• 2017 Birmingham Elections

    Woodfin Announces His Executive Leadership Team

    Nov. 14, 2017 — Birmingham Mayor-elect Randall Woodfin named members of his administration’s executive leadership team Tuesday morning.

    Almost all of the appointees previously worked in some capacity with Birmingham city government. Two worked on the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate who endorsed Woodfin shortly before his election.

    Standing at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in front of a black banner with the words “How Does It Help All 99 Birmingham Neighborhoods?” emblazoned on it, Woodfin said he plans to “hit the reset button at City Hall as relates to certain leadership having a sense of urgency with helping people and putting people first.” The question on the banner behind him serves as “our why,” he said, the guiding principle behind every decision his administration makes.

    “When we wake up every single day over the next four years, every decision we make, every issue we face, anything on the solutions end of the problems we have, we will always ask this question,” he said. Read more.

    Randall Woodfin will be sworn in as Birmingham’s new mayor during his inauguration Nov. 28. BirminghamWatch interviewed him, new council members and departing council members before the passing of the baton:

    First? Look at the Books: A Q&A With Birmingham’s Next Mayor
    Newly Elected Birmingham City Councilor Hunter Williams Calls for Broad Coordination to Move the City Forward
    For Newly Elected Birmingham City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, the Neighborhood is Still the Thing
    New Birmingham Councilor John Hilliard Says He Can’t Do It Alone, Residents Must Share Responsibility for the District
    Transparency, Neighborhoods and One Uber Battle: Three Former Birmingham Councilors Talk About Their Time at City Hall
  • Birmingham Board of Education

    New Birmingham BOE OKs Post to Work With 13 ‘Failing’ Schools

    At the first board meeting for most of its members, the Birmingham Board of Education Tuesday night approved a new instructional support position to work exclusively with students at 13 city schools on the state’s “failing” list.

    Led by newly elected board President Cheri Gardner, the board also approved hiring a new English as a second language instructor to serve multiple schools and heard from Superintendent Lisa Herring about a five-stop Listening and Learning tour she plans over the next three weeks. Read more.

  • Government

    Birmingham City School Board Elects Leadership

    The Birmingham City Board of Education elected new leadership Tuesday night, the first board meeting for the majority of the nine-member panel. Two-term board member Cheri Gardner was elected president of the board, and new member Douglas Ragland was elected vice president. Gardner, 56, a funeral home director first elected to the District 6 seat in 2013, is one of only three incumbents on the board. The others are Daagye Hendricks, District 4, and Sandra Brown, District 9. Ragland, 60, who retired as superintendent of Midfield schools, represents District 1 and is one of six new members of the board. Other new board members are Terri Michal, District 2; Mary Drennan Boehm, District 3; Michael Millsap, District 5; Patricia Stagner McAdory, District 7; and Sonja Q. Smith, District 8.
    Read more about the Board of Education election.

  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham City Council Closes Skky Lounge, But Fractures Appear in Discussion Over BUL

    Oct. 31, 2017 — The Birmingham City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to revoke the business license of a violence-prone Five Points South nightclub, but discussion over funding for the Birmingham Urban League drove the meeting in a much more contentious direction, revealing potential fault lines among the council’s new lineup. Read more.

  • 2017 U.S. Senate Race

    Moore Gets More: Former Alabama Chief Justice Defeats Luther Strange in Republican Senate Runoff

    Luther Strange had almost everything that a candidate could ask for in the race to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate.

    Besides being the incumbent, the former state attorney general had the endorsement of President Donald Trump, something he mentioned to voters repeatedly in the week leading up to Tuesday’s GOP runoff election. He also had millions of dollars in advertising support from the Senate Leadership Fund, controlled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, as well as the National Rifle Association’s political action committee. Both PACs flooded Alabama television and radio stations with commercials, and they were omnipresent on the internet as well.

    But Roy Moore had more. In particular, he had more votes. Read more.

