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Alabama editorial roundup

August 21, 2019

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Aug. 17

The Dothan Eagle on an upcoming court date for Harvey Updyke, who’s accused of missing restitution payments for poisoning oak trees at Auburn University:

Toomer’s Corner in Auburn looks a lot different than it did a few years back. The leafy canopy from iconic 80-year-old oak trees that shaded the corner of campus is gone, the result of a rabid University of Alabama fan, Harvey Updyke, who doused the roots with high-powered herbicide in 2011, and then called a Birmingham sports radio show to brag about the deed.

In time, people may forget what Toomer’s Corner once looked like festooned with streams of toilet paper following every Auburn win. They might even forget Harvey Updyke.

It appears Updyke is counting on that. But they haven’t forgotten yet.

Following his call to the radio show as “Al from Dadeville,” Updyke was identified, located, arrested and charged with criminal mischief, desecration of a venerated object and unlawful damage to a crop facility. He spent 70 days in jail in 2013 before pleading guilty and taking a deal offered by prosecutors. Part of the deal was Updyke’s agreement to pay almost $800,000 in restitution to Auburn University, which spent untold amounts in efforts to save the trees, which were ultimately removed.

That was six years ago. In that time, Updyke has paid less than $5,000 in restitution and often misses payments, according to Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes.

The courts have summoned Updyke to appear in an October hearing to explain himself. He was pulled back into court in 2017 for failure to pay; that judge threatened to put him back in jail.

″(Updyke) has made exactly two payments for a total of $200 in the past year,” Hughes told the Associated Press.

It’s unlikely that Updyke will ever be able to fully satisfy his debt, and jailing him would simply put an unnecessary burden on taxpayers. At the same time, his apparent disrespect for the court should disqualify him from leniency. The court should establish a workable plan with well-defined penalties for his failure to comply — and then enforce them.

Online: https://www.dothaneagle.com/

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Aug. 17

The News Courier on how the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives could take over the Limestone County Event Center:

For several years, the Limestone County Event Center has been an albatross around the neck of the Limestone County Commission.

Former Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee hated the building so much — and the controversy it created — that he once referred to it as the “hemorrhoid center.”

In addition to not being that popular with the community, the indoor acoustics are awful. The brick walls and exposed industrial ceiling almost ensure you’ll hear next to nothing from anyone speaking through a microphone. It’s also alternately either too hot or too cold in the building. And when the massive heating and cooling unit activates, it sounds like a small explosion.

Prior to being purchased by the county, the event center, at 110 W. Pryor St. in Athens, was a 20,000-square-foot warehouse used by Pilgrim’s Pride for storage. Limestone County paid $130,000 for the building in 2007. It took $2 million to renovate the event center, and it should be noted it’s not an unattractive building.

The center opened in September 2010 and got off to a shaky start. Vandals spray-painted graffiti on the building just two weeks after it opened.

Before and after the event center opened, there was plenty of criticism about the project, some of it valid. Owners and operators of privately owned event centers came to County Commission meetings to rightfully question commissioners about why the government was competing with free enterprise.

Also, shortly after the center opened, a few events were granted special-use on-premises alcohol licenses, which allowed beer and wine to be sold to event attendees. Representatives from Athens First Baptist Church expressed concerns about imbibing patrons using the church’s parking lot.

Despite all these negatives, the event center has worked well to accommodate large crowds for a variety of events, including the State of the County addresses and fundraisers for various philanthropic and social clubs. However, it can be argued there are other venues where such events could be held, including privately owned event centers.

However, the building is costly. The fiscal year 2019-2020 event center budget projects expenses of $133,000, with utilities encompassing $98,000 of that amount.

There is no denying the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives needs more room. The antique building it occupies is also owned by the county and has experienced its share of issues over the years, including a leaky roof that came close to damaging some artifacts.

Moving to the event center would allow the museum to display more artifacts, including some the public hasn’t seen because there’s simply no room to show them. It may also enable the museum to complete some long-term plans, including the addition of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) efforts at the museum and provide hands-on experiences to students.

