Tag Archives: municipal issues

Free Magazine Review – Sort Of, But Not Really

Many of you know all about the Free Magazine Reviews that we do on this site. They are among our most popular features, and we get piles of emails about them. Many hands have been wrung about how cruel we are to poke fun at the crappy wastes of paper that we have picked up around town.

It has come to our attention that there is a new-ish entry onto the crowded free magazine scene. Perhaps you have seen “The Pride of Montgomery.” No, it’s not a gay pride magazine, although that joke has already been made by everyone.

What it is, dear reader, is actually something even more interesting. This “Pride” is a glossy free monthly magazine that appears to be published by a Prattville dentist, yet features a column from Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange at the start of every issue.

The issue we got today is certainly funny enough to merit the full “Free Magazine Review” treatment. Anytime a magazine publisher uses his own magazine’s pages to write a column titled “Toothpaste 101,” you know you’ve got some serious humor potential. However, this isn’t the column where we make fun of Pride’s font selection (which is atrocious) or the laughable so-called articles (“New Tips for Glam!”)

Rather, this is simply an opportunity to examine the details of Mayor Strange’s column in Pride, which can be found on page 4. In a world where we rarely hear these kinds of big picture perspectives from elected officials, it’s worth taking a look at our mayor’s vision for Montgomery in 2014.

Headline: Continued Growth, Prosperity for Montgomery in 2014

Is this really a headline? Is this Strange’s goal? Is it a bold prediction or merely aspirational? If it’s aspirational, well, duh, yes, who is against prosperity? I guess the pro-chaos and blight candidate didn’t win the election. I’m glad the mayor is willing to exert the leadership needed to say that he wants the same things as us everyone else ever. But if Mayor Strange is going on the record predicting joy, why not fold that into a snappy headline like, “Mayor Forecasts Good Things, Doubts Prospects For Evil?”

Here’s the text of the mayor’s column (in bold) followed by some reactions:

“Many of us use the month of January to review the previous year and anticipate the 12 months ahead.”

So very wise. Go on …

“Both exercises reveal good news for Montgomery, the Capital of Dreams, and perhaps a challenge or two.”

So, 2013 was good. 2014 will also be good. Audacious stuff. And way to work in the Official Branding™. Much better than “Cradle of the Confederacy,” which remains emblazoned on countless public buildings and signs.

“We can be proud of the stabilization of the City’s finances accomplished in 2013. The retirement plan for City employees was revised to ensure new employees will have a fund that is solvent without burdening taxpayers or taking resources from other needs.”

Oh, so we “revised” the retirement plans for city workers? That means “cut,” right? Or “slashed?” Did we “decimate” them, or merely “reduce” them? Were city employees becoming big time fatcats with gold watches and cars made out of diamonds? Why did we have to “revise” their retirements? Do they not need as much money to live on when they retire? Do they plan to eat catfood when they get old? What flavors? It better not be Fancy Feast because if it is, we might need to “revise” those retirement plans some more.

How much did we make from this “revision” of city worker retirements? Enough to start a citywide curbside recycling program? Oh. I guess not. OK, go on …

“The City’s reserves, which were depleted during the Great Recession, are now up to $15 million. Ratings agencies view healthy reserves as an indicator of sound management. Standard and Poor’s awarded Montgomery with an “AA” rating.”

Let’s be clear, AA rating isn’t the highest, but it’s good. Government entities often get good ratings because they can, say, raise taxes and are often seen as likely to pay back their debts. Cities can issue bonds to pay for projects, so bragging about credit ratings is fine (“Hey, we’re not Jefferson County!”) but it isn’t the key measure of economic health. The City of Calera also has AA rated credit and nobody ever says, “Hey, let’s be more like Calera.”

How about the fact that the City of Montgomery is tied (with Birmingham) for the single highest sales taxes in the United States? We (and Birmingham) pay TEN PERCENT SALES TAX on pretty much everything we buy, including groceries. The next highest in the nation is a tie between Chicago, Glendale (Arizona), and Seattle. I’ve never been to Glendale, but I know we are not getting as much cool stuff for our astronomical sales taxes as the people that live in Chicago and Seattle. Look, I understand that nobody wants to raise property taxes, so we’re stuck relying on regressive sales taxes that punish poor people, but I’m embarrassed to admit that no city in American has higher sales taxes than mine. That says a lot more about our city’s economic health than the fact that S&P rated us AA.

“Montgomerians can also take pride in the many key projects that took place in 2013. The Wright Flyer replica and park salute our notable history in civilian aviation. Maxwell Boulevard has been upgraded and is primed for further development. The demolition of the State House Inn will lead to an improved Madison Avenue corridor. Genetta Park in West Montgomery is protecting our watershed and will soon be a spot for recreation and education. The former Steve and Barry’s store at the Montgomery Mall has been converted into a Public Safety center for Police and Fire & Rescue services.”

Wow, that’s quite a list. Slow down! That’s five things! Projects! Let’s take them one at a time.

1) Seriously. Who is into that Wright Brothers statue? Anyone? Anyone? The park is great, yes. But that was true when it was Overlook Park. Now that it is named Wright Brothers Park and has a metal plane in it? It’s about the same. Does anyone look at that hyper-literal model of a glider and feel pride? It’s OK, I guess. I might have opted for something a little more artistic and evocative of the transcendentally beautiful human aspiration for flight, something suggesting innovation and soaring. But if it’s a large metal THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKED LIKE replica that we get, I guess that’s OK too. I just don’t see showing that thing off to visitors or putting it on postcards. But yes, we should be proud of our history and stuff. For sure. Agreed.

2) Maxwell Boulevard has been upgraded. Wooo! Let’s get fired up for some medians! Wooo! New striping on roads! Ya’ll feeling that surge in civic pride?

3) State House Inn has been torn down. Good. It was a disgusting eyesore. But can we at least all agree that this happened because “Evil Big Government” interfered in the private free market and “rewarded failure” by purchasing private property and using PUBLIC MONEY to “bail out” a “failed investment” and turn it into something else? For all the talk about tea party this and capitalism that, for the “I’m just a businessman” mayor to tout these kinds of projects, it’s pretty mind boggling.

4) Genetta Park: Let’s be clear. This area has been called “Genetta Ditch” for years. That’s not the most appetizing branding, but it has always been a ditch and it still looks like a ditch. If they stick a park between McDonald’s and the Interstate, great. Parks are awesome. But this thing appears to be on a 10-year timeframe and it’s a bit too early to share the enthusiasm about whatever the heck this thing is going to become.

5) They’re sticking a police station and fire station in the bombed out abandoned husk of Montgomery Mall. OK. Cool. See above regarding Issue #3. They took a failed investment and a bad business plan from a businessman who allowed his giant building to fall into decay. He let his investment deteriorate and then sold it to the city. We like police stations and fire stations (unless those fatcat city employees are getting too much money in their retirement plans … see above). And we are glad something is being done about the depressing spectacle of Montgomery Mall. Certainly police and fire stations will be immune to the market forces that dragged an entire mall into oblivion and caused tax payers to purchase it with Socialism disguised as “we’re just free market loving businesspeople.”

“We will devote attention in 2014 to exploring other occupants at the former mall, encouraging the Board of Education as it reviews plans for the LAMP and MTEC programs, as well as the Central Office consolidation. Special attention will also focus on avoiding the inordinate increase in homicides we sustained in 2013.”

We’re blurring three issues into this paragraph. First is “we’re trying to find other tenants for the mall.” Good. Fine. See above about Uncle Strange’s Big Government Real Estate Bonanza seeking to make sweetheart deals with potential tenants. Book stores and video game arcades and shoe stores aren’t coming back to that side of town any time soon. Second, we have a glancing mention of the school system, which experienced a catastrophic grade changing scandal in 2013, resulting in the firing of the Superintendent and the quasi-takeover of the entire system by the State Board of Education. Funny how that didn’t rate a mention in the ol’ year end wrap-up. Third, the murders. Yes, we agree that we’d like to have fewer of the murders please.

Sidebar: How great is the mayor’s use of the word “inordinate?” As if having 25 murders instead of 50 would be a totally ordinate number.

Update: Since I wrote this, we have learned that the schools aren’t moving into the old mall. That is dumb. How could the city and the school system not get on the same page about this? I bet the mayor is mad.

“2014 will be marked with continued progress. The improvement to the Dexter Avenue streetscape is already underway. To meet the demand for living spaces downtown, developers have plans to build apartments on Maxwell Boulevard East and the Frank Leu site at Bibb and Commerce. Questplex, the home for the Children’s Museum of Alabama and the Library of the 21st Century will revitalize Court Square.”

Again, there’s a lot going on here. First, Dexter: Yes. Good. It’s horrible how merchants have fled downtown. A once-thriving retail scene is now a sorry collection of faded storefronts. Also, the Internet has murdered retail everywhere. We look forward to hearing what will be purchased on Dexter that can’t be ordered cheaper from Amazon. Also, see above about Municipal Socialism rewarding holdout building owners by using public funds to buy decrepit buildings at above-market cost. We support this, of course, but it’s good to be clear about what we’re talking about. Maybe the city should buy that stuff and just keep it and open some restaurants and bars. Bet the local economic developers would love that.

Second, downtown living: Good. Build nice lofts. Someone should do it. But it’s funny how this gets a single sentence and not a word about, say bicycles or a downtown grocery store. People don’t want to live where there is no commercial ecosystem. Downtowns with residential living all need drug stores and places to buy food and maybe a place to throw a frisbee.

Questplex? Sure. Do your thing. The city needed to buy more real estate from the market failure known as Colonial Bank. So put a museum there for kids or whatever.

“Like many agencies, the City will find a way to stabilize increasing health care costs. It’s the right thing to do for the health of our employees and as custodians of taxpayer dollars.”

Oh, for real Todd Strange? We can’t stop a citywide murder spike nor provide curbside recycling, but we’re going to as a mid-sized municipal government going to DRIVE DOWN THE COST OF HEALTH CARE? Even the federal government, undertaking one of the most ambitious social and regulatory projects ever attempted in American history cannot do that. How is the City of Montgomery going to make MRI scans cost less? Oh, sure, we can cut health plans for city employees. That would certainly drive down health care costs … at least the costs borne by the city. It’s not like those people would stop getting sick. It’s just that we’ll be picking up the tab for those people when they go into emergency rooms because their city health plan no longer covers preventative kidney treatments or whatever. And didn’t you just brag up above about “revising” the retirements of city employees? Is this a threat to gash their health plans as well? Next time some bored city worker treats a resident like crap, I hope everybody remembers the good people that could have taken that city job but declined because they instead took a job that wasn’t hacking away at their benefits all the time.

So two of the main fiscal things Mayor Strange tells us to be proud of are the cutting of city retirement plans and the upcoming cutting of city health plans. Take that, you fatcat city workers! Our fiscal conservatism with your benefit plans is what allows us to buy failing businesses around town and sell them to motivated developers who want to open theme pubs and lofts. #FreeMarket

“Indeed in 2014, we will continue to pursue our vision of “sustaining a safe, vibrant and growing Montgomery in its entirety, that we are all proud to call home.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Montgomery’s Lightning Route

photo(1)Did you know that Montgomery was once home to the nation’s first electric trolley? It was a marvel of the times, a true wonder of science, technology and progress. We were envied by the rest of the world for our public transportation.

No more. Now, we only drive cars or trucks, burning fossil fuels and cutting off the poor from employment and health care. Out city buses became famous for racism and tactics deployed against it. We now incentivize sprawl, which is convenient for those looking to flee neighbors that don’t look like them or share their values.

This sign is still on display downtown, as poetic in decay as the discarded idea it represents. Here’s hoping that one day our city will again be on the cutting edge of something good.

MPD: Annual Reports

Recently, we used the Desmonte Leonard manhunt as an excuse to give an overview of our local police department. It was nothing major, just a look at some of the civic leaders and a few of the MPD basics, attempting to be as honest as possible, while admitting the limitations of our knowledge.

In that post, we mentioned that the MPD has a section of its website called “Annual Reports.” Sadly, there has not been an annual report since 2009. And 2008 is listed but not hyperlinked on the site. That means if I want to look at the most recent “annual” public reports of my local police department, I’m stuck with reports from 2009 (three years ago) and 2007 (five years ago). What’s in ’em? Let’s take a look! {Note: Feel free to download the PDFs and follow along at home … at least until they pull them down from the site!}

2007: A lovely year. The iPhone 2G is released. Seung-Hui Cho shoots up Virginia Tech, killing 32. The Dixie Chicks won a bunch of Grammy Awards, and George W. Bush is still President of the United States. Here in July of 2012, the fine year of 2007 is the second-most-recent year for which we can find an annual report from the Montgomery Police Department.

Art Baylor is the Chief during the heady days of 2007. Page 2 of the report offers the table of contents, along with four blurry photos, two of which are from the zoo. The page employs the font known as comic sans, which three years later would be employed by Dan Gilbert in a hilariously petulant public letter about LeBron James.

Page 3 is a letter from then-Chief Baylor to then-Mayor Bobby Bright. Baylor mentions having over 800 sworn officers, which contrasts with the figure given by current chief Kevin Murphy (510). Evidently, from January 2008 (the date of Baylor’s letter) until July 2012 (which is when I’m looking at Murphy’s webpage), the MPD lost 300-plus police officers. This is profoundly shocking. Evidently crime can decrease while laying off 300 police officers. And that’s important to note: Everyone says crime is decreasing.

Baylor lists several initiatives that I have never heard of: the Crime Reduction Team (CRT), the “Digital Patroller,” and “the Omega Crime Mapping System.” Do these programs still exist? Unclear.

Great Seal

The next page is numbered page 2, although it is the fourth page in the report, counting the cover. From here on out, we’ll use the numbering from the bottom of the pages of the report. This page is notable because it contains the “Great Seal of the City of Montgomery,” which we heard (from current Mayor Todd Strange) that the city has since discontinued. We are not so sure that this controversial seal has been fully retired, but it’s interesting to see it in an official city publication.

Page 3 is the org chart of the MPD. This is a useful document that helps the average citizen understand how the department is structured. Running a police department is tough work.

Page 4 contains actual stats for the police chaplain. I guess if you don’t document how many “direct contacts” you have, preaching to officers and such, you might get cut out of the budget. Wouldn’t want that. Cops need tax-funded “pastoral care and spiritual guidance,” that they can’t get from their own churches.

Page 5 shows that the ’06 MPD budget was $38.5 million, raised to $41.8 million in ’07. More on this below.

Page 8 suggests that in 2006, there were 28 murders handled by the detective division. In 2007? up to 46. This is not mentioned by Chief Baylor in his cheery introductory letter. Looking ahead to the ’09 report, it claims that there were 87 murders in 2008, and 83 in ’09. If I’m reading the numbers right, that’s a heck of a spike. Back to the ’07 report:

Page 9 suggests that $16,000 worth of livestock were reported stolen within MPD jurisdiction in ’06. This seems like a lot of livestock for a dense urban area. $4,500 worth was recovered. And if that’s shocking, nearly $27,000 worth of livestock was stolen in 2007, with none of it recovered. That is a lot of cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and/or pigs.

Page 10 suggests that 39 arrests were made in ’07 at local schools. This trend is awful. Kids getting arrested at school is a travesty. Birmingham City Schools are being sued for actually using mace on students, so I guess we can be glad we aren’t doing that. Also note that 24 arrests were made for sodomy. Given Lawrence v. Texas, it would be interesting to know why arrests were made under Alabama’s anti-sodomy statute and not other sex abuse prohibitions.

Page 13: A surprising number of dogs (2,500) were picked up. Only 280 citations issued. What was the one animal tranquilized? How can they not tell us? I’m going to go ahead and assume it was a Komodo dragon.

Pages 14-15: District 4, which is up Federal Drive, had 23,584 service calls. The next highest number of calls was from District 10, at 16,913. What is going on in District 4 that caused them to call the cops 6,000 times more than the next highest district?

Page 19: Evidently, MPD still calls Asian people “Oriental.” Sigh.

Page 22: Seems that 22 people died in 2006 in traffic accidents, a total that skyrocketed in 2007 to 34. Increased texting while driving? Shouldn’t these totals go down from year to year as cars become safer? Unsurprisingly, it’s safest to be on the roads on Sundays and most dangerous on Fridays. The list of “most frequent accident” locations is a fantastic idea and should be heavily-circulated information.

Page 28: There are lots of caption-free photo montages in the report. While it probably makes sense to the officers reading the report, to civilians seeking a greater understanding of the police department, a ton of photographs with no captions is not all that helpful (or interesting).

The 2009 Report:

Gone is the sweet cover page with fireworks over the river. The ’09 report begins with a bunch of portraits and email addresses. The interesting thing here is that the ’09 chaplain made 309 direct contacts (in person). In ’07, the chaplain reported making 6,245. Are we to believe that Rev. Jackson made TWENTY times the number of visits that Rev. Morris made? What happened?

Also gone in the ’09 report are the helpful page numbers. Page 2 contains the budget figures. Using the ’07 report, we can create the following chart, showing the city’s spending on the MPD:

I guess the collapsing economy didn’t hit MPD all that much. The city had to cancel curbside recycling pickup, but when the economy cratered, the most that could be cut from MPD’s budget was a million bucks from ’08 to ’09. It seems likely that federal stimulus money (from ever-reviled Obama) came in to boost things in ’08. Making things extra bizarre is the letter from Baylor saying MPD had 800 sworn officers in 2008, and Chief Murphy’s current total of 510. The mayor recently said we have 524 sworn officers, which he says is the highest number in city history. Maybe gasoline costs went up faster than I’m calculating, but fortunately Montgomery is free of any professional journalists who’d pay attention to municipal budget issues.

Page 5: It’s notable that the value of stolen livestock has plummeted since ’06 and ’07. Also another mysterious space-filling photo montage is probably cool if you know the people in the pictures, but is otherwise incomprehensible.

Page 6: With only 24 arrests for sodomy in the ’07 report, ’09 figures show a sodomy epidemic of 68 arrests that year. What is going on with Montgomery-based sodomites?

Page 14: At first, there didn’t seem to be much to report about the value of drugs confiscated by MPD in 2009. $12.8 million in cocaine? Sounds reasonable. How much was it in ’07?

Holy crap! The 2007 report (on page 19) claims that MPD confiscated $371 million worth of cocaine in 2007. This is evidently more than a single typo. The total amount of drugs claimed confiscated? $372,823,395. Someone typed this out and published it. That total represents more in cocaine confiscated in Montgomery than the wealthiest state in the nation plans to spend on school construction and upgrades, a project that will employ 11,650 Marylanders. A news report from ’09 suggests that 100 kilos were grabbed in one bust, worth $10 million. How could they have possibly gotten $371 million worth of cocaine? Maybe somebody ought to proofread these reports once in a while.

It may also bear noting that in ’07 there were 433 SWAT training hours. In ’09? Merely 194. I guess the SWAT team got all the training it needed back in the day.

Pages 18-22: Five more full pages of captionless photo montages. The stats on arrests may not add up from year to year, but these annual reports sure are full of anonymous people getting plaques. Look, a baby! And a guy at his desk!

