. At that time, Ronald L. Jones, Chief Examiner of Public Accounts stated the required yearly audits had not been done due to a lack of time and personnel.

Now, it seems a senior staff member of the Chief Examiner's officer has admitted that his office was unaware of the existence of the two groups. Could there be more such organizations out there of which the examiner's office is unaware?

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation in this new chapter of the Roger Bedford saga is that the Office of the Examiners of Public Accounts is funded by the Alabama General Fund. Just who controls the Alabama General Fund? If you guessed the Chairman of the Budget Writing Committee for the Alabama General Fund is Roger Bedford you win the right to vote against him in the next general election.

What's up with this: We're told that Alabama has the weakest ethics laws in the United States. Does this surprise anyone?


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

City of Florence Owes England Auto Salvage an Apology

Last night the Florence City Council voted to purchase a 157 acre tract west of Florence. The land is currently in use as a country club and 18 hole golf course; if the council has its way, in six or seven years at least part of this land will become the new landfill.

Councilman Barry Morris, who previously voted against tearing down a dilapidated trailer park in order to erect patio homes, recused himself from the vote. Had his father-in-law not owned part of the Florence Golf and Country Club property, he would have voted in favor of the purchase.

All this from a mayor and city council who cannot make enough derogatory comments about the two England brothers salvage businesses that lie outside the city limits. Now we will have an expanded landfill, razed golf course, and polluted Cypress Creek, all adjacent to a major state highway (part of it just christened the Stewart Cink Parkway), because the Florence City Council wants an easy way out to dispose of future garbage? Or is that the only reason?

We hear other rumors, but at present they are just that--rumors. Like Mike Curtis' and Tammy Irons' votes/non-votes on a substantial raise in the Alabama Legislature, we won't forget what happened last night. All of North Alabama will be watching.

Finding humor where you may: One wag in the TimesDaily Forum this morning suggested Florence rename the Stewart Cink Parkway to the "Stinkway." It does have a nice ring to it.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Influence: Good or Bad?

When the Florence City Council meets this afternoon at five o'clock, will Dr. Barry Morris (pictured) be voting on the proposed purchase of the Florence Golf and Country Club? There's a possibility that the vote will not come up, but if it doesn't today, it will in two weeks. So, why should Morris not vote?. It seems his father-in-law is former Florence mayor Bill Batson, a major stockholder in the property.

If you think the whole dump issue stinks, both literally and figuratively, you're not alone. Should the city purchase the 157 acres and be unable to use the property due to environmental restrictions, we hope it will be able to sell the former club house and golf course at its purchase price. If the city is able to use the acreage legally, we hope state environmental watch dogs nip at the council's heels with every move they make. And the smell just gets stronger...


Concerned about parental rights? Grandparents rights? Family law in general? Then you need to check out the Alabama Family Rights Association. ALFRA is composed entirely of volunteers who seek to overhaul unfair and antiquated state laws concerning parental and custodial rights. Our friend Mark Davis, author of Why Judge Suttle? is an active member of this worthwhile group who tirelessly gives of his time to ensure the quality of family life in Alabama. Thank you for all you do, Mark.


Family members tell us that Brandi Lee Campbell has been apprehended and is currently incarcerated in the Muscle Shoals Jail. We wish them the best in getting help for Ms. Campbell.


Roger Bedford & State Coal Tax Severance Revenue

Coal tax severance revenue? Those words really tell us a lot about...well, perhaps nothing if you've never heard them before. It seems in many states, Alabama being one of them, a company can't just purchase vast acreages and then do anything with the land, at least when it comes to mining minerals. Some minerals are more valuable than others--coal being one of them. Any coal mining establishment must pay the state a set amount (tax) for removing (severing) the coal from the property. Apparently the profits on such minerals are such that these taxes don't deter said companies from removing the minerals--think strip mining.

So, now we've determined the State of Alabama makes quite a bit of money from this coal tax severance fee, but just what does state government do with it? In 2006, the state legislature passed a law giving the Marion County Community Development Association and the West Alabama Community Development Association of Fayette County the yearly sum of $100,000.00 each. One interesting tidbit about these groups is that they didn't exist. That's right--it was five months after the law was passed that these two organizations were incorporated by State Representatives Mike Millican and William Thigpen, along with State Senator Roger Bedford.

