While a lot of us are looking forward to new growth in our community’s political garden, there’s still evidence plenty of deadwood remains to be sawed out. The latest example of that comes from our old friend Marilyn Wood in the Mobile County Revenue Commissioner’s office.
A recent court ruling exposed Wood’s rather batty attempt to stick ThyssenKrupp with an additional $680,000 in taxes based upon little more than her “gut feeling” and “women’s intuition.” Yes, those are the reasons she gave during a deposition on the matter.
TK had originally agreed to pay a 2012 ad valorem tax of $795,000, but got sticker shock when Wood sent them a bill for $1,477,000 instead. Apparently she decided the initial appraisal wasn’t high enough — based upon the aforementioned tingly feelings she gets when she wants more money — so Wood just ordered another valuation, this time using a manual the state has banned her from using.
Once they got the bill and scraped their jaws up off the floor, TK loaded up the lawyers and took Marilyn to court where the judge eventually found Wood had just made a “unilateral decision” to reassess the steel giant.
Welcome to business-friendly Mobile, Alabama, ThyssenKrupp!
It’s hard to fathom how this went down, because it wasn’t based upon any errors made in the original assessment. But Wood got the legal smackdown and now has to refund TK more than $680,000. Is this really how business is conducted in the Revenue Commissioner’s office? I can only imagine what Wood’s “gut feelings” will tell her Airbus should be paying in taxes annually.
There’s no telling how much money TK and the taxpayers wasted on legal fees fighting this ridiculous case, but one thing we can be sure of is that Wood won’t be held responsible for such ineptitude. She never is.
Watching Wood over the past several years, it appears she is only vaguely acquainted with state law or ethics. This newspaper found that out the hard way a couple of years ago when we simply asked for a few pages worth of public information.
Wood chirpily told me on the phone she’d be happy to provide the info — for $1,800! When I asked her how she had come up with such an outlandish figure for supplying public records, Wood got huffy and said it was just a number she had decided on some time before, offering no basis for doing so. (Ouija board maybe?)
After we started talking about suing her for the records, Wood’s story changed as she tried claiming her price had been based upon work hours required, special computer programs, Space Age polymers, secret ingredients, etc…. She eventually ended up selling us the public information for about $400, which was still outrageous, and a violation of state open records law. What we got filled just three pages.
But much like what happened with TK, our tussle with Wood showed she never actually had any basis for what she was charging in the first place. She must have been using her women’s intuition on us as well. I feel ya, TK.
Our little tiff aside, there’s really a much bigger issue here. Wood has shown a propensity for abusing her authority and flouting state law. You may remember, dear reader, our stories about how back in 2007 Ms. Wood decided to purchase a state-of-the-art computer system to handle the county’s tax valuations.
While there are at least three companies that do this type of work for counties all over Alabama, somehow Marilyn was able to avoid bidding the project out, giving it to a Huntsville firm and campaign donor named E-Ring by claiming they had proprietary software. The sole-source contract was worth $2.1 million for installation and generated another $800,000 in computer upgrades in just the first few years of operation. That’s a lot of money to spend, especially when Marilyn’s “gut feelings” come included with her salary.
It would be surprising to get away with such an obvious skirting of state bid laws if it wasn’t for the fact this is Alabama and our law enforcement officials aren’t much into ruffling the feathers of fellow politicos. When asked about this bid, neither the County Commission, State Examiner or Big Luther Strange’s office wanted to even talk about it.
Oh, and, the first time Wood used her new system it screwed up the valuations for the entire county. It would be funny if we didn’t have to pay for it.
Along the way there’ve been complaints from employees that Wood abuses the perks of her office, such as her publicly owned vehicle among other things, and there was even an Ethics Commission investigation into that matter several years ago. But it all went away.
While the Revenue Commissioner has to make sure the county is getting the taxes it deserves, she can’t use divining rods, Magic 8 Balls or Grandma’s Secret Recipe to cook the books, especially as we’re trying to move into the Big Leagues of international business. Wood should be reprimanded for costing both the taxpayers and TK time and money with her ridiculous and arbitrary decisions.
There’s really no room in our current climate for Marilyn Wood’s brand of podunk political games. Hopefully for the remainder of the time she is in office the other elected officials around here will pay attention and keep Marilyn in check next time she gets that that old gut feeling.