Overhaul is needed, but how?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2003

For the past three weeks, we've been participating in a special series called Alabama Forward that takes an in depth look at Alabama's constitution and Gov. Riley's ambitions to reform it.

Things have been pretty quite on the home front as far as the series goes, but this week's topic - home rule for counties - really starts to bring the whole issue to a more local level.

Home rule, for those who don't know, would give local governments the opportunity to make laws for that affect just their county. It would take away the requirement of municipalities and counties seeking a bill in the state legislature, and then a statewide vote.

In other words, if Covington County wanted to pass a law restricting the placement of a giant chicken farm next to a residential area, the county commission would have to lobby their local representative and senator to get a bill introduced into the state legislature, which would then have to be approved by the legislature and then placed on a ballot for a constitutional amendment election - by the entire state. If a chicken farmer in Morgan County thought it would be a good idea for a giant chicken farm to be placed in Covington County - next to a residential area - he could lobby the entire state, advertising that the people of Covington County don't know what they need, but he does, and Covington County needs to let chicken farms be placed next to neighborhoods.

It may sound extreme, but it really does happen that way.

At least for now.

With Gov. Riley's hopes to change Alabama's 1901 Constitution, that scenario could change.

Although, Riley likely faces an uphill challenge in his quest to establish home rule. Many state legislators are unwilling to give up any power whatsoever to local governments, or the governor (which becomes an entirely different issue), believing that what's best for the entire state of Alabama is to keep all the power in Montgomery.

Many local lawmakers, however, hold different views. And who can blame them.

Local lawmakers know what's best for their county better than the entire state of Alabama. They know the people, the countryside, the way of life. They are the ones who were actually elected to bring about change in their specific county. State legislators were elected to bring about change that benefits the entire state, and as such, they should be able to concentrate all their efforts on the state as a whole - not worry about what Birmingham thinks about what's best for Opp, or what Huntsville thinks would be best for the people of Elba.

Is home rule the best way to help fix Alabama's antiquated constitution? Maybe. Maybe not.

But, it could be a start. If legislators are so bent on keeping control of the entire state, maybe regions instead of counties could begin working together for regional rule. It's still not entirely home rule, but often times, what's good for Dothan just might be good for Enterprise and Andalusia. Or, what's good for Montgomery might be good for Wetumpka and Prattville.

It may not be the best solution, but it could help accomplish one of the things Riley wants to see - accountability. And bringing control back to the county or regional level will help bring about a level of accountability that hasn't been seen in Alabama for hundreds of years.