Several years ago I met Attorney Harry Still, the first attorney I have met in Baldwin County with the guts to confront corruption and he has paid the price for his candor. Harry, unlike myself, has deep roots in Baldwin County and is sickened by the blatant judicial and municipal corruption that stains the legacy of this proud county. At one time there were real good ole boys that put the county first but they changed colors like chameleons. In 2010 the county government eroded into the good ole boys of today, who put special interests, like CSB, Catalyst Scott Boone Consulting, first and constituents last. Harry and I share a weekly podcast, https://www.facebook.com/BackstoryPodcast where we speak candidly about consumer issues and judicial corruption. This podcast, over 75 episodes, has had a chilling effect on the status quo and that has resulted in further pressure on Mr. Still. The latest issue, The McSharry case prompted Mr. Still to reflect on his heritage and bare his soul, DAMN THE STATUS QUO and DAMN CSB.
Please find my response to the Lagniappe Newspaper’s article “Win Some, Lose Some” by Gabriel Tynes submitted for your consideration:
It was mid-afternoon as I emerged from the Courthouse and observed a historic marker providing a small sliver of shade in which I could comfortably avoid the oppressive heat of the waning gulf coastal sun. As I approached my destination I observed the shadow was, proportionally, the spectral form of a man; and on second thought, I dared not step inside its lines. I am often haunted by the ghosts of my ancestors; a burden of intellect and imagination- my PapPaw used to say. I took advantage of a park bench adjacent to the bandstand instead. The haint and I raised an imaginary glass, upstanding; a grand toast “to the end of Good Government”, in a County literally older than Alabama. But which of these venerable men, upon whose shoulder we stand, is haunting my waking mind? I have no tears left to water the Courthouse lawn. My sadness overlooking the scorched political landscape of Baldwin County is all-encompassing. The final rush of the apathy brigade, wielding a bayonet of our forging, have broken the final defenses we mounted. The merciless defeat was answered not by gasps and wails but silence. My “Lost Cause”.
An image of Judge Charles Hall’s home a few blocks away flickers in my mind, stabbing me in my amble gut. The call of a bird captures my attention, a bob-white quail. A social but rural creature- it was queer for a solitary bird to venture into town. My amusement was short lived as he was perched in the foreground of the Veteran’s Memorial. The only inscription we ever got right “IN MEMORY OF ALL VETERANS OF ALL WARS FOUGHT BY THE PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTRY”. The spectral shadow and my head swam with possibilities and I was overcome with the undeniable anxiety that I was the only one there. Why is it my responsibility? Who imposed this phantom burden upon me? Why do I need a solitary stroll to collect myself after witnessing the goings on behind the curtain? A fellow practitioner slithers by with the obligatory nod, I struggle to define what a “Good Man” is, in this world that is my birth-right.
Often, people from outside this place ask me how the graft and intrigue reach such incredible heights. Surely, they beg, how can the public put up with all of this? The answer I have to give, after similar internal conversation, is a response laden with as much anger and sadness as a man can conjure. Baldwin County has no statues to these leaders of her past. Instead ancient shipwrecks, forts, and battlefields stand testament to our fascination with her and the Five Flags that all succumb to her seductions.
In this moment, I feel a warm embrace, my mind wanders nine blocks and four decades. Harry Still, Sr. is reading to his five-year-old grandson, a favorite by James Fenimore Cooper. The sweet smell of pipe tobacco lingers in the air. Big Harry was a major historic contributor to the physical, emotional, and moral landscape of Baldwin County. He was party to what many called “The Confederacy of Competency.” These men and women worked together behind the scenes for the greater good of the community and helped shape and craft what could be called the soul – the spiritual infrastructure – of Baldwin County. They formed Baldwin County United, The South Alabama Regional Planning Commission, built North Baldwin and Thomas Hospitals, recruited industry, fostered our once-admired education system, created our tourism industry, and made valuable investment in the infrastructure that we all still rely on today. For decades, Baldwin County has been flush with tourism dollars, historic pride and national acclaim for intelligent and articulate economic growth. “Good Men burden their grandchildren with terrible responsibility but equip them with knowledge and experience for whatever may come one day”- A True Southern Gentleman’s Creed.
