Officials: Schmitz never visited offices

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, August 21, 2008

DECATUR – Directors for a two-year college system program to help troubled youth testified Thursday that they never saw state Rep. Sue Schmitz at their offices while she was working for the agency.

Betty Tidwell is program director for the Clanton office of the Community Intensive Training for Youth program. She said Schmitz never visited her office, never called and never sent her e-mails.

Program directors in Mobile and Montgomery also testified that they never saw Schmitz at their offices from 2003 to 2006 when she held a public relations position with the agency. Witnesses have testified that one of the duties given her by CITY officials was to visit the program’s 10 locations around the state and develop a public relations plan.

The testimony came on the fourth day of Schmitz’ fraud trial in federal court in Decatur. She is accused in an eight-count indictment of taking more than $177,000 in pay over more than three years from the program, but rarely showing up for work. If she is convicted of one of the felony counts she would automatically lose her position in the Legislature, according to state law.

Three legislators – Rep. James Fields, D-Cullman, Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and Rep. Ron Grantland, D-Hartselle – were in the courtroom for part of Thursday’s testimony and talked quietly to Schmitz during a break.

Tidwell said she saw Schmitz twice – once at a conference for CITY employees at Orange Beach and once at a meeting for program directors in Talladega – but said she didn’t realize at the time that Schmitz worked for the program.

“I thought she was a legislator who was there. I thought she was just there as a guest speaker,” Tidwell said.

While cross examining Tidwell, defense attorney Buck Watson noted that Schmitz was expected to make the visits to offices across the state without being given money for gasoline or meals and without guidance concerning what she was to accomplish on the visits.

Mobile program director Harold Houze and Montgomery director Eric Guttensohn told jurors Schmitz never visited their programs either.

Earlier Thursday, former CITY interim director Larry Palmer testified that one idea of Schmitz was to start a debate program for the youths involved in the program, who have been referred by courts. But Palmer said he didn’t think it was something that would help the troubled youth and the debate program never got off the ground.

“It suggested to me that she did not have a good understanding of the objectives of the CITY program with the children we work with,” Palmer said.

Palmer also testified that former CITY director Ed Earnest, who died in 2005, once told him he had reservations about hiring Schmitz. Former two-year Chancellor Roy Johnson has testified he was asked by House Speaker Seth Hammett and teachers union head Paul Hubbert if he could find a job for Schmitz.

Palmer said Earnest told him “this is one of those situations we have always tried to avoid.”

Under cross examination by defense attorney Jake Watson, Buck Watson’s son, Palmer said Schmitz was never reprimanded, suspended or put on probation for not working.

Schmitz’s trial recesses Friday and will resume at 8:30 a.m. Monday in federal court in Decatur.