U.S. District Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala has given Gardendale residents the keys to some of the schools in their city even though she asserted that their effort to withdraw from the Jefferson County Schools system is racially motivated.
It’s a contradiction that raised an eyebrow for former federal judge U.W. Clemon, and it’s why he and his colleagues on the legal team for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund plan to file a motion asking Haikala to change her order and halt Gardendale’s takeover.
“It’s called a motion to alter,” Clemon said Wednesday. “In light of her more important finding that the Gardendale school board did not carry its burden of proof that the new school system would not impede the desegregation of the Jefferson County Schools, then there is no legal basis on which to approve the formation of the new system.”
Clemon’s planned motion would be a step short of a formal application to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Haikala’s finding is one of the highlights of a 190-page ruling that reads like a walk through the history of school desegregation in America and into the social media world of Facebook. But her exhaustive historical account and her unorthodox use of social media in the ruling are not her only two departures from traditional judicial practice. Before the end of a hearing on this case in December, Haikala opened up the floor to anyone who wanted to share their opinion, a practice rarely used in any court.
Her thoroughness won compliments from Clemon, even as he disagreed with her ultimate ruling. Read more.
Most of the business addressed at the Birmingham City Council’s Tuesday meeting was fairly streamlined, until an extended discussion of a proposed zoning ordinance change led to a freewheeling conversation about parking. Specifically, the issue was how to prevent people from parking on their front lawns, the width of the city’s right-of-way, and the responsibility of the Birmingham Police Department to enforce parking ordinances.
“We have gotten far away from the topic that is before the council, which is just the amendment to the zoning ordinance,” said assistant city attorney Julie Bernard at one point. “The issue that is before the council … does not have much to do with the issue that we have diverted to.” Read more.
The City of Gardendale has tried for more than three years to break away from the Jefferson County Schools to form its own municipal system. The county system has tried equally hard to keep that from happening.
On Monday, a federal judge gave each side some of what they wanted, but maybe not enough to satisfy either.
U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala ruled that the Gardendale City Schools – a system that has existed as only a legal entity for three years, without any schools to operate – may take over Snow Rogers and Gardendale Elementary schools for the 2017-2018 academic year. But Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools will stay in the Jefferson County system, for at least the next year “and until this Court orders otherwise,” in the judge’s words. Read more.
Briarwood Presbyterian Church may soon join the ranks of the Vatican and Washington National Cathedral as a religious institution with its own police department.
Critics of the bill to allow Briarwood to establish its own police department say the move is unconstitutional. But Briarwood representatives cite the increasing rate of mass shootings at churches, schools and commercial venues as reasons for bringing police officers on staff.
Since the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved the legislation April 19, the Alabama House of Representatives is likely to vote this next week on whether to allow the Vestavia Hills church to establish its own police department. Read more.
Questions about budgets consistently being presented to the Birmingham City Council during the time of a vote took center stage in Tuesday’s meeting, including during the discussion of a three-year, $1,496,500 contract with Zoom Motorsports to manage Indy Grand Prix Racing at Barber Motorsports Park. Read more.
The April 11 meeting of the Birmingham City Council was a relatively uneventful one, with nearly all of the ordinances and resolutions considered by the council relegated to the consent agenda, which the council quickly passed. Read more.
With Robert Bentley’s resignation as governor, Alabama’s history of top elected officials who have had their careers end because of scandal continues.
In the past 25 years, three governors have faced criminal charges during or soon after their terms of office, and a speaker of the House was forced out after convictions on a dozen ethics violations. The state’s chief justice was removed from office twice – not on criminal charges, but for willfully disobeying federal judges’ orders.
With four top elected officials now convicted criminals, is Alabama leading the nation in political corruption? Read more.
Kay Ivey made history in 2002 when she became the first Republican elected state treasurer since Reconstruction.
She made history again Monday when she became the second woman to hold the office of governor in Alabama. Ivey succeeded Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned from the office amid threats of impeachment and looming criminal charges tied to his relationship with adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Read more.
April 4, 2017 – The Birmingham City Council approved a $220,000 appropriation to pay for services associated with the management of Railroad Park after a prolonged discussion about a lack of invoices for the services. Some council members questioned the amounts the city pays for Railroad Park while it struggles to fund other parks in the city. Read more.
How old must a building be before it is considered historic? Should tax credits for their preservation be split evenly across the state or allowed to cluster in the cities?
Both are questions still in play as the Alabama Legislature considers restoring a program that helped fund renewal efforts, most notably in Birmingham and Mobile.
The historic preservation tax credit, which has helped fund restoration of 51 buildings across the state so far, is headed to a House committee vote next week. But then negotiations will begin over the House sponsor’s vision for extension of the tax credit and a heavily amended version that has been passed by the Senate.
Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, sponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives, said the important thing is to get the money flowing to the program again. Gaston said that not only do the tax credits help pay to restore often dilapidated buildings, but those projects create jobs for the construction workers and craftsmen employed to do the work. Read more.
