Questions on ranch need answered

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 19, 2007

Since the beginning of what has become an interesting saga on the closure of the Farquhar State Cattle Ranch, there has been a lack of clarity on the behalf of the office of the governor and the Alabama Department of Corrections on what steps have and are being taken and what catalysts prompted such moves.

It seems a trend by both offices to release only that information that would lead the public to concur with the decisions they have made in the situation, while denying existence or ignoring information that comes to light that casts a shadow of doubt on their conclusions. The trend has become disturbing and, due to the inability or blatant refusal to face any of this information contrary to their own head on, the offices have damaged their own case in the eyes of the public, producing only more questions about their motives rather than producing answers that could help their cause. The way the situation has been handled resembles more a train wreck than the beacon of hope for Alabama&8217;s prison system as they had hoped it would be heralded.

When rumors of a possible sale of prison lands began, the Department of Corrections declined to comment in depth about any possible decision, stating that land sale was being looked at as an option to fill the $26.6 million budget deficit projected by the department. After meeting with the governor, department Commissioner Richard Allen said the discussions of any sales where being handled by the Press Secretary.

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When the announcement came in the form of a press conference naming the properties than were slated for the chopping block, the reasoning for the land sale was changed from filling budget deficits to bankrolling projected $90 million in capital improvements. More interestingly, press releases issued the day of the conference, prior to the meeting, named budget deficits, while one issued at the meeting named capital improvements and only came hours apart from one another.

During the conference, the governor and commissioner said the properties that had been chosen for sale consisted only of properties that interest had been expressed in purchasing. The two, however, declined to name such interested parties, stating an auction would be held and all properties handed over to the highest bidders so such names were irrelevant at the time.

The two also noted that the properties that were up for sale also were drains on taxpayers, thus their sale would free up public monies for other projects. Gov. Bob Riley even stated:

Yet in the aftermath of the announcement of the sales information has come to light suggesting that the numbers presented by the two offices and those of the ranch don&8217;t match. Further, the ranch&8217;s records contain specific costs and incomes that show how the cite complied their findings, which showed they were in fact profitable, while the department&8217;s figures are just that &8212; figures with no information backing up that they weren&8217;t numbers pulled from the sky.

With this information that suggests the ranch could be profitable, both offices have continued to hold firm in their course of action to sell the ranch despite such a move conflicting with their original reasoning. They have also failed to put forth any information that would prove the ranch&8217;s reports false and their own reports correct, thus establishing creditability in their actions up to date.

After the press conference, the department relaxed its strangle hold of information, though what was released was incomplete at best and tended to again curry favor and support for their cause. However, once they again perceived a threat to their stance, all information again was locked down.

The newest threat that prompted such an action came from State Representative Ralph Howard, whose district includes Hale, Marengo, Perry and Bibb counties, and who has challenged the findings of the state in light of information obtained from the ranch. He has said if needed he would use litigation to stop the sale until the accounting discrepancies were solved between the department and the ranch.

It would seem to the casual observer that due to the public outcry the department and the governor would want this sale to be as transparent as possible to illustrate the good intentions they hold for the project. Their lack to do so, instead reverting stone walling any queries, tends to make this sale seem like it is not on the up and up.

For example, due to the evasive actions taken by the two departments when asked about certain parts of the sale (i.e. who is interested in their purchase), a person might infer that there might be underlying reasons for a move to sell. Not to say there are, but this coupled with the stubborn digging in to carry through with the sale rather than analyzing why numbers don&8217;t match up makes the sale begin to smell funny.

Unfortunately, if things stay the course they are currently traveling, I feel the smell will get a lot worse before it gets better.

Brandon Glover is the sports editor of The Demopolis Times. He can be reached at