Former Rep. Oliver Robinson Agrees to Plead Guilty to Federal Bribery and Fraud Charges

Former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson has been charged with having accepted bribes from a Birmingham lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive in exchange for advocating against EPA actions in North Birmingham, acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey announced today.

He also is charged with fraud in connection with campaign contributions made to him and contributions he solicited for events he sponsored. The final count in the information charges Robinson with tax evasion.

Robinson agreed to plead guilty to the charges and to never again seek elected office, according to a plea agreement released by prosecutors. He also agreed to pay restitution and submit to a forfeiture judgment.
Robinson, a 57-year-old Democrat, represented Alabama’s House District 58 from 1998 until he resigned Nov. 30, 2016.

“Mr. Robinson is charged with conspiracy, bribery and defrauding the people of Alabama and his constituents his honest services,” Posey said at a press conference.

“The gist of the charges is that Mr. Robinson accepted a valuable contract from a Birmingham law firm in exchange for using his position in the Alabama Legislature to advocate for the position of a coal company which was a client of the law firm.” Read more.

Birmingham Council Opens Door for 27-Acre Humane Society Campus in Titusville

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to transfer ownership of the 27-acre Trinity Steel site in the Titusville community to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society to develop a new animal care and control facility.

Despite several speakers who voiced opposition to the move during a public hearing, Councilor Sheila Tyson, who represents the district, said she supported the project because the majority of people she has spoken with support it.

“The community has voted yes for this three times,” Tyson said after the vote as people crowded the hallways outside the council chamber.

Before the vote transferring ownership of the property, the council also voted in favor of another resolution that rezoned Titusville land for residential use, potentially complicating the process the GBHS must go through to begin construction on the new facility. Read more.

If National Climate Goals Disappear, What Happens in Alabama?

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement thrilled his backers in solid red Alabama and alarmed the state’s environmentalists, who say Alabama is less prepared than other places to handle on its own the effects of a warming planet.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan called the Paris accord ineffective, too-costly, toothless and “not in our best interests.” Both of Alabama’s U.S. senators signed letters backing the nation’s withdrawal from the pact.

Nationally, environmentalists called for states and cities to continue to work to solve problems, especially the impact carbon dioxide emissions have on global warming. But those solutions “are virtually nonexistent in Alabama,” said Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp, a health advocacy organization headquartered in Birmingham. “There are no plans to reduce climate risks, nor have we implemented any adaptation strategies.” Read more.

As You Were: Federal Judge Stays Ruling, Allows Jefferson County System to Run Gardendale Schools While Appeals Play Out

The takeover of two elementary schools by the Gardendale Board of Education will not happen in the coming academic year, after a federal judge issued a stay of her original ruling in the city’s attempt to break away from the Jefferson County Schools.

U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala agreed to motions filed by both Gardendale officials and by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represents the original plaintiffs in the landmark Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education case that resulted in racial desegregation of the county system in the early 1970s.

Both parties had asked Haikala to delay the ruling she issued on April 24 and amended a few days later. That order allowed Gardendale to do a partial takeover of the schools inside city limits; Snow Rogers and Gardendale elementary schools would have been under city control beginning this summer, while Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools would have remained part of JefCoEd for at least three years, until Haikala was satisfied that Gardendale had made sufficient progress toward desegregation. Read more.

Students Purportedly Wearing “Blackface” in Online Photos Rekindle Racial Allegations in Gardendale’s Bid to Form Its Own School System

Earlier Stories

Gardendale School Board Appeals Federal Court Ruling, Asks for Full Control of All Schools in the City Right Away


What’s Next? Residents Speak out About Next Steps for Gardendale’s New School System

Judge Stands with Order: Gardendale Can Take Steps Toward Separate School System
NAACP Asks Judge to Reconsider Allowing Gardendale to Start Its Own School System
NAACP Plans to Ask Judge to Reconsider Gardendale School Order; Ruling in Case Defies Conventional Procedure
Judge Haikala Is No Stranger to the Spotlight
Federal Judge Gives Gardendale Control Over City’s Elementary Schools, Lets JeffCo Keep Middle and High Schools for Now.
Read Haikala’s May 9 order
Read Hiakala’s initial ruling.

Gardendale School Board Appeals Federal Court Ruling, Asks for Full Control of All Schools in the City Right Away

Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and for the Gardendale Board of Education agree on something.

They both want Gardendale’s takeover of two elementary schools in the city to be delayed by federal courts.

