• 2018 Elections

    Ivey’s Campaign Still Leads Maddox in Contributions With Three Weeks to Go in the Campaign

    Reminder: Oct. 22 is the deadline to register to vote.

    Gov. Kay Ivey continued to build her campaign warchest in early October, raising almost twice as much as Democratic challenger Walt Maddox, according to reports filed Monday with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office.

    Ivey, the Republican who is seeking her first full term as governor, reported itemized cash contributions of $194,133 from Oct. 1 to Oct. 12. Maddox raised $102,024 for the same period.

    That gave Ivey a total of $4.15 million in contributions since the campaign began last year, compared to $1.93 million for Maddox, who is mayor of Tuscaloosa. Read more.

    Read more stories about campaign financing in this year’s election.

    Vance Outpaces Parker in Attempt to Put a Democrat in the Chief Justice Seat

    Ainsworth Stretches out Campaign Funding Lead in Lt Gov Race

    Siegelman Tops Marshall in October Fundraising, but Marshall’s Ahead in Campaign Spending for the AG Race

  • Economy

    Officials Dub Tuesday ‘Great Day’ as Ground is Broken for Amazon Center

    Amazon held the official groundbreaking Tuesday for its first large-scale fulfillment center in Alabama, on a site just off Powder Plant Road in Bessemer.

    Dozens of state and local officials, including Gov. Kay Ivey, came to put shovels into a long mound and fling red dirt into the air.
    “This is a great day for Bessemer, a great day for Amazon and a great day for the state of Alabama,” Ivey said. “Momentum is on our side and that’s made possible when companies like Amazon choose to locate and do business in our great state.”

    When complete, the $325 million facility – which will have the footprint of nearly 15 football fields – will employ 1,500 people with a starting minimum wage of $15 and company benefits that start on Day 1. Read more.

  • Economy

    Despite Immigration Law, 40 Percent of New Hires Are Not Checked Through E-Verify

    Many Alabama employees aren’t being screened to confirm their legal status to work in the United States, despite a 2011 state law requiring businesses to use the federal E-Verity system.

    A recent report in the publication Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, said only 60 percent of new Alabama hires were screened with E-Verify in the year ending in June 2017. That’s up from 14 percent in 2011, before the state’s anti-illegal immigration law went into effect.


    Now, state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, proposes requiring employers to prove their E-Verify usage before obtaining business licenses. He has a bill ready for the 2019 legislative session that mirrors a law in Georgia, where 94 percent of employees were screened through E-Verify, according to Pew.

    Orr recently said there will always be bad actors who don’t follow the law, but he thinks some businesses are simply ignorant about it.
    “They don’t know about the law or don’t think it applies to them,” Orr said. “Until someone is telling them or reminding them, they’ll continue to be ignorant.”
    Read more.

  • City of Birmingham

    Can Cooperation Combat Crime? Birmingham-Area Agencies Teaming up on Problem

    Despite the city’s rising homicide rate and a recent rash of highly publicized violent crimes, Birmingham-area law enforcement officials say they are optimistic about the city’s long-term crime-fighting prospects, due in part to an array of government agencies working together.

    After a violent start to September, which saw seven homicides in its first eight days, Birmingham is on track to have its deadliest year in decades. As of Sept. 20, there have been 86 reported homicides this year, compared to the 79 counted at this point last year, which was the deadliest year for the city since 1994.

    “It’s too high for sure,” said Jay Town, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, which is centered in Birmingham. “It makes you wonder if we weren’t putting all of this effort … I shudder to think where those numbers might be.”

    Town, who has been on the job for roughly 13 months, said he has worked to develop a “vertical” model of law enforcement that includes federal, state, county and local departments. It’s a model, he said, that can serve as a crime-fighting method going forward.

    “The only promise I can make is that we are establishing long-term processes, and it takes time,” he said. “As much as we would like in the Magic City to have crime disappear overnight, we are taking the painstaking efforts to make sure that there are systems and methods and processes in place that are going to last a lot longer than any of us.” Read more.

    A Deadly Week: September Homicides Could Foreshadow Record Year in Birmingham

    Six homicides happened in Birmingham during the first week of September, putting the city firmly on track for its most violent year in more than two decades and pressuring city leaders to improve their strategies for responding to such incidents and to focus on preventing them.

    The first homicide of the month was the highly publicized death of 16-year-old Woodlawn High School student Will Edwards, who was killed in his North East Lake home just after midnight Sept. 1. The following evening, seven teenagers were shot during a gunfight at the downtown music venue WorkPlay, though none were killed.

    Mayor Randall Woodfin described the weekend’s incidents of youth violence as a “devastating blow to our community.”

    By the end of the first week, five more homicides had been reported by the Birmingham Police Department, four of which happened within a 24-hour period. Just minutes after the week ended, the city already had logged its first homicide of week two. It wasn’t the most homicides that have taken place in a single week this year — that would be an eight-homicide stretch between July 29 and August 4 — but it has placed Birmingham firmly on track to have its deadliest year in recent memory.
    Read more.

  • Government

    Legal Services Alabama Serves Thousands in State. Program, a Partisan Battleground, on President Trump’s Budget-Cut List.

    Army veteran Ronald Whitson gives credit to Legal Services Alabama for keeping his family home in Birmingham. “I’ve been to the top, and I’ve been to the basement, and I know how important Legal Services is,” Whitson said.

    For Mike Letson, Whitson’s LSA attorney, what he did for Whitson is more than a job, it’s a passion. “You feel you are on the right side of justice,” he said.

