Rain Saturday did not deter hundreds of voters who lined up to vote their absentee ballot in person at the downtown Jefferson County courthouse. It was the last Saturday the two courthouses in Birmingham and Bessemer were to be open for absentee voters before Nov. 3’s election. Read more.
So you want to be a poll watcher.
It isn’t as easy as dropping into a polling place and plunking yourself down to observe the proceedings.
First, in Alabama, you need to be appointed as a poll watcher for a specific party and a specific precinct. So two or three poll workers at each site is usually the limit. Poll workers also aren’t allowed to attempt to influence voters.
In other words, teams of Trump supporters cannot independently call themselves “poll watchers” and stay to make sure nothing they think might be untoward is happening, as the president has urged them to do. But supporting a particular candidate does not disqualify someone from becoming a legal poll watcher, either. Read more.
More stories from BirminghamWatch’s 2020 Voter Guide
The counting has stopped, but nobody is releasing any tallies yet for the 2020 U.S. census in Alabama, and those final tallies hold the keys to federal funding and congressional redistricting.
Spokespersons and Census Bureau websites tell us that “99.9%” of the households in the state have either self-responded or answered questions from a door-knocking census mop-up worker. But just try to find out what that 99.9% is 99.9% of. If you go to the state response section of the Census 2020 site, it gets even more confusing. Read more.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline: When is a suspension not just a suspension? When it’s part of a nationwide pattern leading to racial disparities and prison.
Let’s say two boys in an Alabama school get in trouble for doing the same thing. One is named DeAndre. The other is named Jake.
DeAndre, who is black, is more than three times as likely as Jake, who is white, to end up suspended or expelled or in the custody of the police.
That’s what statistics have shown over time, leading to DeAndre – or any black student – being far more likely to be tracked onto what education experts have described as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“The school-to-prison pipeline deprives students of color of their futures by pushing them out of school and its pathway to college and careers and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems,” the National Education Association says in a report. Read more.
Corrected — Help is on the way to deal with a flood of Jefferson County absentee ballots in the general election.
Deputy county manager Cal Markert during a Jefferson County Commission meeting Thursday said 24 temporary workers are expected to start work in the clerk’s office by Monday. These temp workers will deal with in-person absentee voters as well as a backlog of mailed-in absentee ballots.
Circuit Clerk Jacqueline Anderson-Smith told BirminghamWatch recently that 400 to 500 persons have been coming to the Birmingham Courthouse every day to cast their ballots. A similar wave of voters is descending on the Bessemer Courthouse, and lines of people wanting to vote have formed at both locations.
Alabama appears on its way to having a record number of absentee ballots cast this year. More than 130,000 voters already had requested absentee ballots earlier this week. Oct. 29 is the deadline to apply for absentee ballots. Read more.
Homewood City Council member Patrick McClusky defeated political newcomer Chris Lane in a runoff Tuesday for mayor.
McClusky got 2,727 votes, for 56% of those cast, while Lane received 2,099 votes, for 46%.
In Fairfield, incumbent Eddie Penny was elected to his first full term as mayor, defeating challenger Michael K. Williams in a runoff.
And in Center Point, City Councilman Bobby Scott defeated incumbent Tom Henderson to become only the second mayor in the city’s history of almost 19 years.
“You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good.”
Candidate Donald Trump, 2016
In a campaign speech in August 2016, the future president of the United States outlined his stark perception of the economic status of African Americans and particularly the state of Black schools. It was a statement many saw as oversimplified and glib — he bookended it with “What do you have to lose?” — and reflective of a view that “your schools” meant anything but “our schools.”
The ugly fact is that the schools that serve mostly children of color have never been on a completely level playing field with schools that serve mostly white children. Separate and unequal schools have always been the American reality, even when the law mandates otherwise.
“We just have to be honest with ourselves. We don’t have a uniform public education system in this country. I don’t think we ever had a uniform public education system in this country. We have very good schools and we have very bad schools. We have a lot in between those two poles,” said Dr. Derryn Moten, acting chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Alabama State University.
