Branch Heights residents angry over condition of roads

Branch Heights residents attend meeting which was held to discuss condition of roads in their various neighborhoods

The community center at Branch Heights subdivision was filled with residents angry over the ever-increasing deterioration of their roads.
The Eutaw City Council held a called meeting at Branch Heights Monday evening to discuss this problem with the residents.
Present at the speakers table were Councilmembers Joe L. Powell and Hattie Edwards, who share this district when elections are held, Councilmember David Spencer and Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele. Also at the table was Greene County Commissioner Elzora Fluker, a homeowner in Branch Heights who had asked that the meeting be held.
Fluker opened the meeting by explaining exactly why everyone was there.
She said that the condition of the roads in Branch Heights were an ever-increasing problem for everyone, but most of all for the residents.
This problem became critical when the city annexed the subdivision, which had been owned by the county up until the annexation.
“We’ve been talking about who owns these roads for years. Well, nobody owns the roads! They never have been given over as they should have been,” said Fluker
She explained this situation began in 1970 when some necessary paperwork was never filed.
Then, according to Fluker, a legislative act filed in 1995 mandated that any time a city annexes property from a county, the city owns the property. “According to this 1995 legislation, the county should have given the property to the city, but maintained the roads for one year,” said Fluker. “Now we have to start all over again, The City can’t do it; the County can’t do it.”
Fluker admitted that the roads could not be fixed at this time, but said that they could be repaired. She said that repairs done to date had not lasted because “what they are putting down is for a sandy soil. This is prairie dirt.” She asked that three bodies, the Greene County Commission, the City of Eutaw and the Housing Authority of Greene County, work together to alleviate the problem.
Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele admitted the truth of Fluker’s statement but said that the act called for the county to have turned the roads over the city in “good, repairable condition,” which he said was not done.
One resident asked why the city did not just fix the roads. Steele replied that the city lacked the authority to do this since the county said they were going to keep the roads.
Steele maintained that the county had never given the roads over to the city.
Fluker’s suggestion was that the first step was to file the necessary paperwork in the Probate Office. “Then the county has to pass a resolution giving the roads to the city. “Branch Heights was never given to either of them,” she said.
One resident said that Steele only annexed Branch Heights in order for Eutaw to meet the qualifications necessary for a town to become a city,
“This community always wanted to be a part of Eutaw,” replied Steele.
When asked what benefits the residents of Branch Heights received from being a part of the city, Steele replied that they got both fire and police protection.
City Councilman Joe L. Powell, a Branch Heights resident, said that both city and county needed to be committed to repairing the roads “We called this meeting to see what we can do to make these roads passable. If the county will commit something, the city will.”
An already complicated situation is worsened by the fact that further damage is being done to the roads on a daily basis by the presence of heavy concrete trucks using them to haul in material for the construction of sidewalks, etc. It was not known whether or not a clause was made a part of the final agreement with the company owning the trucks that any damage done to the roads by the heavy trucks would be repaired.
Various residents told horror stories of damage done to automobiles, of friends and family being reluctant to visit due to the condition of the roads. One lady bluntly said, “I’ll be dead and gone before too long. These roads will have shook me to death!”
County Engineer Arzo Abrams told the entire group that the roads needed to be totally replaced – that piecemeal repair would never be a solution. “Until you can properly fix the roads, you are going to just throw money away! These whole roads need to be torn out!” said Abrams.
While no agreement was reached nor solution found at this meeting, at least the three parties involved in solving the problem – the Housing Authority of Greene County, the City of Eutaw and the Greene County Commissions – were made aware that Branch Heights residents were ready to demand that something be done and that it would take all three governing entities working together to solve the problem.
“The blame game is over,” concluded Fluker. “Something must be done.”


Cook resigns as Sheriff; Benison takes office

Pictured L-R Commission Chair William “Nick” Underwood, Sheriff Jonathan Benison, and Commissioners Tennyson Smith, Elzora Fluker and Allen Turner, Jr.

