Stealing street signs hurts us all


Let's clean out the notebook ...

• I did the story the other day on the Walker County Commission dealing with the theft of so many of its street signs. The commission is having to replace traffic signs every day, with each costing $100 in labor and material to replace after theft or vandalism. Most of these signs are thought to be taken by teenagers and such, who are on a lark or want something for their room. 

I doubt these teenagers are thinking about what harm they are causing. I doubt they realize the real life deputies, firemen and ambulance crews are trying to find reported crime, house fires and medically stricken patients, with some of these being life or death incidents. But the public safety officials can’t find what they are looking for, because they are looking for road signs. Maybe they can go by GPS, but District 2 Commissioner Jeff Burroughs said that doesn’t always work in Walker County. 

I think it will take a large part of education to cut down the problem. If the teens are the one causing the problem, then it is like Jerry Bishop, the commission chairman, says about littering: The solution is educating the kids in the school with programs and the like. 

I can see where programs can be held in the school. Maybe it could be combined with the railroad crossing safety programs or other traffic programs, but somehow police, fire and ambulance crews need to go to the schools for a program. They need to get up and say, “We had a situation last week where we were five minutes late to the scene of” whatever. Those things are really happening, Burrough said. They need to tell those tales, maybe the worst ones, to the students, to impact that this is not just a sign to rip off for your room that we are talking about. We are talking about people’s lives and property, and maybe criminal threats against the community. 

For added bonus, they can also tell the kids how much it costs the county financially, but really the impact in lives and property needs to be drilled into these kids. 

One of the hallmarks of my career was in Marion County was when we got Enhanced 911 in the county. We had 911, but D.D. Real, the emergency management coordinator for that county at the time, had to lobby for it, and get a referendum passed. We pushed for it at the paper I was at, and we got the fee on. It also required getting streets named and signs put up, which also helped not only the pubic to find others, but the emergency personnel that needed that information. 

Sign stealing is not new, unfortunately, but the problem is so epidemic that more than two dozens signs were found in one home, left behind by a family and discovered as the home was being cleaned out. They were all found in one closet. 

It just devastates me to think officials have gone to so much trouble to get such a system, and now teenagers are running around stealing signs, and some are being plowed under by monster trucks, shot up and who knows what else. We need to take education efforts, and we need to prosecute when need be. Burrough said he hated to decide who to go after, deciding who needed to be prosecuted when some kid’s life could be ruined. 

I understand that. It is tough to do that. But you give one big warning in the schools and then you crack down. If you fine and punish kids, they will think twice. 

I recall one senior in Hamilton on the annual Washington and New York senior trip, when they got to the Lincoln Memorial. Some senior thought it would be ohhhh so funny to climb up and sit in Lincoln’s lap. I wasn’t there but we heard the guards of the National Park Service were in no mood to ponder whether they would ruin some kid’s life. It took negotiation skills that could have well been borrowed across town from the State Department to allow this kid to get out of the clutches of the federal government - provided he be confined to the bus for the rest of their time in Washington. It was likely going to be a lot worse had they not been passing through. 

Sometimes, kids need tough love in tough situations. And this is a tough situation when you are talking about life and property imperiled because a minor thought they could get a cool street sign for their room. 

• I am writing this the first night of the Foothills Festival, as I am taking this week for vacation. It was a warm one this night, especially after you've walked the length of the festival. The first couple of hours was slow, but at about 8 p.m. the crowd picked up.  Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. 

This year there were cooling stations up and down the line. There was even a station for pets, where they could drink water and rest, etc, sponsored by Fetch Pet Care (a new business we'll profile later) and the Birmingham Humane Society. (There were a lot of leashed pets that night, too.) Even during the slower hours the food court looked packed and it sure enough looked busy at 8 p.m., although the restaurants were open and the restaurants at the children's area were selling, too. 

Later into the evening Russ Robertson announced from the stage that Jasper was beating Dora and Jasper's score was like past 40, which brought a cheer.  He told the crowd they knew they had made the right pick by coming to Foothills instead of the game, but the Vikings were now proving it. 

I got to have several conversations that night. It was strange after the column last week on Facebook, I had several people come up to tell me how much they think of my column and stories, or of the Eagle in general. One referenced a critical letter to the editor against me and said that writer was out of line.  Another wanted to thank me for my service in trying to get information to the public, much like you approach military members these days. When I manned the Daily Mountain Eagle booth, one woman talked about moving back to the county and loving Walker Magazine.  

It was amazing. It was as if the village of Brigadoon woke up in Scotland after 100 years and all the enchanted nice people came out. It was refreshing and welcome, and I was thankful. 

I was pleased to see some regular businesses, beyond the restaurants, were open for business, including the Cigar Box and Ella's Boutique. I saw a couple of the mobile boutiques and they were interesting and promising to see. 

Now, again, all heck might have broken loose on Saturday and the column was finished before, but the first night seemed to bode well for the festival. It looked like a big win for the city to me. We'll certainly have a follow up soon. 

• If you want to see a couple of funny things on YouTube, via Roku, apparently there was a spoof of bad community theater in Great Britain called "The Play that Goes Wrong." There is a nine-minute clip of that, probably an excerpt, but it most have been so popular that the BBC had a Christmas Day "Peter Pan Goes Wrong" that is the same group attempting to do "Peter Pan" on live TV (one of the cast members was related to a BBC official, was the story). You don't see slapstick anymore but these were loaded with it. I laughed like crazy. 

Well, then again, you could watch clips of the House of Commons this week, and that wasn't too bad, either. That would be called "Brexit Goes Wrong." 

• I appreciated U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, who I have known for two decades, coming in for an in-depth interview. I threw some tough questions, but the congressman handled the questions well, defending the president and his policies. We'll should have some video of the interview (even more than what I thought we would have) up to view on Facebook.

• I am glad they called the Oakman game after the young player was injured. The score was lopsided and there was no need to proceed. It is a horrible thing to happen to a young player. Oakman had the wall fall down, and now this. Prayers to him and his teammates. 

However, there is also the area team who lost pretty badly Friday and told our sports crew, "We lost by (score). That's all the stats you need to know." I think I would make the coach take laps until he found humility. 

•  Please keep in mind that next week the staff will be sharing a major package of stories we have been working on concerning the opioid epidemic, as well as a few stories on recovering from a few other problems, like alcoholism, as September is National Recovery Month. But we are mostly looking at opioids, which will include a major in-depth interview with Attorney General Steve Marshall while he was in town last month. We need to acknowledge we have had a major problem in this county, and hopefully you will meet people who are affected directly or by way of being family (as Marshall was, through his late wife). 

Moreover, Walker Baptist Medical Center has a major seminar on the crisis set for the Jasper Civic Center on Monday at 6 p.m.  Reservations can be turned in by tomorrow. 

• Do not forget Hillfest will be in Carbon Hill Friday night and Saturday, starting with the cruise-in and then a concert downtown.