A dozen years ago when we first started this newspaper, my partner Ashley and I had a moment of doubt about whether this sleepy burg could actually produce enough news to fill our then-ad-barren publication.
We often laugh about that now. Since then it’s been replaced with a much more fitting motto – “Mobile Provides.”
What that means is this area is generally a big fat buffet for news, complete with duck sauce, pudding and a fortune cookie that reads “You won’t believe this sh*t.” In addition to the normal “cop shop” stuff of murders, homicides, killings and suspicious deaths, our area always manages to produce a terrific amount of stories that seem born of ignorance or arrogance by those in power.
So if you’re in the news business, Mobile Provides a constant diet of unusually shady events almost daily, helping us ink-stained wretches do our jobs. Opinions vary as to what’s newsworthy, as anyone who’s ever called us pissed off implies when they say, “I know you’re just trying to sell newspapers.” The paper’s free though, so that can’t be it. No, it’s just that there is an abundance of strange behavior here in “Sweet Lunacy’s County Seat.”
Need a few examples? That’s what the next 800 words are for.
A quick one that jumps immediately to mind is how in the middle of the debate over the amount some local officials are spending jetting around the globe, the state, county and city paid for a group of more than 90 people to attend the Farnborough International Airshow last month – 18 from Mobile County alone.
I’ve talked to more than a couple of people in local government who said unequivocally there was an effort to streamline the Mobile contingent, but some folks with political clout horned their way on board the junket anyway, with organizers too scared to say no.
For instance, what was the value of paying to have three city councilors on the trip, particularly when one of them only wants to talk about MoonPies and Mardi Gras with international prospects? (I’m not saying who.)
Council President Gina Gregory told our reporter for a story on travel that council members really aren’t much involved in recruitment – right before she went to England on a recruitment trip. OK … maybe this was a special occasion.
Turns out it was, as Gregory’s other employer Hargrove and Associates, an engineering firm that does a good bit of business with the city, hosted or co-hosted two parties for many of the companies Mobile’s economic development team is wooing.
Of course they’re also companies Hargrove would like to work with as well. Gregory says she attended both wheel-and-deal parties, but wasn’t working for Hargrove. She was at the Hargrove parties as a city councilor, she says. And maybe she was, but it still makes you go “Hmmm?” Gina’s position working with Hargrove is by far the most likely of any councilor’s to produce a conflict of interest so you think they’d give that a wide berth.
Hargrove should have bought that ticket, in my opinion, if for no other reason than so jerks like me couldn’t criticize a situation in which it could be argued taxpayer dollars went to fly a Hargrove employee over the pond to engage in at least some Hargrove business.
Owner Ralph Hargrove says he thinks it looks worse when private companies pay to fly politicians around, and I would agree except for one minor difference. In 99.9 percent of those other cases, the person being flown doesn’t get a regular paycheck from the company flying him/her.
Another situation that doesn’t quite pass the smell test came up recently when we discovered District 98 State Rep. Napoleon Bracy is under investigation by the State Ethics Commission for allegedly using his position with Austal Shipbuilding to do a little politicking.
Bracy, who is Austal’s Workforce Outreach Coordinator, put out fliers in his district announcing job fairs for positions at Austal. The only problem is somebody also made sure the flier had Rep. Bracy’s political title printed on it front and center as well.
For their part, Austal took the blame for designing the ads that way and said they saw nothing wrong with it.
Interestingly, though, fliers for similar job fairs outside Bracy’s district didn’t carry his political title, nor did they early in the year before the election process began in earnest.
It’s hard to swallow that including Napoleon’s political title in those fliers isn’t at the minimum a subliminal message to voters in his district that he’s bringing them jobs.
Naturally, Bracy doesn’t see a thing in the world wrong with his political title showing up on Austal’s job fair fliers. Still, it makes you go “Hmmm?”
A couple of weeks ago we reported on a situation in which Mobile County inmates were actually being taken around to mow grass on private property. The property just happened to be a masonic lodge – you know, the kind of place with lots of old white guy members with political connections who vote.
When we called the Sheriff’s Department about it, everyone acted surprised and acted like no one in particular had made a decision to do such a thing. After all, it would be wrong to force prisoners to mow a private citizen’s property. They sort of said it was just on the calendar and no one ever really thought about it.
In fact, after looking at that darn schedule they found a couple of VFWs as well that were being mowed by prisoners. They stopped that too and asked the public to report anything the jail or sheriff’s department might be doing that looks strange to the sheriff’s department. What?
Are we really supposed to believe no one knows who ordered prisoners to mow these properties? Or if someone just picks up the schedule and it says “Rob’s house” I’d have prisoners cutting my lawn without anyone thinking it’s strange?
Wouldn’t it be nice just once not to have our collective intelligence – which admittedly is quite low – insulted? Of course someone had to give the OK for prisoners to mow VFWs and Masonic lodges. Perhaps this has been a sweet deal for years and it’s a wink-and-nod tradition, but let’s not act like every time the inmates started mowing that whoever was watching them wasn’t aware they really weren’t supposed to be doing that.
Just another thing that makes you go “Hmmmm?” And like I said, Mobile Provides. Stay tuned.
THE GADFLY BY LAURA RASMUSSEN
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