• Government

    U.S. Senate GOP Runoff Voter Guide

    The dueling polls, on-again off-again debate plans, strategically timed endorsements and ‘He said what?’ attack ads are coming to an end Tuesday when voters go to the polls to decide whether Roy Moore or Luther Strange should carry the Republican standard going into the special election in December.

    Probably not quite coming to an end will be speculation by political pundits from across the country on what the outcome of the race and the December election between the GOP winner and Democratic nominee Doug Jones say about power in the Republican Party.

    The race – which was needed to fill the Senate seat left open after President Trump appointed the previous senator, Jeff Sessions, to the attorney general’s job – has attracted national attention from the start. But it’s across Alabama that the question will be decided.

    Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. across the state.

    In the primary race, Moore and Strange emerged as the favorites from a field of 10 candidates. Moore led in that balloting, 38.87 percent to Strange’s 32.83 percent. They are the only two candidates in the only race on the ballot.

    In BirminghamWatch’s Voter Guide below, you’ll find their profiles, links to campaign contributor lists and voting information.

    Candidate profiles and campaign contributor lists:

    Roy Moore

    Luther Strange

    Voter information

    Research campaign financing
    ID needed at the polls
    Verify your registration and polling place
    Problems at the polls

    ,
  • By Robert Carter, BirminghamWatch
    2017 Birmingham Elections

    Woodfin: Bell’s Fundraising Allegations Are ‘False and Misleading’

    Birmingham Mayoral candidate Randall Woodfin called Mayor William Bell’s criticisms of his out-of-state fundraising “false and misleading.”

    Bell has called out Woodfin for getting money from out-of-state donors and being supported by a national liberal agenda. Woodfin says some of that is true, but he had to go farther afield for some of his contributors because Bell during his long government career has had the backing of virtually every corporate interest. He also said there’s a fear of retribution that has to be overcome when the opponent is a long-serving, influential official. Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Elections

    Contributions to Bell and Woodfin Highlight Campaign Differences

    Birmingham’s two remaining mayoral candidates have reported the contributions their campaigns have received since the Aug. 22 election, revealing stark contrasts between the candidates’ fundraising tactics.

    Filings submitted last week show that incumbent candidate William Bell has raised $137,000 since the election, more than triple the $42,356 that challenger Randall Woodfin has raised.

    But Woodfin surpasses Bell in the sheer number of individual contributors. He’s collected contributions from 327 donors since Aug. 22, with an average donation of $130, while Bell has received contributions from 59 sources, averaging $2,331 per donation.
    Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Elections

    Bell Encourages Staff to Campaign for Him; City Hall Meeting Raises Ethical Concerns

    Mayor William Bell during an Aug. 28 meeting in City Council chambers urged employees of his office to bolster his re-election campaign and told them their jobs could be at stake as well as his.

    In an audio recording of the meeting, Bell told staffers that it would be improper for them to campaign for him on city time. But he told them there were activities every weekend and urged them to spread the word on social media about projects conducted during his administration.

    “The political survival of my administration is at stake,” he says on the tape. 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

    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.

    ,
  • By Robert Carter, BirminghamWatch
    2017 Birmingham Elections

    Bell, Woodfin Advance to Runoff in Birmingham Mayor’s Race

    Birmingham Mayor William Bell may be in for the fight of his political life.

    Bell failed to win a majority of votes cast in the Aug. 22 mayoral election — in fact, he wasn’t even the leading vote-getter — and now will go head-to-head against Birmingham Board of Education member Randall Woodfin in a runoff Oct. 3.

    Woodfin took the top spot in the returns with 15,656 votes; at 40.84 percent, he was well short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. Bell trailed Woodfin by a wide margin in early returns but closed the gap as the night wore on and finished with 14,011 votes, or 36.55 percent.

    Woodfin attracted a diverse following in his campaign, and Bell ended the night vowing to focus in on his base before the next round of voting. Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Elections

    Six Incumbents Win Re-Election to the Birmingham City Council, Three Races Will Be Decided in Runoffs

    Voters on Tuesday chose to keep the Birmingham City Council’s current lineup mostly intact. Six councilors won re-election outright, while two more garnered enough votes to head to a runoff.

    The one council seat without an incumbent vying for re-election also is headed to a runoff — though with a familiar face in the lead. Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Elections

    Five Birmingham School Board Races Headed to Runoffs

    Voters seemed ready to side with newcomers in Birmingham City Board of Education elections Tuesday, as board President Wardine Towers Alexander was defeated in District 7 and another incumbent, Daagye Hendricks, must face former board member Edward Maddox in the Oct. 3 runoff for the District 4 seat.

    Only two incumbents – Sandra Kelly Brown and Cheri Gardner – won re-election, Gardner with 79.24 percent of the vote and Brown with 68.1 percent. Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Elections

    Birmingham City Election Results

    Check here for results from Tuesday’s election. Many races, including the mayor’s race, are headed to runoffs because no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Elections

    Birmingham Election Voter Guide

    More than a quarter of Birmingham voters turned out Tuesday for the first round of polling to select a mayor, city councilors and members for the city Board of Education. Runoffs in nine of those races will be Oct. 3.

