Tag Archives: Todd Strange

Montgomery Recycling: FAQ

Recycling! It’s been a favorite topic of ours here at Lost in Montgomery since the city’s curbside pickup program was discontinued years ago.

In case you’re new to the story/city, a brief recap: Time was, you’d put your recycling (paper, metal, low-number plastics only) out on the curb in special bags. Those would get picked up and the contents recycled. In theory. Turns out that not many people participated and what waste was submitted didn’t much actually get recycled, plus the operation cost a lot of money.

This was a time of fragile orange bags and frustration that the city (for some reason) couldn’t recycle our glass and high-numbered plastics. The burden for sorting the recyclables of our state’s capital city was literally handed to developmentally disabled people, who, over-matched by the volume, sent most of the stuff to the landfill anyway. Little did we know that this would be our city’s most progressive era of recycling.

bildeMayor Strange, seen above posing with what we can only assume is his environmental adviser, cancelled that inefficient curbside pickup program and promised a fancy new plant that would ionize our waste, or something like that. A very expensive feasibility study concluded that this was in fact science fiction, as we’d all suspected. Back to the drawing board!

Meanwhile, the small microscopic percentage of Montgomery residents who cared enough/had the time would save and haul their recyclables to a set of bins scattered around the city. These bins were often overflowing and meant that recyclers would devote a corner of their house or apartment to vast heaps of newspapers, magazines, Amazon boxes and milk jugs.

Then, lo, it was announced that a new facility was completed that would allow everyone to mix their recyclables into the trash, as they’d be sorted before they went into the dump. This was supposed to help the environment while making money for the city (and, not incidentally, the company running the $37 million facility). We’ve got a more in-depth summary of that project here. Click the exhaustive links in that post for a multi-year history of us blogging about this subject with increasing dismay.

Things started to unravel a bit once the facility was opened. We waited anxiously for some kind of mailing, door hanger or other municipal announcement about what to do with our recycling. And waited. Then a slow trickle of information began to leak out like garbage juice from the bottom corner of a cheap trash bag. You can click here to see the comments on our previous post and get a flavor for the confusion. To clarify the new status quo for our readers, we’ve produced a helpful FAQ based on information we’ve received so far:

Q: So, we can just put our recyclables into the plastic green trash can now, leave it by the curb and they’ll be sorted out by Infinitus, right?

A: Well, no, not exactly. There are some things that the company doesn’t want thrown into your “regular” trash because it gums up the works of their pristine new magical recycling sorting plant.

Q: Wait, I can’t just throw everything away? What can’t go in the trash?

A: Well, here’s a list on a city website. Among the things you might be surprised to learn that you can’t put in your trash can anymore: dirty baby diapers, used cat litter, insulin syringes, and the sacks of dog poop you collect on dog walks because you are a responsible and good person.

Q: Wait, what? I get that you can’t throw a tire or a laptop into the trash can because those are a lot closer to very rare examples of hazardous waste. But we generate a lot of diapers, cat and dog poop, and needles … all for legal and sane reasons. What are we going to do with all that stuff?

A: “All of these items should be bagged and put in a box or other container and placed on your curb for pick up on your regular yard waste collection day.”

Q: Bagged and boxed? In what? Is the city issuing unique bags and boxes?

A: No.

Q: So I’m just going to put a cardboard box or plastic trash bag full of dirty diapers on the curb and wait for “yard waste collection day?” I don’t even know when that is!

A: Weekly yard waste collection days vary by neighborhood.

Q: I usually just leave my limbs and leaves by the curb and they take them away and I don’t think more about it. Now I’m going to leave these bags of pet turds and baby doo doo out by the curb overnight until the city comes to get them?

A: That’s right.

Q: Whose idea was it that a “clean city” involved packs of wild dogs ransacking piles of dirty diapers, strewing them all over the neighborhood?

A: Um, Florida?

The future of Capitol Heights?

The future of Capitol Heights?

Q: Wait, what if people aren’t actively reading the city’s website as part of their daily life routines? What if they keep throwing tires and diapers in the trash?

A: Well, then the magic new recycling sorting plant will break. And we’ll never see the day when all of the solid waste will be fed to magic bacteria that will break it all down and turn it into the fuel that will be used in the city’s garbage trucks. You know, like the company told us all when they built this amazing one-of-a-kind facility. (That link is a PDF).

Q: So a special space amoeba is going to eat all of our garbage and turn it into fuel for city trash trucks and other “private vehicles?”

A: ….. Um, yes — only if you have no further questions on this subject.