Since 2006, each group has received a total of $400,000.00 on which no Federal tax has been paid. Spokesmen for the two groups claim the entities are set up as non-profit, but the IRS has as yet to declare either one a tax-exempt organization. It seems as if someone has dropped the ball somewhere, but no one wants to admit it. None of the three lawmakers chose to comment on the situation.

Now, we must ask just where this total of $800,000.00 in coal tax severance revenue has gone. It seems that while Millican, Thigpen, and Bedford have frequently spoken of giving the tax money to both schools and volunteer fire departments in their districts, no one can produce any records of this disbursement. Neither has either organization undergone a state audit in the past four years. Has anyone looked behind the scoreboard at the Russellville High School Stadium?

What's up with this: Is Wayne Parker running against Parker Griffith in 2010? We're hearing rumblings--just not good ones.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Free "Poison & Wine" Album Download from The Civil Wars

John Paul White is a Shoals musician who's going places. Recently he teamed with Joy Williams, currently of Nashville, to form a band called The Civil Wars. Their music is diverse and has been featured on such television shows as Grey's Anatomy.

John and Joy are so sure you'll love their music, they want to give you a free download of their album Poison & Wine. This link will take you to their MySpace page where you'll be instructed how to complete the download.

The Civil Wars also has a Facebook page where you can become a fan of the group. As we publish today's blog, the group currently has 788 fans. If you like the group well enough to join, and we think you will, please mention that you learned of them here.

Not a new idea, but still a great one: We ask each of our readers to return to work tomorrow and offer a helping hand to the first person you see who needs it. It's easy to just pass by, but we promise you'll have a much more rewarding day if you don't.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

TimesDaily to Charge for Online Content?

The Tennessee Valley Printing Company is owned by the Shelton family; currently the fourth generation of Sheltons manage this growing business. Yes, in this economic recession, the Tennessee Valley Printing Company is still growing, but by acquisition, rather than increased sales and revenue. Obviously, this decades old company knows it needs the latter to survive another generation.

The Decatur Daily, the company's oldest newspaper, charges for its online content. In other words, one must subscribe to the newspaper in order to read it online. The Moulton Advertiser, purchased by the Tennessee Valley Printing Company in 2007, still maintains free access to its entire online site. When the company purchased the TimesDaily from the New York Times earlier this year, it made few changes in online services; however, sources say this may soon change.

According to the Wall Street Journal, newspapers that offer their articles online lose subscribers, while those papers offering only "teasers" have a robust and growing subscribership. Declining sales of newspapers may have coined the word "newosaur," but not all newspapers are falling victim to the lure of free news on the Internet. Obviously, the Tennessee Valley Printing Company doesn't want the TimesDaily to become a newosaur, and we can't blame them.

When (and if) this new policy goes into effect, what of the TimesDaily Forums? The Decatur Daily discontinued their forums without notice some time ago; TimesDaily editor Scott Morris has publicly stated he doesn't like the anonymity of such websites. In other words, forum junkies should be prepared to move on to other forum venues. We understand some forums offer not only serious intellectual discussion, but cordial camaraderie--something the TimesDaily Forum lost eighteen months ago.

What's up with this: Many cities ban unelected politicians (read: overbearing candidates) from participation in Veterans Day parades. If that's the policy of the town of Tuscumbia, organizers forgot to tell a certain candidate for District Judge and his family.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Just Say Nay - Dump the Dump!

A Letter to All Citizens of Florence & All Other Conservation-Minded Individuals:

It's been said "You can't fight City Hall." Well, we say we can--especially if City Hall is wrong. We are asking all residents of Florence to take part in this campaign to save the Florence Golf and Country Club. While we firmly believe 95% of a municipality's business should be just that--theirs and no one else's, something of the magnitude and beauty of this property belongs to the Shoals, just as does the New Deal mural in the future Tuscumbia City Hall.

While trash and garbage are a fact of life, that does not mean we should give these dregs of day-to-day living a place of prominence in our community. Perhaps the next step would be to raze the 1948 Art Deco Rogers Department Store building and install pay toilets. We have every confidence that the elected and appointed officials of Florence can design a plan for solid waste disposal that does not include the destruction of 157 acres of beautifully landscaped property and an edifice of architectural integrity.

