2018 – Year in Review

In this article, we will review the highlights of local news stories that affected Greene County during the past year – 2018.

Love’s Truckstop planned

The most notable development for Greene County during 2018 was the announcement that Love’s corporation had secured an option to purchase land at the Exit 40 intersection with Interstate Highway 20/59 on the outskirts of Eutaw. Love’s plans to build a truck stop with 87 spaces, a convenience store with three fast food outlets and other services for trucks and travelers.
The development of the project was contingent upon the City of Eutaw extending sewage lines about a mile to the project site at an estimated cost of $900,000. In July, Mayor Steele announced a $400,000 grant from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) toward the sewage project. This was followed in August by an announcement by the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) of a grant of $372,425 for the project.
The Greene County Industrial Development Authority agreed to loan the City of Eutaw, the balance of funding needed to complete the sewer line. At its December meeting, the City of Eutaw accepted bids for construction of the sewer line.
On October 15, 2018 a groundbreaking was held at the site, where Love’s confirmed that it was building its 470th Travel Center and Country Store in Greene County at the Interstate 40 interchange.
Governor Kay Ivey, Congresswoman Terri Sewell, State Senator Bobby Singleton, members of the Love’s family and management, and many other dignitaries attended the groundbreaking
The $16 million travel stop will be built on a 13.9-acre site and is expected to bring an estimated 43 permanent jobs to the area with a projected 1,000 trucks per day. The facility is expected to sell 8 to 10 million gallons of fuel and have retail sales of $4 to 6 million per year, which will significantly increase tax revenues to Greene County and the City of Eutaw.
Construction of the Lowe’s project is expected to begin in January 2019 and be completed by late Fall of 2019.

Electronic Bingo

The Greene County Community continued to benefit from a gaming and tourist industry authorized by local voter approval of Alabama Constitutional Amendment 743 in 1986.
Five bingo parlors at Greenetrack, Green Charity, Frontier, River’s Edge and the Palace provide 600 or more jobs and over $4.5 million in revenues to the Board of Education, County Government, Sheriff’s Department, Municipalities and the Greene County Hospital and Health System. Additional contributions to E-911, the Greene County Volunteer Firefighters Association and other civic charities are also made.

Each month, the Democrat had a photo and story on the basic fee distribution by the Greene County Sheriff’s Department. The monthly distributions averaged over $370,000 each month for the year.
The Greene County Hospital and Health System received $540,000 in bingo fees ($25 per bingo machine) for 2018, the first full year it was included in the monthly bingo fees distribution. This helped stabilize the finances of the Greene County Health System and insured the continued operation of these critical health facilities.
Electronic bingo in Greene County and throughout the state is under attack as “illegal slot-machine gambling” by State Attorney General Mike Marshall, who was re-elected in November. In September 2018, we reported on a status conference, in front of special Circuit Judge James Moore of Fayette County with representatives of the State and all five bingo operators, to discuss a calendar of future motions and hearings in this critical case.
State AG Marshall is continuing to push the case to end electronic bingo in Greene County despite the catastrophic implications for this industry in lost jobs and revenues, in a historically persistent poor county of the Alabama Black Belt.

2018 Local and Statewide Elections

The past year was a major election year for state offices and the Legislature in Alabama and also local elections for Sheriff, Circuit Clerk, Probate Judge, Coroner, County Commission and other political positions.
Numerous candidates for state and local offices qualified by February 9, for the Democratic and Republican primaries on June 5. Several positions were uncontested: Terri Sewell for Congress in the 7th District, Bobby Singleton for State Senate, A. J. McCampbell and Ralph Howard for State House seats involving Greene County.
In the June 5 primary, Greene County voters chose to re-elect Sheriff Jonathan ‘Joe” Benison, Ronald Kent Smith for Coroner, Veronica Morton Jones for Circuit Clerk and for Commissioners: Lester Brown for District 1, Tennyson Smith for District 2, Corey Cockrell for District 3 and Allen Turner for District 4.
Six weeks later after the July 17th primary run-off, Rolanda Wedgeworth triumphed over Jeremy Rancher for Probate Judge and Roshanda Summerville was chosen to be the nominee for District 5 County Commissioner. Since there were no Republican challengers on the local level, all Democrats running for local and legislative positions were elected subject to no independent or write-in challenges in the November General Election.
At the statewide level, Greene county voters helped Walt Maddox, Mayor of Tuscaloosa, to be the Democratic nominee for Governor and Joe Siegelman to be nominee for Attorney General, in the June primary. However, despite strong support in the November 6 General Election, in the Black Belt, Maddox was defeated by incumbent Governor Kay Ivey and Siegelman was defeated by AG Mike Marshall,
In November, Alabama voters continued Republican control of all major statewide offices and a solid majority in both houses of the State Legislature. This despite Maddox’s promise to “expand Medicaid to 300,000 uncovered people in the state on my first day in office” and Ivey’s
Promise to protect Confederate monuments where they were in the state.
Alabama Congressional delegation remained with six Republicans and one Democrat – Terri Sewell.
In June 2018, Governor Kay Ivey appointed Barbara McShan, longtime Revenue Clerk to the position of Greene County Revenue Commissioner to serve out the term of Brenda Goree, who retired.
In November, the five County Commissioners were sworn-in and selected Tennyson Smith as Chair and Roshanda Summerville as Vice Chair for the next four years.

Mayor Raymond Steele and Eutaw City Council often at odds

From the very first meetings of the Eutaw City Council in January 2018 there were fissures and disagreements between Mayor Raymond Steele and City Council members. The disagreements centered around use of city facilities and vehicles, development of a budget for city finances, payment of bills, operation of the water department, repair of roads in Branch Heights, and the addition of items to the meeting agenda without prior consultation with the Mayor.

The Mayor and City Council generally agreed on support for the Love’s Truckstop project but disagreed on practically everything else. There were concerns about the use of the National Guard Armory after a shooting in the –parking lot after a January party at the facility that ended after midnight. City Councilman Jeffrey Carpenter, also a sheriff’s deputy was injured in the shooting.
In March, Mayor Steele purchased the Carver School from the Board of Education for $213,000 with a $50,000 down payment and four years to pay the balance. The Mayor wants to use the school classroom and gymnasium facilities for after-school and weekend youth programs, adult education and cultural programs and other community activities. Council members argue that the purchase is too costly, no operational plan or regulations exist for use of the facilities, and the purchase should have been coordinated with the County Commission and other agencies.
The Mayor and Council have disagreed about the closing-out of the $3.1 loan and grant package with USDA Rural Development for improvement of the water tower and water system. Many of the water meters were incorrectly installed and may not be providing accurate billing reports. Billing has been behind and late which has placed financial hardships on the City in paying its bills.
Several Council members have called for a budget to determine how city finances are being used, when decisions were made such as using $115,000 of funds set aside for Branch Heights roads to pay other bills. Later funds were contracted for Brach Heights roads repairs but the contractor has not started work as yet. Council members are also calling for an audit of city finances but the cost seems high in relation to the benefits.

Other News and
Developments

Greene County Board of Education continued to make progress during 2018 on improving student learning and performance. LaVonda Blair was hired early in the year to be CSFO to handle school finances after the departure of her predecessor. The TieTying for new ninth graders at the High School continued. New courses in welding, auto mechanics and computer coding were added to the curriculum. A virtual high school program was added to serve persons who dropped out or could not attend classes. At its last meeting the Greene County Board of Directors voted 3 to 2 not to continue the contract of Superindent James H. Carter. Unless this decision is rescinded, the Board will spend much of 2019 searching for and interviewing candidates to replace Carter.

Mills Pharmacy opened for business in July in Eutaw in the old Solomon Drug location giving residents a choice in purchasing their drugs. The General Dollar in Eutaw was remodeled giving more space for food items. A new General Dollar opened in the Clinton community at the end of the year. The Super Dollar store closed and the Family Dollar store burned down and the remains cleared away during the past year.
Greene County celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King’s Birthday on January 17 with a breakfast, a march through downtown and a rally at the Courthouse, which featured Dr. Cynthia Warrick, President of Stillman College. In March, many Greene Countians participated in the 53rd. Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, Alabama to celebrate and agitate for voting rights. In July, the Alabama Civil Rights Museum sponsored the 49th anniversary of the 1969 Special Election in Greene County, which was the beginning of Black political control of Greene County.
In August, the community celebrated National Night Out and Back to School Rally on the Courthouse Square. At the end of the month, the 43rd annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival was held on the Courthouse Square. In December the Chamber of Commerce sponsored the annual Christmas Parade.

