Hats off to Mrs. Mary Hicks

By Mynecia D. Steele

 

Hicks

The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is held on every fourth Saturday and Sunday in August.
These days are engraved in the memories of all Greene County residents, one in particular being Mrs. Mary Hicks.
Of the 41 years that the festival has been held, Hicks has been working as a vendor for 30 of those years.  She loves working the event and socializing with her community. Hicks enjoys showing off her work and sharing it with people who appreciate it, as she does. In the past, Hicks has also made baskets for her church, Saint John in Clinton, lead by Rev. Michael Lavender.
Mary Hicks has tried her hand in a multitude of crafts over the years.  Some of her handcrafts include: chairs made from clothing pins and quilts. She has since put those things aside and now focuses on weaving hats and baskets. These crafts are mainly created from pine needles.
Thirty years ago, she learned to make hats and baskets from Mabel Means, now deceased.
Hicks worked as a vendor for the first time, alongside Means. Since Means’ passing, Hicks has begun selling on her own.
According to Mrs. Hicks, creating crafts for the festival requires much preparation. Some of the smaller things, like hats, only take about two days to make. Other projects, like scarves and quilts may require as long as a week to complete.
Over the years the festival has been a way for the community to come together, said Hicks.
She is thankful that the festival has remained the same event that she has always loved.  While she has not sold anything in a few years, she plans to return this year, for the 41st Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.

New Charity named for River’s Edge Bingo

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Tenn Tom Community Development Incorporation donated $3,500.00 to the Greene County Hospital Friday. Pictured l to r: Mrs. Janice Benison, Mrs. Carolyne Hobbs,  GCH Chief Executive Officer,  Elmore Patterson and TTCD Executive Director Rugenia Gulley.

 

The Democrat has learned from reviewing court records and interviews with knowledgeable sources that the TennTom Development Corporation Inc. of Forkland, Alabama has replaced the Young People Alliance Association for Youth Development (YPAO) of Mantua, Alabama as the primary charity operating at River’s Edge Bingo. River’s Edge Bingo is located on U.S. Highway 11 south of the Knoxville exit on Interstate 20/59.
Court records show that the YPAO was evicted from their lease of the River’s Edge Bingo facility on June 6, 2016 for non-payment of rent. YPAO was ordered to vacate the property and surrender it to Mario and Mary Chang of Greene County Investments LP and Dynasty Investment Group LLC of Rosemead, California.
Ken Hobbs of Tuscaloosa, who is a partner in Greene County Investments and manages River’s Edge, is also mentioned in the court documents.
YPAO has appealed the eviction which is pending in Circuit Court before Judge Hardaway. YPAO was required to vacate the premises during the appeal.
Sheriff Joe Benison of Greene County, assisted by his attorney Flint Liddon of Birmingham, selected and licensed a new charity for the River’s Edge Bingo operation. Sheriff Benison is empowered by Alabama Constitutional Amendment 743 to regulate bingo in Greene County.
It is worthy of note that the Sheriff did not make any public announcement of this choice of a new charity nor did he solicit nominations from the public of non-profit charitable organizations that may be interested in operating bingo in Greene County.
The TennTom Development Corporation is a non-profit operating in Forkland and the lower reaches of Greene County. Finest Miles and other board members of this charity are family members of the Sheriff.
The Democrat has also learned that the Tommy Summerville Law Enforcement Foundation may be under consideration as a co-charity with TennTom Development Corporation in the operation of the River’s Edge Bingo. This foundation named for the now deceased former Police Chief of Eutaw was established to provide equipment and support for law enforcement in Eutaw and Greene County.
Greenetrack CEO Luther “Nat” Winn has stated to the Democrat many times that, “Greenetrack is the only bingo facility in Greene County, owned by Greene County people and dedicated to the needs of Greene County. The other bingo facilities are owned by people, from as far away as California and elsewhere that are not as concerned about Greene County people, charities and organizations as they should be.”
Many people contacted for this story, expressed concern that the bingo operations in Greene County were not operated in any open, fair and transparent way to fully benefit the people of Greene County.

Legislative delegation meets with community on proposed changes in Amendment 743 Future of electronic bingo in Greene County uncertain due to Supreme Court ruling

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Persons leading community meeting on bingo, Sunday night at the National Guard Armory; L to R.State Representative Artis J. McCampbell, Spiver W. Gordon, Leo Branch, Chair Greene County School Board, Sarah Duncan, Rev. James Carter, Finest Miles and State Senator Bobby Singleton.

The past week has been a difficult one for the future of electronic bingo in Greene County. On Thursday, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld lower court decisions seizing electronic bingo machines and cash from Victoryland in 2003. The Court continued to assert that “bingo” was a game played on paper cards and that none of the Constitutional Amendments, including Greene County’s Amendment 743, protected electronic gaming machines as legal in Alabama. On Sunday at the Eutaw National Guard Armory, over 150 local residents came out to hear State Senator Bobby Singleton and State Representative Artis McCampbell explain their bill to change Amendment 743. The four electronic bingo establishments in the county, Sheriff Benison, County Commissioners, School Board members, other public officials and citizens were present to understand and discuss the bill.
On Tuesday, in the Alabama State Senate, Senator Harri Anne Smith of the Wiregrass area contested Singleton’s bill, which had been passed out of committee, on the floor.  Her action blocked the bill.
Senator Singleton withheld his bill and contested all other local bills pending in the State Senate, in the same way that Smith contested his bill.

Impact of Alabama Supreme Court decision

Attorney General Luther Strange hailed the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision Thursday against VictoryLand as a resounding victory for the rule of law and the definitive word that electronic bingo is illegal in Alabama.
“The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling is abundantly clear that electronic bingo is illegal and repeated court challenges to the contrary will not change that fact,” said Attorney General Strange. “I cannot say it any better than the court itself.”
The Alabama Supreme Court ruling observed: “Today’s decision is the latest, and hopefully the last, chapter in the more than six years’
worth of attempts to defy the Alabama Constitution’s ban on “lotteries.” It is the latest, and hopefully the last, chapter in the ongoing saga of attempts to defy the clear and repeated holdings of this Court beginning in 2009 that electronic machines like those at
issue here are not the “bingo” referenced in local bingo amendments.     It is the latest, and hopefully the last, chapter in the failure of some local law-enforcement officials in this State to enforce the anti-gambling laws of this State they are sworn to uphold, thereby
necessitating the exercise and performance by the attorney general of the authority and duty vested in him by law, as the chief law-enforcement officer of this State, to enforce the criminal laws of this State.
And finally, it is the latest, and hopefully last, instance in
which it is necessary to expend public funds to seek appellate review of the meaning of a simple term — “bingo” – which, as reviewed above, has been declared over and over and over again by this Court. There is no longer any room for uncertainty, nor justification for continuing dispute, as to the meaning of that term. And certainly the need for any further expenditure of judicial resources, including the resources of this Court, to examine this issue is at an end. All that is left is for the law of this State to be enforced.”
Attorney General Strange added, “I consider the work of my office in bringing the issue of electronic gambling to the courts for final judgement to now be complete. It is now up to the Governor, ALEA, and local authorities to ensure that the law is properly enforced.
“I am proud of the work of the many local law enforcement jurisdictions who have performed their duty to enforce our laws and I am equally proud of my legal team in bringing this case and the question of electronic bingo to a successful conclusion.”
There is a similar suit pending in Greene County about machines seized in raids on bingo facilities in Greene County. Greene County’s Amendment 743 specifically allows “electronic forms of bingo” while legislation in other parts of the state do not explicitly permit electronic machines, which the Supreme Court, AG Strange and other consider illegal gambling slot machines.
It is unclear if Attorney General Strange plans to raid bingo again or leave it up to local law enforcement while he pursues his own political career, which may include a run for Governor.

Sunday’s Community Meeting on Electronic Bingo

Senator Singleton came to the meeting in Greene County to discuss his local legislative bill, which makes changes in the Greene County Constitutional Amendment 743 on bingo. He said that the bill was developed in consultation with Republican leaders of the Senate,
in particular Dale Marsh, to clarify the status and legality of electronic bingo. “ We need 21 votes to pass this bill and there are only 6 Democratic Senators, so we need help,” said Singleton.
The bill would allow gaming on any machine authorized for use in Indian casinos by regulations of the National Indian Gaming Commission. “Since these machines are legal at Indian casinos, they should be legal in Greene County,” said Singleton. He also indicated that several legislators were very protective of the Indians and did want him to use their definition to justify our use of electronic bingo machines that are approved in the Indian casinos.
The bill requires that gaming be done at only one facility in Greene County, which is licensed for pari-mutuel betting on horses and greyhound dogs. This facility is Greenetrack. If these changes pass, the other three bingo facilities, permitted by the Sheriff, will be closed.
There was much discussion on the employment and services that would be lost if these other three facilities were forced to close.
The bill provides for a state and local gross receipts tax on the revenues generated by electronic bingo, which are estimated to be $50 million a year after winnings paid out to participants. The State of Alabama would receive a 4% tax while the local tax would be 8.5% or possibly more. The local tax would go to benefit the County Commission, School Board, Hospital, E 911, fire associations and others.
There is a second tax on the portion of revenues that go to gaming machine providers. The Sheriff and the Eutaw Police Department would divide these funds.
Local observers pointed out that these tax provisions would provide Greene County residents with reliable information on the funds flowing through these gaming establishments. At present, the amount of money generated by these facilities is not publically known. “Without transparency on the total amount of funds handled by these gaming entities, there is no way to know how generous they really are in helping agencies and charities in the county,” said Carol Zippert, Greene County School Board member.
Val Goodson, speaking for the Center for Rural Development, the charity benefiting from Green Charity Bingo said in last year (2015) the facility had $17 million in gross revenues and paid only $402,000 to the charity.
A five member Greene County Gaming Commission would be named to take over the responsibilities for regulating and administering bingo from the Sheriff, who is designated under the current amendment. Sheriff Jonathan Benison attended the meeting and spoke in strong defense of his work for the past six years in regulating bingo. He echoed the comments of many others that he was not aware of Singleton’s bill and it should have been discussed with Greene County leaders and residents before it was proposed in Montgomery.
In closing out the meeting Singleton said, “This bingo bill may be our last best hope to save bingo in this county before the Attorney General or someone else comes against us. This is the main reason we made this proposal. We want to help Greene County save and benefit from bingo.”

Grand Jury returns 29 true bills with 59 cases continued

The Grand Jury of Greene County, Alabama, met for spring term and went into session on March 28, 2016, ending the session March 29, 2016. The Grand Jury considered various criminal charges against various defendants returning with 29 true bills, some of which were multiple count indictments, resulting in 22 felonies and 7 misdemeanors. There were 59 cases continued and 8 no bills were returned. No further recommendations were presented.
Indictments included the following.
– Walter Lee Beck, Jr. was indicted for unlawful possession of marijuana.
– Harper Dewayne Colvin was indicted for the September 4, 2015 shooting, causing the death of another person, to-wit Layton LaJeffery Cochran, shooting Cochran with a handgun and discharging firearm into an occupied vehicle.
– David Edwards was indicted on Criminal Trespass I.
– Anthony Lamar Gary was indicted for Criminal Trespass III and breaking and entering a vehicle.
– Robert Earl Moore was indicted for certain person forbidden to possess pistol.
– Rufus Peebles was indicted for theft of property.
– Billy Wayne Sanders was indicted for Arson II.
– Jayson Gabriel Shows was indicted for possession of a controlled substance, Criminal Mischief III and Theft of Property III.
– Eric Washington was indicted for attempted murder on June 30, 2015, Kidnapping II, discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle and promoting prison contraband.
– Labryant Kumane Whitehead was indicted for Hindering Prosecution I.
– Jose Luis Anguiano was indicted for trafficking – cocaine.
– Dominic Fowler was indicted for possession of marijuana and attempt to elude.
– Isaac Pinedo was indicted for trafficking – methamphetamine.
– Juan Manuel Salazar was indicted for trafficking – cocaine.
– Alvin Merrill Boatley was indicted for trafficking -methamphetamine, and for certain person forbidden to possess pistol and possession of drug paraphernalia.
– Jonquise Deanthony Brewingtion was indicted for carrying a pistol without license and possession of marijuana.
Aaron Braggs was indicted for certain person forbidden to possess pistol.
– Tymon Leotis Davis was indicted for hindering prosecution.

Bill based on estimate of $50 million annual gross revenues Proposed Bingo Amendment causes concern and discussion by Greene County leaders

News Analysis By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher

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Senate Bill 340, proposed by State Senator Bobby Singleton, which changes the current operation and regulation of electronic bingo in Greene County, has caused much concern, discussion and dissention among county leaders.
In an exclusive interview with Senator Singleton last week, he said, “Representative McCampbell and I discussed the problems with electronic bingo in Greene County.
Among them the threat of raids by the state on bingo as illegal gambling; the conflicts between the Sheriff and County Commission, which have led to lawsuits; and the proliferation of bingo parlors which do not employ as many people, at good wages, as when bingo was centralized in one place.”
Singleton said that he and McCampbell decided to develop a proposed amendment to Greene County’s Amendment 743, authorizing electronic bingo, which would clarify the legality of bingo; require that electronic bingo be played at a licensed racetrack facility where pari-mutuel wagering is currently legal; codify and provide a new formula for the distribution of bingo funds, including a tax (4%) to the State of Alabama and a local gross receipt tax (8.5%) to benefit Greene County government, agencies and non-profits; and move the regulation and administration of electronic bingo from the Sheriff to a new Greene County Gaming Commission. Limiting electronic bingo to a racetrack in Greene County where pari-mutuel wagering is legal, limits the operations to Greenetrack and would likely lead to a phase-out of the other facilities licensed by Sheriff Benison. The owners and employees of these facilities are opposed to this amendment
Singleton said that he, McCampbell and other members of the Greene County legislative delegation plan to hold public meetings in Greene County to explain the bill and its impacts before a November vote by the citizens of Greene County on the revised Constitutional Amendment. If the proposal passes the Alabama Legislature with no dissenting votes then it only requires a referendum vote in Greene County, however, if there is opposition from one member of the Legislature, then a statewide vote will be required.
Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison is opposed to the bill because it will strip his office of control of electronic bingo. In an open letter, printed in full on page 4, he argues that the legislation will return control of bingo to the 73 for-profit stockholders of Greenetrack to operate as an unfair monopoly.
Benison points to the impact of his monthly $200 per bingo machine tax and the benefits that the four bingo parlors have generated in income and jobs for the county.
Benison makes the point that many other public officials in the county and municipalities have made that Singleton and McCampbell did not publicize, discuss or seek input on their proposal before introducing it in the Alabama Legislature. Benison says in his letter, “it was introduced in a stealth manner designed to catch people off guard.” Singleton says that he and McCampbell were concerned that bingo was a target for state action and wanted to head this off.
The bill clarifies and legally allows electronic bingo “on any machine or device that is authorized by the National Gaming Regulatory Act by 25 U. S. C. Section 2701, and which is operated by any Native American tribe in Alabama.”  This would legalize any electronic bingo machine or device, which was approved by the Federal government for use in Indian casinos, to be used in Greene County.
The proposed revised amendment calls for distribution of funds for a state gross receipts tax (4%) and a local gross receipts tax (8.5%) on gaming revenues at the racetrack operating bingo. These taxes would be levied on the gross revenues, which are defined as the total amount of money played on the electronic machines less the value of prizes and winnings paid to the players. The gross figure would be determined before costs of operating the bingo facilities were applied.
Singleton said in the interview, that “he estimates the annual gross revenues from electronic bingo would be at least $50 million and may be 20 to 30% higher.” Based on this estimate the State of Alabama would receive $2 million or more in new tax revenues per year from bingo in Greene County.

