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Tucker wants county to make first move

Leaders in West Alabama must be proactive in addressing the needs of the area, said Marengo County Commissioner Ken Tucker. "We can’t just sit back and expect people to say ‘the Black Belt area is a third world country.’…Sure, we have a lot of problems, but we have strengths too."

We can’t expect somebody to take care of us, he said.

Tucker was responding to recent comments made by fellow Commissioner Max Joiner regarding the lack of interest in West Alabama by Governor Bob Riley’s administration.

Tucker is a member of the West Alabama Regional Alliance which he said has good representation from five counties and a strategic plan for the future.

The people in the Black Belt must work with a mission and vision, "by doing that we more control our own fate," he said.

Tucker attended the annual Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) meeting in Birmingham where Governor Riley spoke. The governor mentioned the Black Belt Commission in his talk, and Tucker and other representatives from West Alabama "started plotting strategy then to get a group from our area in front of the governor." They wanted "good people appointed to that commission who would be results oriented," he said, "not just study and make recommendations in a report to be put up on a shelf."

What is the general perception of the Black Belt at these state meetings? "Demopolis typically has a very good reputation…which we’ve worked hard to earn," Tucker said. "…We’re trying to do things and make things happen….You try to look at things and how you can make it better.

As Marengo County is positioned among a number of counties, "there’s strength in numbers," he said. While the other counties may not be as progressive as you are, "by sheer numbers and the force of pulling all these different state senators and representatives together, then you have a more powerful force."

Tucker said Congressman Artur Davis is pulling everyone together "and trying to use resources from every county when he can." Davis is proposing a super Black Belt-Delta Regional Authority with $550 million in funding.

Senator Richard Shelby also has a "very vested interest in West Alabama and the Black Belt. We need champions like that who can pull a diverse group of elected officials and business leaders together."

In the next few years, Tucker sees as practical the four-laning of Highway 80 and leveraging grant money from the Delta Regional Authority for projects such as the High Education Center in Demopolis. Long term he also sees as crucial the four-laning of Highway 43 from Thomasville to I-59/20, and the proposed I-85 extension.

Federal and state authorities must be given the message constantly from a chorus of all the elected officials in the area. "If you don’t keep (pushing) with the same message over and over, they will ignore you and it will go away," he said.

Is it an opportune time for members of the Marengo County Commission to stress the case to state and federal leaders? On at least a quarterly basis, all the elected leaders from the county should come together to set strategy, Tucker said. "It helps you get together on a plan…and opens up communication.

…That concept is what we’re doing through the West Alabama Regional Alliance." There will be a meeting in March in Demopolis.

Also, "we don’t need to take one tact and one approach," Tucker said. "We need to take multiple approaches. (Another approach being we also need "to take a critical role in the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission" which represents 10 counties.