The Gardendale board filed two motions Tuesday. One informed the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it intends to cross-appeal a federal judge’s decision allowed the new system to take over operation of the two schools for the coming academic year. The other asked the original judge to stay her own ruling, delaying the order’s implementation until the board’s appeal and that of the NAACP are handled by the appellate court.
Gardendale is appealing Haikala’s late April ruling because it feels she should have ruled entirely in its favor, allowing it to take control of all four JefCoEd schools inside the city’s limits, including Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools.

The NAACP, on the other hand, is asking for a stay so it can argue that Gardendale shouldn’t be able allowed to take control of any of the schools. Read more.

Students Purportedly Wearing “Blackface” in Online Photos Rekindle Racial Allegations in Gardendale’s Bid to Form Its Own School System

Earlier Stories

What’s Next? Residents Speak out About Next Steps for Gardendale’s New School System

Judge Stands with Order: Gardendale Can Take Steps Toward Separate School System
NAACP Asks Judge to Reconsider Allowing Gardendale to Start Its Own School System
NAACP Plans to Ask Judge to Reconsider Gardendale School Order; Ruling in Case Defies Conventional Procedure
Judge Haikala Is No Stranger to the Spotlight
Federal Judge Gives Gardendale Control Over City’s Elementary Schools, Lets JeffCo Keep Middle and High Schools for Now.
Read Haikala’s May 9 order
Read Hiakala’s initial ruling.

Sine Die: Legislators Pass Redistricting, Historic Preservation Tax Credit in Waning Hours of the Session

Legislators checked off everything on their must-do list and adjourned for the year Friday, passing redistricting plans mandated by the court on their final day and finishing off the last of the budgets earlier in the week.

But not everything on the priority list made it through the gauntlet, and Gov. Kay Ivey said she might have to call legislators back into session later this year to address conditions in the state’s prisons. A bill to finance construction of new prisons was debated in the regular session but died for lack of consensus.

Other bills did squeeze through in the waning days of the session, including one to renew a tax credit program to encourage renovation of historic buildings. Jefferson County legislators, Democrats and Republicans alike, had listed that bill as their top priority for the session.

Here is a sampling of legislative action of interest in the Birmingham area and statewide:

Legislature OKs Redistricting Plan on Last Day of the Session (BirminghamWatch)

Tax Credits for Renovating Historic Buildings Passed by the Legislature (BirminghamWatch)

Briarwood Presbyterian Church Police Department Bill Died for Lack of Action in the Legislature (BirminghamWatch)

Alabama Lawmakers End Tumultuous Legislative Session (Associated Press)

Speaker: House Members Will Get Sensitivity Training
(Decatur Daily)

A Look at What Passed and Failed in the 2017 Session (Associated Press)

Gov. Kay Ivey Says Special Session on Prisons Possible
(AL.com)

Changes to Accountability Act Fail in House
(Montgomery Advertiser)

Day Care Oversight Bill Dies in Alabama Senate
(Montgomery Advertiser)

Ivey Signs Autism Bill Into Law
(Montgomery Advertiser)

Historic Monuments Bill Goes to Governor
(Montgomery Advertiser)

South Alabama Lawmaker Eyeing TVA Money
(Decatur Daily)

What’s Next? Residents Speak out About Next Steps for Gardendale’s New School System

May 16, 2017 – For residents of Gardendale, most of whom supported the city’s efforts to break away from the Jefferson County Schools and form a new municipal system, the question is, “What’s next?”

Many of those residents filled the council chambers of City Hall on Tuesday night to pose their questions or voice their concerns to the Gardendale Board of Education. It was the board’s first meeting since U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala issued a lengthy ruling that gave the board control of the city’s two elementary schools, with the possibility of taking over the middle and high schools in three years, if racial and financial issues are settled to Haikala’s satisfaction.

That’s far less than the full, immediate control that Gardendale officials sought. Moreover, the ruling also required that the city reimburse JefCoEd for the Gardendale High School property, or else allow the county to keep that facility and build a new school for itself. Gardendale attorneys had argued that Alabama law gave them a loophole to take over GHS for nothing, since JefCoEd issued no debt to pay for it; the debt was instead taken on by Jefferson County government.

With a strong contingent — at least by Gardendale standards — of local police on hand, attendees came one by one to the front to have their say before the board. Most of them implored board members and Superintendent Patrick Martin to keep pressing toward a full breakaway. Read more.