Q: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s go back. So we can’t throw dead animals in the trash either?

A: No.

Q: Didn’t the city just tell people last year that they COULD put dead animals up to 50 pounds in the trash?

A: Those were the old days.

Q: So if there’s a stinking, reeking, maggot-filled smashed possum on the road in front of my house, I need to pick it up and bring it inside until my weekly “yard waste collection day?”

A: Yes. We suggest wrapping it in fabric softener sheets and spraying it with Febreze™ to help with the stench.

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 12.49.54 PM

Finally, a use for those horse-drawn carriages! Downtown living!

Q: And if the family pet dies and I have an apartment and don’t have a place to bury it, I can’t put it in the trash, I have to leave it on the curb in a special bag or box that I provide until the city comes around some time next week to get branches and limbs and leaves?

A: We are sorry for the loss of your family pet. Hopefully your children will not be traumatized when roaming packs of dogs spread its ichor and bloody remains across your welcome mat.

Q: So, again, the rules are changing about solid waste collection, but the city didn’t do any kind of brochure or series of commercials? Did they just send out a passive press release and assume that a city of hundreds of thousands of people would just understand the new rules?

A: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The Clean City Commission actually said on its Facebook page that it isn’t the city’s fault if the media chooses not to make a huge deal out of the press releases that were emailed out, so let’s all shrug our shoulders and blame the local newspaper and TV stations for not doing a multi-part breaking news all points bulletin on how to throw away trash. Clearly, it can’t be a leadership fail or a PR lapse on the part of the city. Clearly. Surprisingly, the company running the new sorting plant had to go to the media after the fact due to confusion and tell everyone to please stop putting tires and microwaves in the trash because they are “clogging” the new center. If the city and the media and Infinitus all point fingers at each other for the public’s ignorance, the garbage piling up on the curb will probably turn into special fuels that you can put in your car. Just be patient.

Q: You realize this makes us look like idiots, right? That we kill curbside pickup instead of improving it, and replace with with some kind of corporate sweetheart deal for fantasyland tech we may never see, and now are telling the public to fundamentally change their waste disposal practices in nonsensical and seemingly arbitrary ways? You know that people will look at our city as if it were run by a bunch of backwards morons who can’t figure out simple municipal services like recycling? That this company’s sorting plant is probably less amazing than anticipated if it can’t handle an initial level of “sorting” that removes dead animals, tires and appliances from the waste stream? You know this is why people say that cities like Nashville and Atlanta represent the new South and cities like Montgomery and Jackson are seen as backwards, primitive provinces run by old people, where smart and progressive people flee at their first opportunity, and what are we really going to do about the diapers and cat litter all over the street?

A: We’d be happy to offer you a tour of the new sorting facility and you can see it in action. Just kidding. You can’t do that. It’s private property. Please keep producing trash though. Just kidding. You don’t have any choice.

Montgomery Alabama Recycling 2014

We moved to Montgomery in 2008. Our then-mayor, Bobby Bright, was immediately elected to represent our district in Congress and he was replaced by Todd Strange. Mayor Strange took office in 2009 and took only a few months to cancel our curbside recycling program.

Under Mayor Bright, we’d separate recyclable household materials from our solid waste. Trash went in the familiar wheeled green plastic cans (like we use now), and recycling went in a special orange bag that you’d set out on the curb. When you were running out of orange bags, you’d tie one to the handle of your trash bin, a special silent communication between you and the sanitation workers. They’d see your gesture and leave you a new roll of bags. The cycle would begin anew.

Mayor Bright interacts with recycling. All mayors need coloring books.

Mayor Bright interacts with recycling. All mayors need coloring books.

Mayor Strange had some good arguments for ending the curbside pickup. Public education and enthusiasm levels were low, so not enough Montgomery households were separating their trash and using the system. Also, gas prices make it expensive to run a citywide network of curbside pickup service. Worse, despite low participation, they were still picking up more recyclable materials than they could handle. For whatever reason, the recyclables were being taken to mentally-challenged workers who could only handle a fraction of what they were getting. What couldn’t be sorted was sent to the landfill.

Rather than fix this idiotic system, Strange cancelled the whole thing and started talking about a special magical plasma facility that would burn all solid waste, regardless of whether it could be recycled. No more time-consuming sorting. No more environmental consciousness by consumers and households. Just throw it all in the green bin, Strange told us, and this amazing new technology would “gasify” everything and turn it into electricity and the city could sell the electricity back to the power grid and we’d all get free jetpacks and hoverboots.

We were skeptical.

