Commission takes first step to approve new voter registration system

Bob Dooley of Keet Consulting Services addresses the Marengo County Commission in its Tuesday meeting. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

Marengo County commissioners Tuesday took the first step to approve a new system of voter registration services.

Bob Dooley with Keet Consulting Services in Pelham explained how KCS would gather all of the Marengo County data on voters and information on the precincts for house, senate, commission, council and city precincts.

Such information on their software would eliminate the Marengo County Board of Registrations having to spend months updating records when KCS could do it in 24 to 36 hours, said Dooley.

He told the Commission the one-time start-up fee for the service is $7,500 for the size of Marengo County, with a $500-per-month maintenance fee. There would be no contract.

If the county chose to forgo the start-up cost, the county would be charged $675 per month.

Board of Registrars member Barry Hunt told commissioners that “It’s taking a long time” to update all the county records using paper maps and spreadsheets. Bringing KCS on board “would certainly help us.”

Commissioner Freddie Armstead challenged the company to lower its start-up fee. At the end of the Commission meeting, and after KCS representatives had left, members voted to accept KCS’s proposal if Chairman John Crawford can negotiate a price reduction either for the start-up fee or the monthly charge.

The county approved a resolution for the redemption of Bonds for Series 2011-B Warrants taken out for the renovation of the courthouse and the annex. The move was made because for the first time the county can pay more than the minimum on the bonds, which now are set to mature in 2034.

Traffic from overloaded trucks is causing undue wear and tear on County Road 1. Commissioners voted to prohibit trucks weighing more than 25 tons from using the road and to post signs to that effect. Any company shown violating the restrictions would be fined a bill for repair.

The Town of Sweet Water will have a speed bump installed in front of the school subject to a formal request by the city. The town will purchase the speed bump for a cost of about $400, said county engineer Ken Atkins, and county workers can install it and put up signage.

Commissioner Calvin Martin asked if there were any way the county could finish paving roads that are now only

Justin Coleman was recognized for his completion of the Alabama Jail Training Academy. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

partially paved. “That’s something that we as commissioners need to look at,” said Martin.

Armstead said ADECA won’t honor a request to lump all the roads together in a grant, but the county could float a bond issue to pay for it.

Atkins agreed, adding that the cost of paving one mile of road is about $350,000. Funding sources for roads haven’t changed since 1992, he added.

In other action, the Commission will look into replacing the uncomfortable wooden chairs in the small courtroom.

Ricky Hall and Carolyn Rogers were reappointed to the E911 Board from Districts 3 and 5 respectively. Armstead will make his recommendation for District 1 at the January meeting.

Commissioners recognized Corrections Officer Justin Coleman for completing the Alabama Jail Training Academy.

Marengo County Commission approves $20M budget in Tuesday meeting

Phillip Spence, right, post surgeon for the Marengo County unit of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, accepts a resolution from Commission Chairman John Crawford Jr., passed by the Commission to proclaim Sept. 15 as POW/MIA Recognition Day. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

Marengo County will operate with $20,118,622.52 for the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 after the County Commission voted to adopt the budget Tuesday. Estimated expenses for the year are expected to be $17,369,274.28.

That will leave a difference of restricted funds of $2,749,348.24.

The Commission made it possible for Demopolis voters will have a chance to approve a 3 mil tax renewal for Demopolis schools by putting the issue on the December ballot.

Demopolis City Schools Supt. Kyle Kallhoff said the tax is renewed every 10 years and brings in some $225,000 per year to the school system.  He said the funds in the past have been used for nurses, transportation and School Resource officers.

Only ballots in Demopolis will have the tax issue.

Phillip Spence, post surgeon for the Marengo County unit of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, accepted a resolution passed by the Commission to proclaim Sept. 15 as POW/MIA Recognition Day.

The resolution “honors the commitments and the sacrifices made by our nation’s prisons of war and those who are still missing in action.