We believe and encourage the commission to give serious consideration to selling the event center to the museum for a nominal fee, even if for only $1. In exchange for such a generous gesture, the commission may choose to discontinue or drastically reduce its annual appropriation to the museum.

Jerry Crabtree, president, of the museum’s board of directors, acknowledged the museum had saved $500,000 as part of a capital campaign to build a new museum. However, he explained the museum board would like to use those funds on architectural fees and construction expenses related to converting the wide-open event center into museum space.

Crabtree also told commissioners Wednesday (Aug. 14) 12,000 people had visited the museum last year. He predicted that number could grow if provided a newer, larger facility.

More visitors to the museum means more people visiting Athens and Limestone County and spending money on food, gasoline and trinkets. That means more money staying at the local level.

For those who have never been to the museum, it truly is a wonderful destination. A sea of artifacts paint a wonderful portrait of brave men and women from Limestone County and beyond.

Even better, the museum is free to visitors. However, charging a nominal admission is a route the museum may want to consider taking, especially if the commission decides to discontinue its appropriations.

Whether or not a deal is struck with the commission, we hope county governments continue to support the museum verbally and financially. It serves as a wonderful tribute to veterans, both living and deceased, and deserves the support of all Limestone Countians.

Online: https://www.enewscourier.com/

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Aug. 16

The Gadsden Times on the upcoming change in the process for couples who want to get married:

According to a wedding industry website called The Wedding Report, 34,816 Alabamians got married in Alabama during 2018.

We imagine most of those couples will still want to make it a special, memorable occasion by going all out either at a wedding chapel or a similar picturesque venue (beach weddings seem popular on social media), or in a decorated church sanctuary or chapel. (FYI, the average cost of a wedding in Alabama last year according to The Wedding Report was $17,216.)

We also imagine the majority of those ceremonies will be conducted traditionally — with perhaps a few personalized and modern twists — by a minister, and will involve the exchange of vows and rings.

Beginning Aug. 29, however, both those folks and people who just want to get hitched on the cheap without a lot of fuss will have to do the same, new thing to have their marriages recognized by the state of Alabama.

At present, couples wishing to wed must get a license at their local probate judge’s office, which is good for 30 days. After they have a wedding ceremony, they must submit paperwork signed by the officiant to the probate office, again within 30 days.

Thanks to a bill sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, which was passed this year by the state Legislature, here’s the new drill:

— Couples must fill out a form provided by the state — it’s currently being finalized, but will be available when that’s done at the Department of Public Health (alabamapublichealth.gov) and Etowah County (etowahcounty.org) websites.

— Take the form to a notary to sign it and have it notarized.

— Take it to the probate office to be recorded and pay a fee (it’s $70 in Etowah County, same as for the old marriage licenses) within 30 days of when it was signed.

Congratulations, you just got married. No “I do’s” or “as long as you both shall lives” are required.

According to Etowah County Probate Judge Scott Hassell, the form “will be recorded like a deed or a mortgage.” Some will say that removes the beauty and romance from the process. We’ll again note that people will still be able to have lavish, traditional nuptials, and point out that the probate office, where lots of folks have gotten hitched over the years, isn’t exactly a romantic setting.

Some will grumble about the reason for the change. It’s in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell vs. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex weddings in the U.S. There was much controversy in Alabama when some probate judges, rather than be seen as even tacitly endorsing something they personally opposed, stopped issuing marriage licenses to anyone, meaning couples regardless of gender sometimes had to drive long distances to obtain one.

We’re under no illusions that its level of unpopularity in Alabama has changed in four years, but Obergefell is the law of the land and isn’t going away. There’s no sense revisiting that battle; it’s done. At the same time, advocates for same-sex marriage who have fussed at those recalcitrant probate judges for “not doing their jobs” say this law stems from bigotry. We’re not going to revisit that battle, either.

We’ve supported this as the best compromise to end the yelling and strife, and let people marry who they want to, how they want to, and go on about their business. Anyone on either side who can’t understand that is just looking for something to gripe about.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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