I typically like to show the lovely, wonderful, idealistic views of my city.
(Such as today at my other blog, you can look at pretty pictures of our stunning local food scene.)
And I’d say that most of the time I succeed – many of my readers have told me that they had no idea Alabama was such a beautiful place.
But sometimes, there’s a story that just must be told. And since I hinted about it a few weeks ago, now is the right time.
Twice in the past month, my husband found himself getting up, before daylight, to camp on the steps of the courthouse, along with hundreds of other people.
Do you see how far that line goes? Nearly to the next county. Before 8am.
For quite some time now, it has felt like our county is run by the former USSR Communist Regime, so it’s time to talk about why.
It all started with poop.
In the mid-nineties, Jefferson County decided that we needed a better way to transport it.
(This was in part due to some legislation called the Clean Water Act and a lawsuit that ended in a unfunded judicial mandate to build a bigger better poop pipe.)
(Thanks a lot, government.)
Somehow, in the construction of a poop-carrying pipe, our county managed to lose track of over 3 billion dollars.
I guess you could call that flushing our money down a toilet.
(A Pirahnaconda-Sized toilet.)
Our trusty leaders compiled this tragedy with some very sketchy bond swaps and interest rate changes to try and “help” the situation. However, these desperate and oh-so-shady attempts earned our bonds the official S&P title of “Junk”.
Scandal ensued, notorious public officials were thrown in jail, our water and sewer bills rose faster than the national debt, and in 2011, our Junk County declared bankruptcy.
It declared bankruptcy for 4.23 BILLION dollars, the largest government bankruptcy ever filed.
By our meager little county of 658,000 residents.
…Which means that our county spent approximately $6,429 per resident for poop pipes.
I hope they’ve figured out how to mine gold out of it.
But these guys had more important things to spend our money on than just poop. For instance, in the most notorious verdict against Birmingham Mayor and former Jefferson County Commissioner Larry Langford. He was found guilty of accepting bribes of around $200,000 of clothes, watches, and other such fineries.
So see? It wasn’t ALL for poop.
My favorite quote from one article about Mr. Langford being found guilty on all 60 counts of criminal activity was:
“I hate it to the high heavens for him and his family. It’s just devastating,” Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said. “He’s a good man. He’s got flaws. We’ve all got flaws. Sometimes when you’ve got flaws people prey on your weakness. I think it sends a lesson to all public officials to be very, very careful,” Rogers said.
Yes. How dare they prey on his flaw of using our poop money to stock up his suit and tie collection?? It’s inconsiderate, really.
So the bankruptcy led to lay-offs and closing of satellite courthouse offices. It led to the reduction of public services.
And no, our Super Sewer was never completed.
But at least Mr. Langford looks reeeel spiffy in jail.
But that’s not all.
Right before bankruptcy was declared, a powerful ingredient was added to the concoction of our county’s train wreck: HB 56.
The State of Alabama passed the toughest immigration law to date, which, among countless other regulations, turned every interaction with any government office into an immigration checkpoint.
So, for instance, to renew one’s car tag, both people on the title must be present and show valid identification to prove their legal status.
(And no, having a mullet, wearing a Bama shirt and shouting “ROOOOOLLLL TAAAAD!!” is not valid proof of Legal Alabamian Status.)
If instead one chooses to renew by mail (and who wouldn’t, really) one must copy all titleholder’s driver’s licenses and include them with one’s renewal fee.
Even if it never changes.
We may be killing trees, but we’re catching the illegal immigrants that were the only people industrious enough to pick our now-dying-on-the-vines crops, by jove.
(Lest I start a debate, the immigration law itself is way too complex with innumerable ramifications for me to make a blanket statement of whether it’s good or bad, but from a completely selfish how-it-intrudes-on-my-every-day-life perspective, it’s torturous. And I’m clearly an Alabamian, not subject to any of the now-legal profiling. I can only imagine how painful it is for anyone that has even the slightest of accent, regardless of their legal status.)
Anyway. Moving on.
So when you mix Bankrupt County with Immigration Checkpoint, you end up with a powerful potion somewhat akin to Crystal Meth. And if you experience it too long, your face is surely to break out in stress acne that will make wish you were only a Meth Addict so that your complexion wouldn’t be quite as bad.
So that’s the history.
Now for the present.
Chris and I both recently bought used cars. Chris’ new love was acquired in-state, and mine was acquired in Georgia. There is no mailing option to register a new car, so one must actually GO to the courthouse, the deepest den of Government Hell known to man.
Chris was smart and only put himself on his title.
(That or he was protecting Ingrid from my jealous motivations.)
But when we bought my car, we put us both on the title. And what was worse, we put “Chris AND Rachel”, not “Chris OR Rachel”.
Never use the word AND on a title in Alabama.
And, since we bought Flexi out of state, we discovered a new and painful twist to HB-56: They have to inspect the actual car – not for environmental reasons, but just to see her. With both owners present. At the main courthouse location.
I didn’t even know that cars could be illegal immigrants.
(But at least they don’t poop.)
Thankfully, I was able to sign away all of my rights to my husband (thank you, Mr. Power O. Attorney) so that he could do the manly thing and go downtown in the wee hours of the morning in the good company of my dear Flexi.
(Honest – I offered to do it since it was my car.)
(But I didn’t fight him one tiny iota when he said it was a husbandly thing to do.)
After hours of people watching and awkwardly standing by while an old man with a cane fought off a blatant line-breaker, Chris finally had the opportunity to walk out with an inspector to check Flexi’s worthiness for the Great State of Alabama.
…at which time he was informed that he was illegally parked.
And one cannot be declared legal while being illegal – it is by definition untenable.
And so the inspector stood, impatiently tapping her foot, as Chris did an awkward 26-point turn on a one-way street to un-parallel park, turn around, and re-parallel park with Flexi pointing in the proper direction.
Then he had to go back inside and stand patiently while they performed an entire hour of paperwork. For one car.
So after months of strategizing and hours of waiting and minutes of sheer panic of the illegality of a parking job and an hour for paperwork, Flexi was deemed acceptable in the county’s sight. And somehow, the net amount owed for her tag was a refund of $11, to be mailed out at some point in the future.
And I’m sure that when they find that mysteriously missing 4.23 Billion, I’ll most certainly get my $11 check.