    However, the program that Whitson and Letson praise has been controversial, the frequent target of partisan political battles since its start in the mid-1970s, with roots in the nation’s War on Poverty. Now the Alabama program’s federal parent, Legal Services Corporation, once again faces defunding, this time in President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal.

    Justifications for defunding the LSC include concern about the program’s lack of accountability measures and the value of transferring responsibility to the states to “encourage nonprofit organizations, businesses, law firms and religious institutions to develop new models for providing legal aid.”

    LSC helps provide legal assistance to low-income people in civil matters, including housing, family law and veterans’ rights. The agency distributes its $385 million budget through grants to 133 offices nationwide, including Legal Services Alabama’s seven offices and one call center.
    This is the third of BirminghamWatch’s Trump’s Budget Wish List series, detailing programs that President Donald Trump proposes cutting and the effect these choices could have in Alabama. Read More

    Read the earlier stories:

    Trump’s Budget Wish List: What It Could Mean for Alabama

    Peace Program is on President’s Budget-Cut List. Here’s Why Alabama Teacher Values Its Help.


  • Environment

    County’s Major Air Polluters Concentrated in Low-Income, Minority Neighborhoods

    BirminghamWatch Graphic: Clay Carey


    The Oliver Robinson bribery trial, in which guilty verdicts were issued for officials of Drummond Coal Co. and its law firm, Balch & Bingham, revealed a gritty episode about avoiding environmental cleanup in North Birmingham. But there’s a bigger dirty picture.

    The vast majority of Jefferson County’s 31 major sources of pollution – those emitting enough pollution to require a permit under Title V of the Clean Air Act – are located in low-income areas, a BirminghamWatch analysis found.

    The findings show 71 percent of the major pollution sources are in areas with incomes below the median income for the county.

    Only one primary source of pollution is in a neighborhood with a median household income greater than 110 percent of the county median.

    Residents of the same low-income areas also often are largely African American. Research has shown that economically depressed populations can be more heavily affected by the negative health effects of air pollution.

    Poor air does not equally strike everyone in the Birmingham area, raising issues of environmental justice. Read more.

  • Birmingham City Council

    Filling in the Blanks: Birmingham Council Fine-Tuning Process to Find Replacements for Three Councilors

    With this week’s resignation of President Pro Tem Jay Roberson, the Birmingham City Council faces the unusual task of appointing three new members by the end of the year.

    Roberson’s resignation takes effect Sept. 10, while Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson will resign from the council Nov. 14 to take office as the Jefferson County Commission’s newest members, having been elected earlier this year.

    The council’s seven remaining members will have to agree on three replacements for their outgoing colleagues. Historically, the appointment process has been a difficult one, and this year is unlikely to be an exception.

    Among issues to be decided by the council are the precise process for selection and how much outgoing council members should have to say about who is selected as their replacements. Even how long the new councilors will serve is up in the air. Generally, appointees serve until the next city election, which in this case is 2021. But if a special city referendum being considered is called early next year, the appointees who want to continue on the council will be running in just a few months. Read more.

    See also:
    Birmingham Councilor Jay Roberson Resigns, Cites Wife’s New Job.

    A Major Shake-Up for the Jefferson County Commission: Tyson and Scales Snare Nominations, Assuring a Majority of New Members in the Fall

  • Economy

    Amazon’s a Big Deal, but West Jefferson’s Economic Rebirth is Bigger and Broader

    The television cameras were in action and the local politicians were all smiling at the recent announcement of a huge new distribution center in Bessemer for Amazon, the online retail behemoth. It’s a project that will bring an estimated 1,500 jobs, and it makes for a great picture of a down-on-its-heels part of Alabama that is remaking itself for the digital age.

    But in fact, the Bessemer Cut-Off area — the traditional name for the separate division of Jefferson County that has its own courthouse and other separate government functions — has been in transformation from steelmaking, mining and heavy manufacturing for the past decade or so. Unless you’re involved in recruiting businesses to locate in an area – or you glimpse a part of Bessemer when you travel to the legendary Bright Star Restaurant – that transformation may have slipped under your radar.

    Jimmie Stephens has seen the area’s heyday, the downturns and its recent rebirth. The president of the Jefferson County Commission, as a lifelong Bessemer resident, remembers when the nickname “Marvel City” came to be, because of explosive growth in the first half of the 20th Century, when the economy rivaled that of Birmingham itself. In his current position, he’s trying to restore the Cut-Off to better days.

    “As a youngster growing up here in Bessemer, it was a vibrant mining and steel town,” Stephens said. “Bessemer was a hub of commerce and employment. But the mines shut down in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and the Pullman Standard (rail car manufacturing) plant closed in the ‘80s. Things just dried up, with 30 percent unemployment. But during that time, the economy began to diversify.” Read more.

    Read more about economic development in the western area:
    Touchdown! Bessemer Celebrates Scoring Deal to Secure Amazon Center
    After Years of Tumult, Alabama Splash Adventure Is on the Rebound
    Bessemer OKs Tax Rebate, Fee Reductions and Transit Services to Bring in Amazon Center
    The Way Things Used to Be: Officials Recall Bessemer’s Heyday While Approving Incentives to Lure in Amazon
    Shhh! Amazon ‘Consolation Prize’ Appears Headed to Bessemer

  • Government

    Relatives of Unaccompanied Minors Fear Deportation

    Thousands of unaccompanied minors remain detained a week out from the deadline for the Trump administration to reunite children with their parents.

    The Office of Refugee Resettlement says 453 children have been resettled in Alabama this year through April. It isn’t known how many since then. Children released from detention are placed into foster care shelters or with relatives who are approved as sponsors.