All in all, the reports are fun to look at. They raise as many questions as they answer, namely, why can’t the MPD figure out a way to put the report online every year. Or maybe they just stopped producing them. We have no idea. Still, when you are a taxpaying resident of a city, funding a $44 million police department, it’s good to know about the ways that your tax dollars are being used.

MPD: The Hunt for Desmonte

“Are you following what is going on with the Montgomery Police?”

My brother was texting me.

I had been out of the country. I had not been following what was going on with my hometown police department.

“It’s like something out of The Simpsons,” he texted.

Desmonte Leonard: Fugitive

The newspaper from Seattle carried the following lead paragraph:

Police vowed Tuesday to search again if they have to after a night of probing a house with tear gas and thermal sensors failed to find the suspect in a shooting near Auburn University that killed three people.

A guy named Desmonte Leonard was the target. He was charged with three counts of capital murder related to a shooting during a pool party in Auburn. The dead included two former Auburn football players. Leonard was also accused of wounding three others (two of whom were also Auburn football players).

It is probably worth saying up front that this would not be national news if the dead people had not at one point played college football.

So Leonard was on the loose, and there was a $30,000 reward out for his capture. And since he was from our fair city, Montgomery, it became big news when MPD tactical teams descended on a Montgomery house, searching for Leonard. Local, state, and federal cops were all there, sure they had cornered their man in an old fashioned stand-off. Oh, and the media was there, tweeting real-time “coverage.”

Evidently, MPD had received “credible tips” that Leonard was in the house.

“We will do it again if we have to,” Dawson said. “We will respond in the same way.”

Do what again? Oh, you know, late night stand-off, media circus, SWAT teams using thermal imaging to search the house, cops saying that they heard coughing and moving in the attic, cops storming the house and drilling holes in the ceiling and tearing the whole place to shreds. No Desmonte Leonard, who, oh by the way, later turned himself in.

There was no one at house late Tuesday morning. Through the windows, at least two holes were visible in the ceiling and the floor was littered with pieces of drywall and insulation. Scraps of insulation also littered the walkway outside the house.

Oh, and:

Authorities scoured the attic and air conditioning ducts and drilled holes through pieces of the house. They vowed to repay the house’s owner or rebuild the structure.

So we have dozens of police cruisers, trucks, fire vehicles and vans surrounding a house in a middle-class neighborhood in Montgomery. National media attention is being paid, especially because of the awful symbiotic echo effect that happens when the “news” media gets tangled up with the 24/7 amplification chamber of the “sports” media. Think of a million idiots screaming into a particle accelerator.

Before we dig further, a bit more info from the Boston Globe, which contained reporting from the AP’s Bob Johnson:

• The MPD were acting off a tip they said involved a man claiming to have dropped Leonard off at the house and then called U.S. marshals. “It was that tip, and another 911 call from a woman who said she walked in from work to find the alleged gunman on her sofa, that led authorities to the neighborhood. At one point, they believed they heard movement and coughing in the attic, but their search turned up nothing.”

• They swarmed the house with tear gas, spy gear and assault rifles, and their time there was “a tense, nine-hour search.”

• Two men already have been charged with misleading authorities during the search. MPD Chief Kevin Murphy said the man who ferried Leonard to the home could be arrested on similar charges.

“We did everything right,” said Murphy. “Obviously we didn’t take Mr. Leonard into custody yet. But we will.”

Who are MPD?

Look, I’m not claiming this was a Grade-A Debacle. The cops acted on some info, trashed a house, said they’d pay for it, and their guy ended up behind bars and is awaiting a fair trial. But what is interesting is that the Leonard press conference gave Montgomery residents some insight into the top tiers of the MPD. Chief Murphy was quoted above. He is not to be confused with Chris Murphy, the city’s “public safety director.” The latter Murphy was quoted at the press conference saying that Leonard had some sort of connection to the house that was raided “through someone other than the owner.” That connection remains unclear as of this writing.

And then there’s Mayor Todd Strange, who told the press that there was 15 to 20 minutes between the receipt of the tip and the arrival at the front door of the home that was raided. That’s a pretty darn fast response time.

Let’s take them in order:

Mayor Todd Strange – Mayor Strange took office after Mayor Bobby Bright went off to Washington D.C. to be a one-term Representative in Congress. We weren’t here during Bright’s reign as mayor, but we did do enough research to know that the mayor before Bright, a man named Emory Folmar, had a reputation (vis-a-vis police-community relations) that could only be described as notorious. Strange comes off as an exceptionally laid back guy, more than a shade of the aspects of George W. Bush making people say, “That’s the kind of guy you could have a beer with.” He is not a grim-faced authoritarian. He seems to genuinely want economic development based on downtown entertainment and people having (safe) fun. He seems far more interested in profits than crushing skulls or commanding racist stormtroopers like Folmar did.

Chris Murphy – Public Safety Director – An Auburn police officer who joined the Secret Service. Murphy became the head of the Alabama Department of Public Safety, which is the branch of state government that includes the state troopers and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. Appointed by Riley, served until 2010. The current head of the DPS in the Bentley Administration is named Hugh McCall.

And what is the Montgomery Department of Public Safety? It “was formed in 2010 by combining three agencies – Fire, Police and Communications – into a single municipal department to streamline safety-related operations, increase efficiency and better serve the public.”

We’re not totally clear on how Public Safety interrelates with the MPD, but like most government agencies, there are probably turf battles in there somewhere. Fortunately, our city doesn’t have any journalists that look into things like, nor do we have any real idea about how the city is split into precincts, or whether funding for law enforcement is going up or down or staying about the same. We assume that because there have not been any major scandals, things must be fine.

Kevin Murphy – Chief of Police – As of this writing, Chief Murphy’s bio page says that he is in charge of “510 sworn police officers and 200 civilians.” That’s a good-sized force. He took over from Art Baylor, who became a federal marshal in the Obama Administration.

If you ever flip around TV channels, you’d know that MPD has a TV show, which is something like the infamous show, COPS, and something (sadly) also similar to the fictional parody show, Reno 911. We’d love to know how much the city gets paid for letting TV crews do ridealongs.

