Doesn’t it always seem like there’s some epic struggle around here between those who want to move forward and those who want to job the system for their own benefit?
I know that’s what I spend a lot of my time writing about. Some of you are probably sick of hearing about this mess and would rather I move on to a sweet column about my dog or something.
And I know writing about the usual suspects in Mobile County pisses more than a few people off — mostly people who hope to get in on the grift in some way. But hey, that’s what I get paid to do, so if you don’t like it, pick up what’s left of the other newspaper and check out “Peanuts.” (Spoiler — she moves the ball.)
It’s been another eventful week in local backroom politics. Gary Tanner, who served as Mobile County Communications District director for roughly two-and- a-half years, got the boot last Thursday after the MCCD — better known as “the 911 Board” — board of directors read the findings of an internal investigation and decided they had “no confidence” in the former county commissioner.
While the board has not yet released the investigation’s findings, The Tan Man’s demise is almost certainly linked to the $40 million communications enhancement project begun in 2012 that has been under intense scrutiny over the past two years. After board member Trey Oliver raised questions about the contract with Harris Communications, and plenty of media interest, it was determined last year at least $5 million of the contract was unnecessary and unwanted. Ouch.
Tanner’s firing comes as little surprise since the workings of the 911 Board have all the marks of Mobile County backroom wheeling and dealing at its finest. The bid for the project barely passed the sniff test, extraneous components were added to the contract and a warehouse with $5 million in unused radios was even “discovered” last year. The District Attorney’s Office is also supposedly looking into things, so it was a good time for Tanner to go.
Tanner’s hand-picked Deputy Director Charlie McNichol will run the show temporarily, but while I have nothing against McNichol, it makes much better sense to get someone who has lived far away from the cesspool of South Mobile County politics to fill the director’s chair permanently.
And speaking of that cesspool, would-be Mobile County Commissioner Margie Wilcox showed once again this past week why voters should be very wary of putting her in any position where she can work hand-in-hand with best friend Kim Hastie. Though she fiercely wants to leave her position as a state representative, Wilcox is once again sponsoring a bill to consolidate the county’s License Commission with the Revenue Commission, where Hastie now serves.
She touts the plan as a money saver, but when she was questioned during Hastie’s corruption trial last year, Wilcox didn’t seem to have the slightest idea about either commission’s finances or how the move would save money. In fact, in the first version of the previous bill she pushed, Hastie’s salary would have skyrocketed.
I’m not personally against consolidating departments such as revenue and license. In fact, I’m actually in favor of just making them like other county departments and getting rid of the politico in charge. It’s hard to think of a single good reason we need elected officials in either of those positions, especially since neither is required to hold open meetings or speak to the public (or media) on any regular basis.
Over the years, the license and revenue commissioners have lived a rather shadowy existence with little public scrutiny. When Hastie met with us to push this consolidation plan, back before her the indictments came down, I told her my one fear is the almost total lack of public scrutiny either job must face. She proved that fear justified when the Feds recorded her talking about ways to keep the County Commission from finding out how much money was in License Commission coffers, along with forcing a contractor to pay for her political efforts to consolidate the offices, among other things. Just because Hastie was able to squirm out of conviction doesn’t make the facts that were presented any less true.
So now the big money saver Margie Wilcox is pushing consolidation again for her BFF. Margie doesn’t seem concerned that winning her race for County Commission would send her current seat back to a special election and cost taxpayers plenty of money, but she’s hot to get Kim more power.
If this were really about saving money, Wilcox might take a harder look at things first. Number one, she would ask herself if Hastie is really that great a manager. Yes, she got the hallowed “Ten-Minute Tags” to work, but Nick Matranga wasn’t filling Hastie’s old spot long when he saved the taxpayers $700,000 a year by firing APL Software. Just so happens APL owner Victor Crawford is the very contractor Hastie was using to pay for her political applications and public relations firms, and Crawford is the one who turned her over to the FBI.
One would think Wilcox might look at that situation alone and wonder why Hastie continued overpaying APL by $700,000 a year, in Matranga’s estimation, instead of saving taxpayers the money. That issue should enter into the mind of a public official who is truly concerned about saving money and efficiency.
In this case it’s hard to see why Wilcox would choose to take up the banner of someone who was under indictment on a multitude of charges last year, was showed to have attempted to conceal financial information from the County Commission, definitely used a contractor to pay for her political activities, and who lied to the public and media about it. And on top of that, Hastie appears to have overspent by $700,000 a year for no real reason.
If you got that resume, you’d probably toss it in the can. But Wilcox is pushing to give her friend more power at the same time she is running for a position where she would be in charge of monitoring Hastie’s finances. Genius.
As I said before, there’s always a struggle in Mobile County to keep the grifters out of positions where they can feed off the public. Things may have gotten a little better at the 911 Board, but there are plenty of battles left.