    The problem is, many relatives are afraid to come forward to take in these children. That’s because they’re required to disclose their immigration status to private resettlement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security.

    Isabel Rubio, director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, says relatives are still worried. “People are concerned that if their information is sent to the Department of Homeland Security that they are at higher risk for deportation because now immigration knows exactly who they are and where they live.”
    Read more.

    Read more coverage on immigration:

    Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Find Foster Homes in Alabama
    Some Immigrant Children Being Reunited With Families
    Separating Immigrant Families Violates Country’s ‘Belief of Faith and Family,” Jones Says
    Amid Immigration Controversy, More Hispanic Students Arrive in Alabama Classrooms

  • Economy

    Shipt Commits to Birmingham Expansion

    Shipt made its plans to expand in Birmingham and create up to 881 new jobs official Thursday after the Jefferson County Commission agreed to chip in up to $720,000 over three years in incentives.

    “Birmingham has rolled out the red carpet,” Shipt founder Bill Smith said following a press conference in the company’s headquarters in the John Hand Building downtown. “The city and the county have said, ‘We want to partner with you to grow here.’ They’re working closely with us, and to get that kind of support is very attractive.”

    The commission approved its incentives to encourage the company to create professional positions in Birmingham. Read more.

  • General

    Another Legislator Indicted in Corruption Case Involving Diabetes Health Clinic

    Alabama Rep. Randy Davis has been indicted on allegations he was involved in a plan to pressure Blue Cross Blue Shield to cover diabetes treatments at a string of health clinics with which he was involved.

    Davis, a Republican from Daphne, was charged by federal prosecutors in Montgomery with several counts of bribery, according to the indictment.

    The allegations are part of the corruption case brought against state Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills; lobbyist Martin J. “Marty” Connors of Alabaster; and G. Ford Gilbert of Carmichael, California, who owned the Trina Health company. Read more.

    More stories about the new indictment:
    Rep. Randy Davis Indicted on Bribery Charges (Montgomery Advertiser)
    Outgoing State Rep. Randy Davis Indicted in Bribery Case (AL.com)
    Lawmaker Indicted On Bribery Charges (AP)

    BirminghamWatch in April ran stories published by fellow nonprofit news site inewsource, which had spent months investigating Gilbert and Trina Health operations to produce its Hustling Hope series.

    Hustling Hope: Doctors Debunk Diabetes Treatment as Fraud Charges Hit Clinic Executive

    Just imagine: A nonsurgical treatment that helps millions of people with complications from diabetes restore vision, repair damaged kidneys, and reverse heart disease and cognitive decline. A treatment that heals wounds in their legs and feet, repairs damage from stroke, and eliminates a common type of diabetic nerve pain called neuropathy.

    That’s what lawyer G. Ford Gilbert and his network of Trina Health clinics have been promising with his IV insulin infusions offered through his Sacramento-based company. The Trina CEO calls the procedure “miraculous,” and he has not been deterred by the nation’s top experts in diabetes, who aggressively debunk his procedure, calling it outright fraud and a scam. Read more.

    Hustling Hope: San Diego Doctor Runs Controversial Diabetes Clinic

    Just about every Tuesday morning around 7:30, John McCreary of Poway can be found waiting for Dr. James Novak’s office to open. Almost always, McCreary said, he’s the first one there.

    Novak’s practice is listed as the only one in the San Diego area offering Trina Health’s “Artificial Pancreas Treatment,” a four-hour IV insulin infusion procedure for people with diabetes. Some people like McCreary, 69, who has wrestled with diabetic nerve pain for years, said they think the procedure is working for them. Read more.

    You can find more segments in the Hustling Hope
    series on inewsource.org.

  • City of Birmingham

    New Police Chief Smith Talks About Building Bridges With Communities to Reduce Crime in Q&A

    Earlier this month, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced that, after a six-month, nationwide search, he had selected a new chief for Birmingham’s police department. Patrick D. Smith, a commander with the Los Angeles Police Department, was selected to succeed A.C. Roper, who announced the day after Woodfin took office that he would be stepping down as chief.

    Smith officially started as chief on June 25. He still has a “to-do list” for getting settled in to the job, including meeting with Sheriff Mike Hale and other nearby law enforcement leaders. But he’s already begun to implement some of his priorities for the job, such as hiring more officers and placing emphasis on the first 72 hours of investigations. Smith recently spoke with BirminghamWatch about what initially drew him to Birmingham and his plans for addressing some of the city’s biggest obstacles. Read more.

  • Economy

    The Tyranny of Sales Tax: Alabama Cities Rely on It. Walmart is the Sought-After Retailer. But E-Commerce Threatens.

    In Alabama, the big catch for the state’s economic development prospectors is a manufacturing plant and its hundreds, maybe thousands, of high-paying jobs. But individual cities go to great lengths to get big-box retailers to set up shop in their city limits, deploying consultants and dangling incentives. They’re following the money. Because of the state’s tax laws, the largest single source of municipal tax revenues is sales tax.

    Big-box retailers come in several types and brand names. The biggest of them all, though, is Walmart. The largest private employer in the world, Walmart grew from its roots in Arkansas to be a major force in virtually every part of the United States. In Alabama alone, 38,000 people are employed by Walmart.

    Tens of millions of customers across America walk through the doors of the company’s stores every day. In Alabama, cities that have a Walmart get taxes on sales to those customers, which helps pay for services such as police and fire protection. Walmart’s website states the company collected $684.6 million in sales taxes and fees in Alabama for the fiscal year ending in 2017 and paid another $92.1 million in its own additional taxes and fees.