As a rule, the most persistent metric by which those educational inequalities can be measured remains skin color. Read more.
Redevelopment on Ensley’s Ramsay-McCormack Building is finally underway, Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Thursday. The 10-story structure will be deconstructed and replaced with a five-story building constructed using salvaged materials from the original.
Woodfin’s announcement came the same day a city-run façade improvement pilot program was announced to target nine “priority redevelopment areas” in the city, including the Ensley Commercial Business District. Read more.
Reading Birmingham: Author Connor Towne O’Neill Explores Race Through the Legacy of Nathan Bedford Forrest
“Down Along With That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning With Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy,” by Connor Towne O’Neill (Algonquin Books)
Earlier this year when the city of Birmingham removed the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument from Linn Park, the action was part of a broad nationwide discussion on the place of Confederate symbols in our culture and who decides how and where those symbols are displayed.
Connor Towne O’Neill, who teaches in the English Department at Auburn University and produces the National Public Radio podcast White Lie, has achieved every nonfiction author’s dream. He began researching a book five years ago that is now being published and could not be more relevant to this moment.
Race in America is too big a topic to take in a single bite. O’Neill chose to examine a more narrow but telling slice. “Down Along With That Devil’s Bones” is a travelogue of race and racial tensions that explores the topic through the life and legacy of one of the Confederacy’s most popular figures, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Read more.
The discussion appeared to be over before Tuesday’s Birmingham City Council meeting had even begun. Council members had disinterestedly trickled out of the afternoon’s budget workshop until only a voting minority of the nine-member council remained: Councilors Valerie Abbott, Steven Hoyt, Clinton Woods and Crystal Smitherman.
The remainder of the council, led by President William Parker, voted down Smitherman’s proposed amendments to the budget. They opted instead to approve it as proposed by Mayor Randall Woodfin, with Abbott joining them in that vote.
The budget has been controversial since Woodfin announced it last month. With the city facing a $63 million shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodfin made several significant cuts to its operating budget. He defended some of his cuts, such as those to the Birmingham school board and the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, arguing that those organizations would make up the loss via other funding sources. Other departments, including the library and parks and recreation, were given budget cuts that led to hundreds of full- and part-time city employees being furloughed.
Unchanged, Woodfin told residents, was his administration’s commitment to neighborhood revitalization, which had been one of the central promises of his campaign. His proposed budget continued to allocate $10 million for street paving, $1.5 million for dilapidated structure demolition and $1.25 million for weed abatement. His new Birmingham Promise Educational Initiative also continued to receive its $2 million. Read more.
As Dr. Mark Wilson prepared to release advice in July that middle schools and high schools in Birmingham should not open for in-person learning this fall, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its position and issued the opposite recommendation.
Wilson, health officer for Jefferson County, stuck to his at-home schooling decision, but now without support from what had long been regarded as the nation’s most esteemed public health authority.
Not only that, he said some of the vexed parents even cited the CDC in attacking his stand. It felt like the limb he was out on had been sawed off at the trunk.
“That guidance gave me one of the worst weeks of my life,” Wilson recalled in an interview with Stateline.
The agency’s revised advice came on the heels of President Donald Trump’s vigorous call for a full, face-to-face school reopening. But it conflicted with what Wilson and other public health officials knew were disturbing results from a credible South Korean study, which, contrary to popular belief, found that older children were a greater risk for transmitting the virus than younger children. That made reopening middle and high schools more problematic.
Since the pandemic began, a string of messages from the Trump administration, many lacking scientific evidence, have confounded the work of state and local public health authorities who have the already challenging job of convincing people to abide by restrictions that many find not only onerous but also economically punishing. Read more.
FORKLAND — If the Wizard of Oz had known Pearlean Slay, he would have called her a “good deed doer.”
In the movie, that line was targeted for the Tin Man, who had come to the wizard in search of a heart.
To hear her friends and loved ones tell it, Pearl Slay’s heart was as big as the Emerald City.
That heart stopped beating on May 29, two months shy of Slay’s 71st birthday, after a month-long battle with the coronavirus, and she entered a lineup of grim categories covering the nearly 2,300 Alabamians who have died after testing positive for COVID-19.
