Status Conference held in State AG lawsuit against bingo operations in Greene County

Special to the Democrat by: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

On Friday, September 28, 2018 there was a legal status conference in Eutaw on a lawsuit filed in October 2017 by Alabama Attorney General, Steve Marshall, against all electronic bingo operators in Greene County. The State of Alabama seeks to end the “public nuisance of unlawful gambling in Greene County by ending the use of slot machines and other gaming devices at five ‘casinos’ in the county”. State Attorney General Steve Marshall has filed similar lawsuits against electronic bingo in Houston, Montgomery, Lowndes and other counties, which like Greene, have passed Constitutional amendments to permit bingo. “This lawsuit is a clear and profound threat to economy, health and welfare of the people of Greene County,” said Attorney Michael Trucks of Fairfield who represents The Center for Rural Family Development, Inc. DBA Green Charity, one of the defendants in the case. Trucks pointed out in his interview with the Democrat that Greene County voters passed Constitutional Amendment 743, which permits “bingo and electronic forms of bingo to operate in Greene County”. He also indicated that Greene County’s Amendment 743 is the only one that specifically permits “electronic forms of bingo”, which the State of Alabama argues are illegal slot machines. Circuit Judge James Moore of Fayette, Alabama, is hearing the case since local Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway had to recuse himself from the case. At Friday’s hearing, Judge Moore asked all of the plaintiffs and defendants in the case, the operators and charities connected to the five bingo establishments, to attend the legal conference to discuss the status and scheduling of the case. John L. Kachelman III, Assistant Attorney General, on behalf of Steve Marshall, Attorney General, represented the State of Alabama. Lawyers representing Greenetrack asked that the three main charities supporting its operations, E-911, Woman to Woman, Inc. and Greene County Association of Volunteer Firefighters be added as defendant to the lawsuit. Other lawyers asked to add the main beneficiaries of bingo fees through the Greene County Sheriff’s office including the Greene County Board of Education, Greene County Commission, Greene County Health System, Greene County municipalities and others, who receive monthly support from the bingo operations, as defendant in the lawsuit, so they could speak to the damages to their constituents and services from ending electronic bingo in the county.

Judge James Moore asked all the parties to recommend additional defendants in 14 days. He will decide which defendant groups to add to the lawsuit and give additional time to serve those entities with the lawsuit and time for them to give a response. Attorney Trucks said that he did not expect this process to be completed until early in the new year of 2019. Commenting on this lawsuit, County Commissioner Lester “Bop” Brown of District 1 said, “ I have been warning for a long time that we cannot count on bingo funds forever. There is a simple way to deal with this lawsuit and that is to vote for the Democratic candidates for Governor, Attorney General, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on November 6.” “Walt Maddox, Democratic candidate for Governor, Joe Siegelman, Democratic candidate for Attorney General, and Bob Vance, Democratic candidate for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court all support Amendment 743 and will not interfere or try to stop electronic bingo operations in Greene County. If they are elected on November 6, this lawsuit will be withdrawn. “Anyone who is concerned about the jobs and livelihoods of Greene County people working in bingo and the many organizations, county agencies and charities serving the people of Greene County, based on bingo funds, need to turnout and vote for the Democratic candidates on November 6. You are crazy if you don’t vote that way,” said Commissioner Brown.

Greene County Commission agrees to assist E-911 with parking lot

Highway 14 in Eutaw to be closed starting Monday, September 17, 2018 for maintenance work on Colonial Pipeline The Eutaw City Council approved closing of Highway 14 (Mesopotamia Avenue) where the Colonial Pipeline crosses, at the junction with Greene County Road 170, about a mile from the Interstate 20/59 Exit (Mile Marker 40). This closing will begin on Monday, September 17, 2018 to allow for maintenance and removal of a covering on Colonial Pipeline. The closing will last for ten (10) days. Eutaw Police Department will reroute traffic around this closure. This will require using Highway 11 to go to Boligee or to Highway 208 (Union) to reach Interstate 59/20. Traffic coming North from Meridian, will have to exit at Boligee (Exit 32) or Union (Exit 45) and make their way into the city.