County Engineer Ken Atkins presented bids on road repair materials. Commissioners approved the lowest bidder for each item with the stipulation that the bids meet specifications.

Also approved at the meeting was a contract with the Dallas County Juvenile Detention Center. The contract, renewed annually, guarantees one bed per day.

Juvenile Probation Officer Darren Glass said if the county uses more than 365 days, it will be charged $60 per bed per day.

Commissioner Jason Windham forwarded a request from the Demopolis Industrial Development Board for a contribution toward the ribbon-cutting for Two Rivers Lumber Company, now set for Oct. 19.

Windham said the Marengo County Economic Development Authority and the IDB also are helping to pay for the event.

The Commission voted to contribute $1,000, but the money was made as a budget amendment to MCEDA, since the county cannot directly give to the company.

Probate Judge Laurie Hall told commissioners that the primary election went well, with only one complaint about moving a polling place.

Commissioner Freddie Armstead thanked all of Marengo County for the effort to help Hurricane Harvey victims. He said the Demopolis Fire Department especially went above and beyond to man the trailers that held the items that were donated.

In other action, the Commission approved:

  • Leaving the Tobacco Tax CD at Sweet Water State Bank.
  • The Grand Jury Report.
  • The first step in declaring Peace Lane a public road.
  • A consultant for work on Sparks Road.

Marengo County Commission moves voting locations, discusses bereavement leave

Personnel issues took center stage at the Marengo County Commission meeting Tuesday. Commissioners updated the personnel policy on bereavement leave and voted on life insurance coverage for both current and retired employees.

In the current personnel policy, employees are expected to take bereavement leave out of their sick or vacation times. Probate Judge Laurie Hall said other counties have separate bereavement leave policies when a member of an employee’s immediate family dies.

After a lengthy discussion, Commissioner Jason Windham moved to allow employees two days of paid bereavement leave. If any more is needed, it will be taken from sick or vacation days.

If an employee doesn’t have sufficient vacation or sick days, the county will loan him the leave until sufficient time is accumulated.

Commissioner Freddie Armstead added a bit of levity to the discussion when he said, “Let me tell you something. Black folks, you die and they lay them out and bury them the next week. White folks you die and they bury you tomorrow.”

The Commission unanimously voted to accept the first of three proposed life insurance policies provided by Minnesota Life Insurance, effective for three years.

The proposal would cost both current and retired employees $18.96 per year, with the county matching the amount. The 31 current county retirees would receive $4,500 in life insurance, and employees, $10,000.

Commissioners rejected the plan that each employee would pay $78.36 per year with the county’s cost greatly reduced or a third option based on age.

In other action, the Commission:

Approved a letter of support for West Alabama Public Transportation.

  • Voted for a Hazard Mitigation Grant Resolution for Thomaston which is planning a community safe room.
  • Approved a resolution changing the Back to School Sales Tax Holiday from August to July in conjunction with state action.
  • Heard Judge Hall’s report on the changing of election dates for the U.S. Senate. The first primary will be Aug. 15, with a runoff Sept. 22, if needed. The general election will be Dec. 12.

After an executive session, commissioners voted to relocate the Taylor voting location to Thomaston, the Putnam site from the Old Store to the Putnam Baptist Church, the Nanafalia site from the Old School to the Nanafalia Baptist Church and the Aimwell site from the Aimwell Baptist Church to Sweet Water Town Hall.

The Commission also voted to allow Frazer Lanier to explore the option of refinancing the county’s current bond issue and look into a new bond issue to support Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital in Demopolis.

County commission learns of new regional drug task force

Brian Forester

Marengo County will be the administrative host for a new regional drug task force that will encompass not only the 17th Judicial Circuit but Tuscaloosa County and the 4th Judicial Circuit.

Dist. Atty. Greg Griggers asked the county commission to take on the position since, thanks to administrative assistant Meredith Hammond and her staff, the county always has had impeccable record keeping. In addition, his staff appreciated the commission’s willingness to serve as the 17th Judicial Circuit host without receiving anything in return.