We wrote about the end of curbside recycling. We looked into why we could only recycle certain kinds of plastic, never glass, and complained about the new “dropoff” system. We wrote about what’s involved with driving recyclables to Birmingham. We made fun of fake civic environmentalism efforts. We hoped that City Councilor Arch Lee would continue to carry the recycling policy torch of Martha Roby after she went to Congress. We continued to look at landfill policies.

The plasma plant fell through. The city’s money spent to study the project only confirmed what we knew. It wasn’t feasible.

Then, another ray of sunlight. We were told in July of last year that a “revolutionary” new facility was coming to Montgomery (1551 Louisville St). The company’s press release said we were looking at a $35 million new facility to be open about four months from now. 110 jobs. 85 percent of the stuff headed to the landfill will go to this factory. 95 percent of recyclables will be recovered.

We are told that our trash:

will be separated using the latest in screening, air and optical separation technologies.  The system sorts and recovers commodities such as cardboard, mixed paper, metals, aluminum cans, plastics and wood based on density, size, shape and material composition.  Additional sorting will be done by hand at the site.

Organic waste will allegedly be turned into compressed natural gas. The company’s materials about the project can be found here. Another press release (with video from an unfathomably smarmy-looking corporate exec!) can be consumed here.

Other than driving plastic (and glass, and newspaper, and cardboard, etc.) to Birmingham or Auburn, what have the people of Montgomery been doing? Some have been taking things to Target, out in the Hellscape. This is not really an option. The Target has tiny little bins at the front of the store, the kind that someone might put a single Coke bottle in after shopping. This is not designed for a carload of materials. We subscribe to newspapers, the actual printed kind. We order things from Amazon that come in recyclable cardboard boxes. We generate large volumes of recyclable waste — and we don’t even have any kids. Taking stuff to Target is not an option.

Stuff that doesn't have to go to the landfill.

Stuff that doesn’t have to go to the landfill. We generate this volume regularly.

Some people take stuff to Mt. Scrap (824 N. Decatur St). This is something of an option, especially if you’re into helping a private company generate materials it can sell for profit — with no oversight as to whether they do or don’t just dump everything into the landfill.

We have been taking stuff out to McInnis Recycling Center (4341 Norman Bridge Rd.), which is one of the city’s official “drop off locations.” This isn’t ideal. On Sundays, you have to compete with the traffic from the Fresh Anointing International Church, which sounds like a pretty fresh location that is full of anointed folks and one rented cop trying to direct an armada of cars spilling out onto Norman Bridge Road. Also, bin size is relatively small.

McInnis Recycling.

McInnis Recycling

These are your only two options. For whatever reason, the place at Huntingdon we once used has closed up shop. We don’t know why. In Montgomery, information about recycling is hard to come by — just fragments from rumors and dreams. Maybe that’s why we blog about it all the time. We’re just citizens grasping at straws, wishing our city could help us to minimize our impact on the environment.

Look, we accept the fact that a lot of people in Montgomery probably think of recycling as some kind of Maoist lifestyle plot that goes hand-in-hand with yoga, vegetarian cults and Obama’s “War on Coal.” But conservation has a long tradition and ought to make sense when resources are finite.

Maybe one day we will get a tour of the Infinitus Renewable Energy Park at Montgomery (also known to insiders as IREP at Montgomery). And maybe there’ll be some kind of oversight to ensure that the landfill-bound materials end up where Infinitus says they will. We don’t need to invoke the specter of the Downtown Plume to underscore the importance of not letting companies (and state agencies) have a free hand when it comes to discharging toxins.

We’ll check back on this issue in June, which is the date that the new plant is scheduled to open. Surely the company will issue some sort of press release and the city will have some sort of ceremony. A ribbon may be cut and the Montgomery Advertiser will republish some magniloquent press release. And people will keep filling their trash cans just like nothing ever happened. No sorting, no thinking.

Primitive. Hopefully, soon a thing of the past.

Primitive. Hopefully, soon a thing of the past.

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.

Rumors – July 2013

Alienation has been one of the ongoing themes of Lost in Montgomery since it was launched in September of 2008. This was not because we were particularly anti-social folks or especially misanthropic, but simply a product of our efforts to figure out life in a new city. Montgomery was unique and mysterious, both of which are conditions that are bound to deteriorate inevitably with natural social and cultural adaptation. 215 posts later, we are much more plugged into our new city than we once were — although we often still find our home to be somewhat bewildering.

So instead of posts like “What’s the deal with this park?” we are now much more often to say, “Here’s what we are hearing…”

And since it’s the Internet, there’s got to be a time and place for scraps of information to be assembled into a larger speculative narrative. Here, in that vein, are some things that we (being only mildly “connected” to people who know things) have been hearing lately about things that matter:

Oak Park — We love Oak Park. It’s weird, but great. It’s obviously the crown jewel of the city park system, yet has been allowed to fall into a (somewhat exaggerated) state of disrepair. Back in 2011, there was a shooting there, which freaked people out, but could have happened anywhere crowds gather (it was at a family reunion). The park is not (as far as we can tell) and more unsafe than any other public space in Montgomery.

But the beloved park has been the source of some wagging tongues lately. First, the city has been talking about moving the park’s planetarium (which is owned by Troy State) downtown, likely to the Questplex at Court Square. That would take a big attraction out of the park, although we agree that the planetarium does need some upgrading to remain current and fun.

We also heard that two other entities were wanting to buy (or take?) large chunks of the park from the city. The rumor we heard was that Alabama State wanted part of it and Jackson Hospital had their eye on the land for expansion.

Obviously, the city would be foolish to give away or sell any part of its best park. They have been ringing the bell lately for us to all give our personal information to the Coca-Cola company in exchange for a chance to “vote” on winning some money for the park. Click click click to vote for corporate money, sure, but how about we don’t do that and just spend tax money to improve the park and make it an enjoyable resource … since that is what tax money is for. Parks are a community good. They should be protected, whether or not the corn syrup barons from Atlanta give Montgomery free money or not. Also: hands off, ASU and Jackson. Oak Park will rise again.

Anita Archie — So we wrote before about how major city leaders (Chad Emerson and Jeff Downes) were leaving for cities that (we guess) they like more than Montgomery. That’s cool. Good jobs for them or whatever.

Well, Mayor Strange has replaced those two with Anita Archie (who’ll become Strange’s “executive assistant,” which sounds too much like “secretary” for someone of her caliber) and Mac McLeod (who’ll be “director of retail and commercial development”).

Archie comes over from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), where she was a top lobbyist for one of the most feared entities at the statehouse. Think Alabama enacts laws to cater to corporations? BCA is part of the reason why. You name it, and they have been involved in it — environmental stuff, labor stuff, tax policy, whatever. They are a main reason why Alabama is the way it is. And Archie was their “senior VP for intergovernmental affairs, advocacy and communications and legal advisor” and any other collection of titles that means “fixer” and “do not mess with.” She isn’t new to Montgomery politics because she was also ED of the Montgomery Public Housing Authority and the Riverfront Development Foundation. So she probably knows where some bodies are buried and how to get things done, even though we don’t have a ton of information about her vision for the city just yet.

McLeod solidifies the city government’s “intimate” relationship with Colonial, which is the real estate end of the company that once was akin to a sister company, Colonial Bank — which was the 6th largest bank failure in American history. I wrote a million billion words about Colonial Bank, its abandoned headquarters, its relationship to McLeod’s company, and the ties to the Hampstead Institute EAT South here. Really, it’s worth reading. It’s one of the better things I have put up on Lost in Montgomery. But if you don’t wanna, it will help you understand McLeod and the Lowders to read this article (which I link to in my post). A crooked bank! Auburn football boosters! A $1.95 million deal to buy land for a school!

Obviously none of this has been reported by the teenagers that cover local politics for The Montgomery Advertiser. They’re doing good to spell the press releases correctly. But they’re having a contest where you can send them photos of yourselves in 1980s clothes! Journalism!

the road construction on the way to Auburn – This is one where we don’t have any information. We really just want to know more. Have you seen the giant towering ramps that are being now fully constructed out on I-85 on the way to Auburn? They look like exits to take you to … what exactly? Mt. Meigs? Pike Road? Why are they building these huge loops of road? Is this what we need? More east-side sprawl? Who is paying for that? Why? I get that our fiscally conservative leaders are borrowing highway money hand-over-fist, but is this what it is building?

ASU bowl game vs. All-Star Game – Our brand new college football all-star game was really fun. We went. It was great. We hope it succeeds. But now ASU is talking about hosting some kind of bowl game in their new stadium? You know, the new stadium they inaugurated by failing to maintain one of their most important rivalries in the Turkey Day Classic? Ah, that’s some good athletic directing. Couldn’t move the game so Tuskegee could play in the playoffs. Had to just kill it.