The MPD obviously has a complicated history, and that’s putting it mildly. Not withstanding the bad reputation from the Folmar era, there is also all of the other stuff from the Civil Rights Movement. If you want to read something really crazy, try to get your hands on a self-published book from 2006 called “Another View of the Civil Rights Movement” by Drue H. Lackey. If the name strikes you as familiar, it’s because Lackey is the officer present in the famous picture of Rosa Parks being fingerprinted, kicking off the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Lackey’s ’06 book is a paranoid and defensive thing, an effort to show that the “white man’s” side of the civil rights story has been neglected by historians. Since his time as MPD Chief of Police, he ended up associating with some unsavory characters.

This means nothing for Chief Murphy, other than he has a tough job on his hands and probably a lot of folks in our community that refuse to distinguish Murphy from Lackey (who was chief from 1967-1970), or any of the other MPD cops that could help a million people in thankless fashion and have their reputations permanently tarnished by a Todd Road Incident.

The MPD also have a link on their webpage to a sub-page called “Annual Reports.” Evidently, MPD has been too busy solving crimes to produce an annual report since 2009. And the 2008 one isn’t actually linked on the site. And that means if you want to read the two most recent annual reports on their site, you get one that is three years old and one that is five years old. Transparency!

To be fair, they do seem to keep a little more up to date on the crime stats, here listed through 2010. But what are these “annual reports?” Next time, we’ll take a look of what we can find of these reports. But for now, we are glad that Desmonte Leonard is in custody and that the MPD is out there, doing thankless work in a world that increasingly views government spending on basic services like roads and police officer salaries (and pensions) as wasteful Socialism. Here’s hoping more people will get to know the cops, and prevent them from turning into the big metro department up the road, which evidently has a problem with officers being lunatic arsonists.

Picture of the Week, 12/9/11-12/16/11

I'm gonna' break. I'm gonna' break this. I'm gonna' break this rusty cage and run.

Comes now that most sacred time of year, when the City of Montgomery erects a shrine to Baby Jesus, and hides it behind chicken wire so the thieves don’t make off with the plaster cherub. And lo, all who look upon it may gaze with wonder that this beautiful moment in human mythology history is represented today as a city’s rural municipal downtown tribute to humble origins, an infant savior, and a fear of vandalism. Let no knee remain unbowed to this annual monument to tasteful beauty.

Emory McCord Folmar (1930-2011)

“Perhaps the best way of encapsulating the gist of an epoch is to focus not on the explicit features that define its social and ideological edifices, but on the disavowed ghosts that haunt it, dwelling in a mysterious region of nonexistent entities which nonetheless persist, continuing to exert their efficacy.” – Slavoj Zizek, The Fragile Absolute

It’s difficult to write obituaries of people like Jesse Helms or Mayor Joe Smitherman of Selma. You’re talking about men who ended up on the wrong side of history. You’re talking about people who, whether their crimes were legal or moral (or both), or even forgivable, still leave this world with families that care about them. And even the most objectionable of that bad lot, say, Richard Nixon or George Wallace, still were, beneath the accumulated iconography, men who went into public service with an idea of improving their communities and working on behalf of those they saw as their constituencies.

This has always been true for the humble writer of the villain’s obituary, juggling historical perspective, balancing the good deeds with various atrocities, writing with an honest voice without seeming to be ghoulishly dancing on the graves of the recently deceased. That’s why some batch of scribes is going to soon have to parse through the reprehensible career of a highly-respected war criminal like Henry Kissinger. To have any ethics at all, we’ve got to make judgments about these fallible (and usually proud) humans.

This is especially dicey when you’re dealing with people who were famous back before social attitudes underwent some kind of massive transformation. There can be all sorts of quibbles with understanding someone’s life “within the proper context.”

Allen Tullos, in his book Alabama Getaway, writes about the ghost of George Wallace, making extended reference to the brilliant work of the Drive-By Truckers. Tullos writes about the Truckers’ song, “Wallace,” which posits that even if Wallace’s vile racism wasn’t genuine, pandering to evil in order to get votes is still sufficient to earn a person eternal damnation.

“Concerning Emory Folmar, the mayor of Montgomery, there is no middle ground. To a substantial majority of Montgomerians, he is the greatest thing ever to happen to their city. He attracts from them a Wallace-like loyalty. Then there is the vocal minority who see Emory Folmar as a power-hungry racist who would turn Montgomery into a veritable police state.” — Alabama Magazine, December 1980

Emory Folmar was a heavily decorated Korean War vet. He was a millionaire who made his fortune in construction. He built shopping centers. And he was mayor of Montgomery from 1977 until 1999.

He was a legendary hard worker. He was also no friend to free thinkers, nor to Montgomery’s African-American community. He was a constant nemesis of the city’s black leaders, notably Joe Reed, who was then on the city council, and was (and is still) the head of the Alabama Democratic Conference, the black wing of the state’s Democratic party.

Media accounts of Folmar’s tenure as mayor have mostly focused on his gruff personality and his incredible work ethic. He was a stickler for details and would often accompany city employees on their most routine tasks. And certainly there’s a double edge to the idea that he’d ride along with garbage crews, making sure they were picking up trash properly. On the one hand, he wanted the citizens of Montgomery to be receiving top-tier service from their tax dollars. On the other hand, there’s a certain point where “salt of the Earth” becomes Helicopter Boss.

Folmar and Race

It was 1982. No sitting president had been to Montgomery since Jefferson Davis. But Folmar was a Republican back before that was Alabama’s dominant political orthodoxy. So when Folmar backed Reagan in 1980, the Gipper repaid the favor by coming to Alabama and addressing the sitting Alabama Legislature. Rep. Alvin Holmes, who still represents Montgomery at the Statehouse, walked out of Reagan’s speech. The event seems like a microcosm of where Montgomery was in terms of racial harmony.

Still, Folmar valued law and order more than he valued white supremacy. The Mayor was on the scene in 1979 to order the arrest of nearly 200 Klansmen as they marched from Selma into the city limits without a permit. News reports from the time highlight the fact that the mayor, sporting his pistol, stood alongside the police in their riot gear.

Nonetheless, the city under Folmar remained extremely racially polarized, as noted by some electoral reporting in the Times Daily on Oct. 12, 1983:

“Supported by an organization of more than 3,000 campaign workers, Mayor Emory Folmar trounced challenger Franklin James Tuesday in an election that revealed a clear division between white and black voters.”

Folmar won that election by a count of 32,734 to 23,149 (58 percent to 41 percent), but it was a high-profile battle. Nearly 50 percent of the registered voters in the city voted.

