2008: The year that was

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2008

When Covington County residents, like most Americans, look back on 2008 they will likely recall a year of change.

It was the year that Americans elected their first African-American leader; the year that Covington County and Andalusia residents made sweeping political changes; the year that scandal changed the Covington County Courthouse.

Judge indicted, found guilty

But let us rewind to June, when then-Probate Judge Sherrie Phillips on June 4 proclaimed her innocence in the face of rampant rumors of her impending arrest.

“What people are saying is that there’s an investigation going on about how I stole from estates,” Phillips told The Star-News. “I can tell you there’s no money missing from the probate office or from any estate. It’s all intact and accounted for. We’re audited every year and (the audits) have always been good.

“What’s happening now is just rumors and speculation,” she said. “I don’t know whsere they’re coming from.”

Where the rumors were coming from was an attorney general’s investigation which led to Phillips’ indictment on six felony theft and ethics charges. She was indicted for the theft of $1.8 million from the estate of Cary Douglas Piper just a week after she said the money was “intact and accounted for.”

Because Alabama law prohibits a judge under indictment from sitting on the bench, it fell to the Administrative Office of Courts to appoint an acting judge to carry out the duties of the probate office. On June 18, the AOC named Leland Enzor Jr. special probate judge for Covington County.

Just three months later, on Sept. 12, Phillips tendered her resignation as judge, leaving the task of appointing a permanent replacement to Gov. Bob Riley.

In late October, a jury of eight men and four women deliberated less than 40 minutes before finding Phillips guilty of two of the six charges against her, including the theft by deception of $1.8 million and intentionally using her official position for unlawful personal gain. On Nov. 12, she was sentenced to a 10-year split sentence with three years imprisonment. She remains out on bond pending her appeal.

Political changes

The winds of political change began blowing through the county on June 3, when two of the county’s five commissioners lost their bids for reelection during their party’s primary. Then-Commission Chairman Greg White lost his party’s nomination to Lynn Sasser, who would go on to be elected chairman in the November General Election where he defeated former chairman Johnny Mac Weed. Sasser defeated White by 95 votes.

Then-District 1 Commissioner Kent Colquett lost to David Ellis in the party primary the same night, but in a much more definitive race. Ellis won by 738 votes.

On Aug. 26, Andalusia residents voted for change, electing Earl Johnson mayor and choosing at least three new members of the Andalusia City Council, including political newcomer Hazel Griffin, who won by one vote; Will Sconiers, who won by 13 votes; and Kennith Mount, who defeated two challengers to win without a run-off. In the city run-off in October, a fourth new member of the council, Jason Jewell, was elected.

Florala and Gantt also elected new mayors in 2008.

In Florala, Robert Williamson was named mayor. In Gantt, the election of Melissa Grissett as mayor ended the drama of former mayor Tommy Glidewell’s term. For much of his term, he was banned by court order from entering town hall.