By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, October 15, the Alabama Parks System closed five State parks. Bladon Springs, Chickasaw, Paul M. Grist, Roland Cooper and Florala all were closed by the state of Alabama on Thursday.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R), who opposed the closings, spoke to the Rainy Day Patriots in Hoover about the situation.
Zeigler said that the theory behind modern government is that when they deduct our money from our pay checks or tax our property is that they (government) can do a better job spending it than we could with our own families. Zeigler said that government has proven over time that that approach doesn’t work.
Zeigler said that the park closings happened not because there was not enough money, but rather because Governor Bentley threatened that if his taxes did not pass, then driver’s license offices and parks would close. “They ended up passing three of Governor Bentley’s tax increases. He started off asking for $700 million, then it was $500 million, then $300 million, $260 million and then got $82 million. He had to close something. So he closed five of the State parks.”
Zeigler said, “The sad reality is 85 to 90 percent of the money to run the State parks is generated by the State parks.” “With just a little tweaking and proper management they could be self-sufficient.” “That is what we need to do in the future. The parks don’t need to be dependent on the legislature and Governor Bentley because they have proven they can’t be trusted.”
Auditor Zeigler said that the good news is that those State parks are not going to stay closed. “The town of Florala and the Covington County Commission have the money and are prepared to run that state park.”
Florala is originally a city park, so when the state stopped running it’s title reverted back to the city of Florala.
Zeigler said that a group of 1700 citizens around Selma have already formed a group and are asking the county to take over Paul M. Grist.
According to original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Paul Gattis (referenced by Zeigler) Wilcox County and the City of Camden are seeking to take over Roland Cooper. According to Gattis, Roland Cooper is actually owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers so if the state no longer leases it then the Corps can find a new lease tenant.
Zeigler said, “In every case there are local citizens or local city and county governments in negotiation to take over those state parks.” “I think Florala will be open without missing a beat.”
Auditor Zeigler said that there are hundreds of items of State property that you paid for still at the parks. “This closing was not a well thought through thing.” Zeigler said that he instructed his Chief of Staff to send an email to the Park Systems informing them to keep track of State property.
On Oct. 2, Zeigler’s chief of staff Kathie Lynch, sent the following e-mail: “Attention to those of you who have offices or locations closing because of a budget shortfall. Make sure you pick up and secure the assets at the locations being closed. Those assets are your responsibility. We don’t want them left behind, and especially if they are in a building being leased by your office, or in the case of a state park, accessible to anyone who wanders on the property.”
Zeigler said that Bentley, “Wanted to use this tough guy politics and demand that you pressure your legislators to pass the tax increases they wanted. They are not very good at it.”
The Alabama Political Reporter asked State Auditor Zeigler: During the special session Gov. Bentley asked the legislature for a $50 million bond issue to build a massive luxury hotel and conference center on the beach at Gulf State Park. The legislature did not pass that; but then the BP deal that Attorney General Luther Strange negotiated provided $50 million for the project.
Zeigler said, “You notice that Gulf State Park wasn’t closed.” It was never on any closure list. They got their money to build their hotel and went around the legislature to do it. They need to build that so their buddies can get contracts.
The Rainy Day Patriots are one of the larger and better known Tea Party groups in the State of Alabama.