    ,
  • Government

    Moore, Strange Advance to Republican Senate Election Runoff, While Jones Wins Democratic Primary Outright

    Given his famous 6-foot-9 height, it’s not surprising that Sen. Luther Strange has an affinity for basketball, which he played in his younger days.

    So when it came time to address his supporters in Homewood after winning a berth in a Republican primary runoff election for the Senate seat he was appointed to earlier this year, Strange used an analogy with roots in hoops.

    “Eight on one has kind of been the game so far,” the incumbent said. “Now it will be one on one. And I like the odds in a one-on-one basketball game.”

    But there won’t be a wooden court or squeaking sneakers in his next contest.

    Strange finished second in Tuesday’s GOP primary behind Roy Moore, the two-time chief justice of Alabama who was removed from office both times after defying state laws and judicial regulations. 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.

    ,
  • 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.

    ,
  • General

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

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

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

    ,
  • Education

    Federal Judge Nixes Plan to Adjust Attendance Zones for Two Elementary Schools in Gardendale

    A federal judge has denied a request by Jefferson County Schools to change attendance zones for Gardendale and Snow Rogers elementary schools.

    U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala ruled against the request in a hearing Thursday morning. JefCoEd officials wanted to shift the boundaries between the two schools’ zones to move students away from Gardendale Elementary — which has suffered from crowding in recent years — and send them to Snow Rogers Elementary, which has available space.

    Earlier this year, Haikala ruled that the two elementary schools could be put under the control of the new Gardendale Board of Education, as part of the city’s long-running effort to break away from JefCoEd and form its own municipal system. That decision has been appealed. 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

    Appeals Court Asks Whether It Can Legally Consider Gardendale School-Separation Case

    The appeal of a federal judge’s decision in the Gardendale school breakaway case may hit an unexpected roadblock.

    The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has issued a “jurisdictional question” asking all parties in the case whether the ruling issued in April by U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala could be considered a final judgment, since the ruling did not give complete and final control of Gardendale’s four schools to the city right away.

    Instead, it allowed the city to take over Gardendale and Snow Rogers elementary schools in the coming academic year. The order laid out a process for the city to follow to ensure desegregation efforts over the next three years before she would hand over control of Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools. 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

    The Mayor and Your Money

    When the Mayor-Council Act was modified by the state Legislature last year amid continuous jockeying for power between the elected officials representing Birmingham’s legislative and executive branches, city councilors lamented that the changes would give too much power to Mayor William Bell.

    Today, even as the mayor and some councilors continue at odds over various issues, one thing is clear: how the mayor has used his broadened powers in the past year has not eased the tension.

    One example: Bell’s office has paid nearly half a million dollars to one lobbying firm, and at least $122,000 of that was done without the council’s approval as of January 2017. Read more.

    ,
  • General

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ,
  • 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.

    ,
  • Government

    Strange Out-Spends Moore in Senate Race 3-to1

    Luther Strange has raised and spent almost three times as much campaign money as Roy Moore has as they approach Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff for the U.S. Senate.

    But the amount of money Strange has collected in his effort to hold on to the Senate seat he was appointed to fill earlier this year is only part of the story. Much of the GOP establishment in Washington has coalesced around Strange and has contributed and spent additional millions of dollars on his behalf.

    Reports filed by the candidates with the Federal Election Commission show Strange collected $3.87 million for the race through Sept. 15. Moore reported raising $1.41 million. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Strange Touts Trump Endorsement, Moore Slams DC Influence in Senate Runoff Debate

    It was an unusual format for a political debate, at least for modern times. Two candidates on a stage with no moderator or questions from journalists, only a timekeeper. But there was plenty of old-fashioned political rhetoric.

    In what was styled as a “Lincoln-Douglas debate,” incumbent U.S. Sen. Luther Strange and challenger Roy Moore, former chief justice of Alabama, battled for a little more than an hour before a crowd at the Retirement Systems of Alabama Activities Center in downtown Montgomery. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Birmingham’s Human Rights Law Set for Tuesday Public Hearing

    Efforts to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance in Birmingham are once again underway.

    The long-delayed measure, first introduced by City Council President Johnathan Austin in March 2013, will be the subject of a public hearing during the Sept. 26 meeting of the City Council – and now, for the first time, it has the backing of Mayor William Bell.

    The City of Birmingham Non-Discrimination Ordinance, colloquially referred to as a human rights ordinance, would put into place protections against discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or familial status. Violators of the ordinance would face up to a $500 fine.

    The ordinance also would establish an 11-member Human Rights Commission. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Questions About Protection of the Drinking Water Supply Dominate Debate On Northeast Birmingham Zoning Plan

    Sep. 19, 2017 — The Birmingham City Council approved Tuesday a measure to change zoning district lines in parts of northeast Birmingham despite criticism that some of the changes could endanger water quality in Lake Purdy and the Cahaba River, both essential drinking water sources.