  • Environment

    Court Rules Sabal Trail Gas Pipeline Ignored Greenhouse Impact, Orders Environmental Assessment

    In a case that touches Alabama, a federal court ruled this week that a government regulatory agency has to estimate the probable effect energy use has on climate change.

    Environmentalists in Alabama and elsewhere are applauding this “surprising” victory. The 6th District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., ruled Monday that, when licensing natural gas pipelines, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission did not fully consider the potential greenhouse gas effects of burning natural gas.

    The court ordered a new environmental impact study of the Southeast Market Pipelines Project — a network that includes the new Sabal Trail pipeline. The 515-mile line carries fracked gas from a point near Alexander City through southwestern Georgia to central Florida, where it fuels generators for electricity there. Read more.

  • Government

    U.S. Supreme Court to Decide Whether “Extreme” Partisan Gerrymandering Can, or Should, be Curbed

    With protestors rallying outside and a packed house inside, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments over the legality of “extreme” partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts.

    The court has taken up a suit, Gill v. Whitford, that alleges partisan gerrymandering in the redrawing of legislative districts in Wisconsin. The court is mulling whether enforceable standards can be set limiting political influence over the drawing of districts. Conservatives on the court are unsure that can be done, while liberals argued that not doing it undercuts the theory of democracy.

    Much of Tuesday’s arguments were aimed at Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely considered the swing vote in the case.
    The Supreme Court’s decision could have ramifications for legislative districts in Alabama and 20 other states.
    In Alabama, legislators drew new House and Senate districts after the 2010 Census, but a court ordered them to redraw 12 districts deemed to be the result of racial gerrymandering.

    The issue is whether the redistricting packed too many minority voters in too few districts. Opponents of the plan argue that if fewer black voters – just enough to influence the election – were assigned to more districts, they would have a strong voice in the selection of more legislators.
    The Legislature adopted new districting maps this spring that redraw 25 of the 35 Senate districts and 70 of the 105 House districts. Unsatisfied, the Legislative Black Caucus has challenged the plans.
    The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision in the spring.

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

    A Fix for Racial Gerrymandering? Legislators to Debate Whether New Plan Cures Voting District Problems

    Legislature OKs Redistricting Plan on Last Day of the Session

    National Coverage of U.S. Supreme Court Case

    Kennedy’s Vote Is in Play on Voting Maps Warped by Politics (New York Times)
    Kennedy is Key to Supreme Court Outcome on Partisan Maps
    (Associated Press)
    What is Gerrymandering? A guide to Understanding the Case Before the Supreme Court (Quartz)
    With Wisconsin case, Supreme Court Takes up Partisan Gerrymandering (Christian Science Monitor)
    Supreme Court Appears Divided Over Gerrymandering (Wall Street Journal)
    Transcript of the Arguments (Wall Street Journal)
    Partisan Gerrymandering: How Much Is Too Much? (NPR)

    Virginia Martin,
  • Government

    Officials Work to Solve Health Care Puzzle for Poor in Jefferson County

    When Cooper Green Mercy Hospital closed its doors in 2013, Jefferson County officials were reeling from health care costs that had spun out of control. At that time, the $50 million indigent care fund – generated by a percentage of sales tax revenue – was not enough to cover costs and officials were dipping into the county’s general fund to cover the shortage.

    Cooper Green was reborn as an urgent care and primary care clinic. The move has reduced costs over the past four years, but some commissioners recently expressed concern at the amount the county was paying UAB, which provides in-patient, emergency and specialty care to Cooper Green’s poor patients. The payments to UAB are projected to reach about $24 million this fiscal year – nearly half of the county’s indigent care fund.

    Jefferson County Manager Tony Petelos said the county is not in danger of exceeding the money set aside for indigent care this year, but that does not mean it is as cost effective as it could be. Because it is costly operating the aging building designed to be a hospital, Petelos and Cooper Green Mercy CEO Roger McCollough are pushing an effort to replace Cooper Green Mercy.

    They’re also looking for ways to channel patients to less-expensive preventative care, treating them before they’re so sick they require treatment in an emergency room or hospitalization. Read more.

  • Environment

    Return to Muddy Waters? Uncertainty Reigns as EPA Tries to Roll Back Obama Administration Waters of the US Rule

    Water runs downhill and, if polluted, it carries contamination with it to larger waterways. Pollution in small bodies of water – or even in dry gullies that flow only when it rains – impacts the quality of water in larger bodies downstream.

    Many clean water advocates, including those trying to protect Alabama’s 132,000 miles of waterways, think that rationale ought to be enough reason to include small river tributaries, headwaters and wetlands under the federal Clean Water Act. That act protects the nation’s “navigable waters.”

    The definition of navigable waters, however, has always been up in the air. In 2015, after a years-long rulemaking process, the EPA under President Barack Obama came up with what’s called the waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, covering not just waters navigable by ship or boat, but also upstream tributaries, headwaters and wetlands.

    Large businesses and other interests opposed that rule, saying only major streams should be regulated by the federal government, with jurisdiction over intermittent, ephemeral, seasonal waters left to the states.

    The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent years compiling scientific evidence and public opinion in an attempt to clarify how far the federal government’s regulatory jurisdiction extended.

    President Donald Trump, less than two months into office, issued an executive order starting the process to rescind the WOTUS rule. The rule had been tied up in court since 2015. Now it could be overturned as the result of a directive EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed June 27, which allowed 30 days for public comment. Read more.

  • General

    Confederate Monument in Linn Park Covered in Wake of Virginia Protests

    Aug. 15, 2017 — Mayor William Bell had a Confederate monument outside Birmingham City Hall obscured by a wooden barrier Tuesday night while efforts are made to remove it.

    But the state’s attorney general quickly sued the city and the mayor, saying the move violated a state law passed in the spring that says monuments more than 40 years old cannot be altered without approval from a new commission.

    The topic of removing the statute was brought up during the Tuesday morning City Council meeting. Council President Johnathan Austin had called on Bell to remove the monument and others like it in Birmingham, calling them “offensive” and saying they “celebrate racism, bigotry, hate and all those things that the South has been known for. Read more.

  • Environment

    Jefferson County Gets Extra Time to Comment on Rule Limiting Phosphorus in Black Warrior River Tributaries

    Jefferson County will get more time to comment on proposed standards for the level of phosphorus that can be dumped into Locust Fork and Village Creek by its wastewater treatment plants.

    Phosphorus levels in the two water bodies are linked to algae blooms, weeds and slimes in the water and may impair their use for such things as public drinking water, swimming and other recreational activities. Algae blooms are a nuisance primarily during the summer.

    Commissioners said on June 21 that they had not been notified by the county’s Environmental Services Department in time to meet a July 10 deadline to comment on the proposal. In part, they are worried about the financial hit the rule could have on Jefferson County’s sewer costs, and its ratepayers, and wanted more time to study the situation. Read more.

  • Environment

    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.

  • Government

    Birmingham’s Frequent Flyers: City officials have logged more than $300,000 in travel expenses. Where are they going — and what do they have to show for it?

    An analysis of Birmingham City Council agendas from fiscal year 2017 shows city officials — not including the mayor — have spent or been allocated more than $300,000 in travel expenses since July 2016.

    Officials using city money for travel include members of the City Council and its staff, mayor’s office staff, Police Chief A.C. Roper and two municipal court judges. A total of 73 individuals have received travel funds from the city during the past year. Read more.

  • Education

    Alabama Ranks 44th in Nation for the Well-Being of Its Kids

    Alabama ranked in the bottom tier of states on each of the measures of child well-being assessed in the 2017 Kids Count Data Book. The report, released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked Alabama 44th in the country for overall child well-being, an improvement from the state’s 46th place ranking in last year’s report. Read more.

  • Government

    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.

  • This story is brought to you through a partnership between B-Metro and BirminghamWatch

    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.

  • Environment

    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.