We ask you to call or e-mail the following Florence officials with your concerns:

District I - Sam Pendleton - 760-6401,

District 2 - Dick Jordan - 760-6402,

District 3 - Hermon Graham - 760-6403,

District 4 - Barry Morris - 760-6404,

District 5 - James Barnhart - 760-6405,

District 6 - Andy Betterton - 760-6406,

The first, and perhaps only, vote on this issue will be Tuesday, November 17th, at 5:00 p.m. in the Municipal Building auditorium. We encourage all who can to be there. We humbly and sincerely ask everyone to make a long and loud protest of this purchase to the above named council members.

Thank you,

Shoalanda (E. A. Truitt, publisher)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cynthia Stewart Does Tharptown

Tharptown ladies, sing this song, ooh lah, ooh lah.
Tharptown admins, boy, they're wrong, ooh lah, ooh lah.
Gwine to dance all night, gwine to dance all day,
Else we'll protest, ain't that right, got to have our say.

Like Katy Perry, Cynthia Stewart kissed a girl and she liked it. Now, she wants to bring this girl to the Tharptown High School prom next March. This is where it gets interesting.

Never the shy and retiring type, Stewart is given to wearing a sticker bearing the message, "I am a Lesbian." We have no word on other students who may be similarly proclaiming their heterosexuality or Tharptown parents who may be insisting their children safely identify themselves as asexual. Perhaps there are faculty who would like to express the sentiment of being too tired to even think about sex--hetero, homo, or anywhere in between. Where will it end?

Alas, we have again fallen into the pit of digression. Anyone ever been to Tharptown? Anyone who resides outside Franklin County ever heard of Tharptown? That's what we thought. Aside from the occasional "He's my man and you can't have him" cat fight or the even rarer "He stole my pig and I had to kill him" crime, the small community of Tharptown doesn't usually make front page news. Now this wide spot in the road is headlining the New York Times--well, The Birmingham News, anyway.

Not since Beth Ditto left Arkansas have so many expressed so much shock over an adipose, uh, obvious publicity ploy. Expect to see Cynthia Stewart on Big Brother, followed by I'm a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here. Expect to see Franklin County School Administration take early retirement and move to as yet unsullied Belgreen.

Words of the day: Russell Brand (That's all, just Russell Brand. We thought as long as we mentioned Katy Perry, it would be only fair to mention her hirsute Brit bf.)


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Saluting Frank Buckles - Last Living U.S. WWI Veteran

Frank Woodruff Buckles, 108, is the last living United States Veteran of World War I. Since the 2008 anniversary of the Armistice, the last known remaining veteran from Great Britain has passed away. Now, Frank is the "Last Leaf" and he is determined to make the most of his unique position in history.

What is it that Mr. Buckles, an ambulance driver in France, wishes to accomplish? We invite you to visit Frank Buckles' website and learn about his quest for a World War I Memorial in Washington, DC. That's right, after 90 plus years, those who gave their lives in the Great War still have no memorial in our nation's capital.

Not only will you learn how to help right this wrong, you will have an opportunity to sign Buckles' guestbook and thank him for his continuing service to our county. Frank Buckles may be the last, but he certainly was not the least. We salute him today, a real American hero.

Historical tidbit: If you view enough formal portraits of World War I military, you will notice many prominently display their left hands, sometimes placing them under their chins. Why? These doughboys wanted to display their wristwatches, still a relatively rare timepiece until popularized by their advantage in battle situations.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Salute to Veterans 2009

Whether you call it Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, or Veterans Day, November 11th is a day set aside originally by all English speaking countries to mark the end of the Great War and, now, to honor all veterans who have served their countries with honor.

Here in the Shoals, ceremonies began as early as last Sunday. Today and tomorrow will be celebrated by parades: Russellville today at 4:00 p.m. and tomorrow in Tuscumbia and Lawrenceburg at 11:00 a.m. The traditional eleven o'clock hour will also mark the annual tribute held at the University of North Alabama in the World War I Amphitheatre.

If you know a veteran, be sure to thank him or her for service to this country and to each of us. Tomorrow is a particularly ironic holiday for the United States due to the timing of the Ft. Hood shootings. Even at peaceful settings on our own soil, members of the military give their lives to preserve our freedom.

Veterans we honored last year: Veterans Day 2008


Monday, November 9, 2009

Checks, but No Balances...

