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.

Every year.

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.

37 thoughts on “The History of My County.

  1. Oh Rachel-this just makes me want to cry. It combines three of the things I hate the most-the courthouse, going downtown, and dealing with the government. (Not to mention the parallel parking). My blood pressure just went up and hives are breaking out.

    And to all those who don’t live in our county-please don’t judge it’s inhabitants by our sorry lack of leadership. We don’t understand it either.

    1. Exactly! I’m befuddled at how our leadership got to be what it is every time I turn on the news. Which is why I try to avoid such behaviors.

  2. I hit the part about them having to inspect your car and I think my brain exploded.

    Glad you guys finally managed to get it all through…but wow.

  3. One of the (albeit few) awesome things about living in a really, really, really small town is that even if you hit the DMV on a super busy day, say for instance, the last day of the month (which I did last month with all three kids in tow), the line is still only 3-4 people long at any given time. It makes the lack of a Target almost bearable.

  4. I recently had to renew my drivers’ license….long story short, it took a drive to a closed courthouse in Jasper (for some obscure Walker County holiday), some not too bad line waiting after a drive to Inverness to the license office (thank goodness Shelby County came through for me) and a little bit of make-up time at work. but there was NO WAY I was going downtown.

    Forward to last Saturday, when, after some fun karaoke with hubby, I realized my DL is MIA. Really. So I have to do this all over again. Back to Inverness on Monday, only to realize I didn’t have the 2nd form of ID that I needed (after waiting an hour in line). Special thanks go out to lady in line behind me that blessed me with sweet conversation while waiting. So Tuesday (off from work), I venture back to the thriving metropolis of Jasper, to replace lost license, and after waiting for the 1 person who went on rides with the young folks and issued new licenses to get back from her lunch, I find out that I can “just walk across the street and get that taken care of”! So I do. And only 10 minutes later, I have a new temporary license (and new picture too!)

    I feel your (and Chris’) pain.

  5. I loved living in Alabama but now I think I am glad that we moved…my head was spinning with all the details of the paperwork. God Bless Chris.

    1. I think your county managers and our county managers might be cousins!!! If they are, they’re going to have one blowout of a family reunion this year!

  6. Thank you for addressing the ridiculousness which is our DMV. Ever since they closed down the Greensprings office life has been a nightmare. I was robbed and went to replace my license with my 4 and 1 year olds. After waiting in the “short line” for hours they wouldn’t give me my new one because a US passport is not enough documentation to prove who you are. Instead I needed all the documents that I had to submit to get the passport in the first place. I just decided it would just be easier to pray that I don’t get pulled over than get in that line again.

    1. Who DOESN’T accept a US Passport as proof of identification??? North Korea would probably believe you with that, but Jefferson County won’t???

  7. Oh good Lord. As soon as I find a place where freedom works as advertised, I’m going to lay down roots. Until then… yikes. Stories like this scare me.

  8. Good lord, that sounds hideous. (And good on ya, Chris, for doing the husbandly thing!) Up here? We can renew our plates at a mall kiosk. Or, for those who don’t wish to leave the house – online.

  9. I also live in your great, bankrupt county and have had the privilege of going to the Birmingham Courthouse twice in the past couple of months. The secret to getting in and out of there in under 45 minutes is to go at 4:45. They stop letting people in line at 5:00, but quitting time is 5:30. They are always done by 5:30. The second time I went (last month), I got in line around 5:40, and the line was at least 50 people deep. I was back in my car a little after 5:00. It’s amazing how fast the line moves when it’s close to quitting time. Not to be a shameless self-promoter, but you can go to http://themckibbens.com/blog/2012/05/some-big-news-and-a-helpful-tip/ to read the details about my first (and successful) DMV experience. Enjoyed the Jefferson County history lesson! Thanks for getting me fired up again! :)

  10. All I can say is that the legal vs illegal car status has been on the books much longer than the new immigration bill. We had to have both of our cars visually inspected when we moved from out of state back to AL and that was years ago.

    Sorry Chris that you had to stand in that unbearably long line and deal with impatient government officials. Rachel, you have a good man there.

    1. What are they even inspecting for? That’s what we couldn’t figure out. To make sure you weren’t passing a Ford Explorer off as a Chevy?

  11. Who says you can’t make something illegal, legal? I was at the Birmingham airport Wednesday, watching CNN on the monitor as I was in line for the TSA checkpoint. The president signed a bill that effectively gave 1.7 million ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS amnisty. Yet the TSA agent rifled through my suitcase and triumphantly retreived – and discarded a tube of toothpaste that was 1/2 ounce too large for the guidelines!

  12. Always or never and. In this state too. At least they tell you here when you register it. (sometimes)

  13. Oh my HEAVENS TO BETSY! That is a certifiable NIGHTMARE! I thought Maryland was bad…

    And the poop tube? Really? How does it feel to know that your county has some of the most expensive poop in the country? You guys should get some sort of super awesome prize…

    I’m thinking gilded toilet paper…Yeah?

  14. This reminded me of the movie Anger Management. I’m a very patient person, but just reading about your husband’s experience made my eye twitch. Oh, to have lived in the days of our grandparents, when you could purchase a house in a week because the bureaucratic red tape wasn’t slathered all over everything!

    On the up side, it’s cool that you’ll be getting your $11 back. Sometime :)

  15. I despise the courthouse. I heard the Center Point one was back open, but I haven’t checked it out. I had planned on getting rid of my personalized tag this year, but it’s worth the extra money to just renew it online! It also makes me never want to get another car!

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