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FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2007

Advocate urges Morgan to push back Arab jurisdiction

By Ronnie Thomas · 340-2438

HULACO — If there had been an applause meter in the Tri-County Volunteer Fire Department here Thursday night, an outsider would have won top prize.

Kenneth Freeman, a property rights advocate from Morgan City, was among about 60 people who came to a meeting called by District 4 Morgan County Commissioner Stacy George to discuss the 3-mile Arab police jurisdiction in Morgan and Cullman counties.

He told residents near the close of the meeting they were experiencing “the beginning of the infringements” on their rights.

“Arab is close to being able to regulate you, and dollars control this state. We see this all over the state with junk ordinances,” he said. “Once it starts with the PJ, that’s just the first step.”

He was met with ringing applause when he said, “I would highly recommend you push them back now. Stacy is committed to it. He’s not afraid to take on the city of Arab. I’d go with Morgan County if they’re willing to give you what you need.”

George said Arab expanded its PJ into the area nine years ago. He said it might be a different story “if Arab was providing 24-hour coverage on police protection and ambulance service and would provide sewer like Somerville is planning to do.”

George said he would push hard to get funding for two Morgan County sheriff’s deputies “to move out here. We need to take our county back.”

Numerous residents who spoke before Freeman, such as Grant Humphries of Hulaco, took a similar stance.

“Arab moving out here, I’m totally against that,” he said. “We’re a farming community. Why would we want Arab telling us what to do? Stacy, thanks for being the best commissioner we’ve ever had. Stacy’s against the PJ, and I’m against it.”

Dottie See said, “We’re proud of what little we have, and we want to be able to live freely on it.”

Scott Forbus, who moved to the area from Anniston, said he moved “far out in the county and now is thinking about selling because (Arab) is down my throat. The city wrote me a ticket, and I live in Morgan County.”

Bonnie Humphries said an Arab police officer told her, “Don’t ever call us anymore. We’ve got more than we can do in Arab than to come out here and handle petty stuff.”

Jennifer Thompson said the officer is the only Arab policeman “out here, harassing people.”

And while several others voiced strong opposition to Arab police issuing traffic tickets in the PJ, a handful supported it.

Ernest Chambers said his wife drives a school bus for Ryan School and “she’s satisfied the police slowed down the traffic. Arab has come out here and done a good job. I think we need to keep them here.”

A couple, Jeff and Gaitha Albright, envision having “the best of both worlds” with Arab police and Morgan County sheriff’s deputies patrolling the roads.

Jeff Albright said he doesn’t believe Arab police have written many tickets in the PJ, and he said he is all right with the city giving citations to clean up yards.

The Albrights’ daughter works for Arab 911 and their son-in-law, Scotty Watson, is an Arab police officer.

Some of the residents who live outside Marshall County also are upset over the tax that Arab Electric Co-op charges on their power bills. They feel they are getting “taxation without representation,” since they’re not able to vote for Arab’s leadership.

Teresa Bolduc advocated incorporating Hulaco and Ryan “if they can’t push Arab back.” George sees that as an option.

Connie Whitley said, “If we can push Arab back, Morgan County will come out. Who asked Arab to come out here?”

And Carlotte Duff added, “We don’t want them to come into Cullman County, either.”

Tony Jones, chief of the Tri-County Volunteer Fire Department, said Morgan County will send the closest ambulance to area residences and talked about cooperation between Arab and his department. He said during fires, “We back Arab, and they back us.”

Even after saying he’d work to take the county back, George said the bottom line is he plans a diplomatic approach to solve the issue.

He said he will get names and addresses of everyone who lives in the area and buys power from Arab Electric, and send questionnaires asking their position on the PJ.

“I’ll go with the majority,” he said. “If 51 percent want to keep the PJ, I’ll support that. Otherwise, I’ll work against it.”

Not all attending the meeting chose to sign sheets labeled “for the PJ” and “against the PJ,” but those in opposition won hands down. Thirty are against it, and only three supported it.

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