Tuesday, November 30, 2010

30 NOV 10: Room for Board

A Phenix City court hearing Monday may have been more historic than we realize. Poet Robert Frost coined the phrase, "Good fences make good neighbors." Then an insurance company gave us the phrase, "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there." A Russell County Judge had to decide which point of view is right.

Judge Al Johnson issued a permanent injunction, barring the Phenix City Council from interfering in the business of the Phenix City School Board. So he came down on the side of Robert Frost - which only makes sense, because relations between both sides were frosty already.

Judge Al Johnson ruled there's nothing in the Phenix City Charter that allows the City Council to get involved in school district business. He particularly ruled the City Council cannot replace school board members until the board members' terms expire. The firing of some football coaches at mid-season does NOT make this legal.

But the judge went on to rule Phenix City School Board members can be impeached during their terms. Alabama state law on impeachment must be followed - and in a Mobile case several years ago, that meant the District Attorney had to take the board member to a grand jury. Sheriff Tommy Boswell showed over the weekend he can move a lot faster than that....

Judge Al Johnson also advised the Phenix City Council to file an Alabama Open Records Act request, instead of attempting to subpoena school board financial records. The results still could be released the same way - through what Board of Education employees probably are calling "Wetzel-Leaks."

Monday's ruling means Phenix City School Board President Frankie Horace can keep the title for now. He refused to step down when the city council tried to remove him in late September. Two other board members were changed by the council this year - but this attempted third strike turned out to be a foul ball.

Frankie Horace told reporters after the hearing he believes Phenix City can move forward - but he says the school board can't move together with the current city council. Not when the council is looking for a school bus, to shove board members under it....

School Superintendent Larry DiChiara admitted it was a "sad day" for Phenix City. He says the city council harmed his reputation by airing several accusations involving him and his wife [6 Oct] - adding, "If you stand up to them, you get trashed." So DiChiara apparently opposes that new landfill, too.

Early TV reports indicated the Phenix City Attorney was largely satisfied with the court ruling. But during an afternoon news conference, Jimmy Graham said the City Council could vote to appeal the decision at its next meeting. Next year's Iron Bowl in Auburn could be preceded by an Iron-Wills Bowl in Montgomery.

Jimmy Graham explained the Phenix City Charter gives the city council oversight power over all appointed boards - and in Phenix City, the school board is appointed instead of elected. To make peace, maybe both groups should go to Chattahoochee Valley Community College and take classes together. In micro- economics, maybe -- but certainly not micro-management.

A side issue developed Monday night in online discussions on this case -- as some people said the Ledger-Enquirer didn't send a reporter to the court hearing. This complaint seems a little unfair. Shouldn't the Citizen-News be allowed to break a story once in a while -- even if its next issue doesn't come out until Thursday?

Some TV reports suggested the spat between the Phenix City Council and School Board began with the request for school district documents. But regular blog readers know this stew pot has been approaching a boil for more than a year. The "fireworks" simply have moved from the football stadium to downtown governmental buildings.

We're politics-free when it comes to Columbus today, so let's move on to other "Cyber Monday" news deals....

+ Muscogee County Judge Bobby Peters told WRBL a Phenix City attorney practiced law without a Georgia license, and filled out fraudulent divorce papers for several couples. Elliot Vogt could be disbarred, because he's accused of forging the signatures of several judges. If the signature says "Judge J.R. Allen," be suspicious.

+ Albany Police reported a man broke into a Nissan dealership after hours, then stole a car by driving it through a window off the showroom floor. I don't think the "sign and drive" offers are supposed to work that way....

(Police say the thief was arrested in Early County after the car ran out of gas, and he begged people for money to fill it up. The lesson here is obvious - if you're going to steal a car from a dealer showroom, check the mileage stickers first.)

+ A University of Alabama employee was fired, for playing two unauthorized songs at Bryant-Denny Stadium before last week's Iron Bowl. One of the songs was "Take the Money and Run" - which for some reason people are taking as a slap at Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. It could have been advice for Alabama running back Mark Ingram, you know.

+ Columbus State shocked Shorter in women's college basketball 66-51. The visiting team was undefeated - but a Shorter shortfall means Shorter's long run is no longer.

+ Instant Message to the Columbus Public Works Department: How about adding a few recycle bins along the Riverwalk, next to the trash cans? It would be environmentally sound, forward-thinking -- and I wouldn't have to carry 20-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola all the way home to claim the "My Coke Rewards" points from the caps.

SCHEDULED WEDNESDAY: Five will win, five will go down. Will we have a runoff night on the town?....

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