Earlier Stories
Judge Stands with Order: Gardendale Can Take Steps Toward Separate School System
NAACP Asks Judge to Reconsider Allowing Gardendale to Start Its Own School System
NAACP Plans to Ask Judge to Reconsider Gardendale School Order; Ruling in Case Defies Conventional Procedure
Judge Haikala Is No Stranger to the Spotlight
Federal Judge Gives Gardendale Control Over City’s Elementary Schools, Lets JeffCo Keep Middle and High Schools for Now.

Read Haikala’s May 9 order
Read Hiakala’s initial ruling.

Judge Stands with Order: Gardendale Can Take Steps Toward Separate School System

A federal district judge has declined to reconsider her ruling two weeks ago that allows Gardendale to break away from the Jefferson County Schools on a limited basis, even though she found that Gardendale’s motives for forming its own municipal school system were racially motivated.

In a 49-page supplemental memorandum opinion issued Tuesday morning, U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala turned down the request by attorneys for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, representing the original plaintiffs in the landmark Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education case. That case resulted in the forced desegregation of county schools nearly half a century ago. The attorneys contended Haikala’s finding of racial motivation did not match up with allowing Gardendale to proceed with its separation. Read more

Read Haikala’s May 9 order

Earlier Stories
NAACP Asks Judge to Reconsider Allowing Gardendale to Start Its Own School System
Read Hiakala’s initial ruling.
NAACP Plans to Ask Judge to Reconsider Gardendale School Order; Ruling in Case Defies Conventional Procedure
Judge Haikala Is No Stranger to the Spotlight
Federal Judge Gives Gardendale Control Over City’s Elementary Schools, Lets JeffCo Keep Middle and High Schools for Now.

What They’re Saying
Whites Only: School Segregation Is Back, From Birmingham to San Francisco (Newsweek)
Judge: Mostly White Southern City May Secede From School District Despite Racial Motive (Washington Post)
Judge Lets White Alabama Town Secede From School District Despite ‘Race’ Being a Factor (NBC News)
A Federal Judge Is Letting an Alabama School District Return to Segregation (Salon)
A Southern City Wants to Secede From Its School District, Raising Concerns About Segregation (Washington Post)

NAACP Asks Judge to Reconsider Allowing Gardendale to Start Its Own School System

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has filed a motion that asks U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala to reverse her decision allowing the city of Gardendale to form its own municipal school district.

The motion, which was filed Monday, agrees with Haikala’s finding that the motivation for Gardendale to break away from the Jefferson County Schools is primarily racial. But it argues that the finding contradicts her order to allow the city to take control of two elementary schools in the 2017-18 school year, with the goal of taking over Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools after three years if racial balance issues are achieved.

Jefferson County school officials have fought Gardendale’s bid to break away and form its own system in part because they feared it would endanger their own efforts to be declared effectively desegregated and to be released from federal court supervision. Read more

Earlier Stories
Read Hiakala’s full ruling.
NAACP Plans to Ask Judge to Reconsider Gardendale School Order; Ruling in Case Defies Conventional Procedure
Judge Haikala Is No Stranger to the Spotlight
Federal Judge Gives Gardendale Control Over City’s Elementary Schools, Lets JeffCo Keep Middle and High Schools for Now.

What They’re Saying
Whites Only: School Segregation Is Back, From Birmingham to San Francisco (Newsweek)
Judge: Mostly White Southern City May Secede From School District Despite Racial Motive (Washington Post)
Judge Lets White Alabama Town Secede From School District Despite ‘Race’ Being a Factor (NBC News)
A Federal Judge Is Letting an Alabama School District Return to Segregation (Salon)
A Southern City Wants to Secede From Its School District, Raising Concerns About Segregation (Washington Post)

From Vacant Industrial Land to Puppy Palace? Residents Debate Use of Old Trinity Steel Land in Titusville

Sixty Titusville residents sat in the sweltering gymnasium of Memorial Park Recreation Center to consider giving their support for the old Trinity Steel property going to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

“It is so hot in here,” said Greater Birmingham Humane Society President and CEO Allison Black Cornelius, “but they stayed.”

When each side had made its case, 52 residents voted for the Humane Society to move to the long idle property from its Snow Drive location in Homewood. Eight voted no. Read more.

Federal Judge Gives Gardendale Control Over City’s Elementary Schools, Lets JeffCo Keep Middle and High Schools for Now.

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 Police Department Bill Awaits Action in Legislature

Updated May 7, 2017 – 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.

The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved the legislation April 19, and it is pending before the Alabama House of Representatives. The Senate passed it April 11 on a vote of 24-2, so it’s now up to the House, and possibly the governor, to decide whether to allow the Vestavia Hills church to establish its own police department. Read more.