    Dependence on sales taxes is unusual compared to most other states and harkens back to Alabama’s early days as a state that was almost entirely rural and dependent on the production of cotton and timber. Property taxes are lower than in other states, in some cases much lower, especially on agricultural and forest lands. Read more.

    A Tale of Two Jefferson County Cities: Sales Tax Comes and Sometimes Goes

    By Robert Carter
    Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland is one of the city officials who work to attract retailers of all shapes and sizes – and their sales taxes.

    He said he spends time trying to bring in retailers “every single day.” According to figures provided by City Clerk Melissa Honeycutt, Gardendale derives 70 percent of its tax receipts from sales taxes.

    It’s a different story in Fairfield, about 20 miles away. Fairfield was once a thriving city and home to a massive U.S. Steel factory complex and numerous shopping centers. After the factory closed, the stores followed. When the Walmart there closed, it took about a third of what was left of the city’s tax revenues, according to the mayor. Read more.

    BW Expands Economic Development Coverage

    Robert Carter covers economic development in Birmingham and Alabama, a new assignment in 2018. He is a veteran journalist, both with newspapers and in radio. A Kentucky native, Carter began working at his hometown Glasgow Daily Times straight out of high school. He also worked with Christian Family Radio in Bowling Green and with Western Kentucky University’s public radio service. In Alabama, Carter has worked at The Birmingham News and The North Jefferson News in Gardendale.

  • Alabama Prisons

    Guarded: Alabama Correctional Officers Work Long Hours in Dangerous Conditions for Low Pay – and There Aren’t Nearly Enough of Them

    On a warm fall afternoon, 30 men and six women, all wearing charcoal gray T-shirts and navy blue trousers, stood at attention outside a dormitory building on the Wallace Community College campus in Selma. Chanting in a military-style cadence, they trotted to another nearby building where, outside the entrance, one of their members slam-jammed into the ground a pole from which hung a flag bearing the emblem of the Alabama Department of Corrections.

    This group of 36 made up the most recent class of students at the Alabama Corrections Academy, preparing for a job that most Alabamians would not want, in a workplace most would shun. That job is working as a correctional officer in an often overcrowded Alabama prison. The Department of Corrections has too many inmates and not enough officers, and in recent years more officers have left the prison system than new ones have joined.

    In early December, the population in the state prison system, ranging from those locked down in death row cells to those soon to be set free from work release centers, was 21,213, about 8,000 more than the system originally was built to hold. The number of correctional officers staffing system facilities was 1,569, which is only 44 percent of the number the corrections department says it is supposed to have.

    Depending on where they were assigned, the new class of recruits could be working 12-hour days or even longer because of staff shortages. Every day, inmates would be watching them, looking to befriend them or ask them for a favor. Some days, inmates might curse at them, throw feces and urine, use dinner trays as weapons or fight to keep illegal contraband such as cell phones.

    For working in this closed society, in which they can feel just as confined as the inmates, the officers’ entry-level pay is less than $29,000, slightly higher if they have a college degree. Read more.

    Listen to WBHM report, Working in Alabama’s Prisons, featuring Tom Gordon

  • Government

    National Rifle Association Dominates Gun Votes in 115th Congress. How Alabama Representatives and Senators Voted.

    Florida students rallied hundreds of thousands of protestors near the U.S. Capitol in late March to advocate tougher gun-safety laws after a gunman killed 17 people at a Parkland high school. They called on Congress to enact measures ranging from bans on bump stocks and semi-automatic assault weapons to raising to 21 the minimum age for gun purchases. But for all their youthful passion, the students fared no better than the adults who have been carrying the banner for decades.

    Seven gun-related votes have been taken during the first 15 months of the 115th Congress – six in the House and one in the Senate. In none of them did the gun-control side prevail. Among Alabama’s senators and representatives, Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, is the only one who voted in favor of increasing gun-control measures. Sen. Doug Jones, R-Alabama, was not in office for any of the votes. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, and Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Hoover, each did not cast votes on one measure.

    Read more about the protests, the bills, the votes and the influencers. And see how each of Alabama’s senators and representatives voted.

  • Government

    U.S. Attorneys: Leading the Justice Department on the Ground in Alabama

    From the dismantling of multistate crime rings to prosecution of corrupt officials, from pursuit of drug conspirators, human traffickers and terrorists to enforcement of civil rights laws, a U.S. Attorney’s Office is the local arm of the U.S. Justice Department.

    Over the decades in Alabama, U.S. attorneys have taken on traditional crime fighting and high-profile cases, including prosecution of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombers. They’ve tackled cases that challenged Alabama government, including abuses in state prisons, restrictions on voting rights and the constitutionality of a state immigration law. U.S. Attorney’s Offices also have provided connective tissue between federal, state and local law enforcement departments on challenging issues such as the opioid crisis.

    With the broad span of federal law, U.S. attorneys have an array of priorities they can pursue.

    U.S. attorneys in Alabama have been among the appointees made early in the transition from President Barack Obama to President Donald Trump and with the appointment of Alabamian Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general.

    BirminghamWatch talked with the state’s three U.S. attorneys appointed by Trump to find out their operational priorities.

    “The United States attorney is the chief federal law enforcement officer in any given district and therefore should be the leading law enforcement agency in setting priorities and the tone for the district,” said U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. “They should be leading the way with not only other federal agencies, but also supporting as best they can the state and local ones, whether it is through their task forces, joint efforts or training. State and local law agencies can often look to the federal level to help lead the way, and I think the U.S. Attorney’s Offices should be at the forefront of that.”

    Read the interviews with Alabama’s U.S. attorneys:

    In Mobile, New U.S. Attorney Emphasizes Listening Locally, Keeping What Works, Respect

    In Birmingham, U.S. Attorney Town Says, “It’s Guns, It’s Dope, It’s Illegal Immigration, It Is Opioids”

    U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin: Beyond Public Corruption Cases, He and Sessions Focus on Violent Crime, Opioid Abuse and Terrorism

  • Economy

    UPDATED: Birmingham Lags Behind Other Southern Cities in Economic Growth, Study Says

    Metro Birmingham is falling behind economically, compared to other large Southern cities and the nation in general, and needs a major effort to refocus industrial recruiting and workforce training.

    That’s the essence of findings by a report from a Boston consulting and analysis company, which was commissioned by Bold Goals Coalition of Central Alabama. The study indicates that the metro area is considerably behind booming Southern cities such as Nashville, Charlotte and Atlanta and has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession of the previous decade.

    Birmingham-area industries are too heavily reliant on workers without a college education or higher, and those workers are vulnerable to losing their jobs to automation, according to the 40-page report. Meanwhile, there’s a shortfall in industries specializing in high technology, especially life sciences, and local workers who are trained for such employment often leave the area to find work.

    The numbers were a bit of a surprise for Bill Jones, the co-chair of the Bold Goals education steering committee, who presided over the public release of the report Tuesday morning.

    “It was eye-opening to see how much we trail other cities that are not far away from us,” Jones said. Read more.

  • 2018 Elections

    “It’s Just Plum Sad:” Ivey Disputes Reports of Health Issues, Chastises Maddox Campaign

    TUSCALOOSA — Gov. Kay Ivey is again disputing that her health is an issue in her re-election campaign and called out her Democratic challenger for trying to make it one.

    Ivey released a statement from her doctor Tuesday that confirmed she did not suffer what some have characterized as a mini-stroke in 2015, while she was traveling to Colorado Springs, Colorado, as lieutenant governor. Dr. Brian Elrod said he examined her a day after she was discharged from a hospital.

    Ivey said she suffered “altitude illness” in Colorado, but she said her health is fine now.

    “The letter I released today from my doctor clearly confirms what I’ve been saying all along. I’m in good health,” Ivey, 74, said before her speech to the Tuscaloosa County Republicans at their Lincoln-Reagan Dinner, held at Bryant-Denny Stadium. “It’s just plum sad that Mayor (Walt) Maddox’s campaign is pushing this issue out just three weeks away from the election. It makes me have to assume that Mayor Maddox is desperate because his liberal record is not connecting with Alabamians.” Read more.

  • Government

    Birmingham Public Library Atmosphere ‘Toxic’ ‘Hostile,’ Employees Say. Leadership ‘Not for Faint of Heart,’ New Director Responds.

    Nearly 20 Birmingham Public Library employees addressed the library’s board of directors Tuesday night, expressing concern over what they described as a “hostile” work environment that has emerged under the library’s new leadership.

    The group, speaking through spokesperson Monica King-Slater, did not mention anyone by name, but it was clear that their frustration was directed toward Floyd Council, the library’s executive director, who is nearing the end of his probationary period in the position.

    Council’s leadership has been the subject of controversy since he started the job in November 2017. With Tuesday marking the board’s last regular meeting before the end of Council’s yearlong probationary period, the employees warned board members that the “toxic” environment was “a time bomb waiting to explode” and urged the board to “do the right thing.” Read more.

  • Economy

    Opportunity Zones Pull Investors Into Low-Income Areas

    Alex Flachsbart’s business cards were hot properties at the Jefferson County Courthouse Tuesday after his presentation to the County Commission about opportunity zones in the area.

    The founder and CEO of the nonprofit Opportunity Alabama briefed the commission on his group’s work with Opportunity Zones, which encourage investment in low-income areas.

    “Our goal is to rally the ecosystem here in the state of Alabama around opportunism,” he said.

    Flachsbart, a former tax attorney, said the zones were created with the passage of the tax bill in December. The idea is to give tax breaks to investors who put their money into a fund that then invests in businesses and real estate projects in low-income areas. The incentives grow the longer the money stays invested, he said.

    “(It goes) all the way to the point where if you’re an investor who keeps their money in a fund that’s invested in the local community for 10 years or longer, you don’t pay any tax at all on the appreciation of your investment,” he said. “If I make a good bet on a place like Ensley, or a place like East Lake or a place like Fultondale, the good news (is) that, if my investment substantially improves, I get to walk away tax-free after 10 years.” Read more.

  • Economy

    Sports Tourism Is Big Business in Birmingham, but Not Big Enough, Study Says

    Even with more athletic fields at the Hoover Met Complex, greater Birmingham needs additional sports facilities to compete with cities such as Westfield, Indiana and Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

    Never heard of those cities? If you have a child who competes on a “travel ball” team, you probably have. A study commissioned by the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau says that those two cities are Birmingham’s primary competitors for large sports tournaments.

    The bureau released the study’s findings Sept. 27. It was conducted by Phoenix-based Huddle Up Sports and is based on a survey of available sports venues in metro Birmingham. The company also conducted interviews with various stakeholders in the sports tourism industry, a segment of the local economy that caters not just to college and professional sports organizers and fans but also to followers of youth and amateur sports tournaments that bring in hundreds of teams, competitors, families and officials.
    Although metro Birmingham has made a big push in sports tourism, it still is falling behind other cities, some of which are much smaller in population but which have gone all-in on the burgeoning sports tourism sector. Read more.