Those who read our column on a daily basis are familiar with Brandi Lee Campbell, the Colbert County woman a grand jury refused to indict in the slaying of her brother. Now, Campbell is again wanted by Colbert County authorities. Besides several bad check charges, Campbell has three outstanding warrants for possession of a controlled substance. Anyone knowing the whereabouts of this fugitive is asked to call Shoals Crimestoppers at 386-8685. You may read an account of Bryan Ray Campbell's June 2008 death at this link.

Apparently after the recent fire at Clement Hill Furniture in Muscle Shoals, owners Steve and Darlene Hill are short of funds. Ashley Furniture Inc. is suing the retiring owners for $16,214.00. As of yet, state fire marshals have not made a determination as to the cause of the blaze that destroyed the State Street store.

Our second missing balance has nothing to do with finance, but Mother Nature. It seems once again the City of Florence is attempting to purchase property for a use that cannot be safely or expediently authorized. Several concerned Florence citizens, as well as environmental groups, plan to challenge Florence's announced purchase of the Florence Golf and Country Club. We say bravo to all concerned not only with the aesthetics of the situation, but the impact the extended landfill will have on Cypress Creek and other adjacent areas.

Tomorrow: Some thoughts about our local veterans


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ronnie Valentine - Dedicated Deputy or Gunslinger?

Lauderdale County Road 200, commonly called the Old Savannah Highway, is a winding stretch of two-lane road--so winding that it was bypassed when the state upgraded Alabama Highway 20 some years ago. Early in the morning of Sunday, October 4, 2009, Deputy Ronnie Valentine was driving on this relative short stretch of road when he met another car that commanded his attention.

Sources give various reasons for Valentine's interest in the vehicle, but what is not in dispute is the fact the off-duty deputy turned his personal car around and began to follow the second vehicle. At some point, Valentine, a member of the Lauderdale Sheriff's Department since early this year, requested assistance from on-duty officers.

The driver of the second vehicle claims he was not impaired, although he had been drinking earlier in the evening, and has no idea why Valentine was following him, or that Ronnie Valentine was a law enforcement officer. Attempting to escape from his pursuer, the driver raced over the winding road at speeds up to 100 mph before crashing at approximately 2:30 a.m. Miraculously, the driver escaped serious injury.

On-duty personnel arriving at the scene arrested the driver for a DUI; the driver has indicated that his blood alcohol level was .06 (below the legal limit) and that Deputy Valentine kicked him in the head while arresting officers had him subdued on the ground. The driver has also publicly stated the arrest caused him not only bodily injury, but loss of his job. Until this week, no Lauderdale personnel have commented officially on the pursuit and crash. Now, Central firefighter Jay Gibson has filed a complaint with the Lauderdale Sheriff's office.

Gibson worked the accident in his official capacity and claims that Deputy Ronnie Valentine caused the crash. No others have come forward to support the victim, and some have doubts as to the purpose of Gibson's claims. It's been only a few months since Valentine filed a similar complaint against fellow deputy Terry Woods, and some see this accusation as an attempt at retribution.

As with the earlier charges against Woods, the accusations against Valentine are being handled by the Lauderdale Sheriff's Department, rather than the ABI. Doesn't Sheriff Ronnie Willis and his staff have enough to do already? And does anyone think the department's investigation of either case can be completely impartial?

Read about the confrontation between deputies Ronnie Valentine and Terry Woods here: Lauderdale Deputies Battle it Out


Saturday, November 7, 2009

We Offer a Question and an Answer

The rub of today's topic is that the question and answer aren't mated...

A reader from Killen has asked the current status of Allen Wilson, the Lauderdale County teacher who was recently convicted of misdemeanor assault and terminated from his position at Brooks High School. Wilson was sentenced to 90 days in the Lauderdale County Detention Center, but is currently free on appeal bond. Appeals are not heard in Alabama on a first come, first serve basis, so Mr. Wilson's freedom may be long-lived no matter the final outcome.

Wilson is also appealing his loss of position at the Killen high school, using his criminal attorney Tim Case in lieu of an AEA lawyer. Results from this appeal should be forthcoming within the next two months. After his hearing before the Lauderdale Board of Education, Wilson stated that he frequently had to be confrontational in order to solve school problems. We think the teacher-pilot has seen Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle one too many times.