Montgomery was then 40 percent black, but, according to the article, Folmar barely campaigned in the city’s black districts. Still, he somehow got 20 percent of the city’s black vote. The Times Daily article waits to the end to explicitly state the subtext of the campaign:

“While Folmar denied he was making an issue of race, his campaign literature and his radio ads repeatedly asserted that James would allow “radicals” to run the city. Those “radical forces” he named – city councilmen Donald Watkins and Joe Reed and state Rep. Alvin Holmes – are black.”

And it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was under Folmar that Montgomery experienced the notorious “Todd Road Incident.” An excellent 30-minute documentary about the incident can be seen here, but this racially-charged tragedy will forever be linked to Folmar, not just the officers in question. Folmar and the city went to court to try to force the officers to submit to questioning about the incident. Folmar ultimately fired the officers, but the city was torn apart by the fallout from the incident.

Development of the City

Folmar was defeated in 1999 by a prison guard-turned-lawyer named Bobby Bright. Bright and current mayor Todd Strange spent years of their terms (and millions of tax dollars) repairing downtown Montgomery. During the 1980s, the whole center of the city became a bombed out and abandoned wellspring of fear. Sure, some of that was caused by white flight and sprawl, factors too large to be caused by a single mayor. Yet, the focused efforts of Bright and Strange (which we admire and mostly support) demonstrate that concentrated leadership in the area of urban development can make a difference. When we moved to Montgomery, there was a near total consensus that downtown was just emerging from a time in which it was a decimated wasteland. Even if some of the credit for Riverwalk redevelopment goes to Folmar (as Mayor Strange said during some of the memorializing), it must also be true that Folmar could have stopped some of the creeping blight before it reached the tragic levels that it did.

One would think that a person from the construction industry would have seen and corrected the ongoing and worsening disrepair of Garrett Coliseum. One would think that someone who made a fortune building shopping malls would have been more attuned to the withering and death of the Montgomery Mall, which remains an abandoned eyesore at the southern entrance to the city.

Like Zizek says in the epigraph to this piece, Folmar (with his focus on the east side of the city) still haunts downtown’s boarded up buildings and the undeniably heart-breaking impoverishment of the city’s west side.

The First Republican

It is a now-familiar thesis in political science circles that George Wallace made people like Newt Gingrich possible. Although a Democrat, Wallace carved out a template for a brand of populism that Republicans used to engineer their 1994 rise to national power. Among the hallmarks of this political mode of being: a resentful contempt for softness, a chest-thumping support for a militant foreign policy, and a toxic distrust of elites, intellectuals, and “special interest” minorities.

Long before dimwits like Ann Coulter showed up on the public radar, Folmar was quoted saying things like:

“You turned the media people loose on me, saying that I had a Reagan-Bush sticker on my car as though it was a city car. I own that car. I furnish my own gas, my own tires … I can do with it what I damn please. I want to let you know that this was the beginning of a long war against what I consider liberals. And anytime one of you liberals gets in my sights, I’m going for the kill and I’m taking no prisoners. You liberal do-gooders have damn near destroyed this country and here is one who is going to do all he’s big enough to do to make damn sure you don’t get your hands on the throttle again. That’s what I told her … No, this war’s not ever going to be over.”

We already noted his stumping for Reagan, and it’s hard for young people to remember what the nation’s climate involved at that time: Afghanistan, ICBMs and the missile gap, AIDS, the explosion of crack cocaine, fear of the Japanese economy, Iran-Contra, the savings and loan crisis, and dozens of other issues that don’t make much sense to contemporary ahistorical minds.

Most Republicans in this era were exceptions to the political rule. Alabama, while conservative, was still part of the “solid South.” Democrats didn’t lose control of the Legislature until 2010. Republicans back then were simply ahead of their time, and it took a while for the national partisan trends to catch up to the groundwork plowed by men like Folmar.

As a Republican, Folmar ran against George Wallace in the gubernatorial campaign of 1982. Wallace had done his whole “repent and apologize” routine for the racist unpleasantness of previous decades and also was operating on some sympathy because a would-be assassin had put him in a wheelchair. In his indispensable book, Black in Selma, a legendary civil rights lawyer tells this interesting story about the Wallace-Folmar campaign:

When he beat MacMillan (in the primary), Wallace came seeking (the Alabama Democratic Conference’s) endorsement in the general election against Emory Folmar, the Republican mayor of Montgomery. Joe Louis Reed, the chairman of ADC, usually called the shots on the state and national endorsements, but this was one decision he didn’t want to make by himself. Joe called about twenty ADC leaders from around the state to come to Montgomery to meet with Wallace the next day in the boardroom of the Alabama Education Association, the state teachers’ union where Joe works. We were all sitting around the big conference table when Wallace — smoking a big cigar — came in with a black man pushing his wheelchair.

He started talking his usual stuff about how he was a populist. He and his family had been dirt poor. He’d built trade schools, raised teachers’ salaries. Emory Folmar was nothing but a damn “Republican chief of police” running around looking for some black heads to whip. He said he wanted us to make a statement endorsing him. He thought it would make a difference.

Somebody said they didn’t think the race would even be close. There weren’t that many Republicans in the state of Alabama except when electing a president.

“In all my years in politics, I’ve never taken a race for granted,” Wallace responded.

Wallace was correct that we weren’t going to ask black people to vote for Emory Folmar, who was so right-wing, some folk in Montgomery called him the mayoratollah. He liked to strap on a pistol and ride to the scenes of crimes with the policemen. More than one black had been shot or injured by the Montgomery police under questionable circumstances, and the black community there deeply disliked him.” — J.L. Chestnut, Black in Selma, p. 334-5

Statewide candidacy rebuffed, Folmar later threw in his lot with Fob James, running Fob’s failure of a campaign against Don Siegelman in 1998. Fob, the sitting Governor at the time, was famous for agitating for prayer in schools and two terms of states rights-themed meanness. James was trounced by Siegelman, the last time that the Democrats managed to win a race for the executive office. Among the highlights from that campaign, Folmar said he “laid a trap” for Winton Blount, James’ challenger in the GOP primary, by having Richard Arrington (the black mayor of Birmingham) endorse Blount. That’s right: For Folmar, it was a strike against you if a black person endorsed you.

Folmar was also famous for always being in shape. He was a high school football star and worked out regularly, maintaining a trim and muscular figure throughout his public life (as noted in the picture above). And in some ways, this is an appropriate metaphor for state partisan politics. The lean and trim GOP, made sharp by year in exile, ultimately destroyed, perhaps permanently, the state Democratic Party that had gotten over-confident, lazy, and bloated from years of control.