Taking on the larger role of administrative host for the regional agency would be beneficial not only for law enforcement agencies but for Marengo County as well, said Brian Forester with ADECA. Recent drastic cuts in agency budgets led to the formation of seven drug enforcement regions in the state, which means more resources will be directed into each region.

Most of the drug enforcement agencies already have close ties with each other. The regional force system being set up across the state would allow them to pursue larger projects, Griggers said.

Forester added that officers now based in their home region would remain there but would be able to cross lines and provide assistance where needed.

The county would benefit from the new arrangement by receiving funds for the time expended on the necessary paperwork.

“I don’t see any negatives,” said Russell Morrison with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. He and two others work Tuscaloosa County, but his duties often require him to be out of the area. With this new arrangement, he would have eight other officers to help.

The regional drug task force system is on a one-year “trial” basis.

“We’re taking on a lot more work,” said Morrison.

The commission directed attorney W.W. Dinning Jr. to draft a petition for landowners along County Road 33 to approve vacating the dirt part of the road known as Sally’s Hill. No action can be taken until all those who own land along the stretch of road sign the petition.

In other action, the commission approved:

  • The reappointment of Curtis King to the South Marengo County Water and Fire Protection Authority Board.
  • Sponsoring the Summer Feeding Program.
  • The bid of $14,500 from Demopolis Delivery Service to provide the Summer Feeding Program.
  • The bid of $14,548.56 from Ozark Striping for work on five roads recently leveled and resurfaced. They are County Roads 54, 36, 21, 7 and Arcola Road.
  • Hiring Mitchell Gilbert for the county Road Department.
  • The appointment of John Scott as county coroner.

Commission approves 10-year tax abatement, recognizes two in Tuesday meeting

Two Rivers Lumber Co., LLC received a 10-year tax-abatement from Marengo County after a unanimous decision by county commissioners at their meeting Tuesday.

Two Rivers announced last week that it was building a multi-million-dollar facility at the Demopolis Industrial Park which initially will employ between 50 and 60 workers. The company has leased the land from the city for 40 years.

Voters at two locations in Demopolis will take part in a trial run of an Electronic Poll Books Project during the Nov. 8 election.

Corrections Officer Latesha Jacobs, center, was recognized by the Marengo County Commission for completing the Alabama Jail Training Academy Classes.

Corrections Officer Latesha Jacobs, center, was recognized by the Marengo County Commission for completing the Alabama Jail Training Academy Classes.

Paula McDaniel with the Probate Judge office said all voter names will be loaded into the iPad-like devices. Voters can scan their driver’s licenses instead of having poll workers flip through the paper books of voting lists. She said the use of the Poll Books will make voting faster and more user friendly.

McDaniel said the state gave the six Poll Books to the county at no charge. They will be used at the Church Aflame and Civic Center voting sites. Paper books of voting lists will be used as backups.

Commissioners tabled a measure to approve a voting machine maintenance agreement with ES&S Hardware until after the election.

The state has been paying for the maintenance of the county’s 26 machines, but beginning next year each county will be responsible for the upkeep. It would cost Marengo County $9,000 annually, and after two years the cost is expected to increase up to five percent. The first payment for the maintenance is due before Dec. 1.

The commission is considering reducing the number of precincts, which would lower the cost. It will consider the measure at the next meeting and before the payment deadline.

Three new hires received approval: Sarah Dailey at the library; Mary Washington with the reappraisal office, and Eva Marie Daniels, to be a cook at the county jail.

Three of the state Constitutional Amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot received support in resolutions from

Mary Jo Marting, left, with Commissioner Dan England. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

Mary Jo Martin, left, with Commissioner Dan England. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

the commission. Amendment 3 would require only qualified voters in a particular county or city to vote on measures pertaining to them, if the Legislature determines without a dissenting vote that the measure applied only to them.

Amendment 4 allows each county commission to set up programs related to the administration of its affairs.

Amendment 14 gives approval of the “application of any budget isolation resolution authorizing consideration of a bill proposing a local law adopted by the Legislature before Nov. 8 that conformed to the rules of either house of the Legislature at the time it was adopted.”

Silver Haired Legislature advocate Mary Jo Martin of Demopolis was honored with a resolution for her work not only with seniors in the state but with the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission. Martin was honored by the state earlier this year, and the commission wanted to recognize her locally as well for the work she does behind the scenes.

The commission approved an agreement with Charles Osburn to serve as caretaker of Chickasaw Park. The state is leasing the park to the county, and Osburn will live on site to maintain it.

In other action, the commission:

  • Recognized Corrections Officer Latesha Jacobs for completing the Alabama Jail Training Academy classes.
  • Denied a claim by Daniel Yelverton for an injury received in an accident on Sparks Road.
  • Passed a resolution honoring former commissioner James Hopson who died Sept. 21.
  • Approved a resolution and an agreement on the upgrade of Sparks Road. The county has received the funding and is ready to start work, county engineer Ken Atkins told commissioners.
  • Made public two roads in District 4: Easley Lane and Prayer Lane.

Because of the general election, the date of the next County Commission meeting was moved to Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Commission approves budget, views new Bookmobile

Marengo County Librarian Joyce Morgan with the county's new Bookmobile at the Marengo County Commission meeting in LInden on Tuesday, Sept. 13. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

Marengo County Librarian Joyce Morgan with the county’s new Bookmobile at the Marengo County Commission meeting in LInden on Tuesday, Sept. 13. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

Marengo County Commissioners took care of routine business matters quickly Tuesday before taking a short break to admire the new Bookmobile.

Librarian Joyce Morgan proudly showed off the van that is gaily wrapped in a colorful mural featuring a bookworm. “We’ve had so many comments off this,” she told commissioners.

In one route last week Morgan said she saw 25 people, 20 of whom checked out a total of 148 books. Commissioner Freddie Armstead joked that Marengo County may be the first one in the state that has home delivery.

As she thanked the commissioners for the funding, Morgan said that so many counties in the state don’t have the support of their commission like Marengo County has.

The budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 was approved. The county estimates revenue of $16,814,308.27 and expenditures of $13,111,971.25. The remaining $3,702,337.02 will be restricted funds.

Marengo County Commission Chairman Dan England, left, presents a proclamation to Phillip Spence and Lee Belcher. Spence and Belcher represented the Marengo Memorial VFW Post 5377. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

Marengo County Commission Chairman Dan England, left, presents a proclamation to Phillip Spence and Lee Belcher. Spence and Belcher represented the Marengo Memorial VFW Post 5377. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

The Commission voted to vacate two roads in an undeveloped subdivision off County Roads 19 and 21. The roads never were built, and all adjacent property owners have agreed to the vacation.

Probate Judge Laurie Hall received the okay to temporarily relocate the voting site in Myrtlewood from the town’s center to the United Methodist Church. The move is necessary while repairs are being made to the center to fix water damage.

Commission Chairman Dan England read a proclamation recognizing Friday, Sept. 16, as POW/MIA Recognition Day by the VFW. Phillip Spence and Lee Belcher accepted the proclamation.

Belcher told the commission that two men perished during the Pearl Harbor attack 75 years ago. Norman Bragg Woolf went down with the USS Arizona. The second, Walter Henry Sollie, was on board the USS Oklahoma. More than 400 bodies recovered from the ship could not be identified until modern forensic methods were used on the remains. As a result, Sollie was positively identified.

Marengo Memorial VFW Post 5377 is working with distant family members to determine final internment or disposition of Sollie’s body.