PARCA Survey: Most Alabamians Say State Officials Don’t Care What They Think

The divide between state government and its people is wide, and there’s no bridge in sight.

In a recent survey conducted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, more than two-thirds of those surveyed said state government officials don’t care what they think, and slightly less than two-thirds said they feel they have no say in what government does. Read more.

Alabama’s Political Corruption: Three Governors and One House Speaker Convicted of Crimes Give State a Reputation

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.

Bentley Resigns, Ivey Becomes Governor. Both Promise Smooth Transition After Wild Political Day

Alabama started Monday morning facing a week of impeachment hearings expected to center on sordid details of the governor’s relationship with an aide and his use of law enforcement to cover it up.

But by the end of the day, the state had a new chief executive who pledged to “steady the ship of state,” and former Gov. Robert Bentley had fingerprints and a mug shot on file at the Montgomery County jail.

Bentley resigned Monday afternoon and took a deal to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges stemming from information the state Ethics Commission handed over to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office last week. Read more.

A Long Way From Aleppo: A Doctor and His Family Try to Rebuild Their Lives in Hoover After Fleeing the Ravages of War

It has been a warm day in early August 2012, in Aleppo, the historic, cosmopolitan Syrian city where you work and live. This day is part of the Muslim month of Ramadan, in which the faithful fast from sunup to sunset. Now the sun is setting, and your oldest son, Fouad, and two of your daughters, Rama and Lydia, are out in the walled garden of your elegant, 14-room home getting ready for iftar, the meal that will break the day’s fast.

Then, overhead, without warning, without invitation, comes a whining, whooshing sound. Seconds later, the ground shudders as a projectile lands outside the wall and explodes. Sounds of gunfire follow. Your children run into the house. Lydia, who is 8, is crying and screaming for her mother, your wife, Latifa.

Before the month is out, you, Latifa, Lydia, your other son, Khaldoun, and your baby daughter, Caroline will have left your bloodied, battered country. By September, Fouad will have left and Rama will have joined relatives, among them your mother and father, who have fled to Turkey.

Your name is Ahmad Faris, you are now 52 years old, and you used to be a well-off, well-known and well-respected surgeon. Now you and your family are among the approximately 5 million Syrians who have left Syria since the civil war’s start in 2011, and you hope that one day, you will practice medicine again.

In the meantime, you, Latifa, Khaldoun, Rama, Lydia and Caroline are now making your home in a place where, on the August day that brought the terror of war over the rooftop of your home in Aleppo, young, high-school-age men are getting ready to don helmets and shoulder pads and practice a war-like game that you still do not fully understand.

This place is Hoover, Alabama. Read more.

ADEM to Cities, Counties: ‘Don’t Depend on Us’ to Help After Budget Cuts

If a tanker truck overturns and spills a load of petroleum on a roadside or into a creek, local governments likely will have to cover the cost of the clean-up.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management used to set aside $500,000 to help counties and municipalities with disaster response. That went away with state budget cuts last year, and ADEM expects the same this year, according to Director Lance LeFleur. They also are bracing for another financial whammy with the president’s proposed severe budget cuts to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“Don’t depend on us to be on-site” for anything other than major disasters such as the recent gasoline pipeline incidents in Shelby County, LeFleur said. “Don’t depend on us to be on-site” for anything other than major disasters such as the recent gasoline pipeline incidents in Shelby County, LeFleur said. Read more.

In Homewood, Neighborly Spirit Mutes Politics Despite Close Presidential Vote

(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.

Other stories from this series:
Fairness and Safety. Education and Jobs. Similar Worries for Clinton and Trump Voters
From Jefferson County’s Trump Country: “I feel like I’ve been left out a lot.”
A Big Blue Dot in a Sea of Red. But Jefferson County’s Presidential Vote Tally Masks Deep Community Divisions

Race and the Alabama Legislature, Volatile Mix in Redrawing Political Map

While Alabama’s House and Senate make headlines with debates over pistol permits, death sentences and sanctuary campuses, staff members and legislators are working largely unnoticed on a project that could affect the racial and political makeup of the Legislature.

A federal court in January ruled that some of Alabama’s legislative districts amounted to racial gerrymandering, putting too many predominantly black communities with little in common in the same district and diluting their influence. Since then, the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment has started to look at maps and redraw the boundaries of House and Senate districts. Perhaps 30 of the Alabama Legislature’s 140 districts might be affected.