The eye of Hurricane Sally crept onto land near Gulf Shores bringing heavy rains and a strong storm surge for hours on end. Both are threats to the fragile environment along the coast. The storm surge began eroding sand dunes even before the hurricane arrived, according to the Weather Channel, as well as swamping piers and low-lying areas. The hurricane was packing winds upward of 100 mph at its peak, and rain in some areas was estimated at 20 inches or more, according to the National Weather Service. BirminghamWatch about a year ago published several stories looking at the effects climate change and the more severe weather it’s causing are having along Alabama’s coastline.
By Hank Black
Along coastal Alabama lies Dauphin Island, a narrow, shifting strip of sand inhabited by a laid-back vacation town that is becoming more endangered with every passing storm and every incremental rise in the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Dauphin is one of perhaps 2,200 barrier islands that make up 10% to 12% of the globe’s coastline. They help absorb the blows of nature and suffer greatly for it, either eroding dramatically from catastrophic hurricane forces or gradually, almost imperceptibly, from constant wave action.
These sandy, offshore bodies are potent poster children for our planet’s warming, part of a natural, 100,000-year cycle that, according to most scientists, has greatly accelerated since the birth of the Industrial Age. Read more.
Slaves in Alabama could thank their masters for providing them with one of the earliest versions of social security, according to a ninth grade textbook used for more than a decade in public schools.
The textbook — Charles Grayson Summersell’s “Alabama History for Schools” — dismissed realities of slavery, glorified the Confederacy and defended deeds of the Ku Klux Klan.
Summersell’s textbook was the ninth grade companion to Frank L. Owlsey’s “Know Alabama,” written for fourth graders. In addition to repeating much of the same Lost Cause ideology, the two esteemed authors shared similar career paths, which included serving as chair of the history department at the University of Alabama. They influenced tens of thousands of grammar-school children, high school and college students, and professors.
Both authors also drew from predecessors such as Alabama history textbook writers L.D. Miller, Albert B. Moore, L. Lamar Matthews and others for a now-disputed version of history repeated for about seven decades.
Teachers were still using Owsley’s and Summersell’s books after classrooms were widely integrated in the late 1960s, and they continued to use revised editions well into the 1970s. The later editions toned down the contention that slaves were mostly happy and contented. Read more.
More about textbooks with pro-slavery messages used to teach Alabama students.
Textbook ‘Know Alabama’ Justified Slavery, Praised Confederacy to Schoolchildren
The cleanup and restoration of downtown Birmingham continues as more murals are painted on plywood used to secure buildings vandalized almost two weeks ago after a protest.
Saturday morning, people are being invited to the Alabama Theatre, where they can get paint and go around painting their handprints on each of the large murals lining the sidewalks, according to Mary Jean Baker LaMay, one of the organizers of BHAM Cleanup.
The Love mural above, by Véronique Vanblaere, is one of many painted this week, adding to artistry begun after the May 31 demonstration. See the photo display.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said today that the nation is in the midst of a “crisis trifecta” from the pandemic, the economic crisis and the battle for equal rights and treatment, and black Americans are disproportionately affected by each of those.
Jones spoke during a Facebook live video conference with Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.
“The events of the past few weeks have laid bare the fact that structural and systemic inequality exist in almost every layer of society in the United States of America,” Jones said. “We are in what I have called a crisis trifecta — from the coronavirus pandemic, to the economic crisis and the moral awakening of so many people in this country to the fact that there are so many of our brothers and sisters who are still being denied equal opportunities, equal rights and equal dignities.” Read more.
Gov. Kay Ivey and state census officials say participation by Alabamians in this year’s census “will make or break” the state.
Poor census participation by state residents could result in the state losing a member of the U.S. House and about $13 billion in federal health care and education funds.
Anyone living in Alabama on Friday is being asked to complete the census. For the first time, the census can be completed online, as well as by phone or mail.
Letters encouraging residents to complete the census are now being mailed to Alabamians.
Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Community Affairs, is spearheading the census in Alabama. Boswell and Ivey pointed out that federal funding disbursements are tied to census data.
“It is the most important census the state has ever seen,” Boswell said. Read more.
Some Alabamians and the politicians they elect traditionally have denied global warming. But many people in coastal Alabama are preparing now for what they fear will be inevitable consequences of increased warming of the air and oceans. They see Mobile Bay and the Alabama coast as uniquely susceptible in the state to harm from forces of nature.
Money for their programs comes from a variety of public, private and institutional sources. Some dollars are being generated from a man-made disaster in the past – the BP Horizon oil spill. It’s being spent to help prepare the shoreline and bay for man-made disasters ahead as scientists say temperatures and sea level will rise, storms intensify, and the state will be slammed with more torrential rain alternating with periods of severe drought.
Here are two examples of those efforts.
Bayou la Batre’s Lightning Point
Judy Haner heads the Alabama chapter of nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, part of a collaboration of entities using oil spill money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore 40 acres of marsh, tidal creeks and other habitat for fish, shellfish and birds in Bayou la Batre. That small fishing and seafood processing town has not fully recovered from the twin hits of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP Horizon oil spill five years later. Read more.
Over the next year, BirminghamWatch will visit places in Alabama where ways of life have been affected as climate changes and look at what’s being done to mitigate or avoid the effects. This is the fourth in a series of four stories from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Read the earlier stories: Alabama Sees Heat, Storms, Drought and Turtles, Cloudy Future for Dauphin Island, a Canary in the Coal Mine of Climate Change , In Pursuit of the Disappearing Alabama Oyster. Will They Ever Return?
Mayor Randall Woodfin urged councilors to consider either automating or outsourcing Birmingham’s garbage pickup program during a special-called meeting of the City Council Thursday night, arguing that it is unsustainable in its current form.
In a joint presentation with the city’s public works, legal and finance departments, Woodfin called for the city to either “engage an experienced refuse management service” or to “automate the city’s refuse collection fleet by purchasing 20 side loaders and adding tipper (trucks) to (the) existing fleet.”
Both options would provide significant cost savings to the city amid an economic crisis brought on by COVID-19, he said, though he added that the need for change predated the pandemic. Read more.
COVID-19 cases in Alabama are surging just as Birmingham sees its first few flu cases, UAB epidemiologist Rachael Lee said Friday.
The rise in the number of COVID-19 infections mirrors trends across most of the country, Lee told reporters. She urged people to continue to wash their hands, wear masks and maintain social distancing — measures that reduce the spread of both COVID-19 and influenza. Lee also recommended getting the flu vaccine since UAB has already diagnosed several patients with the flu.
“Places like Chile and Australia who just had their flu season had very, very low numbers because they were following all of these other COVID-19 mitigation strategies. So I’m hopeful that that, in addition to the flu vaccine, will really protect our community from seeing a surge,” Lee said.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin says the proposed sale of several city-owned parking decks is an opportunity to lessen the economic damage done to the city by COVID-19 — including bringing back furloughed public library employees.
Woodfin said in an interview with BirminghamWatch that the city received an unsolicited offer from Birmingham Economic Development Partners LLC — a group founded last month by Shipt founder Bill Smith, according to paperwork filed in Jefferson County Probate Court — to purchase six of the city’s 11 parking decks for a total of $41 million.
If the sale is approved by the City Council, the city could receive that money in one lump sum in 60 days — which could go a long way toward offsetting the $63 million budget shortfall caused by COVID-19. Among other things, Woodfin says, the money would go toward reinstating library employees who were furloughed as a result of severe budget cuts.
The pandemic has driven many people outdoors, but finding the right gear could be a challenge. Read more.
About the only agreement between Democrats and Republicans these days is that their opposite number is evil.
At least that is the impression one gets in the aggregate. But what about one-on-one? Can you face a political adversary and explain what you feel, how you feel and why you feel that way? And engage in a dialogue in which you also listen to the other party’s feelings and opinions?
Dave Isay would like for you to take that challenge.