In other action the commission voted unanimously to:

  • Accept the lowest bids on clay, liquid asphalt, corrugated metal, aluminized and plastic pipe, fuel and stone.
  • Tobacco Tax & EMA CD rate of .75 for six months with Sweet Water State Bank.
  • Accept the Grand Jury Report.
  • Approve the Alabama Department of Youth Services contract.
  • Approve the 2017 Grant Procedure and Agreement for Service for the Elderly.

County commission talks business expansion

Brenda Tuck and Jeff Laduron

Brenda Tuck and Jeff Laduron

Positive news about business expansion in the county took up much of the time of the Marengo County Commission meeting Tuesday.

The good news began with the tax abatement awarded Cemex in Demopolis for a $50 million expansion and renovation mandated by government regulations.

The commission unanimously approved a 10-year tax abatement of $351,776 per year.

Brenda Tuck, Economic Development Authority director, told commissioners that the port project along the Tombigbee River, in the works for four years, now has a company that is vitally interested in developing the project.

The company as yet does not want to reveal its identity, Tuck said, but added it has been in the business for decades.

She added that a project in Linden should be announced soon; Shortline Railroad is interested in working on workforce development with the county; robotics training for industries now is available, and the EDA is working on its five-year strategic plan and updated website.

Jeff Laduron, mayor of Thomaston, said Dave’s Market, which opened in March, is doing so well that more shopping carts had to be purchased.

He said a project to pave dirt roads, construction of the community storm shelter, a sidewalks improvement grant and the expansion of the water line to the Taylorville community all are in the works.

“If it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s teamwork,” he told the commission. Laduron said the town has received $1.7 million in grants over the last eight years.

The commission unanimously approved a resolution concerning tax abatement to give support to proposed legislation. It states that municipalities and Industrial Development Boards would not be able to pass abatements without going through the commission, explained commission chairman Dan England. It would give the commission “a seat at the table.”

Probate Judge Laurie Hall said the firm handling the county’s website is willing to set up a way for commissioners to have their own input to keep in touch with the people in their districts.

She said the lines for renewing tags and licenses continue to be lengthy because of the extremely slow internet speed. Commissioner Michael Thompson said the current Internet carrier promised to resolve the issue within 90 days, and one month already has passed.

In other action, the commission unanimously approved:

  • Hiring Sonja Myles and James Jones to the Sheriff’s Department and Terrance Curtis to the jail staff.
  • Appointing Carolyn Finley and Jane Vick to the Marengo County Library Board.
  • A bid of $14,500 from the Demopolis Delivery Service for the summer feeding program.
  • County levies for alcohol licensing.
  • Liquor license approval for C&T Grocery and Deli in Faunsdale.
  • Agreement and Resolution for the National Voter Registration Act.
  • Voted to hire Goodwyn Mills & Cawood to conduct a utilities assessment of the courthouse. Such an assessment would be used if the Commission applies for an energy grant.

County Commission approves pay bump for new hires

New county employees will be hired at a base pay of $8.63 per hour, a raise of 49 cents, after a unanimous vote Tuesday morning by the Marengo County Commission.

When employees complete a six-month probationary period, a one-step raise to $8.89 will go into effect. In making the motion, Commissioner John Crawford said the raise in base pay was an effort “try to keep the ones we’ve got” and attract quality employees.

In its short regular meeting the commission unanimously approved:

  • A contract with the Alabama Department of Youth Services.
  • A liquor license transfer from Dixon Mills Food Mart, LLC, to Dixon Quick Stop, LLC
  • Hiring Tracy Walker for the Detention Center.
  • The appointment of Crawford to the board of the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission.
  • A resolution honoring Kathryn Friday on her retirement as county extension coordinator.

The commission also set its budget hearing for Thursday, Aug. 27, at 5 p.m.

Stacey Adams, Assistant Administrator for the Marengo County Health Department, requested the commission provide level funding of $25,000 for the next fiscal year.

She gave a report to the commissioners showing the scope of services provided to residents of the county. Linden is home of the area office for the eight counties in Adams’ service area and has a staff of 16 county residents.