 

At its regular September meeting on Monday, the Greene County Commission approved providing assistance to the E-911 program for the parking lot at its new building site on Highway 43 in Eutaw. The Commission also appointed Dorothy Bambarger to serve on the E-911 Board of Directors. The Commission approved routine matters dealing with its finances, payment of claims and budget amendments to complete its fiscal year at the end of this month. Financial reports showed $2,463,180 in Citizens Trust Bank and $1,923,635 in Merchants and Farmers Bank. An additional $919,946 in funds are on deposit with The Bank of New York in trust accounts for bond issues. Overall in the Budget Report Recap, the Commission has spent an average of 89.7% of annual funds budgeted, which is in line with eleven of twelve months in the fiscal year budget period. Based on the budget, some departments and functions are at differing levels but all are below budget. Paula Byrd, Financial Officer presented some budget changes in shifting funds between accounts, which were approved. The Commission also approved awarding a bid to Merchants and Farmers Bank to handle CD’s related to bond maturities. The Commission adopted a resolution requiring county workers to deal with employment concerns and complaints through their direct supervisor. In other actions, the Greene County Commission: • approved an ABC license for Docs Store and Grill in the Pleasant Ridge – Sipsey Community, owned by Matthew Eric Eads; • allowed County Engineer to advertise and hire an Equipment Operator; • vacated a 1,500 foot portion of Outland Road in the Boligee Community; • approved a Traffic Safety Grant from ALDOT; • approved EMA Performance Grant from the state; • approved recommendation of the Revenue Commissioner to employ an Administrative Clerk; • supported travel by the Engineer and Assistant Engineer to various training sessions in September and October. • approved contract for School Resource Officers in conjunction with the Board of Education and the Sheriff’s Department. The Commission also agreed to allow the County Engineer to provide a report on needed resurfacing and patching of county roads for future action by the Commission.

Commission acts on bridge replacement, bids and contracts County commission uses work sessions to prepare for official meetings

The agenda for the Greene County Commission’s meeting on Monday, August 13, 2018 was a carry over from the discussions of the work session held Wednesday, August 8. At these work sessions, the commissioners list and discuss pertinent business items from various departments as well as detailed district reports from each commissioner. Oftentimes, presentations are made by representatives from state offices, local municipalities, businesses and the community. These work sessions are open to the public and are scheduled the Wednesday afternoon prior to the second Monday commission meeting. No decisions are made at the work sessions. At the formal commission meeting of the month, the commissioners generally move quickly through the agenda, since they have had prior discussions on the items and are prepared to make decisions. This facilitates a quick and efficient process for the commissioners, but usually leaves the community persons in attendance lacking information and clarity on the particulars of those decisions. This situation perhaps warrants some discussion between commission and community. The Greene County Commission approved the following items at the August 13 meeting. Approved the finance report, budget amendments, and payment of claims as presented by the CFO Paula Bird. * Approved contracts and authorized Chairman Tennyson Smith to sign all necessary documents with Delta Computer Systems; Digital Information System and S&W Software. * Approved agreement with BKI for construction engineering for the bridge replacement on County Road 86, giving the Chairman authorization to sign all necessary documents.* Approved request of Engineer to solicit annual bids, which include such items as stone, gas timber, signs, pipe, asphalt, traffic strip, etc. * Approved submitting a request to the local legislative delegation to enact local legislation that treats the coroner the same as other elected officials of the county. * Approved the replacement of the air condition unit at the Eutaw Activity Center. Tabled authorizing the Chairman and Engineer to take steps to vacate portions off Outland Road. Approved ratifying actions of the Chairman in regards to ATRIP funding for Bridge over Little Buck Creek (County Road 86). Cash in banks as of July18, reported by CFO Paula Bird, was as follows; Citizen Trust Bank -$2,498,752.55; Merchants & Farmers Bank – $4,673,870.14;CD Bonds – $807,582.67; Bank of New York – $919,946.10.