March 21, 2017 – The Birmingham City Council, mostly showing up on time this week, debated several contentious issues.
It delayed votes on whether to apply for World Trade Center designation and whether to conduct a study on the long-term placement of i-20/59. And after some discussion, it approved the sale of land in the Oxmoor Valley to a developer who wants to build a subdivision there. Read more.
The newly renovated Pizitz Building sits on 19th Street North in downtown Birmingham, its pristine, wedding cake white façade belying its 94 years.
It’s the latest among dozens of historic downtown Birmingham buildings that have been renovated in recent years. But many more of them haven’t been. They stand nearby, vacant or sparsely populated, with fading signs and sagging woodwork.
Three such buildings in Birmingham – a total of seven from around the state – are on a list at the Alabama Historic Commission, waiting to see whether the Legislature will renew tax credits for historic renovation.
The tax credit expired last year because of concerns about the cost of the program to the state. But bills to overhaul and reinstate the tax credit program have pulled much more support this year – at least in theory.
The tax credit this year has 87 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 29 co-sponsors in the Senate. “It’s huge for Birmingham,’’ said Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, who introduced the bill in the Senate this year. Read more.
March 14, 2017 – Birmingham City Council President Johnathan Austin slammed the gavel and the council session began at 10:53 am, nearly an hour and a half after the scheduled time, because there had not been enough members present to legally hold the meeting.
Mayor William Bell was among the absent, leaving councilors with questions on several items. Among the most contentious was an agreement between the city and the Birmingham Board of Education to appoint Bobby Benton to a full-time position “from the board to work with My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.” The job could pay up to $43,823, according to the resolution.
Benton has worked on political campaigns for Bell, and several councilors, including Austin, said they believed Benton had been named as the chairman to Bell’s re-election campaign.
The League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham is launching a new program to train citizens to observe local government bodies and report impartially on their actions.
The launch of the new Greater Birmingham Observer Corps coincides with this year’s national Sunshine Week, March 12-18. The purpose of the corps is to push for transparency in local government actions, and Sunshine Week is designed to highlight open government and freedom of information at the local, state and federal levels.
(In the early days of a new president, BirminghamWatch has looked at what divides us and connects us close to home. This is the final story in the series.)
Edgewood resident Leo Wright has been an election officer in Homewood for the past four presidential elections, and Homewood Public Library has served as his base every Election Day.
It’s the largest voting location in Homewood and one of the largest in Jefferson County based on registered voters. On Nov. 8, 2016, a total of 3,381 residents voted there, enjoying free coffee and a collegial, jubilant atmosphere that Wright says is typical.
That atmosphere reflects the sense of community in Homewood, says Wright, who served as the registration list clerk and assistant inspector.
But it belies the division among voters in the Over the Mountain suburb, particularly those who cast ballots at the library, where Donald Trump won 49 percent of the votes and Hillary Clinton won 43 percent. Read more.
Jefferson County voters approved extending more than $100 million in property taxes for schools Tuesday, most of them with a vote of more than 90 percent. Also on the ballot, Rolanda Hollis won the Democratic nomination to the House District 58 seat, vacated last year with the retirement of former Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham. Read more.
March 7, 2017 – Birmingham City Councilor William Parker doesn’t see any hidden meaning in HB 34, the proposed legislation that would create and fund a Jefferson County Cemetery Board through gun permit fees.
“The funding is funding that has already been collected,” said Parker, who supports the bill. He said the intent was not to send a message – grave maintenance being paid for by gun fees — in a city that is plagued by gun-related homicides. “This is the way that the legislators are supporting the issue about addressing the needs of the cemetery.”
But questions about whether that’s a stable source of funding, how the money would be allotted and whether it was enough stalled a resolution the council was debating to support the bill. Read more.
Alabama legislators kick-started their session last week, with committees approving bills on abortion, sanctuary campuses and death penalty sentences, among other topics. Those bills could go to the floor of the House or Senate this week.
The governor’s recommendations for the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets also were introduced last week but have yet to come up for a vote. Read more.
Alabama legislators convened their regular session Tuesday facing some of the same problems that consumed them last year.
“The main thing for all of us is going to be the budget,” said Allen Treadaway, R-Morris.
The governor is recommending a $1.9 billion General Fund budget that is almost flat funding from this year, though he has said he was considering proposing a pay raise for state employees. His $6.3 billion proposed Education Trust Fund budget does not include a raise for education employees, who did get a bump in pay this year.
But the two biggest elephants in the budget conference room will once again be Medicaid and prisons. Read more.
If you had been stricken with amnesia and couldn’t remember who was running for president, you wouldn’t have gotten any clues as you approached polling places in Jefferson County.
Despite the complete inundation of news and ads and chatter about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the past several months as they have pushed toward their epic showdown, there was literally no sign for either approaching precincts in Jefferson County.
