Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cherokee Mayor's Family Heads to Circuit Court?

Most of us don't care if a person with a disability uses a standard (read: not modified for street use) golf cart to complete a journey of a few blocks any more than we care if a motorist is traveling 46 mph in a 45 mph zone. Apparently 72 year-old Betty McKinney, a resident of Forest Lane in Cherokee, does care if her neighbor Tina Lansdell uses such a cart on their suburban street. Why does McKinney object so vigorously and why does the 42 year-old Lansdell, wife of Mayor Chuck Lansdell, insist on continuing this illegal activity? At this point, we're not sure if even the participants in this ongoing legal battle remember their initial motivations.

Chuck Lansdell was first elected mayor of the small Colbert County town in 1992. After serving three terms, Lansdell decided that the part-time job was interfering with his care of wife Tina who suffers from Leber's Optic Neuropathy Plus. Besides blurred vision, this rare form of neuropathy also produces muscle weakness that is similar to that found in patients with Multiple Sclerosis.

From 2004 until 2008, Mignon Willis, a close friend of Betty McKinney, served as mayor of Cherokee, but chose not to run in the last election. While Mayor Lansdell has not publicly criticized Willis, he has stated his goal in returning to office was to unify the town. So far, he's batting zero.

When McKinney first complained of the use of the illegal cart last September, Chuck Lansdell was quick to label the charges as being politically motivated. The case first reached Cherokee Municipal Court in October 2009 when Tina Lansdell, Charlie Lansdell (the Lansdells' 16 year-old son also known as Char-Char) and Councilwoman Thelma Lambert pleaded not guilty. Judge Bill Marthaler finally heard the case earlier this month, after Cherokee Municipal Judge Chad Coker recused himself. Coker was appointed by former Mayor Willis and is currently seeking the office of Colbert County District Judge.

We haven't heard the official verdict on charges brought against Lambert, but Marthaler found Tina and Char-Char Lansdell guilty. Now, defense attorney Tim Case plans to appeal the verdict in Colbert County Circuit Court, ostensibly because the town of Cherokee has not officially adopted the Alabama state laws against such unmodified vehicles being allowed on public roads. Obviously, along with safety issues, the state seeks to force the owners of such carts to purchase licenses for their vehicles. In the eyes of the state, it's just as illegal to drive an unlicensed golf cart on public roadways as it is to drive an unlicensed Ford or Chevy.

Why do the Lansdells not simply pay their fine, modify their cart, and drive to their hearts' content? Why indeed? Most individuals would jump through hoops in order to avoid being tried in circuit court; yet the Lansdells are seeking to waste Colbert County tax dollars just to win a victory over Betty McKinney. Let's hope there are alternatives in the 2012 Cherokee mayor's race.

A rose by any other name: With Chuck, Charlie, and Char-Char, someone has to be named Charles somewhere...