In 2005 the prosecution of Orange Beach Mayor Steve Russo and City Attorney Larry Sutley was the last for public corruption in Baldwin County. This was, incidentally, the same time that the “Strawman” and future County Commissioner made a very lucrative land purchase in Baldwin County. This was a watershed moment in the history of local corruption. They were emboldened by the apathy surrounding their successful land coup, which of course was facilitated by a colleague whose office I could see from my shadeless, haunted stoop. Along with an absolutely ludicrous and illegal no-bid award of BP oil spill funds to a State Senator by the City of Fairhope, the Cabal no longer sought to hide in the ink-black corners of County gossip. What came forth was nothing short of an exothermic explosion of corruption, made resolute by a Catalyst of players – all familiar faces.
In 2010, these familiar faces sat on the Baldwin County Commission and hacked their way through those who would stand against them. The lobbyist for the Baldwin County Sewer Service was appointed as general counsel at that meeting. It is with shame that I admit- I abandoned this place after the death of my grandfather and when I returned in 2011 our once venerable Courthouse was aflame with examples of this Cabal’s activity. The Sewer Overlords operate as a private utility here without any oversight from any agency and use County right-of-ways without a franchise fee, all by design and made possible by the State Legislative Delegation and benign neglect from the Alabama Public Service Commission. More familiar faces paved the way for the Baldwin County Megasite and its custodian, the Baldwin County Economic Development Alliance (Cui Bono). The vortex of authoritarianism smothering the disclosure of public tax dollars spent among these organizations should be enough for any concerned citizen to, at the very least, engage in something resembling curiosity. Constable Edward Steadham’s bloodied spectral form startles me, a survivor of the Ft Mims Massacre, he must have been beside me the entire time; leaking from his wounds (both internal and external), having seen his family and friends destroyed by hate, ignorance, and outside British agitation- he appears to be my wartime consigliere.
At the municipal level, more familiar faces facilitate unscrupulous land transactions and fertilize the political fields with no-bid contracts, political patronage, and documented nepotism. “Private bungalows on a foreign golf course” sounds like an allegation against The Princess of Monaco, not Bay Minette’s Mayor. I was stymied from my legal responsibilities by an “angry little man” with a badge (the Mayor, Sheriff, and District Attorney’s loyal terrier) a week before I stood unsuccessfully for said Mayoral position. After 8 years of my opponent’s expert shepherding, our once admired little town has deteriorated, morally and economically, into something General Canby nor Sherman would bother to burn. A place where infantile thinking allows you to believe that a drug informant for Sheriff Mack hanged himself with a seatbelt whilst a passenger in a moving car. All while that same “angry little man” and Sheriff withheld this knowledge from the Deputy Sheriff investigating this 19-year-olds death. Suicide via seatbelt of a confidential drug informant? I am not aware of any ghost in my line idiotic enough to waste their imaginary time.
For the past year and a half, we have worked tirelessly to answer the questions of the curious and do whatever we can to at least shout warnings of maelstroms obscured by political fog. While some efforts have been made at the local level to bring something resembling transparent accountability to county and municipal business dealings, the bright and shining beams of the lighthouses in Montgomery are faintly visible in the distance. Hundreds of notifications to the State Ethics Commission, the Attorney General and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency have been denied, disavowed or simply lost among the bureaucratic barricades that exist along The Old Federal Road between Bay Minette and the Capitol. Despite our best efforts, a mist of misconception still lingers low over the grounds of this County. It supplants desirable growth with corrupt exploitation for profits. It suffocates truth with placation. It chokes integrity in a grip of benevolence. It has ripped the heart from our home and has done so without indictment of the Law for some for 15 years.