As for Wilson's position as Lauderdale representative on the Muscle Shoals Airport Authority Board, the county commission recently replaced him with Greg Ezell, a local labor activist. We don't know Mr Ezell, but suspect the board meetings will henceforth be much more amiable.

Now, for our personal question for which we have no answer--yet. Those who use plastic at the Lauderdale County Courthouse to pay any form of taxes are aware that the county charges $3.00 for every swipe. Citizens may us their debit or credit cards to pay for car tags, property taxes, or any number of licenses that the county government sells; we imagine that many do use plastic simply for the convenience, and these $3.00 charges add up over time. Yes, it's called convenience--that's with a "c" that stands for cold cash for not just the company processing these electronic payments, but apparently Lauderdale County as well.

The September 14th minutes of the county commission extended the contract with the RDS company to process transactions at $2.48 each. That leaves the county with an extra fifty-two cents per transaction. Assuming Lauderdale County citizens use plastic 10K times a year, the county takes in an extra $5,200.00. That amount might be the proverbial drop in the bucket to a government with a budget the size of Lauderdale County, but we do ask:

Just how much extra does Lauderdale County garner from these electronic processing fees, and where does the money go? Jenoice? Danny? Mickey? Anyone?

Tomorrow: A question about Lauderdale County deputy Ronnie Valentine's involvement in the October 4, 2009, automobile crash in the Central community.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Andy Betterton & Rhea Fulmer - Biased or Not on Tourism Pick?

Would Jan Ingle (pictured) make a dynamic addition to the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Board? We think she would, but the 1985 graduate of the University of North Alabama may never get the chance.

It seems the Lauderdale County Commission and Florence City Council are still fighting over the nominee after all these weeks. Commissioner Rhea Tays Fulmer has attended Florence Council meetings, and Council President James Barnhardt has attended Lauderdale Commission meetings. At this rate, each side should charge admission.

Fulmer has been quoted as opposing Bill Hunt, the Lauderdale County Commission nominee, but sources say she also has reason to oppose Jan Ingle, a friend and supporter of William Smith, a one-time political opponent of Fulmer.

Similarly, Andy Betterton, a Florence Council member who has now been appointed to a joint committee effort to solve the dispute, works with Ingle at SBS Electric in Florence. Just how impartial could anyone expect Betterton to be?

News reports indicate at least seven others also applied for the upcoming opening. While it's a loss to the Tourism Board not to utilize Jan Ingle, perhaps an unbiased compromise is the only fair option left. Let's put aside our personal likes and dislikes and get on with it.

Photo courtesy of UNA Alumni Association

What's up with this: It seems Central Fire Chief Terry Lovelace has issued a press release stating Jay Gibson of the Central Department acted alone when he filed a complaint against off-duty Lauderdale Deputy Ronnie Valentine's actions during an October 4 chase that resulted in a serious accident. Why the need for that statement, Chief Lovelace?


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Zachary Mullins Charged Because of Flag Team Row?

Our October 29th blog on the indictment of Morgan County teacher Jessica Heather DeFoor and Air Force Lt. Zachary W. Mullins told it like it is: If an 18/19 year-old male has sex with a 15 year-old girl, he's guilty of second degree rape in the State of Alabama. If a jury of his peers finds Mullins to be guilty, he will remain branded a sexual predator the rest of his life and have to register as such no matter where in the United States he may move. As to what will become of his new Air Force career, we don't know. Since the incident happened before Mullins was commissioned upon his graduation from Auburn University, perhaps the Air Force will consider all the circumstances and allow Mullins to retain his rank and status in that branch of the service...or perhaps he will be handed his walking papers along with a dishonorable discharge.

The three crimes of which Mullins and DeFoor are charged occurred in 2006, but were not reported until 2007. There is no statute of limitations on such crimes, but many have questioned the year's delay in reporting these acts. We ourselves have specifically questioned why the 15 year-old victim was allowed unsupervised visits at the home of DeFoor, a second grade teacher from the Danville-Neel Elementary School.

Upon further research, it seems Miss DeFoor herself was the adult chaperon appointed by Danville High School. DeFoor supervised what is commonly called a flag team, and it was not unusual for her to invite team members to her home for parties after practice. Whether parents of the girls knew that DeFoor also invited certain male students and graduates is unknown.