    City officials said they are taking steps to protect the watershed and are preparing conservation easements for that land. Read more.

    ,
  • General

    Hate Is Alive and Well in America Today, Panelists Say

    Uma Srivastava recalled when her sister was told at a traffic stop to “go back to your country. You don’t belong here.”
    Except this is her country.

    “She was born here. She went to high school here,” said Srivastava, who was representing the Indian-American community during a conference at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. “This is home for us. There’s no other country to go back to.”

    It is said that love is what love does and, according to panelists at the conference, hate can be defined the same way.

    Representatives of seven groups answered the question, ‘What is Hate in Your Community,’ on the second day of the Hate Crimes Conference, presented by BCRI and the Birmingham Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Read more.

    ,
  • Economy

    Jefferson County Paying Almost $1.5 Million in Incentives for Autocar Plant

    Sept. 14, 2017 – With the cat having been let out of the bag, Jefferson County commissioners made the formal announcement Thursday about incentives for the creation of jobs related to Autocar’s moving into Jefferson County.

    Gov. Kay Ivy took part in an announcement Wednesday that the Indiana-based trucking company will develop a plant in Center Point and Birmingham.
    The county agreed to pay Autocar $1.492 million contingent on the company beginning manufacturing and meeting agreed-upon employment goals. Read more.

    ,
  • Education

    JefCoEd Head Won’t Say Whether He’ll Seek Open State Superintendent’s Job

    With State Supt. Michael Sentance having stepped down Wednesday after a contentious year at the helm of the state school system, the man whom Sentence originally beat out for the job is, by his own admission, playing his plans close to the vest.

    Jefferson County Schools Supt. Craig Pouncey told reporters Thursday that he would not commit to seeking the state’s top education position for a third time, but he wouldn’t exactly rule it out, either. Read more.

    ,
  • Education

    Jefferson County’s 12 School Systems Getting Windfall From Bond Issue

    Don’t be surprised if school board presidents and superintendents attending a luncheon with the Jefferson County Commission skip the cake or pie that follows their main course.

    They’ll have a much bigger treat awaiting them.

    While meeting in committee this morning, commissioners authorized the county manager to distribute the remaining unspent proceeds from the education sales and use tax, an amount totaling $69 million. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Former State Rep. Oliver Robinson Pleads Guilty in Corruption Probe

    Former state Rep. Oliver L. Robinson pleaded guilty today in federal court to accepting bribes from a Birmingham lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive in exchange for advocating against an environmental cleanup in north Birmingham.

    The 57-year-old Democrat from Birmingham entered his guilty pleas before U.S. District Court Judge Abdul K. Kallon to conspiracy, bribery, honest services wire fraud and tax evasion. Robinson’s plea agreement required that he cooperate in further investigations in exchange for prosecutors’ recommending a lighter sentence, pay restitution and forfeiture in an amounts to be determined, and to never again seek elected office. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 7. Robinson is free on bond.

    The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Robinson in June for accepting a contract between Birmingham law firm Balch & Bingham and the Oliver Robinson Foundation to use his influence to oppose the EPA’s prioritization and expansion of a north Birmingham Superfund site. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    From Cotton Fields to LED Panels: JeffCo Plans to Pair Electronic Art With Depression-Era Murals to Tell the County’s Story

    Walking into the Jefferson County courthouse from Linn Park, you’re flanked by murals depicting the county’s history.

    On the right is the “Old South” mural, dominated by a woman in antebellum dress with slaves harvesting cotton and sugar cane at her feet. On the left is the “New South” mural, anchored by a man dressed in a suit and hat with industrial workers at his feet.

    The 17½-foot-tall murals may have shown an overview of the county’s progression when they were painted in 1931. But that was 86 years ago.

    Now the murals periodically draw protests by people who say the artwork enshrines a racist era and does not bear a resemblance to the Jefferson County of today.

    County commissioners have been debating that issue, but they don’t plan to remove the murals. Instead, they are commissioning an artist to design three-dimensional electronic LED panels to be installed in the same lobby and bring the county’s history up to date. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Birmingham City Council Continues Questioning of House-Building Contract

    Aug. 29, 2017 — An ongoing debate over a District 9 construction contract dominated Tuesday’s meeting of the Birmingham City Council, though the only outcome was the promise of more debate.

    Outgoing Councilor Marcus Lundy continued his criticisms of Bethel Ensley Action Task, an organization that had been contracted by the city to build two houses in Lundy’s district over two years — a project Lundy says remains unfinished.

    Tuesday’s discussion centered on a proposed resolution, which appeared as a late addendum to the meeting’s agenda, to rescind another contract with BEAT that the council had adopted earlier this year. That contract would allocate a further $1.5 million for BEAT to construct nine more three-bedroom, two-bathroom houses in the Enon Ridge community, where the two houses from the previous contract had been built. