Story speaks to Lions Club

Published 4:08 pm Tuesday, August 6, 2019

VALLEY — Chambers County Probate Judge Paul Story was the guest speaker at the Monday meeting of the Valley Lions Club and brought some data with him showing business activity for the first seven months of calendar year 2019.

“We deal with somewhere between $5.5 million and $6 million a year,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of our business in tag sales is at the Lanett Annex. That’s because the most populous part of our county is on the eastern end in the Valley.”

The seven-month data shows that 17,943 of the county’s 25,785 tag purchases of renewals took place at the Lanett Annex.

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Of the 2,544 titles awarded, a total of 1,895 were taken care of at the Annex.

Of the 16,661 total customers served at both the Annex and Courthouse, 11,698 were in Lanett.

“Our staff is timely, professional and focused on providing local residents with a positive experience when they come by the Courthouse or Annex,” Story said.

The matter of having had $300,000 coming up missing in the probate judge office in 2016 is something that hasn’t been forgotten about or that will be swept under the rug, Story said.

“About $50,000 has been returned,” he said. “We want to get back as much of that as we can. We’ve been told by the district attorney’s office that there will be a trial.”

The problem, said Story, was that one person had been entrusted with doing too much.

“Having checks and balances is a good business practice, and we are running the probate judge’s office that way now,” Story said.

Missing out on $300,000 has taken a big bite out of the office budget that has cascaded down for several years. Story said he has been very careful to have very tight budgets.

“He hasn’t asked the county to bail him out yet,” said Commissioner and Lions Club member Sam Bradford.

“I don’t want the taxpayers to have to pay for what came up missing,” Story said.

Story said there’s been some confusion over a matter that affects county residents who do lots of air travel.

They need to have a license with a star on it. All the new licenses going out have it.

“Some people will have to re-up their license and pay the fee again,” Story said. “It’s unfortunate that not enough has been put out there about this. You have to give them background information before you can get the star. If you travel by air a lot and don’t have the star, you will have to have a passport.”

One of the most difficult matters a probate judge deals with involves mental health cases. In instances where family members feel endangered by someone struggling with a mental health issue, they can sign a petition to have them picked up. The first step will be to have them evaluated at the O.D. Alsobrook Counseling Center in Valley.

“It could be a matter of getting them back on their medicine,” Story explained.

The problem with incarceration is that they could lose their health benefits, something that worsens an already difficult problem.

“They may not be able to afford the medication they need,” Story said.

Story said there is hope in a new program known as Stepping Up. “It will enable a trained person to be at the jail and to evaluate whether or not they need mental health help,” he said. “It can give us timely care so they won’t be a danger to themselves and the general population.”

A handful of mental health-related cases, Story said, can potentially cost the county hundreds of thousands of dollars. “The state has cut back on mental health,” he said. “There’s no place to send them.”

There have been situations when someone caught up in this situation commits crimes just so they will be put in jail, where it’s cool in the summer time, warm in the winter, where they will be fed and get health care. Mental health in the state, Story said, needs more funding and more bed space for those affected.

“A big part of Stepping Up,” said Bradford, “is to collect data. It will help you analyze what to do to solve the problem. (Commissioner) Debra Riley, with her background, has been very helpful to us on this.”

Story said that when a petition on a mental health case comes across his desk there are several options, all depending on bed space.

“We can send them to Brief Intensive Treatment in Opelika, to the hospital or to some other facility, depending on the bed space that’s available,” Story said. “We could have outpatient commitments with Stepping Up. I will never go against a physician’s judgement on whether someone needs additional treatment.”

Another difficult issue for a probate judge involves the settlement of estates. “Some families can get all torn up over this,” Story said. “We have handled some very touchy situations on who gets what.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum there are feel-good days involving adoptions. “

We had ten of them in one day,” Story said. “That was such a good day. It did my heart a lot of good.”