Constables face their elimination

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Shelby County currently has 11 constables.

Within three years, there may be none.

Rep. Cam Ward of Alabaster has introduced a bill in the Legislature that would abolish constables in Shelby County in 2008. The measure has already passed the Shelby County legislative committee and the House.

&uot;It’s just a local bill, affecting Shelby County only,&uot; Ward said. &uot;My constable supports the bill.&uot;

Before the bill passed 3-2 in the committee, several proponents and opponents spoke about the legislation, including three current constables.

Constable Don Odom, who serves the Helena-Pelham area, said there is a &uot;growing need&uot; for law enforcement, including constables.

&uot;Constables can be an additional uniformed presence in the community,&uot; he said.

Supporters argue constables could assist law enforcement in different ways, including possible terrorist threats, severe weather and Amber Alerts.

Constable Michael Denard of Alabaster said the Conservation Department has already requested help.

&uot;They would love our assistance,&uot; he said.

Denard added there are many misconceptions about the role of a constable.

&uot;Everybody has this stereotype of a constable in an old pickup truck, running around giving tickets.&uot;

Constables were elected during last year’s elections, and are unpaid positions. While opponents have mentioned their lack of training, Denard said most constables are willing to pay for that.

&uot;That’s how serious we are about our community,&uot; he said.

Current constables include: Betty Rinehart, Shelby; Russell R. Carden, Shelby; James L. Jones Jr., Charles Knight, North Shelby County; Charles P. Walker, Pelham; Maria Reagin, Leeds; Odom; George Oldroyd, Alabaster; Denard, W.M. Bill Logan, Montevallo; and James M. Wagner, Montevallo.

Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry said there is no need for constables, noting they do not receive formal training, drug screening or periodic evaluations.

&uot;You would elect a law enforcement officer with no more requirements than (paying) a $50 qualification fee,&uot; he said.

&uot;I don’t think in today’s world we can go forward with the constable system, as Shelby County is changing.&uot;

Shelby County is among 28 Alabama counties that currently has constables, according to Curry.

Circuit Clerk Mary Harris said constables’ services are rarely, if ever, needed.

&uot;Since 1972, we have not had a constable serve a paper in Shelby County,&uot; she said. &uot;We’ve got a good system in place. Our sheriff’s department does a great job of serving the papers.&uot;

Reagin, who serves North Shelby County, disagrees. She claimed more than 3,500 papers were not served last year.

Calera Police Chief Jim Finn, who also serves as president of the Shelby County Chiefs Association, said law enforcement must be &uot;standardized&uot; throughout the county.

Rep. Mike Hill and Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin voted against Ward’s proposal.

&uot;The constables have always been there, and they have never been a problem,&uot; he said. &uot;I keep saying a sheriff will come along that will utilize them someday.&uot;

Hill admitted that his vote was partly political.

&uot;About two-thirds of the constables live in my district,&uot; he said. &uot;It may have been more political than I want to admit.&uot;

Ward, Rep. Jimmy Martin and Rep. Jim McClendon voted in favor of the legislation. Rep. Mike Carns was not present.

Ward’s bill passed easily in the House, with 42 voting in favor, five voting against and 15 representatives abstaining on the local bill.

It now goes before the Senate