Was this some new political strategy? Were party leaders here trying to give voters a break, fearing they suffered from candidate fatigue?
Nope. They just didn’t have any signs for the candidates at the top of their tickets.
The Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Department is on the lookout this afternoon for people posting or handing out fliers that erroneously tell Democratic voters they cannot vote until Nov. 9. After receiving several calls today about misleading fliers posted at polling places in Tuscaloosa County, Probate Judge W. Hardy McCollum notified the Tuscaloosa Sheriff’s Department, according to Lisa Whitehead, chief clerk in the Tuscaloosa County Probate Office. Images of the flier – which tells Republicans to vote today, Democrats to vote on Wednesday and independents to vote either day – have been posted across social media throughout the day. Whitehead said McCollum’s office received several calls about the fliers, which were written on what looks like the official letterhead of Tuscaloosa County.
Poll official Myra Mizerany said the biggest problem at the Homewood Senior Citizens Center polling place on Oak Grove Road today had been “voters wanting to camp out.” “I had one woman this morning who took 35 minutes to vote,” she said. “But we haven’t turned anyone away or had any problems.” Mizerany said voting lines were long first thing this morning. “It was bumper to bumper all the way across the parking lot this morning but it has died down now.
BirminghamWatch, in partnership with ProPublica’s Electionland project, is keeping track of activities at the polls today. If you have a tip about issues at the polls, you can text ELECTIONLAND to 69866. Or you can notify BirminghamWatch directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 205-595-2402, and a reporter will check out your tip.
7:00 p.m. Polls just closed in Alabama, and several polling places reported they had lines of voters still waiting to vote. Under state law, the polls must remain open until all the voters who were in line at 7 p.m. cast their ballots.
4:24 p.m. The Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Department is on the lookout this afternoon for people posting or handing out fliers that erroneously tell Democratic voters they cannot vote until Nov. 9. Read more.
2:30 p.m. After complaints from some voters who thought poll workers were rushing them, Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King said there’s no set time limit for voters to cast their ballots, but he would not expect it to take more than about 12 minutes. Read more.
11:15 a.m. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill retweeted a reminder that those voting a straight party ticket do not also have to vote for individual candidates. There has been confusion over that issue all morning.
10:26 a.m. Lines were beginning to die down at Homewood Senior Citizens Center after a hectic morning. Read more.
7:20 a.m. Voters at Hoover Fire Station No. 8 had to put their ballots in a locked box in a voting machine after the machine broke. Similar reports have been made from other polling places. Read more.
Janet Haines, lead poll official at Hoover Fire Station No. 8, said the ballots are in a locked portion of the machine and will be counted later. The machine malfunction caused a bit of a line at first, but it dissipated quickly, Haines said. The polling place now is using its one working box. This tip came originally from Electionland, a ProPublica project that will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote during the 2016 election.”
Alabama lawmakers reached agreement Wednesday on a plan for spending BP settlement money that will give $120 million to Medicaid over the next two years, $120 million to road projects near the coast and $400 million to pay back state debt. Legislators adjourned their special session after reaching that agreement and will return to Montgomery in February. During the brief session called mainly to consider ways to fund Medicaid, 98 bills were introduced, most of which died for lack of action. Status of select bills follows. For more information about the bills, see the state’s legislative site.
In June, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management tested for PFOA and PFOS contaminants in drinking water from three Coosa River Basin water systems and found mixed results: None tested above the safe level for contaminants, one system tested well below the top amount considered safe, and two others were near or at the safe line.
In response to those results, ADEM conducted another four weeks of testing in July for water systems in Gadsden and Centre, where higher levels of the contaminants were detected. No further testing was deemed necessary for the Coosa Valley Water Supply District.
The last of the results from July’s testing is expected next week, according to ADEM.
Aug. 8 is the last day to register to vote in the Aug. 23 municipal elections. Citizens interested in registering should contact the Board of Registrars in the counties where they live. Voter registration forms also are available and may be submitted at state or county offices that provide public assistance, such as Medicaid, WIC and Department of Human Resources offices, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
When legislators adjourned sine die, they left the state in important ways as they found it at the beginning of the legislative session in March.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Bills that would have funded major prison construction, increased money for Medicaid, reduced payday loan interest rates and changed teacher tenure and evaluation laws all were introduced but died during the session.
That’s not to say legislators did nothing. Read More.
The long-anticipated rewrite of Alabama’s tenure and job evaluation law for teachers and school administrators was introduced in the Legislature last week. It would require regular evaluations of teachers and tie part of their performance rating to student growth. But it does not include the controversial proposal to tie teacher bonuses to student test scores, which was in the first draft of the bill. Also last week, a House committee passed an Education Trust Fund budget that would give up to 4 percent raises to education workers and that includes money to hire 475 more teachers and expand the states pre-K program. The Legislature is now dealing with more than 40 education-related measures.