Greene Co. Democratic Executive Committee
holds political forum

Jimmie Benison
Beverly “Bev” Spencer
Hank McWhorter

The Greene County Executive Committee held a political forum on Thursday, April 7, 2022 in the gymnasium of the Robert H. Young Community Center (old Carver School). The forum was open to all candidates in the Democratic primary election on May 24, 2022 for local offices in Greene County. The candidates were given three minutes to  introduce themselves and an additional ten minutes for questions.

Lorenzo French, Chair of the Greene County Democratic Executive Committee explained the purpose of the forum was to allow candidates to explain their platforms and reasons for running, as well as to answer questions from voters. French asked the audience to take note of those candidates who did not appear and ask them to be more accountable to the voters of Greene County.

The hotly contested race for Sheriff of Greene County drew the most attention. Three of the four candidates were present, only the incumbent sheriff, Jonathan “Joe” Benison, was not present and did not speak to his accomplishments in office or answer voter’s questions.

Jimmie Benison, candidate for sheriff explained his long career in law enforcement, including military service, previously working as a Greene County deputy sheriff and currently working for a Mental Health Law Enforcement program in Tuscaloosa.

Jimmie Benison said, “I will be a fulltime sheriff dedicated to law enforcement and safety. I will stand for transparency, accountability, dependability and honesty in my role as sheriff. I will appoint a panel, similar to the “racing commission” that we had to operate, regulate and monitor greyhound dog racing, to operate electronic bingo in the county.”

In answering questions, Benison said, “I am unfamiliar with the current rules that are being used by the sheriff to operate bingo but I feel that the panel I create will develop rules to make more funds available to Greene County government and agencies.”

In answer to a question about reducing crime, he said, “I am in favor of more after school programs and activities for youth; I plan to revitalize the junior deputies program we had in the past, which will help to bridge the gap between the community and the police.”

Hank McWhorter, another candidate for sheriff, said that he had 35 years of law enforcement experience, including ten years of service with the Greene County Sheriff’s Department.

“Based on the funds coming through Greene County’s electronic bingo establishments, we should have the best roads, best services, best hospital, best ambulance service, best education, a high school football stadium, and best recreational services of any county in Alabama. The money is there but it is not staying in the county to help people here. I will work to fix this.”

McWhorter suggested that Greene County residents get the public documents from IRS on the bingo charities, their 990 disclosure forms and others, to see what they are doing and how much they are paying their staff and what they are giving to Greene County. He also said there are bingo controlled “political action committees” (PAC’s), like Citizens for Lawful Government, which are trying to buy the election for the incumbent sheriff.

In a separate interview with this reporter, McWhorter said he feared for his life and that of his family because he was revealing the truth about the corruption of bingo in Greene County.

Beverly “Bev” Spencer, the third candidate for sheriff, challenging the incumbent said, “I was born in Greene County, lived here all of my life and plan to die here. I have no law enforcement experience but I have common sense and I know what the sheriff is supposed to do.”

“Greene County is not getting its fair share of bingo funds. I estimate $300 to $400 million dollars annually is flowing through bingo and Greene County gets $6 or $7 million a year out of this. We should be getting at least 10% or $30 million which could be used to help Greene County,” said Spencer.

“I will create an 8-member committee, 3 whites and 5 Blacks, to regulate and supervise bingo in Greene County; I will be the ninth vote to break a tie. This committee will change the rules and see if we can get every single person in Greene County a small check from bingo funds as well as fund the charities, agencies and government services,” said Spencer.

District Attorney Greg Griggers and his challenger Barrown Lankster, who has held the position in the past discussed their different approaches to the position of District Attorney for the 17th Judicial District, which includes Greene, Sumter and Marengo counties. Lankster said he would be more pro-active in working with educational programs for young people to prevent crime. Griggers touted various special courts he had created for mental health and juvenile crimes.

The program lasted for over three hours from 5:00 PM to after 8:30 PM and also heard from candidates for County Commission and School Board. We will cover those races in the six weeks ahead until the May 24th. Primary.

There was also a fiery keynote address by civil rights and voting rights activist Rev. Wendel Paris of Jackson, Mississippi. Paris is a native of Sumter County and played a major role in political activism in the Alabama Black Belt for many years. “All of us must vote in every election. We need to strive for 90% turnout in the Alabama Black Belt and we can win statewide elections. You must go out and vote because your vote can make a difference in your daily life, and if you don’t vote, please do not complain about the results,” said Paris.