County Commission agrees to opt-in PILT Class Action Lawsuit

At its regular meeting held Monday, July 9, 2018, the Greene County Commission approved joining the Payment In-Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Class Action Law Suit and authorized Chairman Tennyson Smith to sign all necessary documents. This law suit relates to payments due to a local government for federal lands within its borders. The U.S. Government does not pay taxes on land it owns in a county, therefore, Congress passed a law mandating the federal government to make substitute payments in lieu of taxes.
The statue explains the following: “PILT payments provide compensation to certain units of local government within whose borders lie lands that are owned by the federal government and which are therefore immune to state and local taxation. The statute sets forth specific formulas to calculate the amount of the payment that each eligible unit of local government will receive.”
Due to insufficient appropriations for 2015–2017, PILT recipients did not receive the full amount to which they were entitled under the PILT statute based on the Department of the Interior’s full payment calculation.
As a result, Kane County, Utah filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in June 2017, seeking to recover its own underpayments and the underpayments of all other PILT recipients nationwide for the period 2015 -2017.
To participate in the class action lawsuit and collect possible amounts due them, each underpaid PILT recipient had to complete and submit a form “opting into” the lawsuit. If a county does not elect to join the class, they will not be included in the class action lawsuit—and will not receive any recovered funds. Counties will have until mid-September to opt into the class.
In other business the County Commission approved Commissioner Allen Turner’s re-appointment of Ms. Shirley Scott Isaac to the Greene County Health Services Board for District 3, as well as Commissioner Corey Cockrell’s appointment of Jonathan Woodruff to the E-911 Board for District 3. Commissioner Smith did not have an appointment from District 2 to the E-911 Board.
The commission also took action on the following:
* Approved Gas Tax Revenue Enhancement Agreement, authorizing chairman to sign all necessary documents.
* Approved Chairman Smith’s appointment to the Association of County Commissioners Legislative Committee.
* Approved budget amendments and payment of claims.
* Approved travel for one employee to the Alabama Association of Assessing Officials conference in Orange Beach, August 7-10, 2018.
Bank balances as of June 18, 2018, reported by the CFO Paula Bird, were as follows:
Citizen Trust bank – $2,610,588.56; Merchants & Farmers Bank – $4,677341.42; investment funds in CD’s – $806,571.43; Bank of New York – $918,088.04.

Bingo facilities distribute $367,525 for month of May

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Shown above Bingo Clerk Emma Jackson, Brenda Burke representing the Greene County Commission, Bingo Clerk Minnie Byrd, Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison, Greene County Health System CEO, Dr. Marcia Pugh, Assistance Chief Walter Beck, Probate Judge Julia Spree and Boligee Councilwoman Earnestine Wade.

 

On Friday, June 15, 2018, Greene County Sheriff Department reported a total distribution of $367,525 for the month of May from the five licensed gaming operations in the county. The recipients of the monthly distributions from bingo gaming designated by Sheriff Benison in his Bingo Rules and Regulations include the Greene County Commission, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the cities of Eutaw, Forkland, Union, Boligee, the Greene County Board of Education and the Greene County Hospital (Health System).
The following assessments are for the month of May 2018.

Greenetrack, Inc. gave a total of $67,500 to the following: Greene County Commission, $24,000; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, the Greene County Health System, $7,500.
Green Charity (Center for Rural Family Development) gave a total of $67,500 to the following: Greene County Commission, $24,000; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, the Greene County Health System, $7,500.
Frontier (Dream, Inc.) gave a total of $67,500 to the following: Greene County Commission, $24,000; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, Greene County Health System, $7,500.
River’s Edge (NNL – Next Level Leaders and TCCTP – Tishabee Community Center Tutorial Program) gave a total of $73,225 to the following: Greene County Commission, $24,000; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, and the Greene County Health System, $13,225.
Palace (Tommy Summerville Police Support League) gave a total of $99,330 to the following: Greene County Commission, $4,620; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $36,930; City of Eutaw, $27,720; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $4,620; Greene County Board of Education, $4,620 and the Greene County Health System, $11,550.

 

Retiring Revenue Commissioner, Goree, presents final report to County Commission

The Greene County Commission met in regular session Monday, June 11, 2018 and approved the year-end report from outgoing Revenue Commissioner, Brenda Goree. Goree stated that the document pointed out some minor errors in her operations and appropriate adjustments would be made. She also noted that this would be her last year-end report to the commission, since she is leaving office by the end of June. Barbara McShan will assume the position on July 1, serving the remainder of Goree’s term, which expires in 2020. Goree requested her retirement in 2017 and it will go into effect on June 30.
In other business the commission acted on the following:
*Approved a contract with Alabama Department of Transportation for preliminary engineering for bridge replacement on County Road 69 over McConnico Creek, with ALDOT paying 80% and the county paying 20% of the cost.
* Approved ABC License for Green Track Side Plaza (Chevron Service Station).
* Approved the placement of two high school interns for the summer. Commissioner Cory Cockrell proposed this arrangement at the commission’s work session, wherein he will pay the students through Next Level Leaders non-profit organization.
* Approved hiring one part-time bus driver for the Eutaw Nutrition Site.
* Approved Blue Cross Blue Shield contract for 2018-2019.
* Approved request from Society of Folk Arts & Culture for access to the courthouse restrooms for the 2018 Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.
* Approved resolution to add lodging tax collection to services of RDS, which is the Revenue Discover System that collects various taxes for the county, including sales and use, and beer and tobacco taxes.
*Approved the clean-up and re-purposing of the Montgomery Recreational Center in the Knoxville Community.
*Approved staff travel to various workshops and training.
*Approved payment of claims and budget amendments presented by the county’s CFO, Paula Bird.
Bank balances as of May 18, 2018, reported by Ms. Bird included the following: Citizen Trust Bank – $2,787,828.27; Merchant & Farmers Bank – $2,616,703.76; Bank of New York – $918,088.04; CD Bond Sinking Fund – $805,753.35

Greene County Commission holds April meeting

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Shown L to R: Commissioners Corey Cockrell and Michael Williams, Chief Jeremy Rancher, Sheriff Jonathan Benison, Officer Denise Armstead, Commissioners Tennyson Smith, Allen Turner and Lester Brown

The Greene County Commission held its regular April meeting on Monday, April 9, 2018 at the William M. Branch County Courthouse in Eutaw. The meeting was relatively routine and uneventful with not apparent controversies.
Paula Byrd, the County’s Chief Financial Officer gave a financial report for the county. Her report showed a total of $5,199,690 in bank accounts as of March 31, 2018, including $2.945,469 in Citizens Trust Bank and $2,254,221 in Merchants and Farmers Bank. The county has another $ 1 million in bond funds in various accounts.

Byrd reported that half of the fiscal year had passed since October 1, 2017 and most county agencies had spent 50% of their budgeted funds, which is generally in line with the forecasted expenses. Overall county agencies spent $1,650,745 (50%) of the $3,327,528 budgeted for this fiscal year.
The Commission approved $667,743 in claims paid in March including payroll and bills for supplies. $55,579 in automatic payments for various services was also paid during the month.
The Commission members and Sheriff Joe Nathan Benison and Chief Deputy Jeremy Rancher presented a certificate to Denise Armstead for completion of a course in operation and management of a jail from the State Department of Corrections. Ms. Armstead is employed at the Greene County Jail.
In other business, the Greene County Commission, also approved:
• a Sales Tax Holiday for Back to School items on July 20-22, 2108;
• use of the Courthouse restrooms for the Greene County Health System Foundation for a health fair at the Courthouse Square on May 12, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM;
• the County Engineer to hold a public hearing in regards to vacating County Road 128;
• the County Engineer vacating of an un-named road leading to Johnson Hill Cemetery; and
• travel for an Appraisal Department Employee for state training in Hoover, Alabama on April 9-13, 2018.
The Commission went into an Executive Session to discuss legal strategy and the good name and character of a person. The Commission returned from the Executive Session and said there was no official business to decide whereupon the meeting was adjourned.
In the public comments section, Iris Sermon, Director of 911 reported that the third week in April was National Radio Dispatchers Week and asked the Commissioners and the public to thank people who worked in these capacities for the county.
At the Commission’s work session, Wednesday, April 4, 2018, several commissioners expressed interest in raising ad valorem millage to assist the Greene County Health Services (hospital) as well as millage for the county’s highway department. Commissioner Allen Turner expressed a strong position in support of generating millage funds restricted for roads, bridges and other infrastructure improvements. No further action was taken in this regard.

Commission approves $85,000 for engineering work on County Road 69

In its monthly meeting held Monday, March 12, 2018, the Greene County Commission authorized preliminary engineering work to begin on the bridge on County Road 69 with an investment not to exceed $85,000. At the previous commission work session, county engineer Willie Branch informed the body that this particular bridge has to be inspected every month and warrants this engineering work to begin to replace the bridge. The school bus cannot travel this bridge as it is. The bridge is currently posted at 3 tons.
The commission also gave its approval for the county engineer to sell all surplus equipment and/or surplus supplies.
Opening advertisement for a part-time position in the Solid Waste Department was approved following the commission accepting an employee’s resignation from that position.
The commission acted on the following:
Approved having a public hearing on vacating a portion of Outland Road from the end of the pavement at the railroad to the North Gloria Street property line.Approved various staff travel requests for continuing professional development.
In her financial report, CFO Paula Bird gave the various bank balances as of Feb. 18 as follows: Citizen Trust Bank, $3,109,438.69; Merchants & Farmers Bank, $2,157,243.70; Bank of New York, $363,933.28; total CD investments, $802,978.18. She noted that the Coroner’s office was over the amount budgeted for transportation, noting that it is difficult to estimate what will be needed for a given year. Bird also stated that the Sheriff paid $3,272.95 to cover overtime for his personnel.

County Commission extends date for solid waste fee exemption

At its regular meeting held Monday, February 12, 2018, the Greene County Commission extended the date for residents to apply for exemption of payment for solid waste pick-up services. The application period is extended for one month through March 12 for eligible county residents. According to County Engineer, Willie Branch, to be considered for exemption, social security must be the only income in the household. Branch noted that the applicant must also have a zero balance regarding county solid waste services.
The commission approved the revised resource officers contract which assigns four officers to various schools in the county. The contract only allows for the officers to be retained when schools are in session with students. The resource officers are secured through the sheriff’s office but their compensation is provided by the Greene County Board of Education.
In other business, the commission approved the following:
* Levy of taxes for 2018.
* Levy of ABC license fees for 2018.
* E911’s request to name a new road off Plum Lane as Rattle Snake Bend.

* Allowing EMA to accept equipment for the state agency.
* Agreement between DHR and EMA to provide Mass Care Operation during times of natural disaster.
* Ratified travel of jail administrator and assistant regarding Trade Show in Biloxi, MS, Feb. 6-7.
Travel request for various conferences, workshops and training.
In the financial report, CFO Paula Bird stated the following bank balances as of January 18: Citizen Trust $3,173,791.41; Merchant & Farmers $2,068,452.09; Bank of New York $619,178.37; total CD investments $801,989.79.
Regarding budget amendments, Bird noted that Sheriff Benison has provided additional funds to the county for his department’s overtime.
The commission tabled two agenda items: consideration of a resolution renaming U.S. Highway 43 in honor of Thomas Gilmore; appointment to the Water Authority.

 

County Commission approves submitting proposal to purchase Carver School facility

At the regular monthly meeting of the Greene County Commission, held Monday, December 11, 2017, the body voted 3-2 to authorize the chairman to negotiate details of an offer to purchase the former Carver School property from the Greene County Board of Education.
The first dissenting voice came from Commissioner Corey Cockrell who questioned why would the commission want to consider purchasing Carver School now. According to Cockrell, the commission had had previous discussions on the property but had taken no action toward purchase.
Commissioner Allen Turner stated that the county had a long list of projects and needs that should be addressed instead of purchasing a building that brings with it additional obligations. Both Cockrell and Turner stated that the City of Eutaw has submitted a request with a plan to purchase Carver and it seems that the county is trying to undercut the city.
Commissioner Lester Brown spoke in support of the county’s securing Carver School. He stated that there are numerous projects that the county could house in that facility including Parks & Recreation, Senior Citizens Programs, Summer Feeding, Veterans Programs and others.
Commissioner Michael Williams, who also supported the county’s move to acquire Carver, noted that the Carver facility could allow the county to sponsor various training programs and workshops that would benefit employees and the community.
Rev. Michael Barton, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Forkland, was present and seemed to be the spokesperson for many in the audience who opposed the County Commission’s efforts to acquire Carver Middle School. Many of those in the audience were among his parishioners.
It should also be noted that Mayor Raymond Steele of Eutaw, proposed Rev. Barton to be employed by the City as Recreational Coordinator, if the City’s proposal for the school facilities is accepted by the Board of Education. Steele proposed employing Rev. Barton at the November 14 City Council meeting but withdrew the proposal before a vote since Eutaw Council members were reluctant to vote on staffing before the facilities had been secured.

Many in the audience echoed the sentiments of Commissioners Cockrell and Turner which were in favor of Eutaw purchasing Carver School, however Carl Davis suggested that the county and city come together and devise a plan for joint purchase.
It should be noted that a purchase by the city is for the city; whereas the county would be obligated to serve all of Greene County.
The commission voted to allow the Coroner to establish an office in the space above the Law Library, where the Society of Folk Arts & Culture currently stores it equipment and artifacts related to the production of the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival. The county is obligated to provide suitable work space for the Coroner.
In a previous conversation, Commission Chairperson Tennyson Smith stated he would work with the Society in securing suitable space for the festival equipment.
In other business the commission acted on the following:
* Approved RDS to collect lodging taxes and authorize chairman to sign necessary documents.
* Approved vacating un-named road off CR 203 with attorney filing necessary papers with Judge of Probate.
* Approved to consider agreement with JM Woods for sale of three dump trucks for June action.
* Tabled filling two vacant equipment operator positions.
* Approved joining lawsuit in regards to the Opioid epidemic and authorize Chairman to sign all necessary documents.

Approved travel for Probate Judge, Chief Clerk – Jan 16-19 in Montgomery.
Approved financial report and payment of claims as presented by CFO Paula Bird.
The CFO’s financial report included the following:Total Fund Balance as of Nov. 17, 2017, was $2,191,254.71. Total funds in banks – $4,061,096.44; total investments – $800,180.54; total ion Bank of New York – $358,521.42. Accounts payable totaled $500,574.95; Payroll Transfers totaled $242,520.89; Other Transfers totaled $71,398.97; Fiduciary $144,908; Total – $959,402.81.