Randolph County group seeks immediate accountability from Laird, Dial
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Apr 12, 2013 | 4843 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Outraged Randolph County residents want a chance to meet with their local delegation next week to discuss a bill governing how a tax is spent in the county. And they want to do it on their home turf.

Roy Terry, a spokesman with the East Alabama Bipartisan Coalition, a loosely connected group of residents in Randolph County created last year to combat a tobacco tax bill by Alabama Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke, and Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, said the two elected officials have not kept their promise to meet with the public to discuss re-introducing the legislation.

“Laird promised…that there would be a public hearing in Randolph County,” Terry said in an email press release about a meeting Laird arranged in Montgomery for Thursday, which was later canceled due to the weather.

“Clearly, he is now trying to pretend to have a public hearing with only his cronies in attendance,” Terry said.

Terry said Laird also did not give the public ample time to prepare to attend the meeting, having only told The Randolph Leader about the meeting the Tuesday before the scheduled Thursday meeting.

Speaking with a reporter on Friday, Terry said he had checked with the Randolph County Commission to make sure the courthouse in Wedowee was available Monday for a meeting when the legislative session will not be meeting.

Now it’s just up to Dial and Laird to show up, Terry said.

“I have not heard anything from them,” Terry said Friday. “I’m sure they know about this, but they haven’t contacted me.”

Attempts Friday afternoon to reach Laird and Dial were unsuccessful. It’s unclear if the original meeting in Montgomery has been rescheduled.

Terry said the coalition won’t host a meeting if neither Dial nor Laird plans to attend.

“I think most of us are against this bill,” Terry said. “We want a chance now to express that to Mr. Laird and Mr. Dial.”

The tobacco tax legislation is a re-write of a 2012 bill which rerouted money collected from tobacco tax in the county away from the Randolph County Water Authority towards a “grant fund” controlled by Laird and Dial. The bill also limited money that the County Industrial Development Council could use to hire a staff member.

Residents largely protested the tobacco tax bill when introduced last year, hosting a public meeting in Wedowee, and eventually in Montgomery to rail against what they called a slush fund that gave money to the local delegation to spend at the delegation’s discretion. Gov. Robert Bentley eventually vetoed the bill, and Attorney General Luther Strange deemed the legislation unconstitutional.

Discussing the 2013 version of the bill earlier this year with The Star, Laird said he did away with the general fund for the updated bill, and instead the bill is redirecting money into the newly established Equine and Agriculture Association. The non-profit group is trying to raise money to build an agriculture center for the county.

Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.
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