Sheriff Jonathan Benison meets with GCHS Board; commits to change ‘bingo rules’ to provide major support to save hospital

By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher and Chair of GCHS Board of Directors

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The Board of Directors of the Greene County Health System (GCHS) Board met with Sheriff Jonathan Benison and his electronic bingo staff twice in the past three weeks, on August 25 and September 12, 2017 to urge him to take action to support the hospital, which is in danger of closing due to financial problems.
The GCHS Board submitted a letter to Sheriff Benison on August 30, 2017 placing in writing its suggestions to help the health care system in Greene County.
These suggestions included: collection of a 4% tax imposed on bingo machine operators, in June 2016, which has never been enforced or collected; raising the per machine fee, paid by bingo operators from $200 to $225 and giving those proceeds to support the GCHS on a monthly basis, and other steps to help the hospital become more financially self sufficient.
In the meeting, this week on September 12, 2017, Sheriff Jonathan Benison and his attorney Flint Liddon and bingo staff announced that he was going to change Section 4 of the electronic bingo rules to provide an additional $25 assessment, on all bingo machines, in all five bingo establishments, in Greene County, with the funds going to the Greene County Health System to support the hospital, nursing home, physicians clinic and other services.
This change will be instituted effective November 1, 2017 to allow the bingo establishments time to adjust their budgets and operations.

Currently, based on data provided by the Sheriff and his staff, there are 2,032 bingo machines at the five bingo establishments in Greene County which means that based on current numbers, the GCHS would receive $50,800 per month from the proceeds of this rule change. The Sheriff said that he thought that the number of bingo machines in the county would hold steady at around 2,000 or above.
This means that the GCHS could expect to receive $600,000 per year in support from electronic bingo in the county sanctioned under Constitutional Amendment 743.
Rosemarie Edwards, a Board member from the Boligee area, said, “I want to thank the Sheriff for his decision to increase the fee on each bingo machine by $25. This will help to keep the hospital open and provide needed medical services for Greene County residents. I hope people in the community will support the Sheriff in his new bingo rules.”
Eddie Austin, Board member from the Forkland area, indicated, “I know of a person, within the last week, whose life was saved and stabilized by the Greene County Hospital Emergency Room. We all need our hospital to stay open and offer quality services. I commend the Sheriff for responding to our pleas for support.”
Pinnia Hines, Board member from Eutaw and former employee said, “With the commitment from the Sheriff to change bingo rules and provide substantial support for the hospital, nursing home and associated services, we will have certainty and stability to keep the facilities open. I thank the Sheriff for his decisions and I urge the community to support and unify behind these necessary changes.”
In response to a question from the Board, about what the Sheriff will do if the bingo operators do not agree to and comply with his per machine fee rules changes, Sheriff Benison said, “ I hope they will agree but if they don’t, I will have no choice but to enforce the rules and close down those who do not pay the funds to support the hospital.” Hank McWhorter, the Sheriff’s Bingo Enforcement Officer pulled out some large pre-printed stickers, which would be attached to the doors of those bingo establishments that did not comply with the new rules changes.
Attorney Liddon stated, “We do not really know how much money is passing through these bingo machines but we are sure it is enough to meet the conditions of these rule changes. We know the operators will not like these changes and may cry out that they are too expensive, but the Sheriff is determined to go forward to make these changes to assist the hospital.”
John Zippert, Chair of the GCHS Board, said, “We welcome and support the Sheriff’s decision to raise the per machine fee by $25 to assist the Greene County Health System. This infusion of $50,000 a month will be a significant and substantial help to the facility to meet its deficit of $100,000 per month. Our monthly deficit is roughly equal to the ‘uncompensated care’ we provide to low-income people from Greene County each month.
“The Board and the people of Greene County we represent, thank the Sheriff for his rule change and support for the GCHS. The Board will work with the people to find the rest of the revenues and savings to erase the deficit. More Greene County people must use the GCHS facilities and services; we must fill the 20 vacant beds in our nursing home; we must fully utilize the three doctors and two nurse practitioners in the health clinic; we must fully utilize all the services of GCHS.
“Our Board will also seek support and contributions from other public and private sources, including the Greene County Commission, the State of Alabama, Medicare, Medicaid, private foundation grants and other support. We will also work for better state and national health policies which will treat rural people and facilities fairly and recognize our contribution to the nation’s health care status and the well-being of our people.”