So, the Legends Bowl? Maybe a low-rent Mountain West team versus some Sun Belt also rans? Can we support this plus our All-Star game? Who knows? The bet is that there is absolutely no limit to the appetite of people in Alabama for college football, no matter what it is. We can always look to the Papa John’s Bowl BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham for an indicator of how that might go. BBVA is pulling its sponsorship after next year? Oh. Maybe don’t look there.

New stadium ya’ll! And if the bowl game brings a parade, don’t expect to have a car waiting for you.

skate park – We have always thought that it was super cool that our city had a skate park downtown. But there is always talk in the media that it is going to be shut down. Not because the kids on skateboards are trouble-making bandits. That would be cool. No, they are always talking about shutting it down (or moving it) because it occupies some primo real estate.

To me, that’s part of what makes it great. It’s downtown and urban and a great location for people that like to skate. But first they wanted to put an apartment complex there. Rumor was, the developer pulled out because of the toxic underground pollution plume (known affectionately as “the downtown plume” or “Plumie, the shifting poison vapor trail you also mustn’t drink”). Yeah, it’s on the EPA’s radar. No, the development people don’t like you talking about it.

But what will happen to the skate park? Will the teens turn into Toxic Avengers? What about C.H.U.Ds?

Well, that’s enough for now. Leave all of your hottest new tips down in the comments section. We will either respond to them, ignore them or delete them. Love always,

Lost in Montgomery

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.

Night Life in Montgomery

From time to time, I wonder why I don’t go out more in Montgomery. I have lived in a fair number of large cities and have visited countless others. I like going out to bars and clubs. Sometimes I like to go hear live hip-hop. Sometimes I like to go hear electronic music and go dancing. I like good beers, whether in upscale joints or places with sawdust on the floor. Other times, I prefer a more lounge sort of environment, with couches and tasty mixed drinks, maybe a pool table or some darts. Why don’t I go out more?

Then I read articles like this one in the Montgomery Advertiser, and I remember that I’m not in New York or Austin. I’m not even in Tuscaloosa, which has some problems with the police and some anti-drinking forces within the university but by-and-large tries to accommodate the young people and nightlife crowd with a variety of bars and live music venues.

No, Montgomery is no Tuscaloosa. Here, bars and clubs are the enemy (unless, of course, you are talking about The Alley and the Entire Future of Downtown Redevelopment). To most who live in this area, Montgomery must be fled by sundown. For those who stay behind, you’ve got what is discussed in The Advertiser’s article: a police-state crackdown with SWAT raids on local businesses. As if I needed another reason to be glad I’m not a student at Alabama State.

Let’s take a look at the article, from Feb. 10 by Scott Johnson. Headline: “City Uses Raid-Style Inspections on Nightclubs.” Well, that’s fantastic PR right there. Really just what you want to see when you are thinking about holding a convention in Montgomery or going out for a night of dancing. The thing is, the Chamber of Commerce types who that ought to bother are probably more mad at the newspaper for reporting the truth than they are at the police for turning local clubs into Gestapo Night.

So what’s behind the use of armed SWAT raids at local clubs (some of which have no history of violence)? According to the article, “through the years,” there have been shootings at some nightclubs. How many shootings? How many years? It takes some hashing through the article to discover.

From a careful read of the piece, we learn that one club was shut down by the city: Top Flight Disco … in 1997!

And another club, Celebrations, closed on its own in 2007 after some controversy.

Oh no! Two clubs closed in the past 13 years! Horror! Call in the SWAT team!

I’m frankly surprised they were able to get the owner of Rock Bottom American Pub to go on the record as complaining about the raids. Even money says that club gets the door kicked in just to make sure the liquor licenses are up to date. Oh wait, Rock Bottom already was raided, along with six other nightclubs on Jan. 16 and nine more the night before that. Fifteen clubs in two nights!

Maj. Huey Thornton, a police spokesman, said the SWAT team was necessary for the safety of the inspectors.

“These officers have specialized training in dealing with situations where there may be large crowds,” Thornton said. “We don’t want to send our officers — or any city or state em ployees — into any situation without providing them the safety and security to accomplish their mission.”

Damn, maybe that’s the kind of important crime fighting lesson we missed at the Crime Expo.

Three places were shut down for over-crowding — Frontstreet Entertainment, Magic Nights Club, and Club Rewind. For how long were they shuttered? Oh, for a whopping 16 hours, although the court has the option of suspending their business license for 10 days.

Frontstreet Entertainment was certainly a likely target of the raids. Montgomery residents will remember that there was a shooting there on Christmas night, injuring two teenagers. Horror. Freakout. Teens not old enough to drink were at a nightclub. Shooting. Christmas.