Surrounded by members of the Greene County Commission, Sheriff Jonathan Benison announced that he had officially taken the oath of office as Sheriff of Greene County on December 22, 2010.
This followed the surprising resignation of Sheriff George Cook, who had been appointed by Governor Bob Riley earlier in the year.
Commission Chair William “Nick” Underwood told the crowd who had gathered at the courthouse, “This is cause for deep thanks. Benison represents stability for Greene County. Joe is the 4th person to serve as Sheriff since April of this year. We welcome with open arms this appointment,”
Benison promised all those gathered that he would be “a sheriff for all the people of Greene County.
“Under my administration, this will be a fair playing field. Nobody would be left out.”
Benison spoke of his ties to Greene County – of having started his law enforcement career as a Greene County Deputy, serving with the Alabama Highway Patrol until his retirement and then run for and been elected sheriff.
Members of the audience were quick to ask him about his position on the legality of electronic bingo in Greene County.
“Bingo is the issue,” said Benison, “and I am prepared to deal with bingo. We voted for bingo. I am for bingo.”
Benison will publically take the oath of office on January 9, 2011 at 5 p.m. at the courthouse.
Several at Tuesday’s press conference asked Underwood where former Sheriff George Cook was going from Greene County. Underwood said he was not at liberty to discuss anything about Cook.
A majority of local citizens still believe that Riley sent Cook to Greene County for the sole purpose of halting electronic bingo at Greenetrack.
Just days after Cook took office, on June 18, 2010, Riley’s task force attempted to raid Greenetrack, but were unsuccessful due to action taken by Circuit Judge Eddie Hardaway.
A second raid on June 30, 2010 was successful, due to intervention by the Riley Supreme Court. Hundreds of State Troopers and members of the Task Force removed all the electronic bingo machines.
This action negatively affected most of Greene County. Hundreds of people lost their jobs; many charities and governmental organizations lost the funding which had been a part of the Constitutional Amendment legalizing bingo; businesses lost customers due to the high unemployment.
After the Tuesday press conference, Greenetrack CEO Luther “Nat” Winn spoke about Benison, saying, “I was pleased to hear the comments made today by our new Sheriff, Joe Benison, in regards to bingo in Greene County. The Alabama Board of Industrial Relations is reporting that $516,000 has been paid over the last quarter to unemployed residents of Greene County due to the closure of bingo at Greenetrack. Currently, Greene County has the second highest unemployment rate in the state with Wilcox County being number one. Prior to the closing of bingo, Greene County had reached economic success and had come from being listed as the 66th poorest county in Alabama out of 67 counties to being 31st. Until July 2010, Greene County was the fastest growing county in the state. We know that we can achieve this success again, and I am very encouraged by Sheriff Benison’s remarks and hope that we can put the people of Greene County back to work soon.”

Photo of Sheriff Ison Thomas unveiled

Pictured L-R back row Deputy Melvin Smith and Deputy Curtis Rice; front row Deputy Jeremy Rancher, Mrs. Dorothy Thomas and Chief Deputy Jimmy Benison

A photograph of the late Ison Thomas, Greene County Sheriff, was unveiled at a ceremony Sunday at the William M. Branch County Courthouse. The photo will be hung in the Sheriff’s office at the Courthouse.
Thomas died of cancer in April 2010 while in office and was beloved and respected by residents of Greene County for his fairness and devotion to law enforcement.

At the program, attended by his wife and family as well as many current and former sheriff’s deputies and county officials,  the speakers saluted his life and service.

Chief Deputy Jimmy Benison served as master of ceremonies. The colors were presented by American Legion Post 2007 which included many who served with Thomas in the first Gulf War.

Jonathan Lewis spoke for the Junior Deputies program.

Rev. Thomas Gilmore, Greene County’s first African-American sheriff memorialized Ison Thomas and said, “He distinguished his office.” Gilmore pointed out that Thomas was so dedicated to law enforcement that he served as a deputy, under Gilmore, for his first six months without pay. Gilmore also mentioned that he was elected sheriff by a write-in vote which was very difficult to accomplish.

Lester Brown, school board member and close friend of Thomas, also spoke about the former sheriff’s record of service. Brown said that several groups were working on a scholarship program in law enforcement studies to be offered to a Greene County student on an annual basis in memory of Thomas.

Nick Underwood, Chair of the County Commission, read a resolution honoring Thomas passed by the Greene County Commission.

The photo was unveiled by a group of Greene County deputies. Dorothy Thomas, widow of the sheriff, thanked the group and said that, “Ison’s dream was always to be sheriff and he fulfilled his dream.”

Gilmore in his comments said that Greene County had the largest number of African-American sheriffs in the nation. Since 1969, the following persons have held the position: Gilmore, James Flanigan, George Hall, Johnny L Isaac, Ison Thomas, Ronald Kent Smith, George Cook and Sheriff-elect Jonathan Benison.