Today's flag teams bear little resemblance to the marching groups of years past. Large high schools field color guard, autumn guard, and winter guard teams--all of which compete in regional and national competitions. We feel if we delve deeply enough into the current world of high school sports/activities, we would find that even tiddly winks has become a highly competitive and money-making endeavor. Apparently, even in the small town atmosphere of Danville in Morgan County, the flag team was "kind of a big deal" to those who oversaw it, and those who couldn't cut it were culled from the herd of marching, head-bobbing flag-twirlers. Several sources have reported to us that this was the case of the victim in the DeFoor-Mullins rape case.

If true, it's sad that the victim, who may have been so drugged that charges against Mullins will be elevated to first degree rape, saw no need to report the crimes committed against her until DeFoor booted her from the Danville Flag Team. Very sad indeed, but it makes 2nd Lt. Zachary W. Mullins no less guilty. Mullins, a commissioned officer for only a few weeks, arrived back in Alabama on Monday. He was released from the Morgan County Detention Center on $30,000.00 bond.

Now, Danville High School authorities must ask the question: Was the 15 year-old victim the only girl who became the object of DeFoor and Mullin's sexual desires? Predators lurk everywhere, even in Danville. We're sure the local high school made what it thought was a good decision when they asked Heather DeFoor to oversee the high school flag team; they were wrong. All parents should watch this case very carefully and learn from it.

Pictured is stock photo of marching color guard

What's up with this: Wilson Park now has a restored fountain, complete with third tier. Thanks to Councilman Dick Jordan and others who worked diligently to push for the restoration of this Florence landmark.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Looking for a Bargain? Or Maybe a History Lesson?

Are you looking for a bargain? Well, if you aren't, you should be; so if you haven't discovered Bargain Mom, you've been missing out on a multitude of great deals.

Some of the offers featured in the Bargain Mom Blog, are local to the Birmingham area, but many are statewide and feature savings and coupons from such stores as Aldi's and Walgreen's. Try it once, and we guarantee you'll become a fan of this fantastic blog.


Friday, November 6th, will be the last regularly scheduled Ghost Walk for 2009. Shoals historian and raconteur Debra Glass will be happy to offer special tours for large groups, but this may be your last chance this year; don't fail to take advantage of it.

Also, several booksellers have been sold out of Ms. Glass' series of ghost stories, but K's Cove in Elgin should have a new shipment next week, as well as several new offerings from Ellora's Cave.


Want to know what board positions are currently open within the City of Florence? Click here for a list of openings, as well a synopsis of other business discussed by the Florence Council yesterday.

Florence is in particular need of a new City Historian since the death of Mr. Bill McDonald. The position is extremely demanding of time, but we hope several will apply for the opening. No one can ever replace Mr. McDonald, but Florence deserves an active historian who will continue in McDonald's tradition. Any retired UNA profs out there?


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

One Swanky Landfill

They're tearing down a school to build a parking lot.

They're tearing down a hospital to build a parking lot.

They're tearing down a church to build a parking lot.

Whoa! They're tearing down a parking lot to build a parking lot!

The above lines may comprise an old joke, but apparently the City of Florence actually wants to tear down a country club, complete with 18 hole golf course, to add to its present landfill. The Florence Golf and Country Club was established in 1927 and comprises 157 acres of exquisitely developed property. Unfortunately, with the number of competing local golf courses and the present state of the economy, the Florence Country Club is no longer a money maker for its owners.

The current owners purchased the club in 2005, hoping to resurrect interest in the decades old institution; however, according to Norman Ross, the group is now faced with the necessity of selling the property, in all probability at a loss. Saturday, October 31st, was the last day for bids; so far nothing has been published on just who did or didn't make an offer.

Along with the City of Florence, the University of North Alabama also showed interest in adding the property to the western end of its campus, as did Lawrenceburg businessman William Keelon who thinks the large acreage would make an ideal setting for an assisted living facility.

Obviously, money talks in this situation where investors have little hope of recouping their investment. Let us also remember that garbage stinks; converting something as lovely as country club acreage into a refuse dump will hardly win the city any new fans or friends.

What's up with this: Lauderdale Deputy Ronnie Valentine, who recently accused fellow deputy Terry Woods of harassment, has now been accused of abusing his office and other civil rights violations. It will be interesting to see how Sheriff Ronnie Willis handles the situation.