  • Environment

    Hurricane Michael Not on Route to Threaten Mobile Bay, Coal Ash Basin

    Hurricane Michael is not expected to score a direct hit on Mobile Bay, relieving concern that the coal ash basin at Alabama Power Company’s Plant Barry could be threatened, according to Cade Kistler, program director for Mobile Baykeeper, an environmental organization.

    Kistler and Casi Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper’s executive director, citing a report issued by Baykeeper, earlier raised questions about a hurricane’s effect on safety of the coal ash storage basin.

    Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said in an email that the company is prepared for the storm. The coal ash stored next to Plant Barry is virtually surrounded by the Mobile River 25 miles upstream from where it enters the bay. Baykeeper officials say they worry that the earthen dams holding back the river could be breached.
    Read more.

    For more on coal ash concerns:

    An Alabama Scenario: Hurricane Florence Raises Questions About Coal Ash and Mobile Bay.

  • Government

    Jefferson County Commission Pursues Healthcare Authority Plan

    Jefferson County is moving closer to establishing a healthcare authority to manage indigent healthcare in the county.

    During their committee meeting Tuesday, commissioners moved a resolution to the agenda of Thursday’s commission meeting that would direct county manager Tony Petelos to begin detailed discussions with UAB Health System to establish University Health Authority.

    Petelos said the only difference patients should see is a more efficient operation.

    “Is Cooper Green going away? No. Is UAB absorbing Cooper Green? No,” Petelos said. “This is going to be a separate healthcare authority and the Jefferson County Commission will be a part of that process. But the healthcare authority will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of Cooper Green Health Services.” Read more.

  • Economy

    Serious Play: Hoover Met, Birmingham Crossplex Score Economic Wins with ‘Sports Tourism’


    On a Saturday morning in Hoover, high school girls jumped and spiked, as coaches and parents cheered in an assortment of volleyball games in the annual Juanita Boddie Tournament, an event that draws teams not just from metro Birmingham, but from surrounding states.

    The tournament used to be a fixture at Homewood High School but now calls the Finley Center its home. And what a home it is — a dozen or more courts in action at any given moment, more available for warm-ups, plus a snack bar, trainers’ facilities and much more.

    Just steps away, you’ll find a new group of ball fields with high-tech lighting, artificial turf fields and the capability to hold up to a dozen games at once. There’s another baseball diamond with natural grass, built to the same field size as the original facility in the complex, Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The Met is the former home of the minor league Birmingham Barons, twice host to the NCAA Men’s College Cup soccer championships and still home to the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament and Hoover High School’s nationally famous football team.

    Still under construction nearby are five more fields for football, soccer, lacrosse, or rugby — basically any sport using a rectangular field — and 16 tennis courts. The complex has all of that plus an RV park in the middle, an original part of the complex.

    Hoover Buys in to Burgeoning Industry

    The Hoover Met Complex expansion marks the city’s major buy-in to a burgeoning industry that’s generally known as sports tourism. It’s sometimes referred to as “tourno-cation,” which is a combination of “tournament” and “vacation.” That’s generally applied more to mega-complexes located in areas already known as tourist hotspots, such as Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach or Orlando. The idea is to draw large tournaments with dozens, even hundreds, of teams.

    John Sparks moved to Hoover a couple of months ago to manage the new complex, after a stint as a manager with the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. He says the complex is already one of the top two or three of its kind in the Southeast, based on the size, the types of fields, and the ability to deal with wet weather thanks to artificial turf. Read more.

  • Government

    Birmingham Mayor Releases Strategic Plan Setting New Goals for His First Term

    Exactly one year after his election, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has released a strategic plan providing an update on his administration’s progress and setting new goals for the remainder of his first term. The plan, which was released publicly Wednesday afternoon, features “a detailed set of enterprise initiatives and major projects for the City of Birmingham,” Woodfin wrote in the plan’s introduction.

    The plan shares its name, The Woodfin Way, with the report from Woodfin’s transition committee, released in March.
    The new plan is a result, Woodfin said, of findings from that report, as well as a labor report from private data company Burning Glass Technologies, a comprehensive framework plan, and a performance assessment from private consulting firm Crowe Horwath. Read more.

  • Birmingham City Council

    Eyes in the Sky: Birmingham Partners With Alabama Power, JeffCo Sheriff’s Office for New Surveillance Program

    Big Brother might be watching you.

    That’s the intended message, at least, of a new agreement between the City of Birmingham and Alabama Power Co. that will allow for the installation of nearly 100 surveillance cameras at undisclosed points throughout the city.

    The $672,000 annual contract is part of a pilot program intended to deter crime in Birmingham neighborhoods and to provide data to the Jefferson County Metro Area Crime Center, which serves as a communications hub for 16 local law enforcement agencies.
    The cameras are intended to combat violent crime in the city, which has seen a marked uptick in violent crime — homicides in particular — since 2015. Read more.

  • Government

    As the World of Washington Thrashes About Him, Attorney General Jeff Sessions Keeps Doing His Thing

    In a crowded hotel ballroom in Hoover, Jeff Sessions got something he rarely gets in Washington, D.C., these days — approval and adulation.

    Hundreds of law enforcement professionals gave the embattled attorney general a standing ovation during his introduction to a symposium, and the Alabama native took note.

    “That is a warm welcome. I appreciate it, and it’ll make my day. Who knows? I may need this, going back to Washington. You never know in the Capital City, that’s for sure,” Sessions joked.

