The old-time editors sometimes called it "shaking out the mail bag" when they offered thoughts on a variety of topics of ongoing interest in their communities.
Here's my version on some things going on around the county right now:
The City of Guntersville really needs for the Alabama Supreme Court to act on the City Harbor lawsuit as quickly as possible.
It's frustrating for both the city and the developer to have to put the large economic development on hold.
I'm frequently asked, "Just why does Joel Kennamer hate the city so much?"
He has sued the city over other things, not just the harbor, and city officials certainly get upset with the amount of money they've had to spend defending those lawsuits.
I don't know if there are deep-running grudges between Joel and city officials. If you give him the benefit of the doubt, he genuinely disagrees with how the city went about reaching the harbor development agreement. I believe Joel has said the city should have formed a development authority and took on the project itself. I've had a few other people, especially seniors, approach me and say the same thing.
In the city's defense, forming a development authority and developing the harbor itself requires "skin in the game" in the form of a substantial investment of city money. Developer Patrick Lawler actually paid the city money $100,000 to have the right to develop the property. He also put up an irrevocable letter of credit from his bank guaranteeing the city funds to tear down the project if something went terribly wrong and he couldn't finish the project.
I'm told that every other developer who'd ever approached the city wanted tax breaks, city issued bonds and the like to finance the project. The city would have in essence financed the development. Patrick asked for none of that.
There are certain benchmarks and timelines in the lease that have be met for the development to continue, safeguards the city insisted on based on some past things that had happened at the harbor.
I can certainly understand the city wanting an outside developer to foot the bill rather than paying to develop the harbor itself. The city's hope, of course, is that the harbor becomes a destination and generates enough tax revenue to make the lease worth it.
A development authority might have had more "upside" potential for the city, but it certainly would have had more "downside" or risk too. The city played it safe in taking the route it took. And there's a fundamental question that also comes up. Do you really want a government entity competing with private enterprise?
If you look at Patrick Lawler's track record, nothing he does is "Mickey Mouse." It's first rate. Just drive to The Reserve north of the river and take a look at that development.
I take heat from time-to-time (I took a little just this week) about giving Joel a "platform" to air his grievances with city government. I once referred to Joel as a "frequent Council critic" and someone took me to task for that description too. I'm stuck in the middle and can't win.
Rest assured that I will "tighten down" on the letters a little as the city election approaches. But I just feel funny about censoring a citizen's right to gripe about the government. It kind of goes to what our nation's founding principles are all about.
I do believe Patrick Lawler and his track record show he deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to developing the harbor. I don't think any other developer would have taken on all the risk of the project as he has, but would have wanted the city to share in that risk.
I am troubled by the security procedures at the Courthouse.
I certainly understand Commission chairman James Hutcheson's stance that the Courthouse needs security and I applaud him for implementing it, something no other chairman had been able to do.
The problem with Courthouse security, as I see it, is that it is not equal for all. If you or I or any other John Q. Public goes to the Courthouse, we must empty our pockets and walk through the metal detector. If you have a pocket knife with a 2-inch blade, it's not going into the Courthouse with you and there's nowhere to store it. You have to go back to your car or wherever you came from or hide your knife under the bushes outside the Courthouse and hope that it's still there when you come back.
But Courthouse employees and attorneys are routinely waved by security. The procedures are not the same for them as they are for average citizens.
If memory serves, disgruntled employees are often a source of workplace violence. God forbid it ever happens here.
But it just seems to me it defeats the purpose of security if some are waved by while others are screened. The security protocol needs to be the same for all.
I'm not the only one who feels this way. Other citizens have mentioned it to me.
The County Jail
The renovations to the county jail are also troubling to me. I think spending has reached around $1 million so far and they just seem to keep finding more and more stuff. They're anticipating spending about $2 million on the old jail.
After the jail is renovated, there's talk of building a new county jail on the old warehouse property right behind the current jail.
I just have misgivings about the renovation. There's an old country saying about "throwing good money after bad."
After all this money has been spent and the jail has been renovated, it will still be a 40-year-old building. I just can't help but wonder if it wouldn't have been better to put that $1 million or $2 million towards the new jail.
Jails are so expensive and the issues around them are so complicated. It's not easy work dealing with jail situations. I know something had to happen and I sincerely hope this works out, but I worry that the old jail will continue to be a money pit for the County Commission.
I'm told prison reform will be a hot topic in this session of the legislature. The state is looking down the barrel of a loaded gun with its prison situation and I fear the state prison system could face federal takeover if something isn't done.
A federal lawsuit on overcrowding is what forced Marshall County to build its current jail to begin with.
A personal sidenote about the current Marshall County jail is that my grandfather or "Paw," Kyle Dispennett, was one of the brick masons on that job. I mixed mud and toted bricks for Paw all during my junior high and high school years. He told me the bricks on the jail were some of the hardest to lay he'd ever laid. After handling bricks all those years, I thought I knew a good bit about bricks. Paw taught me something I didn't know with the jail bricks.
"They're queens," Paw said. "They're larger than a standard brick."
If you look next time you're close to the jail, you'll see that's true.
The City of Albertville has been going gangbusters with economic news lately, the $100 million recreation expansion, a new shopping center coming to the former K-Mart site and new eating places coming that include a Firehouse Subs and a Dunkin' Donuts. A movie theater is coming near the Hospice thrift store.
Of course someone just this week posed the question to me: How is Albertville getting all that and Guntersville isn't?
"Well," I replied. "Some people say Joel Kennamer has created a toxic environment for development in Guntersville at the present time because of the harbor lawsuit."
Some people do say that. I can't say definitively that it's true, but I'm told developers are "sitting on the sidelines" and watching to see what happens with the lawsuit.
But more is at work than just that.
The K-Mart site is probably the most desirable commercial property to come available in Marshall County in a generation, at the corner of Highway 75 and Highway 431. That's a high traffic count site. It's the kind of property that only becomes available once in a lifetime. Albertville leaders had the good sense to buy it themselves so they could have a say in what eventually located there. That's important. City leaders can guide the right kind of development by taking action like that. Just what businesses will set up shop there have yet to be announced.
I think it's also important to remember that Albertville is the population center of the county. Guntersville's growth is limited by the lake, yet the lake is such a tremendous resource I don't think any of us would trade it for a little more land to develop.
"Albertville is getting a movie theater," the person quizzing me said. "Why can't Guntersville have a movie theater?"
"Where would you put it?" I replied. "North of the river in Claysville?"
There's been a general reluctance for large businesses to locate in that direction. That may change in time, but we're not there yet. The truth is there just aren't a lot of large properties in Guntersville proper for big developments.
It's also important to remember that Albertville sat on the sidelines and watched as Guntersville got the Big Spring Shopping Village with Belk's and the associated shops, Lowe's, Walmart, Cracker Barrel, Top O The River, Publix, Starbucks and more.
I doubt we'd trade any of those for a Firehouse Subs, Dunkin' Donuts and a movie theater.
Maybe it's just Albertville's turn.
I choose to take the long view of things that what is good for one of our cities will probably be good for the rest of them in the long run. I visit all 4 cities in our fair county a good bit. Development like this improves the quality of life for the county as a whole.
And I trust that Guntersville's day to announce something exciting will come back around, probably sooner than we know.