And yet while the article says the Frontstreet shooting “prompted” the city to take action, the quote from Mayor Todd Strange calls the raids “a proactive approach.” Either the article is wrong and the Frontstreet incident had nothing to do with MPD’s raids, or the mayor doesn’t know the difference between “proactive” and “reactive.”

But sure, we get the point. He’s explaining why the cops are raiding the clubs where there is no history of violence. They’re showing up with guns to prevent violence from happening. That makes tons of sense. Send ’em a message!

Oh, but also, buried in the story was the fact that there was also a fatal shooting at something called Club O’s back in January. Club O’s then shut its own doors. So let’s recap the rationale for the raids:

1. Top Flight Disco was shut down 13 years ago.

2. Celebrations closed itself amid controversy three years ago.

3. Two teens were shot (but not killed) at Frontstreet Entertainment in December.

4. Two people were killed at Club O’s in January (and then Club O’s closed down).

Holy crap! Let’s nuke the Alley Bar! I might have seen a Huntington student use a fake ID to get into Bud’s and order a margarita at El Rey’s! Let’s burn something down!

And if you like to shoot pool at Deja Vu, just keep in mind that your money is going into the pockets of an owner who makes apologies for the cops.

“I appreciate it as a business owner that they are coming out and making sure things are run right, but just make sure it’s fair across the board,” said Lithia Barber, owner of Déjà vu Billiards.

Barber, who said the raid was “kind of scary,” wondered why inspectors targeted her Burbank Drive business and overlooked other nearby nightclubs.

The SWAT team members came into the club wearing masks and carrying rifles, locking the door behind them, Barber said.

Oh, just masks and rifles? Well, I guess they have to “make sure everything is run right.” Hard to imagine they can do that with just masks and rifles and not actively kicking every patron of your establishment in the face, followed by cavity searches.

While Barber questioned the use of the SWAT team, she did say she supports the inspections and would welcome more of them.

The inspection only took 20 to 30 minutes and was not that much of a disruption, she said.

“We ended up having a really good night that night,” she said.

Presumably, by “we,” she means her cash registers still turned a profit, and doesn’t mean that her customers “had a really good night” as armed cops with masks locked the door behind them and searched through everything. Hey, what’s 20 or 30 minutes when you’re a paying customer looking to shoot some pool with friends?

The article goes on to say that our Mayor has promised to “keep conducting the surprise inspections for as long as they are necessary.” Oh. OK. Since they were so necessary before.

“We will continue doing them and probably be pretty aggressive until the message gets out there,” he said.

And what is that message? For me, it’s a good reminder of why I don’t go out and spend money in my hometown.

Montgomery: Recycling disaster

It’s been about six weeks since Mayor Todd Strange, ever mindful of ecomomics, stopped the city’s curbside recycling program. We (and our large group of friends) were quite saddened by this news. Even though we had our share of issues getting our hands on the official municipal orange recycling bags, we do recycle a lot, even collecting glass (which Montgomery never recycled … at least as long as we’ve lived here) and sending it to another nearby (more progressive) city for reprocessing.

So, we were prepared to be vehemently opposed to the end of curbside recycling, but instead were surprised to find ourselves somewhat lukewarm on the issue. Only a third of Montgomery households participated in the program. And we can vouch for the flexible definition of “participate” – while we regularly put out at least one full orange bag every week, other houses appeared to put out a bag with a few items in it every two weeks. Even if you are a strong believer in recycling, it’s hard to justify the fossil fuel use for trucks cruising up and down streets for the weekly recycling pickup when results are so meager.

It gets worse – turned out that city was using the McInnis Recycling Center (a business effort of the Montgomery Association for Retarded Citizens) to process the materials. That facility could only handle about a quarter of what it got through curbside pickup. The remainder was either sent to the Elmore County recycling program or to the landfill. Only 1% of the city’s waste was getting recycled.

Eliminating this massively ineffective recycling program saved the city $400,000 per year (so we were told by the local newspaper). The City was bleeding money, facing an $8 million budget shortfall and burning through the entirety of municipal reserves. In this fiscal crisis, with the city taking a bath on any number of budget items including the terrible Bobby Bright legacy lunch trolley (which was losing $75,000 per year), we found ourselves agreeing with reduced pickup. Or even eliminated pickup. The Mayor said that the city was moving toward drop-off sites that would be open twice a month on Saturday. Probably this reduced recycling input (conceding that ending curbside pickup would lead to decreased participation) would mean that all the recycling at least, you know, got recycled. Maybe the city should have thought about the capacity limitations of Montgomery’s retarded people before they set up the recycling program. We’re not saying those people shouldn’t have jobs (obviously), but if the McInnis facility can’t handle being the sole site of Montgomery’s recycling program, they shouldn’t be handed a job bigger than they can do.