Brenda Tuck, Economic Development Authority director, said there is lots of activity, especially around the port facility. Thomaston broke ground this week for a new grocery store, a project that her office has been working on with the town for the past year and a half.

She encouraged the commissioners to attend the by-invitation-only meeting Wednesday with officials from Washington, D.C.

Tuck also said the successful Job Fair held at Demopolis High School, sponsored by Congresswoman Terry Sewell, drew more than 700 people who visited the booths of 60 businesses and industries located in the 7th Congressional District.

County Commission holds brief meeting

Starting with the swearing in of its three reelected members, the Marengo County Commission meeting Wednesday lasted just over 10 minutes.

Probate Judge Laurie Hall administered the oath of office individually to commission chairman Michael Thompson and to Freddie Armstead and John Crawford Jr.

Members passed a policy on public notice regarding conditions of county roads and bridges as recommended by the Alabama Association of County Commissions.

Loretta Carr, who retired Oct. 31 as nutritional education specialist for the county Extension Service, was honored with a resolution in her honor.

The commission approved hiring two jailers: Richmond Evans and Marshall McDowell, and okayed meeting dates for 2015.

After an hour-long executive session, the commission adjourned with no further action.

Members of the Leadership Marengo Class of 2015 sat in on the meeting before being taken on tours of the courthouse and the jail.

Lawsuit filed against Wilcox County Commission…again

Impact Wilcox, a concerned group of citizens working for accountability in Wilcox County government held a rally in front of the Wilcox County Courthouse to detail the evidence of corruption against the Wilcox County Commission.

Impact Wilcox, a concerned group of citizens working for accountability in Wilcox County government held a rally in front of the Wilcox County Courthouse to detail the evidence of corruption against the Wilcox County Commission.

Last Thursday, all residents of Wilcox County along with members of the media were invited to gather at the courthouse square for a rally publicly detailing the evidence of alleged corruption against the Wilcox County Commission.

A lawsuit has been filed against the commission by attorney, Edward F. Tracy, with Southern Legal Group, P.C. on behalf of an organized group of concerned citizens, Impact Wilcox.

Impact Wilcox is working for accountability in Wilcox County government. The lawsuit comes after repeated attempts to obtain public records from the commission have been ignored, refused and denied.

The most current audit report issued by the Alabama Board of Public Examiners was for the year ending Sept. 30, 2012. It exposed a pattern of misuse of public funds and commissioners using their public offices for personal gain.

And this didn’t just start.

Unresolved prior findings prove the patterns are longstanding.

Findings like…transferring $153,700 from the Special Capital Fund to the Gasoline Tax Fund in order to cover payroll and hiring practices that include creating positions.

There are commissioners who are receiving water and garbage services without making payments, who haven’t made payments for years, and commissioners who use their county-issued vehicles for their personal vehicles.

Amanda Walker

Amanda Walker

Some of these same commissions are also using county-issued gas for personal use too.

Chairman Michael Saulsberry filled up 20 times in March 2011. He would had to have driven almost 18 hours a day, every day that month, to use that kind of gas. It would have been the equivalent of starting at 6 a.m. every morning and driving until almost midnight.

And yet onward he drives the Wilcox County Commission, as they purchase land without appraisals, some without any vote from the commission through a “discretionary fund.”

It is clear why the Wilcox County Commission is not willingly releasing their public records. The corruption is extreme. It is documented.

It is understandable why people are gathered at the courthouse square and lawsuits are being filed.

People are hopeful, yet somewhat doubtful, anything will correct the pattern of corruption. After the rally, person after person kept saying how they have seen proof year after year but nothing ever changes.

One problem is that the “voting them out” method does not work because the voting process in Wilcox County is also corrupt.

We have an excess of absentee ballots. So many that the absentee ballots will sometimes swing elections.

We have far too many dead people and felons who vote in Wilcox County. But that’s another column for another day.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman,, and the Wilcox Progressive Era. Follow her at