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Marion holds hearings on public safety, Sunday alcohol hours

Ed. Note: Due to an error at the printing plant, last week’s edition of the Perry County Herald was printed with an incorrect plate for “Page Six.” That page should have contained the conclusion of our coverage of two public hearings held in the City of Marion the night of Nov. 28. Here, we re-publish that story in its entirety.

Marion City Council held two back-to-back public hearings on Monday night, Nov. 28 at Marion City Hall. Councilmembers set a public safety hearing after their first scheduled meeting this month, Nov. 7, in response to citizen complaints about noise, speeding, and gunshots in residential neighborhoods in the town. The council also set a hearing on the possibility of amending the city’s alcohol ordinance to expand the hours during which Sunday sales are permitted. Marion currently allows sales to begin at 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. The State of Alabama recently passed a “Brunch Bill” allowing alcohol sales to begin as early as 10:00 a.m. in order to allow restaurants and other establishments more open time. Proponents of the bill hope this expansion of permitted hours will benefit sales.

As the public safety portion of the hearing began, City Clerk Laura Hinton noted that this meeting was “not a decision-making meeting.” Only one member of Marion’s City Council, Jeff Nail, was present for the meeting, meaning there would have been no quorum to take a vote on any matters discussed that night. Also in attendance were Mayor Dexter Hinton, Marion Police Chief Tony Bufford, and Marion Volunteer Fire Chief Eddie Horton.

“It’s not going to be a ‘smash you, bash you’ night,” said Bufford. “We’ll be taking notes to try to address your concerns accordingly.”

The first citizen to speak was Marion attorney Rick Griffin, a resident of Green Street. At the council’s first November meeting, Griffin voiced his frustrations around speeding and gunfire in his neighborhood. At that meeting Bufford told Griffin that if his department had not responded to calls in the area, it was because they had not been dispatched by Perry County E-911. “You need to take that up with E-911,” he said at that meeting.

Griffin said he had attended E-911’s next meeting, which was held Thursday, Nov. 10, and asked about this issue. During the open meeting, a representative of E-911 read the call logs from the night in question and noted that several calls had been made to E-911 and dispatched on the night in question.

“I went to the board meeting and they read me the log,” Griffin said. “They have the names of the officers they spoke to. The problem is not with E-911, the problem is on y’all’s end.”

Since the council’s Nov. 3 meeting, Griffin noted, he said he had seen an increased police presence in Marion, including cars patrolling his neighborhood.

“That’s more than I’ve seen on Green Street in 20 years,” he said. He went on to attribute many of Marion’s current economic issues to the enforcement of the law in the city. “This town is dying because we’re not enforcing the law,” he said.

“If we need to have an economic development meeting, we can do that,” said City Clerk Laura Hinton, noting that the purpose of the hearing that night was for public safety issues.

“We’re dying and the reason why is that we don’t enforce the law,” Griffin continued. “Nobody wants to invest in us. We’ve lost Judson College now. Nobody’s going to buy that place when they’re hearing gunshots every night. I could take a baseball right now tonight and throw it to a place where a vast majority of the problems emanate from—y’all just drive through there and don’t do anything about it.”

Bufford spoke to address some of Griffin’s concerns.

“All of our patrol cars are black,” he said, so patrols through neighborhoods might not be as noticeable as they would be if the cars were striped and otherwise clearly identified as police vehicles. “We’re in the process of getting the cars striped with decals so people will know it’s the police.”

“To say that we don’t patrol Green Street—that’s not true. I’ve been working the night shift now for the last month and a half, and I’ve made it a priority,” he continued. Bufford said his department had written 96 tickets in the month of November, eight of them on Green Street.

“The gunshot situation,” he continued. “I’ve talked to several other chiefs. Everybody, every town, has gunshots.” Bufford said that his department hoped to “do a better job of getting the community involved” to report incidents and details as they happen so that his officers can respond in time.

“What I want tonight is for you guys to give me input on how we can better deal with the situations in Marion,” Bufford said.

Griffin continued, “What you didn’t address was what y’all told us last meeting when we were here, when y’all told us it was E- 911’s fault. That’s something you didn’t address… You know you’re not going to catch the guys…you’re not going to get the guns off the street because somebody calls and says, ‘It’s a red car.’”