Isay’s Story Corps has chosen Birmingham as one of four cities where it will match up people across the political divide and record their exchange of viewpoints. A copy will be stored in the Library of Congress.
Environmentalists and members of the coal industry filed into West Jefferson Town Hall Tuesday evening to give feedback on a proposed permit to allow Alabama Power Company to cover a local coal ash pond and leave the pollutants in place.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management hosted Tuesday’s event as part of its efforts to gather public comments on the permit, which specifically concerns the Plant Miller Ash Pond near West Jefferson. The permit outlines requirements for managing the coal ash, including facility maintenance and groundwater monitoring.
Alabama Power is seeking to treat and remove water from the pond before covering the coal ash in place, according to its website. Material located within 450 yards of the river would be excavated and moved farther away. Alabama Power also would monitor groundwater around the facility for at least 30 years. Read more.
Updated — The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to implement new software for the Birmingham Police Department’s real-time crime center, despite public concerns that the agreement could pave the way for facial recognition software to be used by city law enforcement.
The resolution will allow the city to lease-purchase rights to Motorola Solutions’ CommandCentral Aware and BriefCam softwares at a total cost of $1,315,659 over a five-year period.
Fifteen residents — several of whom had also vocally opposed Mayor Randall Woodfin’s FY 2021 budget — spoke against the proposed agreement at Tuesday’s meeting, expressing concerns that BriefCam’s capability for facial recognition could have a negative impact on residents, particularly Black people, who are misidentified by such software far more often than white people.
Hundreds of people lined up in Linn Park on Saturday to cast their absentee ballots in person.
The Jefferson County Commission decided to open the courthouse for in-person absentee voting this Saturday and next because people have been waiting in line for up to three hours to vote during the week.
The Alabama Poor People’s Campaign was among several groups manning tables in the park with absentee ballot applications for voters to fill out before they got in the official line to vote. Volunteers also could make a photo ID in case a voter did not have one, which is required before they cast their ballots.
“At least one step will be done before getting inside the courthouse,” said the Rev. Carolyn Foster, one of the chairs of the state Poor People’s Campaign. Read more.
Birmingham Public Library Executive Director Floyd Council has been suspended without pay for one month by the library system’s board of trustees, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.
The decision was made in a library board meeting Tuesday. As with all personnel decisions, the board held the discussion and took the vote to suspend Council during a private executive session. Details of the suspension, including the reasoning behind it, were not immediately made public.
Deputy Director Janine Langston will take over as interim director. Read more.
As metro Birmingham school systems learn to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak, many of them are changing back to traditional class schedules, or at least something closer to it.
In general, many systems that began with only virtual learning to start the year already have moved toward allowing students back on campus, at least part time. The Jefferson County School System, for instance, is in the midst of a staggered plan to get students back to school in person full time.
Others plan to reassess their schedules at the end of the first nine-week grading period, late this month. Read more and look up your school district.
The FY 2021 budget passed Tuesday night by the Birmingham City Council contains a number of austerity measures stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, which since March has stymied the local economy and caused the city’s business tax revenue to plunge.
The budget, which was approved by the council with no changes to Mayor Randall Woodfin’s original proposal, is nearly $50 million smaller than last year’s and cuts the city’s contributions to schools, libraries and public transit, among other departments.
Some of those changes have proven controversial, but other cuts — particularly those to external nonprofit organizations such as the Birmingham Zoo, Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve — went largely unquestioned even by opponents of Woodfin’s budget.
Leaders of those nonprofits say they were unsurprised by the cuts, and even before the budget’s passage they appeared resigned to the loss. Instead, faced with their own significant budget shortfalls, those organizations are adapting to survive a hostile, post-COVID landscape. Read more.
Gov. Kay Ivey extended a statewide face mask order through Nov. 8. The order requires face masks to be worn in public to try to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Ivey made the announcement at a press conference Wednesday. The rule was set to expire Friday, but the new deadline extends it past Election Day and much of the remaining high school and college football seasons.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday released an updated statement on the spread of coronavirus in the air, then three days later removed that statement from its website, saying it had not been approved for posting.