The chairman of the committee said in a meeting recently that he was hoping for a quick and amicable process. But rarely in Alabama are conversations about race either quick or completely amicable, and this one is beginning against an already politically charged background.
Read more.

Birmingham, City of Immigrants: Newcomers Follow Opportunity, Face Slurs, Find a Home

March 2016 Special Report from BirminghamWatch, B-Metro

About 18 months ago, when St. Symeon Orthodox Church was building a new sanctuary at its Highland Park site, its rector got a reminder of how much Birmingham has changed since he first came here in the 1980s.

A team of Hispanic workers did the plaster work on the dome inside the new building. They also did the exterior stonework. “They just were tremendously diligent and acquitted themselves so impressively that you couldn’t help but take notice,” says the Rev. Alexander Fecanin, himself the grandson of Russian immigrants. Fecanin also took notice when another team arrived to install the sanctuary’s shiny new hardwood floor. It consisted of a man originally from Romania, along with his son. In the grand scheme of diverse things, the construction project at St. Symeon was a small blip on the radar. But it was yet another marker on the upward climbing graph charting the Birmingham area’s ever greater diversity. “Alabama is no longer…or Birmingham is not a black or white conversation,” says local attorney Freddy Rubio, who came here as an English-challenged Puerto Rican in 1991. “It is white, black, and other, [and] there’s nothing that we can do to stop that.” Read more. . .

Report Criticizes Work of Pipeline Safety Agency  

The fatal gasoline pipeline explosion that occurred Monday – the second incident in six weeks involving Colonial Pipeline’s infrastructure in Shelby County – came on the heels of a report critical of the federal agency responsible for pipeline regulation and safety.

On Oct. 14, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General released an audit that concluded “insufficient guidance, oversight, and coordination hinder the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) full implementation of mandates and recommendations.”

PHMSA develops and enforces regulations for the “safe, reliable, and environmentally sound” operation of the nation’s pipeline transportation system and hazardous materials shipments. Read more.

Know Before You Go: State, Local Offices and Issues on November 8 Ballot

For months the spotlight has been on the race for president. But voters on November 8 will also find a robust ballot of offices and issues closer to home. To be decided are an Alabama Senate seat and seats in Congress, presidency of the Alabama Public Service Commission and membership on state and local boards of education. County offices and a slate of amendments also will be decided, along with control of the state’s judicial system, from justices on the state’s Supreme Court, to district attorneys, to judges on the bench throughout the state.

BirminghamWatch – in partnership with Weld, WBHM, Starnes Publishing, B Metro, Trussville Tribune and the Birmingham Public Library – gives information on all of that in this Alabama Voter Guide. You’ll find sample ballots for Jefferson and Shelby counties, biographical information about candidates on each of those ballots and a rundown of the amendments you’ll be asked to decide. There is also a package of resources to help you navigate election day, from verifying your polling place and registration to researching the issues and the candidates more deeply.

There’s a lot to decide in one 12-hour window at the polls between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 8. Read more at AlabamaVoterGuide.org.

Destination of Graduates: Chart from PARCA shows where 2015 Alabama grads headed after high school.

Most Alabama Students with a High School Diploma Go To College, but More Than a Third Do Not.

There were more Alabama high school graduates in 2015 than the year before, and the class sent more students to college as their next step. Still, more than 17,000 state students with a 2015 diploma did not continue their schooling immediately.

Within that picture were disparities: Systems with low poverty rates sent most of their graduates on to four-year colleges and universities. Systems with somewhat higher poverty percentages still sent a large percentage of graduates off to college. However, more of those graduates start at a community college.

The top four Alabama high schools in terms of college-going rate are magnet schools: three in Montgomery and one in Birmingham.

These highlights come from a new report by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama that uses more extensive data now available from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. The full report lets you search for information by school systems and individual high schools. Here’s PARCA’s full report.

New Gas Pipeline Coming to Alabama. Brings Jobs, Tax Revenue, Environmental Questions

Construction is underway on the new 515-mile Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline that will travel about 86 miles through four east-central Alabama counties. The line will also go through southwest Georgia and north Florida to provide natural gas to Florida Power & Light customers in south Florida.

The bulldozers and pipe are on the ground in Tallapoosa, Chambers, Lee, and Russell counties. They are a welcome sight to local officials who see new tax revenues and little concern from Alabama residents.

Environmentalists, however, are continuing a so-far failed effort to stop the pipeline. They say it poses a threat to drinking water sources, environmentally sensitive wetlands and sink-hole prone areas, and has roused public opposition in Georgia and Florida.