    The crowd chuckled nervously, as if they understood precisely why Sessions said that. He’s been the target of plenty of criticism and outright derision from President Trump, who picked him to head the U.S. Department of Justice partly as thanks for early support of his campaign — and who has since repeatedly castigated Sessions for recusing himself from the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

    While Sessions was addressing attendees of the National Public Safety Partnership’s symposium at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel on Monday, the Washington whirlwind was spinning at full force. Read more.

  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham Council Replacement Delayed by Trip

    The search for Jay Roberson’s replacement on the Birmingham City Council will stretch on for at least another week. Interviews to fill the council’s empty District 7 seat were slated to begin Thursday, but they have been pushed back a week due to the absence of District 9 Councilor John Hilliard.

    Hilliard asked that interviews be delayed because he already had been scheduled to be out of the country Sept. 27-29 for an “economic venture … on city business.”

    “I want to be here for those interviews,” Hilliard said. “I thought my colleagues would be accommodating.”

    Council President Valerie Abbott agreed to push the interviews back a week so that Hilliard could attend. Read more.

  • Economy

    Amazon Breaks Ground Oct. 2, Laying Path for Western-Area Development

    The official groundbreaking on the new Amazon development in Bessemer will be Oct. 2, Jefferson County commissioners said Thursday.

    “Amazon is a game-changer,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said. “It’s going to open up the western Jefferson County corridor to much more development and opportunity for our citizens.”

    Amazon and other developments in western Jefferson County already are starting to have an effect. West Jefferson Mayor Charles Nix told the commission his town is ready to grow with a new garden home subdivision on more than 23 acres being annexed at 6700 Quinton Road.

    “We don’t think there’s a better place than the town of West Jefferson to start that growth,” Nix said while asking for the property to be rezoned for the homes. Commissioners approved his request.
    Read more.

  • Birmingham City Council

    The List Is In: 13 Apply to Fill Roberson’s Seat on the Birmingham Council

    Thirteen people have applied to fill the seat of former Birmingham City Councilor Jay Roberson, who announced his resignation last month. The lineup includes a former board of education president, a handful of candidates who previously ran for the District 7 seat, and a current member of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, among others. Read more.

  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham Council Delays Selecting New Pro Tem After Roberson’s Departure

    The eight members of the Birmingham City Council spent much of Tuesday morning’s meeting focused on the daïs’ sole empty chair, stuck on the question of how to replace former President Pro Tempore Jay Roberson.

    Roberson, who had represented District 7 on the council since 2009, announced his resignation last month, citing his wife’s new job with Alabaster City Schools. He officially left office Monday, meaning that Tuesday’s meeting was the first in which the remaining members of the council could vote on his replacement.

    They didn’t, though. The deadline for applications to fill Roberson’s seat had been extended to Tuesday afternoon. Council President Valerie Abbott attempted unsuccessfully to hold a vote for Roberson’s replacement as president pro tem. Read more.

  • Alabama Prisons

    SPLC Calls on Court to Hold Alabama Prison System in Contempt

    The Southern Poverty Law Center wants the state prison system held in contempt for failing to fill mental health positions. Contempt hearings began Tuesday in U.S. District Court involving the Alabama Department of Corrections and lawyers representing inmates.

    The issue comes a year after a judge ruled mental health care in Alabama prisons was “horrendously inadequate.” A federal court ordered the Department of Corrections to have more than 260 mental health workers on staff by July 1. The state failed to meet that and previous deadlines. Read More.

  • 2018 Elections

    Ivey Continues to Outraise Maddox in Governor’s Race; Maddox Reports 892 Smaller Donations in August

    Gov. Kay Ivey nudged out Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox for the top spot in campaign contributions in August, which leaves her in the position of having raised more than three times as much as her Democratic challenger for the governor’s office.

    In reports filed this week with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office, Republican candidate Ivey reported having raised $402,000 in cash donations in August and, after spending more than $435,000, ending the month with $337,964. She has raised close to $5.4 million since her campaign started last year.

    Maddox reported raising $337,742 in donations last month, and after spending $180,549, ending the month with $476,459. That brings the total raised for his campaign to $1.7 million. Read more.

    More contribution reports in state races:

    Ainsworth Leads Boyd by Wide Margin in Lt Governor Fundraising

    Vance’s Campaign Coffers Swell in Chief Justice Race.

    Marshall Maintains Big Fundraising Lead Over Siegelman in AG’s Race

    Merrill’s SOS Campaign Leads Milam’s Almost 3-to-1 in Contributions in August

  • Education

    Jefferson County Sheriff Wants to Put Trained Officers in Every County School This Year

    Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale today announced plans to put a school resource officer, mostly retired law enforcement offices, in every school in the Jefferson County School System.

    That plan includes forming a Threat Assessment Team to identify patterns of troubling behavior and supplying resources for managing students who display them. Read more.

  • Economy

    Newspaper Publishers Get Welcome News as Tariff on Canadian Paper Overturned

    Newspaper publishers throughout the state, already suffering financially as readers move from their print product to online news, have caught a break in another recent drain on their resources.

    The International Trade Commission overturned on Wednesday a tariff imposed by the Trump Administration on newsprint imported from Canada, which supplies most of the paper used by American newspapers. The tariff increased production costs significantly for publishers, as newsprint is usually either their top expense item or a close second behind personnel.

    The tariff was different from most of the others Trump has implemented or proposed as part of his escalating battle with China and the European Union, among other international trade partners. The newsprint tariff came at the request of one specific company, a paper mill in Washington state, whose owners claimed that the Canadian government was subsidizing newsprint producers north of the border, thereby hurting American producers.
    Read more.