The local gross receipts tax of 8.5% would generate  $4.25 million in revenues, which would be divided as follows:

• .5% to the Greene County Racing Commission to license and regulate bingo:

• .5% to the Greene County Commission;

• 1.5%  to Greene County Commission for municipalities in Greene County, based on  population;

• .5% to the Greene County Firefighters Association;

•  2 % to the Greene County Board of Education;

• .5% to the Greene County E-911 Communications District;

•  1% to the Greene County Hospital and Nursing Home;

•  .25% to Greene County Industrial Development Board;

•  .25% to Greene County Ambulance Service;

•  .75% to the Greene County Housing Authority;

•  .75% to the Greene County Gaming  Commission, for     distribution to non-profit organizations, that provide  services to residents of Greene County.

Some agencies will receive more than they are receiving now and others, like the Greene County Commission and the Sheriff’s Office, will receive less.
One benefit of this plan is that the people of Greene County will know the gross revenues generated by bingo and exactly how they are being distributed. Currently the total gross revenue going through the four licensed bingo parlors is not publically available.
The new Greene County Gaming Commission will consist of five (5) members, all of whom must reside in the Seventh Congressional District and at least two must be residents of Greene County. The Commission will be named as follows: one by the Governor, one by the Congressperson, one by the State Senator and two by the State Representatives in the delegation. Some feel this will take control of bingo out of the hands of Greene County citizens and allow other people to make critical decisions for Greene County.

Singleton introduces bill to change Greene County bingo amendment

Bobby Singleton

Senator Bobby Singleton

State Senator Bobby Singleton recently submitted a bill to change Constitutional Amendment 743 regulating bingo in Greene County. The proposed amendment to our current amendment was referred to the State Senate’s Local Legislation Committee.
Singleton’s amendment would make significant changes to the current operation and regulation of electronic bingo in Greene County.
First, the amendment would clarify and specifically allow electronic bingo in Greene County “on any machine or device that is authorized by the National Gaming Regulatory Act by 25 U. S. C. Section 2701, and which is operated by any Native American tribe in Alabama”. This would legalize any electronic bingo machine or device, which was approved by the Federal government for use in Indian casinos, to be used in Greene County.
Second, the amended bill limits bingo gaming to a licensed racetrack in Greene County where pari-mutuel wagering is currently legal. The only facility in Greene County currently meeting this criterion is Greenetrack. While not stated, it would seem that this change would restrict electronic bingo to one facility – Greenetrack – in Greene County. The future operation of other bingo halls in Greene County is unclear and would possibly depend upon a “sub-license” from the one recognized racetrack in Greene County.
Third, the amended bill provides for a state gross receipts tax (4%) and a local gross receipts tax (8.5%) on gaming revenues at the racetrack operating bingo. These taxes would be levied on the gross revenues, which are defined as the total amount of money played on the electronic machines less the value of prizes and winnings paid to the players. The gross figure would be determined before costs of operating the bingo facilities were applied.
The current bingo parlors in Greene County have never publically revealed their gross revenues, so the public does not know what this taxing formula will produce in revenues and whether those amounts are fair. There is also a formula, in the amended bill, for distribution of the 8.5% monthly local wagering tax, with 1.5% retained by the Greene County Gaming Commission (created by the bill) for its operations; 1.5% to the Greene County Commission; 1.5% to the Greene County Commission for distribution to municipalities, based on population; 2% to the Greene County Board of Education; 1% to the Greene County Hospital and Nursing Home; 0.5% to the Greene County Firefighters Association; 0.25% to the Greene County Industrial Board; 0.25% to the Greene County Ambulance Service; 0.75% to the Greene County Housing Authority; and 0.75% to the new Greene County Gaming Commission for distribution to nonprofit organizations that provide services to residents of Greene County.
There is also a “local bingo game vendor tax of 4%, which is levied on the gross revenues collected by bingo game vendors from leases or revenue sharing agreements with a racetrack”. This vendor tax will be shared between the Greene County Sheriff’s Department and the Eutaw Police Department, based on population ratio.
Fourth, a five person Greene County Gaming Commission is created to “implement, regulate, and administer bingo gaming” in the county. This Commission would replace the current role of the Sheriff of Greene County in regulating and distributing the proceeds of electronic bingo gaming in the county.
The five member Greene County Gaming Commission would be named as follows: one appointed by the Governor of Alabama; one by the U. S. House Representative for the Seventh Congressional District (now Terri Sewell); one by the State Senator for the 24th District (currently Bobby Singleton) and two by the State House of Representatives delegation for Greene County. The members of the Gaming Commission will serve five-year terms and be subject to the regulations of the Alabama Ethics Commission. They should all live in the 7th Congressional District and at least two must be residents of Greene County.
This proposed legislation is now in the Senate Local Legislative Committee. It would have to be approved by this Committee, the full Alabama State Senate, the Alabama House of Representatives and signed by the Governor. Once passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor it would be subject to a Constitutional Amendment vote by the people of Greene County. If the Local Legislation were opposed by any one legislator, it would then also have to be voted on as a Constitutional Amendment by all of the people of Alabama.

