Which seems more likely, that Victor Crawford’s contract with the Mobile County License Commission being terminated wasn’t political, or that Steve Nodine was standing outside the Superdome working during a Saints game when he got in trouble for probation violations?
Both stories stretch the bounds of credulity slightly less than the one about a fat guy, some elves and a herd of flying reindeer delivering presents to every child in the world in a single night. But at least with the fat-guy story there’s a ready acceptance that magic is involved.
There’s not much magic in the other two.
In the case of our oft-arrested former County Commissioner Nodine, expectations were low to begin with. It’s now par for the course for him to be thrown back in the tank every so often. This time it was for probation violations, even as he was talking about an improbable run for Congress next year.
The revelation that marijuana and opiates were found in his system during a random drug screening last month came with its own odd tale. The weed? Well, he ate pot brownies — whether they were from Betty Crocker or the Baldwin County DA’s Office is as yet undetermined. The opiates? He took a friend’s medicine to prevent a potential medical problem. It would have been nice if Steve stayed with the baked goods theme and claimed he just ate a really big poppy seed muffin.
The explanation as to why he was spotted at the Superdome by his probation officer during a Saints game is equally strange. Nodine told WKRG’s Peter Albrecht he was standing outside the dome waiting for a ride in connection with some work he was doing. He wasn’t there to see the Saints. Good. I’d hate to think someone went to jail for seeing a 5-8 team.
Whether any of these stories is magic, true or both, we may never know, but it does look like Nodine is likely to spend even more time in jail. Judging from the appearance of former Special Nodine Prosecutor David Whetstone at “The Hammer’s” hearing, the county must mean business.
But while Nodine’s latest brush with the law contains a fair amount of intrigue, it’s got nothing on Crawford’s removal from the teat of the Mobile County License Commission earlier this week. Yes, we all knew Crawford was a dead man walking the second former License Commissioner Kim Hastie beat the federal charges against her, but I have to admit I thought they would take a little longer to drop the hammer on the man who turned Kim over to the feds.
Hastie protégée Nick Matranga didn’t fiddle around. Ten weeks after taking over at the License Commission — which Hastie vacated when she took her new spot as Mobile County Revenue Commissioner — Matranga petitioned the County Commission to allow him to terminate Crawford’s IT contract.
As Crawford was the star witness against Hastie, and not only turned her over to the feds but also wore a wire and recorded conversations with her, his dismissal was all but assured. Donnie Brasco had a better chance of staying on with The Mob. But the way it went down was intriguing.
Matranga told the County Commission he was able to quickly walk into the LC and determine that Crawford’s fees were too high, the system was “broken” and there wasn’t enough redundancy if Crawford couldn’t personally handle things. He said cutting Crawford’s company — APL Software — loose would save almost $700,000 a year!
The part of this I find most surprising is the move actually lends more credence to criticism of Hastie and her relationship with Crawford, who she had paying political consultants and funding her campaign entry fees. Kim may have given us 10-minute tags, but Matranga gave us “700,000 bucks.” He walked right into her office and found the better part of a million dollars in wasteful spending Hastie had at the very least inadvertently allowed right under her nose. A cynic might suggest paying Crawford so much is why she felt it was OK to use him as an ATM.
Though Matranga is a well-known Hastieite, he just pulled her pants down in public. Why the über-competent Hastie couldn’t find such waste is a real mystery. Well, as long as we don’t have to wait to get our tags, who cares, right?
Matranga says there’s nothing political about dumping APL as his first major move in office. If the dismissal actually does save $700K, I’m all for it, but let’s not pretend it wasn’t at least partially political. Firing Crawford ran right across the sore political feelings dominating the County Commission these days and added another chapter to the ongoing feud there.
When Matranga first brought up dismissing APL, commissioners Connie Hudson and Merceria Ludgood quickly took sides. Crawford has been tight with the Sam Jones/Ludgood camp for years and has made millions doing county work. Naturally Ludgood opposed his dismissal.
Hudson is in the Hastie orbit and has become an open champion for Kim’s best friend, Margie Wilcox, joining her on the County Commission. So she supported ditching Crawford.
Commission President Jerry Carl was left in the middle of a political trap. A vote with Hudson meant giving his political enemies what they wanted — revenge on Crawford and an issue for Wilcox to use against him — but a vote with Ludgood meant likely wasting money. After getting the information he wanted about the company that would take APL’s place, Carl voted with Hudson. That’s a lot to consider in just making a vote to remove a contractor.
After the vote, the usually quiet-as-a-clam Ludgood was ready to be heard. She clearly thought Crawford’s removal was retaliation for being a “whistleblower” in the Hastie case.
“Mr. Crawford exercised his constitutional rights, the same as any other citizen. His business should not have to suffer and he shouldn’t be terminated from a contract because he did that,” Ludgood said. “That’s absolutely the underlying motivation. Common sense tells me this is not about performance. This is about politics.”
So what’s next in our political soap opera? Does Crawford sue the county? Will Nodine go to prison? And does anyone have a good recipe for pot brownies? Stay tuned.
Last week I mistakenly cited the estimated cost for Commissioner Hudson’s soccer/aquatic complex proposal at $60 million. Perhaps too many pot brownies. The guestimates thus far have been a still-whopping $40 million, which is also what Hudson asked for in RESTORE Act funds for the project. My apologies for the error.