The Gun

And then there is the pistol. Every story about Folmar mentions the fact that he packed heat. He said it was because there were threats on his life. Evidently somebody shot out the windows of his car a couple of times. And there certainly seemed to be no lack of bravado from the Marine who killed Koreans during the Truman administration. Many folks seemed to cringe at the primitive Wild West image of a pistol-packing mayor. But others took pride. Folmar was a “man’s man,” showing up many mornings when police did their first roll call. He’d be out there at the scenes of traffic wrecks and crimes, embodying the idea that this was his city, and he had the loaded sidearm to back it up if need be.

Needless to say, it’s extremely difficult to imagine an elected official behaving in this way today. Nothing says “good place for economic development” like a city with a mayor always prepared to draw down on his many foes.

Moral Leadership

Also while running that James campaign, Folmar appeared on a local TV show called “Good Morning Montgomery.” According to an Associated Press article that ran in the Tuscaloosa News on Christmas Eve 1997, someone called into the show to complain about being harassed outside a Montgomery nightclub.

Evidently, the person was gay and the nightclub in question was a gay club. The Mayor called the person a queer.

“I said something to the effect of if you didn’t all hang out together there wouldn’t be a problem.”

To its credit, the Tuscaloosa News slammed Folmar’s comment in the opinion page of the same issue in which it reported the story. And Folmar, for his part, was fully unapologetic about using the slur.

A report complaining that Folmar refused to meet with gay residents or support city AIDS services quoted the Mayor as saying, “I used the word queer and I’ll use it again. I’m not going to call them gay. I don’t approve of their lifestyle one bit.”

Oh, and evidently at one point he described AIDS deaths as “self-inflicted wounds.”

Truly, it was a simpler time.

And then there’s this gem of an AP that ran in the Times Daily on March 5, 1988:

Police broke up a punk-rock concert that Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar described as a “Satanic event,” sending about 100 disappointed teenagers home without making any arrests.

Um, what? Wow. The ’80s were crazy. We wish there were punk rock shows at The Capri. Well, except for the part where the police raid the place and ruin everything.

The article quotes Capri Theater Director Martin McCaffery as saying, “The kids at the show had much better manners than the police.” He continues:

“After a fishing expedition through our trash cans — which the police videotaped — they found a few empty beer cans, most of which were in there because we confiscated them.”

Police said they showed up because McCaffery rented the theater to someone without a business license. “That’s not usually handled with 30 cops and a paddy wagon,” McCaffery said.

And that wasn’t the last clash between Folmar’s regime and the Capri. It’s hard to fathom now, but religious right protesters flipped out over a movie called The Last Temptation of Christ by Martin Scorsese. Folmar and then-Gov. Guy Hunt led a “Stand Up for Jesus” protest march, although they declined McCaffery’s invitation to actually view  the film that they were making into political hay.

And that sort of thing was sort of par for the course under Folmar. Numerous people that lived in Montgomery under the Folmar regime remember a string of rock concerts that were ruined (if not banned) by the mayor. It wasn’t that Folmar hated music or the arts — he was partly responsible for bringing the Shakespeare Festival to Montgomery. It was just that he saw young people (and black people) as disrespectful troublemakers and he didn’t want their loud rock music happening in his town (to say nothing of the explosion of hip-hop that was sweeping the rest of the nation in the 1980s).

And in some ways, maybe that’s one of the good things about Folmar’s legacy. He created a counter-cultural opposition. Youth culture can be forged in some memorable fires when your mayor is a dour, gun carrying enemy of fun. Folmar, the glowering gay bashing Reaganite, may have unintentionally given rise to new and interesting forms of cultural opposition. It’s certainly a more revolutionary climate when your mayor is trying to use the city’s toolbox to actively suppress fun and art — versus having the mayor trying to use fun and art as mechanisms to fuel economic development.

Still, that seems like little solace to the actual victims at the time. If you were gay and felt like your mayor hated you, or were black in the birthplace of the civil rights movement and felt like you were still ghettoized, you’re not going to take a lot of comfort in the fact that some skateboarding teen has a convenient nemesis. Hunter S. Thompson got a lot of mileage out Nixon’s evil, but at the end of the day, those kids in Vietnam were still dead.

All told, I think the legacy of Emory Folmar shows us how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time. He seems to have run this town for over two decades in a manner similar to that in which the principal in The Breakfast Club ran the school. He was a hardline authoritarian who probably loved (parts of) Montgomery in equal proportion to his contempt for those who had differing visions of reality.

Good mayors like Bright and Strange seem to understand that it takes a lot of effort to ensure that rising tides lift all boats. The city has a heap of problems on its plate, many of which defy easy solutions. And every one of which will need more than a single mayor to properly tackle. We’re all in this together.

But reflecting on the life and times of Emory Folmar may well give us a map of where we’re going, as much as where we’ve been.

Since Folmar brought the Shakespeare Festival to Montgomery (lured it here from Anniston, where it ran from 1972-1984) perhaps it’s fitting to end this obituary with a quote from Mark Antony’s legendary eulogy of Caesar:

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.

Downtown Smoke Monster

We don’t watch a ton of TV.

But one of the shows we did plow through (thanks to Netflix) was the popular ABC show “Lost.” If you’re unfamiliar with the show, we commend you. If you’ve seen the show, you understand how mass produced popular entertainment can pollute your mind to the point that when you are walking around downtown and you see a giant column of smoke, you think of the mysterious smoke monster.

This is the first view, taken August 2nd, from near downtown Troy State:

Then, I got a bit closer and this is the view from over by the Post Office:

Turns out, it’s some old abandoned apartments (housing projects?) that are on fire. I get a little closer, but it’s a bit dicey back there with broken glass and weeds and, well, a giant inferno. Firefighters have closed off several of the roads and there are hoses connected to hydrants and it’s overall quite a big scene:

Cruising the news the next day, I learn that the fires were actually intentionally set by the Montgomery Fire Department as a training exercise. They were/are called the Caroline Street Apartments and I certainly support our city’s first responders having the very best training possible, with realistic simulations and everything. But there’s also something sort of sad about these apartments downtown, owned now by the city, being torched. The article says they were/are an “eyesore” and that’s certainly true. I’d honestly be afraid to go up there and poke around too much. It’s not like the surrounding neighborhood is all that much better. But there was a time when people lived there, and the city didn’t own it, and it was nice to be downtown, by the river.