There are debates about why the statement was issued and revoked, but it’s clear that the stumble has added to the confusion among the public about how the virus spreads. Dr. Wesley Willeford, medical director for disease control at the Jefferson County Department of Health, said that does not change the precautions people should be taking.
Wearing a mask whenever in public and keeping a social distance of at least six feet is still the best advice health officials can give people to avoid contracting the disease, he said. Read more.
Protestors Not Allowed Into Birmingham Council Meeting to Speak on Drastic Cuts to the Library Budget
Protestors gathered outside Birmingham City Hall on Tuesday morning, but they weren’t allowed to speak at the City Council meeting going on three stories above them.
The demonstrators held signs that read “Reject Woodfin’s Budget,” “Furlough Woodfin” and “Fund Books Not Brutality.” One neon-yellow sign read: “Dear Randall Woodfin & City Council: Y’all have got to do a better job pretending to care …”
On Friday, the Birmingham Public Library’s board of trustees made the decision to furlough 157 employees, the result of significant cuts in the budget recommended by Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office. Read more.
Members of the Birmingham City Council called on the city’s Park and Recreation Board Tuesday to halt plans to close 12 recreation centers until a “more equitable” plan can be created.
The centers in question — Brownsville Heights, Harriman, Harrison, Henry Crumpton, Hooper City, Howze-Sanford, Inglenook, North Birmingham, Roosevelt City, Sandusky/Hudson, Wiggins and Willow Wood — would have to close as a result of employee furloughs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Park and Recreation Director Shonae’ Eddins-Bennett told the council on Sept. 10.
I at first disagreed with the criticism that investigative journalist Bob Woodward should have gone public right away with Donald Trump’s taped interview comments about the deadliness of the coronavirus in early February. Instead, Woodward held them for publication in his book “Rage.”
The claim is that Woodward would have saved lives if the public had known Trump had been lying when he repeatedly downplayed the danger during the virus’ early stages in this country. But after three-plus years of relentless conning and fabricating, I don’t think people still trusting Trump for health information would have believed Woodward anyway. Read more.
Absentee ballots started showing up in county offices and going out in the mail Wednesday, which was the deadline for absentee election managers to be provided with absentee ballots and supplies.
Usually, Alabama voters must fit into narrowly defined categories to be able to vote by absentee. But for the general election, Secretary of State John Merrill has approved absentee voting for any voter who has concerns about the coronavirus. Read more about voting in the general election and voting by absentee.
In Alabama, 19 of the state’s more than 2,000 deaths from the coronavirus have been among inmates incarcerated in state prisons.
The inmates who have died with a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 have mostly been over 60, with one under 40. Most of the deceased inmates had preexisting conditions, and some already had terminal diagnoses. Several of
the prisoners who died were serving life sentences.
“All inmate or staff deaths reported as COVID-19-related by the ADOC occurred following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. COVID-19 therefore was either a direct or indirect cause of death, or a medical condition associated with death,” said Alabama Department of Corrections communication specialist Samantha Rose. “Our goal is to transparently track and share the disease’s evolving impact on our system, including all deaths conclusively or likely related to COVID-19.”
Read about Alabama inmates who have died after being diagnosed with the coronavirus. Read more.
Roads and Transportation Department workers from Jefferson County have taken on the task of moving a “small mountain” in their efforts to battle an underground fire that has annoyed Forestdale neighbors with smoke for more than a month.
Jefferson County deputy county manager Cal Markert said the steeply sloped terrain of the property off Timber Ridge Drive and Forestdale Bend Road makes battling the smoldering illegal dump site particularly tough.
“We can’t work at it from the top because it won’t hold heavy equipment, and the slope is so steep on the backside you can’t climb up on it with heavy equipment,” Markert said. “We’re basically going to start at the bottom and just very slowly excavate out with our equipment and try to get it separated that way.” Read more.
A phone app built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs that anonymously tracks COVID-19 exposure became available today to all Alabama residents.
“Alabama is the first state to launch the app,” said Dr. Karen Landers, district medical officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health. Read more.