    Read BirminghamWatch’s rundown on the tariffs:

    Tariffs Imposed by U.S., Trading Partners Hit Home in Alabama

    President Donald Trump is battling with countries he says are unfairly hurting America’s foreign trade, but some of his moves may adversely affect industries in Alabama in the process.

    Trump’s new tariffs against China, Canada and the European Union — some proposed, some already in effect — are concerning the state’s auto manufacturers, farmers and newspaper publishers, and they have prompted responses from both industry representatives and politicians.

  • Environment

    Same Week: Alabama Power Seeks Authority for Harris Dam on Tallapoosa as It Loses License for Seven Dams on Coosa River

    Alabama Power Company is beginning efforts to get a new license for its R.L. Harris hydroelectric dam on the Tallapoosa River.

    The long process involving the Tallapoosa River dam starts as the company faces an unfamiliar road elsewhere. A court decision took away its 2013 license to operate seven Coosa River dams on Aug. 27.

    Never before has a federal dam license been vacated by a court after it has been in service for years. The company is awaiting direction from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on how to proceed.

    Alabama Power’s license for the Harris hydroelectric dam on the Tallapoosa expires in 2023.
    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, known as FERC, this week led the first public meetings in the complicated, years-long process toward approval for the Harris Dam. Alabama Power has set up a website, containing documents, meeting dates and other information on the project.

    Alabama Power spokesman Michael Szjnaderman said the Coosa finding isn’t expected to affect the Harris Dam. “Every relicensing and license application is different and is determined on its own merit,” he said. Read more.

    Read more about the court’s decision:

    Coosa River Gets Help: Federal Court Overturns Alabama Power’s License to Operate 7 Dams, Orders New Look at Waterway’s Environment

    Alabama Power Awaiting Federal Guidance After Court Strips Its License to Operate 7 Coosa River Dams

  • Environment

    ALDOT Pitches Options for Little Cahaba River Bridge. Opponents Warn of Immediate and Permanent Harm to Drinking Water.

    Traffic authorities seeking to extend a road across the Little Cahaba River in southern Jefferson County promised Tuesday to make it a controlled access road and prevent adjacent development in the watershed that protects metropolitan Birmingham’s drinking water supply.

    But clean-water advocates poured into a public meeting Tuesday night to insist the risk of contaminating the river even from road and bridge construction outweighs the convenience of connecting Cahaba Beach Road to Sicard Hollow Road. Multiple environmental organizations are urging residents to lobby the state to drop the project.

    The project would create a more direct route from U.S. 280 to future Liberty Park development and Grants Mill Road for an estimated 10,000 vehicles a day by 2025. But is not intended to reduce traffic on commuter-congested 280, according to DeJarvis Leonard, Birmingham region engineer, Alabama Department of Transportation. Read more.

  • Economy

    Connecting With Seniors One Phone Call at a Time

    Birmingham has a service for seniors that’s like few others in the country. It started in 2002 when the Crisis Center noticed older residents would call its emergency hotline because they were lonely. The organization developed the Senior Talk Line. Through the service, volunteers connect with people one phone call at a time. Read more.

    Read earlier stories in the series:

    Birmingham’s Senior Population Rises While Affordable Housing Remains Limited
    Seniors Find Opportunities and Challenges Trying to Return to Work
    Uncovering Elder Financial Abuse? It’s Tricky.

  • Government

    Collusion and Russian Interference With U.S. Elections Aren’t the Same, Jones Says

    In front of an audience about which he said, “Probably most of you didn’t vote for me,” Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, warned that one of the biggest threats to America comes not from alleged collusion by Russian interests with the Trump campaign, but from interference in American elections by Russia.

    Speaking Wednesday before the weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Birmingham, Jones told members and guests that they should not be sidetracked by what he claims are Trump’s attempts to conflate the two issues, as the president rails against the continuing investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Russia.

    “(It) seems that we can never shake Russia,” Jones said. “From the time of the Cold War until today, there always seems to be a problem with Russia. And Russian interference with our elections is a serious, serious, serious issue.” Read more.

  • Economy

    Jones Visits Mercedes-Benz, Deflects Comment on Possible Shift of Production to Asia

    VANCE — Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, has co-sponsored a bill along with a Republican colleague from Tennessee that would delay President Donald Trump’s proposed imposition of tariffs on vehicles and parts imported into the United States. But in a press conference held Friday morning at Mercedes-Benz’s factory complex near Tuscaloosa, Jones deflected comment on a report that the company may move some production from the Alabama plants to Asia because of tariffs already levied by China.

    The report by Reuters quoted the head of Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company in Germany, saying the tariffs have forced the company to consider a shift overseas. Read more.

  • Government

    “This Is a Righteous Verdict,” Prosecutor Says After Attorney, Coal Company Executive Found Guilty of Bribing State Legislator

    In one of the state’s biggest criminal corruption cases, a federal jury has found an executive for a major coal producer and a Birmingham attorney guilty of bribing a member of the Alabama State House.

    The jury returned guilty verdicts on six counts against Drummond Company Vice President for Government Affairs David Roberson, and six more against Joel Gilbert, an attorney for Balch & Bingham. The verdicts were handed down late Friday afternoon, after a day and a half of deliberation that capped a trial that ran for four weeks.

    Federal prosecutors said that Roberson and Gilbert bribed former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson, giving to a charitable foundation he controlled in return for him using his influence to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s expansion of a Superfund toxic waste site in Tarrant and Inglenook. Read more.