The Sabal Trail pipeline is the first major addition to Alabama’s thousands of miles of gas and oil pipelines since the leak of 330,000 gallons of gasoline from an interstate transmission line in Shelby County in early September. That incident brought headlines and new attention to a mostly underground system that stays largely out of sight and mind. Read more.

June PFOA and PFOS tests on Coosa River water systems find none above safe level. July results due soon.

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.

Read more.

Lawmakers to Consider an Alabama Lottery, but Is It a Fix for Medicaid or Prison Funding?

The Legislature is going into session Aug. 15 to consider Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery proposal to raise money for the General Fund, but the plan is not a guaranteed quick fix for either of the state’s biggest budget dilemmas.

Medicaid and prisons together make up more than 60 percent of the state’s General Fund spending, according to budget documents. Both are in need of an infusion of cash, and the Legislature adjourned its regular session without making significant changes to funding for either the Medicaid Agency or the Department of Corrections.

The governor hasn’t released details of his lottery plan. He has said he believed it would raise $225 million a year, and he is proposing to allocate profits to the General Fund, which would let legislators determine each year where the money is most needed. Read more.

Primary Runoff Voter Guide 2016

Voters go back to the polls April 12 to determine the nominees in several races that were undecided after the March 1 primary.

For races in which no candidate got half of the votes or more, the top two candidates will compete for the nomination.

There is no statewide race on the ballot. In Jefferson County, four races – three judgeships and the treasurer’s seat – are on the Democratic ballot and two races – a seat on the state Board of Education and one on the county Board of Education – are on the Republican ballot. In Shelby County, two races – a judgeship and a seat on the County Commission – are on the Republican ballot and there is no Democratic runoff.

BirminghamWatch, Weld For Birmingham, Public Radio WBHM 90.3 FM, Starnes Publishing, B-Metro, Trussville Tribune and Birmingham Public Library are partners in offering this one-stop, interactive, factual, non-partisan Voter Guide.

Candidate profiles, sample ballots, campaign contributor lists, info on where to vote and more. It’s all in the guide. Visit AlabamaVoterGuide.org

Voter Guide

Alabama voters go to the polls March 1, and there’s a lot more on the ballot than the high-profile presidential race.

In Democratic and Republican primaries, voters will nominate candidates  for U.S. Senate and the state’s Public Service Commission president, Supreme Court and Board of Education, plus decide on an amendment.

Voters in Jefferson and Shelby counties will pick nominees for judgeships, school board seats, district attorney and treasurer offices.

BirminghamWatch and Weld For Birmingham, Public Radio WBHM 90.3 FM, Starnes Publishing, B-Metro and Kaleidoscope are collaborating to offer this one-stop, interactive, factual, non-partisan Voter Guide.

Candidate profiles, sample ballots, answers about issues, campaign contributor lists, info on where to vote and more. It’s all in the guide below.

Fine-Collection Company Stops Work in Alabama

Judicial Correction Services, the private probation company that charged Alabama’s poorest residents fees to collect municipal fines on a payment plan, announced it will no longer operate in the state. The company sent a statement to cities that continued to contract with JCS, despite a threat of lawsuits by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which led the push for cities to stop working with JCS.

Meet AIIJ’s Board of Directors

The Board is the policy-making and oversight body of AIIJ. Members are Brett Blackledge, Brant Houston, Mark Kelly, Jerome Lanning, Carol Nunnelley, Emily Jones Rushing, and Odessa Woolfolk.  
Brett Blackledge
Government and Investigations Editor at The Naples Daily News in Florida, won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting while working with The Birmingham News in 2007. His Pulitzer Prize-winning work detailed nepotism and cronyism in Alabama’s two-year college system. The series also earned Blackledge a national public service award from Associated Press Media Editors.

A Message from AIIJ Founders

Why are we doing this? What can our fledgling non-profit news organization contribute to journalism for Birmingham and Alabama?

Those may be your first two questions if you are meeting BirminghamWatch, and its sponsor Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism, for the first time.

Supporters

The photographs throughout this initial edition of BirminghamWatch.org are the work of Walt Stricklin, generously donated by him for use on the website. BirminghamWatch and Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism gratefully acknowledge all the support and volunteer contributions during the project’s development.

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Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, be accountable and transparent. These are the anchors of Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Journalists working with BirminghamWatch and Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism will be guided by the SPJ Code of Ethics. Read the complete Code of Ethics here.