Clinton and Trump win Alabama and Greene County; Zippert elected to Greene County School Board – District 1; Runoff in District 2 – Madelyn Thomas and Kashaya Cockrell

Hillary Clinton, Gregory Griggers, Carol P. Zippert, Madelyn Thomas, Kashaya Cockrell

Yesterday on “Super Tuesday” in the Democratic Primary election, Hillary Clinton led the state with 309,928 (78%) to Bernie Sanders with 76,399 (19%). In Greene County, Clinton garnered 2716 (90%) votes to 213 for Bernie Sanders (7%).
In the Republican Primary, Donald J. Trump led the field with 371,735 (43%) of the votes. Cruz was a distant second with 180,608 (21%), Rubio with 159,802 (19%), Carson 87,517 (10%) and Kasich 37,500 (4%) rounded out the field.
In Greene County, Trump led as well with 147 (54%) of the total 273 Republican votes cast in the primary.
In the 17th Judicial Circuit District Attorney contest that serves three counties – Greene, Marengo and Sumter, incumbent Gregory Griggers was reelected with 6,873 (56.5%) votes to 5,281 (43.5%) for Barrown Lankster. Griggers carried all three counties. In Greene County, Griggers received 1439 votes to 1237 for Lankster.
Carol P. Zippert was elected to the Greene County Board of Education in District 1. Zippert received 376 (62%) of the votes to 235 (38%) for challenger Kiasha Underwood Lavender. Zippert carried the Courthouse, Mantua Knoxville and the Absentee Box. Lavender led in Union and Jena precincts.
In District 2, for the Greene County School Board there was a five person race which resulted in a run-off between Madelyn Thomas with 138 (27.7%) votes and Kashaya Cockrell with 113 (22.7%). Latoya “Mimi” Pelt received 102 (20.5%), Brandon Meriwether 76 (15.3%) and Robert “Coach” Kimbrough 69 (13.8%). The run-off is scheduled for Tuesday, April 12, 2016.
In the race for U. S. Senator, incumbent Richard Shelby was nominated in the Republican primary and Ron Crumpton was nominated over Charles Nana in the Democratic primary.
In the vote on the Constitutional Amendment to allow district attorneys and circuit clerks to participate in the state retirement system, it was passed in Greene County by a vote of 2,254 (82%) for; 492 (18%) against. Statewide this amendment was approved 679,956 (63%) to 402,060 (37%).