It’s sort of like those weed-covered lots, where there are brick retaining walls and sometimes even steps … that lead up to nothing. Downtown revitalization is a popular phrase, and progress has been undeniable. We love everything from the Biscuits Stadium to the Train Shed to the Urban Farm and the proposed Cypress Pond Park project. But there are also places like the Caroline Street Apartments and all of the mansions (and shacks) there on the hill — some hurting areas and neighborhoods that could use a grocery store and a park and some bike lanes. And we don’t see a lot of promise for the Chamber of Commerce slogan, “Montgomery: Come See Our City-Owned, City-Torched Downtown Abandoned Housing Project Fires.” And it’s not like the place is gone now, burned into ash that drifted away on the river breeze. It’s still there, still abandoned — just with scorch marks on parts of it now.

Somebody somewhere will be a better historian of the Caroline Street Apartments than me. Nobody is going to be living there again, although the property might get redeveloped into something good, provided the city can find a buyer with some money and a vision for downtown living.

For now, we can just drive by and wonder if they ever freed Mike White, over there on Mildred Street.

Montgomery’s Worst Intersections

Every place I’ve ever lived had its own special archivists devoted to cataloging the many sins of the city’s drivers.

“They drive so slow here!” (Seattle) “They drive so fast here!” (Atlanta) “You can’t ever turn left here!” (Los Angeles) “Wow, you can really see the sparks when they hit those speedbumps.” (Albuquerque) “They drive so fast here!” (Los Angeles)

Montgomery’s no exception. Who among us, be we locals or expats, have not sat over tea or something more high-octane and listened to (if not held forth on) the itemized sins of Montgomery drivers? They inexplicably turn from the middle lane. They don’t know what to do at a yellow light. They stop at weird times. They freak out when someone uses their horn. Etc.

It’s so common to blame a city’s traffic issues on its drivers. If only we’d learn how to follow at an appropriate distance, discover that our brakes work best if applied only when necessary, and resist the temptation to text while driving on I-65, everything would be better, right? Sadly, no. Montgomery drivers (aided by inept politicians that refuse to make it illegal to text and drive) have plenty of failings just like the idiot vehicle operators in every other city in the world. But they’re only to blame for part of our City of Dreams’ traffic nightmares.

To be fair, we don’t really have “traffic” here in the way that major cities do. Which, for anyone who’s ever sat on the 405 or the 285 in rush hour, is a major plus for life in our fair city. Instead, we have hyper-local catastrophe zones created when bad driving meets worse urban planning. We call them Montgomery’s Worst Intersections, and we’re counting them down right here on Lost In Montgomery for your rubbernecking pleasure.

4. Taylor Road and I-85 eastbound. We get it. You don’t have to be ashamed of going to Eastchase now that Earthfare is there. But it’s still the Hellscape and you kind of want to get in and out without anyone knowing about your dirty business. Yet, when you exit the Interstate and turn onto Taylor Road from that far right hand lane, we’d still ask that you pay attention to the sign that says “KEEP MOVING.” Because it means that you should KEEP MOVING, not pause daintily to see how you will get across three lanes of traffic to the Banana Republic. This intersection is one that has actually been recently improved by the addition of the extended turn lane to facilitate actual merging. Now, if someone would just tell the drivers.

3. All of Zelda Road at lunchtime. Your nightmare begins when you try to get off 85 by way of the Ann Street exit. You will be forgiven for thinking you are likely to be rear-ended because, well, that’s what happens when you are stopped on the Interstate. The city planners, bless their asphalt-encrusted hearts, didn’t seem to anticipate more than one or two cars hoping to exit onto Ann Street at any given time. Especially at lunch. Especially with the cornucopia of gross food options south of the freeway. Downtown traffic floods here since the downtown eating options are poor. La Zona Rosa, the Down the Street Cafe, Moe’s, the various fast food magnets — they all lure people with their siren call of lunch. Oh, if you want to go left on Ann, there’s a Wal-Mart, which is always crowded because it’s the cornerstone of the consumer economy.

Should you manage to successfully turn right in search of food, your gauntlet is just beginning. There is an unimaginable 90-degree curve at Country’s Barbecue where cars are flying onto the main road from all angles. Woe unto all who seek to cut across to the secret shortcut. Still on Zelda, you will then endure several blocks of people trying to turn left across traffic into various tiny parking lots — without a turn lane or light in sight. Sad that a street named after one of our city’s most famous and interesting literary figures (well, named after someone who was named after her) is in fact a soulless and congested fast food-pocked deathtrap.

2. The Boulevard and Narrow Lane Road, near the entrance to Baptist South. Let’s say that you were designing byways around a medical center where lots of elderly people and injured people and disabled people and grieving families and small free-range children were likely to be wandering about, particularly going to the CVS across Narrow Lane Road. Now, let’s say that you were also a sociopath. That explains why you decided to run an access road along the Boulevard next to a dubious-looking pedestrian bridge, just up from a crucial turn-in (Normandie Dr.) to the hospital complex. If the five-way stop isn’t already a recipe for wrecks, throw in the general unfamiliarity of the population with service roads running parallel to major streets, and add in a bunch of ambulances and elderly drivers who are either a) terrified or b) trying to be nice and let people out in front of them. This intersection has it all.

1. Was there any serious argument about which intersection would be the worst? If you’ve spent any time at all where Narrow Lane improbably joins both Carter Hill and Mulberry, you already agree with our choice. In the first place, there’s no shortcut around this intersection unless you’re willing to go all the way on the other side of Huntingdon or, to the north, the freeway.

Turning left from Woodley (at Huntingdon) onto Narrow Lane? Break out the books on tape or some podcasts, because you’re going to be idling there on Narrow for a while, wondering what on Earth could be going on at the improbably-named Country Club Shopping Center (where Martin’s is).

The Winn-Dixie in that shopping center is an essential part of the surrounding neighborhoods, a home-from-work stop for everyone whose grocery needs don’t rise to the level of Publix. Then there’s the poor Sonic, whose business has to be significantly depressed by the fact that there’s no obviously legal way to get into and out of its parking lot without getting onto Carter Hill. And the scrum on Carter Hill! The addition of the extra red light in between the other two red lights adds an element of mystery to the whole experience. At one end is a country club and a college campus, while at the other is a hellish commercial set of strip malls and (not too far down Carter Hill) another college campus.

It’s as if someone took a poorly rehearsed but passable high school ballet recital and then, just to see what happened, tossed in a wild colobus monkey. City planners intent on crippling a major urban area would probably come up with something like this intersection to perfectly compliment a city with no functioning public transportation.