Still no probate judge appointed

Published 8:30 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Pike County residents may think it’s just an April Fools’ joke if they walk in to find closed doors to the Probate Office Wednesday.

But doors will likely stay that way until Alabama Gov. Bob Riley appoints someone to take the place of the now retired Judge Bill Stone.

“From a practical standpoint, if the governor fails to appoint a probate judge, I don’t see how the staff is going to be able to conduct business because every transaction is made in the name of an elected official,” Stone said.

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And so conducting public business is something Chief Clerk Donna Fannin, who also retired Tuesday, said the probate office will likely not do.

“I told the people to come to work and do business behind the scene, so we’ll just have to wait and see,” Fannin said. “We can’t do transactions to the public until we have an official.”

Todd Stacy, press secretary for the governor’s office, said Riley has completed six interviews, but is still taking the decision under consideration, as of 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“Governor Riley understands the importance of this probate judgeship, and he’s doing everything he can to make sure the vacancy is filled in a timely manner,” Stacy said. “He wants to make sure he appoints the best person for the job.”

Stone said the serving chief clerk may be asked to step in to serve in the time lapsed between a retirement and a new appointment, but since Fannin has also retired, what happens in the probate office remains to be seen.

At his request, Stone said he will receive an audit from examiners, and whoever serves next will receive a different audit, as well. How many times the probate office is audited depend on how long it takes to appoint a new official.

“I have requested one myself and have talked to examiners, who have promised to come in as quickly as possible, and who steps in will be audited individually,” Stone said. “If someone comes in as an interim, they would be audited separate from whoever is appointed the next judge. I hope that will be one in the same.”

Stone stepped down Tuesday after 35 years of public service, 14 of which were served as probate judge.

Now, after involvement in more than 40 elections and endless hours spent in probate court, receiving legal documents and overseeing tags, titles and ad valorem taxes, Stone said he is ready for some time of his own.

“I’m now at retirement age, and after having worked since the age of 14, I’m really looking forward to some personal time,” Stone said. “In the short term, I plan to renovate some houses I have, and the long term will speak for itself.”

Fannin, who has served as clerk since Stone became probate judge in 1995, said she has been planning retirement and decided to leave officially since Stone was, as well.

“I had told him I was going to leave, but I said I would not leave until I knew everything was OK for him,” Fannin said. “It’s been a lot of responsibility, but I’ve taken it seriously, and I hope I’ve served well.”

Stacy said there is no exact timeline on when Riley will make his appointment.

Several locally who have announced they’ve put their names in the hat are Don Dickert, Angela Johnson, Neal Armstrong, Matt Baker, Clif Hastings and Bill Key. Wes Allen, who works in athletics at Troy University, expressed interest but never said officially whether he was seeking the position.