In any case, we were less motivated to show up and complain about the end of curbside recycling once we found out how wretched the existing program was. That’s when Mayor Strange hit us with the one-two punch of his proposed alternatives.

  • Option One: Sort All The Trash. The Mayor was talking for a while about a program like the one being set up in Baldwin County by Team Green Recycling. TGR is a private company building a plant to take in all of Baldwin County’s trash, unsorted, and sort it before it goes to the landfill. They make money by selling the recyclables, and the city makes money by reducing landfill costs. Turns out it’s not cheap for cities to handle solid waste, and it makes financial sense for cities to reduce their trash output (though landfill fees are still inordinately cheap, especially in communities without an interest in forcing “true pricing,” taking pay-later externalities into account). In any case, this approach seemed credible and reasonable, having been tried before in other similar communities. But we haven’t heard much about it since October, and maybe that’s because TGR’s money is all tied up getting the Baldwin County project off the ground, so they’re not ready to invest up here.
  • Option Two: The Plasma Plant. A “plasma plant?” Sounds like some of that geoengineering crap that people float to avoid having to deal with the pressing need to actually reduce consumption and carbon emissions. Without knowing anything at all about how this works, we can only say for sure that the city’s has recently agreed to do a one-year “feasibility study,” after which we may build a plant which may be ready in three years.The idea of these things is that they use very high temperatures on the solid waste, recyclables and all. No special curbside pickup. No sorting. No consumer effort at all. Organic stuff vaporizes and makes steam to run a turbine, so gasification plants are supposed to generate power to sell back to the grid. Other stuff that doesn’t “gasify” ends up being reduced into “slag,” which industry sites assure us can be used for many purposes, including building blocks and roads. The plants don’t produce ash. One of the major problems is that no municipality in the US has a running plasma plant now. The first one, in Florida, is expected to be running by 2011. There is a plant in Huntsville that uses plasma technology, but it’s basically just an incinerator and produces ash. And we have no information on what this means as far as air emissions when you go around and burn up an entire city’s worth of milk jugs and disposable diapers and glass jars and old cell phones and batteries and all the other shit that people put into their trash cans.

The Mayor said he’d get back to us on these options. The City Council said fine. Then we received Picture 1this flyer in the mail informing us of the recycling drop-off locations, and including the fine print that plastic would no longer be recycled by the city. Only paper and cardboard and aluminum. This seemed like some kind of sick joke. Recycle two days a month, paper and cardboard and aluminum only. Plus, it turned out that at least one of the schools had Saturday school, causing some unpleasantness (or at least jockeying for parking) between the school attendees’ parents and local recycling aficionados.

All of which has left us with a number of questions. Such as:

1. If the city is so super broke, how are we going to afford cutting-edge plasma technology that NO OTHER CITY IN THE UNITED STATES HAS?

2. What are we going to do if the feasibility study comes back in one year and indicates that a plasma plant isn’t an ideal solution? What if they cost more than we expect, or don’t work? Or they leave poison in the ground where they are built? Or emit lots of air pollution? Or blow up regularly, killing all the workers who work there?

3. What are we going to do in the meantime? Fill our landfills with glass and plastic simply because the City of Montgomery can’t seem to set up a recycling system like the one in Troy, Alabama, population 12,000 or so? A tiny town 45 minutes to the south of us has figured out how to do curbside recycling of glass, metal, paper, cardboard, and plastic, and not bleed money and go bankrupt? What’s our problem up here?

4. Can’t we just stop our absurd twice-a-week trash pickup and do a single day of the week to pick up trash and a single day of the week to pick up recycling? And start doing glass? And plastic? And somehow not exclusively rely on McInnis to sort it all? And maybe even find a way to sell the recycled goods on the private market and make it into a revenue stream for the city? Or if not, just declare that this is a service (like free parks, for example) that makes our city worth living in and it’s worth it to lose money on since it makes our city a more attractive place to live?

The Edge of Our Seats: Montgomery Mayoral Race 2009

We consider ourselves fairly plugged in folks, politically. We have a strong sense of what’s happening at the legislature here in Alabama. We follow national politics a lot more closely than your average citizen. But we really have virtually no idea what is going on in the Montgomery mayoral race.