“So you want the MPD to stop every car,” said Bufford. “You said to stop every car.”

“That’s not what I said,” Griffin responded. “You’ve got to have probable cause, Chief. You know that’s how you do it. You don’t just pull over every car. I don’t want to live in a police state and you don’t either. You’ve got to have probable cause and the probable cause is speeding. Then when you pull them over you’ll smell the alcohol, smell the marijuana, and find the guns.”

Bufford said he felt Griffin’s remarks reflected “an unfair assessment of the situation.”

“When this club lets out, from 11:00 to 2:00, it’s all going down,” Griffin said. “That’s my input. You’ll get them. You’ll have the guns, you’ll have the drugs, Marion will be a safer place to live.”

Marion business owner Jeff Tubbs, who owns several businesses in the Jackson Street area, said he felt Griffin’s remarks were directed toward the area of town in which he does business.

“I’m pretty sure I know the area he’s talking about,” said Tubbs. “You’re imagining a lot of what you’re saying. There’s not a problem in my area. There’s nothing going on. I close at 11:00. I can’t help it if somebody comes through my area with loud music. If you want to throw something, throw it at yourself. I know why you want to blame that area.”

“Come into that area yourself and see for yourself what goes on. It’s controlled,” said Tubbs.

Marion resident Vinnie Royster said the time of night some people were reporting gunshots, around 1:00 to 2:00 a.m., was around the time she often was alerted to trespassers on her property by her dogs. She offered that maybe what some people were hearing had to do with measures she often takes to stop suspected trespassers from stealing.

Marion resident Florence Parker also spoke, saying she felt the police were doing their jobs.

“I just want to say that police department—I know they write tickets because they gave my son five in one night and we had to pay it,” she said. “What’s the police department got to do with Judson Colege moving? Judson got stimulus money. The president relocated, didn’t he? Took the money and bought a house on the beach….they still shut the school down.”

Parker also addressed the Jackson Street area: “You know what’s down there, if you’re going to the club. Those guys, they stand out, but they don’t bother anybody. Don’t blame them for the guns. Blame the NRA… don’t blame the MPD for all these guns that are around. Blame the NRA.”

“Goldblatt’s, Nathan Harris’s, they’ve been closed how many years now? Don’t blame it on the city. If you know how to get grant money, talk to Mrs. Hinton. She’s smart. Fix the streets. We’ve got all kinds of problems that we need to be concerned about besides people smoking dope.”

Marion resident Polly Moore, who used to work as a police dispatcher, offered her experiences: “Marion is bigger than you guys think. There’s two officers on one shift at night. It’s impossible,” she said, for them to be everywhere at once. “I’m out in Marion all times of night every night. I promise you, I see police officers out all the time. When stores close down, police are there patrolling. We are really understaffed, but that’s not something that can just be immediately handled. Call it in. Give the best description you can. Just try to help the police out. They’re not getting paid what they’re worth. They choose to police here. They could work somewhere else and get paid a whole lot more.”

Mayor Dexter Hinton noted that the MPD had recently added four new vehicles, which should cut down on maintenance and downtime for cruisers and allow the officers to patrol more effectively. “We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “With a small community like this, we have to work together.”

Laura Hinton added, “We’re giving them the resources that they need. We’re doing what we can to make this city a great place to live, work, and raise a family.”

“Policing has become very hard to do,” added Mayor Hinton. “It’s a hard job.” Much of the emphasis now is placed on de-escalating, he noted. “If you put somebody up against the wall, they’re going to sue you. If you put the handcuffs on too tight, they’re going to sue you.”

Laura Hinton said the city was actively seeking to add new officers to the police department, which had lost some personnel recently.

As the hearing moved on to the Sunday alcohol sales issue, with the exception of a few questions about the details of the proposal, no one in attendance who spoke expressed any opposition to the changes. City Clerk Laura Hinton said the council would likely discuss the changes in a “first reading” at their next meeting, but the matter would not be voted on for several weeks. The council’s second monthly meeting for November, which was scheduled for Monday, Nov. 22, was canceled for lack of a quorum. The body’s first scheduled meeting for December will be held Monday, Dec. 5.