Home is all we have. Home is sacred. I take one last look at the shadow that haunts me, a Redman gives me a smile over his shoulder. His ruddy face saw the removal of his people- the Treaty of Ft Jackson forever memorializing his choice to serve the United States during the Creek Indian War alongside Andrew Jackson. Family lore also has it that he saved Old Hickory’s scalp from the tomahawk on more than one occasion and his wife Rachel wrote about the hospitality she received at his Baldwin County plantation, Montpelier. Personal correspondence between the two recounts the fate of some White House china, utilized for target practice the night of his inauguration.
THIS RESERVATION OF LAND WAS GRANTED TO THE CREEK INDIAN JAMES EARLE BY AN ACT OF THE US CONGRESS, DATED MARCH 3, 1817. THIS ACT OF CONGRESS GRANTED CERTAIN CHIEFS AND WARRIORS OF THE CREEK NATION PROVISION TO LOCATE THEIR RESERVATIONS OF LAND THAT WAS GUARANTEED TO THEM BY THE TREATY OF FT JACKSON.
Too few of us even bothered to inquire about the corruption that threatens to lay waste to our legacy and the memories of those who contributed to this landmark community, one with so much more to offer than the shade of historic plaques on the Courthouse lawn. Who else will stand and ask the questions that need answers? Who will answer to history for this craven abuse of the County we call home? I will continue to entreat and engage anyone who wants to make accountability and transparency two cornerstones of our local governments at every level. Nostalgic apathy will do nothing to move this toward reality. When Hurricane Sally interrupted power service, every citizen of this County turned on some alternative form of illumination, at least putting match to candle. None of you sat in the dark convinced that “this is the way things are” because someone told you “it’s the way things have always been”, quite the opposite. I am telling you that the men at levers of power in Baldwin’s past would not recognize what has become of this place.
A cloud obscures the sun and all at once “they” all appear as a ghostly crowd, surrounding me as I consider recent events: the brutalization of multiple women and an elderly homosexual man (one of Alabama’s most famous living artists) at the hands of a well connected thug, who in my mind, remains unpunished. And when the public servant responsible for holding the perpetrator to account gave us some ham-handed incoherent excuse about tolling statutes and other legal malarkey, we all shrug and nod as if we understand. I often wonder what would have constituted Justice on “their” watch. An attitude adjustment at minimum for “The Defendant ”, an intemperate foreign national who must be unaware that our genteel Southern ways are but a thin veneer concealing the fact we are all: armed to the teeth, crack shots, and prone to violence- if Honor dictates. In this Once Great County we also had equally Great Leadership and henceforth we all have to take our responsibilities to one another more seriously and hold those who exploit our faithful vote to account.
We live in a time where there is a surplus of data but this hardly translates into wisdom. I hope the next time you feel someone “walk over your grave” you contemplate the current state of affairs orchestrated by a Cabal that cares not for competency, dignity, or truth but instead loyalty to the almighty dollar, their kleptocracy. The sun shines through at last and my spiritual menagerie disappears; having come to my aid, reinforcing what we all know in our hearts: “There is something terribly wrong here”. As a man torn between the scientific method and the religions of my ancestors, I will end with one of my favorite axioms of science and the soul: “For there to be Shadow, there must also be Light.”
For Doodle, My Polaris.
Harry Still III, Esq. Capt. Raines Rushin (Editor)
Baldwin County, AL formerly of Ocean Springs, MS
The Tensaw Country North of the Elliott Line 1800-1860, Charles E. Bryant, Ed.D (1998).
As an aside, this document is intended as a speech or ghost story. I offer my services to any organization willing to be informed and entertained by a strong-drawled contrarian (Rotary, Kiwanis, The Chambers of Commerce, Universities, Religious Organizations, Historical Societies, Book Clubs, The “old curmudgeon coffee club” that is surely meeting in your community as I type). To the teachers who still inspire me, I apologize to Ms. Hudson, Trimm, McDaniel, and Dr. Flynt for the grammar, punctuation, and run-on sentences. They are intentional.