Many other news and community events were held during 2018 – too many to mention in this summary.

Statewide: Walt Maddox for Governor; Joe Siegelman for AG In Greene County: Sheriff and 4 incumbent commissioners re-elected; Runoff set for Probate Judge and District 5 Commissioner

 

Sheriff Jonathan Joe Benison (1)

Shown above L to R: Sheriff Jonathan Benison, Veronica Morton-Jones and Ronald Kent Smith

In yesterday’s Democratic primary elections, Sheriff Jonathan “Joe” Benison was re-elected to his third four-year term. Benison received 2013 votes (60%) to 681 for Jimmie Benison, 381 for Lorenzo French, and 282 for Beverly Spencer.
In Greene County, the Republican party did not nominate candidates for local offices, so the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election, although these candidates will be officially confirmed as elected after the November 6, General Election.
Veronica Morton-Jones was elected Circuit Clerk of Greene County by a vote of 1911 (60%) to 1290 for her opponent Debra D. Blackmon.
Ronald Kent Smith was re-elected Coroner over Finest Gandy, Jr. by a vote of 1998 to 1186.
In the race for Greene County Probate Judge, there will be a countywide Runoff Election on July 17, 2018, between the top two finishers, Jeremy Rancher with 1091 votes (32.76%) and Rolonda M. Wedgeworth with 813 votes (24.41%). Four other participants in the race: James Carter with 303, John Kennard with 306. Rashon Smith with 518 and Grace Belton Stanford with 299 votes were eliminated.

Four of the incumbent County Commissioners were re-elected. In District 1, Lester ‘Bop” Brown defeated Union Mayor James Gaines, Jr. by 415 to 229 votes. In District 2, Tennyson Smith did not draw any opponents and will be re-elected after the November General Election.
In District 3, Corey Cockrell was chosen over Elzora Fluker by a vote of 609 to 244. In District 4, Allen Turner, Jr. scored 491 votes to defeat John H. Vester with 178 votes.
In District 5, there will be a runoff on July 17 between Marvin Childs 203 votes and Rashonda Summerville with 135 votes. Three other challengers including incumbent Michael Williams with 101, Marvin K. Walton with 77 and Grace Atkins Lavender with 54 votes.
In the contest for State Democratic Executive Committee member for District 72 (Female), in Greene County Carrie B. McFadden had 433, Jerildine Melton 329 and Johnnie Mae Scott with 1052. Including results from Greene, Hale, Perry and Marengo counties, there will be a runoff between Carrie B. McFadden with 3378 and Johnnie Mae Scott 2676. Jerildine Melton finished with 2571, just five votes less than needed for second place.
In the contest for State Democratic Executive Committee for District 72 (Male), in Greene County, Arthur Crawford had 659, James F. May 219 and John Zippert 1222. For the full four county district, there will be a runoff between Arthur Crawford 4216 and James F. May, 2725. John Zippert finished third with 2286 votes.
In statewide races, Greene County set the trend for Walt Maddox and Joe Siegelman to win the Democratic nomination without a runoff. In Greene County, Maddox received 2779 (86.33%) of the votes. The other candidates: Sue Bell Cobb with 159, Christopher Countryman with 37, James C. Fields with 96, Doug ‘New Blue’ Smith 107 and Anthony White 41 votes, did not break 5% of the votes.
In the State Attorney General’s race, Joe Siegelman received 2076 votes (71.81%) to 815 votes (28.19) for Chris Christie in Greene County. For Secretary of State, Heather Milan 1359 defeated Lula Albert with 970 votes in Greene County and also won statewide.
In the Republican Primary in Greene County, there were only 249 votes cast or 6.83 of the total. In the Governor’s race, Kay Ivey led in Greene County with 184 votes (73.9%). She was followed by Tommy Battle with 30 votes, Scott Dawson with 26, Bill Hightower with 8 and Michael McAllister 1.
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