As we have noted, Bobby Bright (our former mayor) went to Congress to become the most right-wing Democrat in the country. He voted against health care for children and an equal pay act for women named after a woman from his home state. He voted against the stimulus. Hey Bobby, real nice job up there in D.C.

So to fill Bright’s shoes as the Mayor of Montgomery, we have a free for all. Six candidates. The election is in a few days. The campaigning has been going on for quite some time now, but we still know virtually nothing about many of the candidates. Here’s our take so far:

Todd Strange — Far and away the front runner. He immediately saturated the airwaves with super-expensive commercials and his signs are the biggest and are all over town. He’s a former car dealer who has spent most of his political time on the county commission. He’s a Republican (although the Mayoral race is technically non-partisan). He comes off the most like a professional politician. He seems certain to at least force a runoff, if not win outright. We got a letter from super rich and sorta liberal superstar plaintiff’s trial lawyer Jere Beasley telling us to vote for Strange. Strange says his number one priority will be economic development, which, for all we know, means sprawl, continued neglect of poor areas of town, and tax breaks for corporations. Or maybe not. Who knows? The paucity of details on his website allows you to fill in your own hopes for Strange’s policies.

Michael Briddell — He was Bobby Bright’s right hand man. (Couldn’t he have come up with a better job title on his website than “executive assistant”?) Word is that Bright has officially endorsed Briddell and wants him to win, but we certainly haven’t seen any evidence of that (co-campaigning, mailings, etc.). Word also says that all of Bright’s campaign people (the ones who helped Bright defeat state rep and former Subway sandwich store owner Jay Love for the Congressional seat) actually went to work for Strange, leaving Briddell with a depleted campaign team. That would make sense because we haven’t seen much out of Briddell at all. He’s a former TV “journalist,” so why haven’t we seen him on TV more? What stories did he break as a journalist? What are his plans for encouraging re-investment in abandoned areas of town? Who knows?

Willie Cook — Mr. Cook has some name recognition because he’s on the City Council. Also because he had a bunch of people waving his signs at a few intersections around town yesterday when we went to the grocery store. He’s also somewhat known because the Montgomery Advertiser has reported that Cook was fired from his position as an Alabama State Trooper in 1986 because he solicited sex from women in exchange for not giving them a speeding ticket. Evidently, there was also some kind of incident back in 1997 when he was suspended from his job as a capitol police officer for something involving damage to private property.

Cook also made headlines when he declared this his economic plan for saving the City of Montgomery was to have the city get into the business of predatory lending: offering high-interest refund anticipation loans (RAL) to taxpayers. This at the same time that there’s a bill in the statehouse to increase regulations on the notorious RAL products. Finally, Cook is notable due to his lawn signs being a shamelessly transparent attempt to piggyback on support for Obama: “Yes We Can 2!!”He also has a picture of himself standing in front of a disembodied Obama on his awful website.

Jay King — This police officer has been pretty much invisible as far as we can tell. Sure, Kate did talk to him on the TV show, but we have seen a grand total of one yard sign for this guy and we haven’t seen anything about him that makes us want to learn more.

Scott Simmons — Some people think Simmons may have a shot. He does have some signs around town. That’s about all we know about him. It certainly can’t be a good omen when the front page headline about you in the newspaper a few days before the race is to herald the fact that you are, in fact, not dropping out of the race. Still, if you want to feel extremely uncomfortable, click here and watch his wife sit there and talk about their relationship while wearing a not-even-pretending-to-be-populist fur coat and pearl necklace over a hilarious and sappy soundtrack. Yeah, good luck appealing to Montgomery voters with that one. On the plus side, she does explain to voters about how her damaged ovaries produced babies even after the doctors said that they couldn’t.

Jon Dow — He has slightly more signs than King, but is the least-known candidate for us. We know absolutely nothing about him (although we know someone who’s going to vote for him). Even reading his biography on his website really tells us nothing. Sure, we’ve heard of the Central Alabama Community Foundation, and we’re fans of BONDS, but it’s hard to tell how that stuff would qualify him to be mayor. He does say that he wants to eliminate Montgomery’s grocery tax and work with state advocates to eliminate the state grocery tax. That may be good enough to win Kate’s vote! At six letters, he has the shortest name of all of the candidates.

The Montgomery Advertiser has a pretty weak page devoted to the mayoral race here. As we said, we think of ourselves as reasonably well informed when it comes to politics, and yet before we started looking at websites for this post, we couldn’t articulate a single policy difference between any of the candidates (other than the laughable RAL thing from Cook). And that’s a shame. How many Montgomery residents are even going to bother to look up differences between candidates in the most superficial way?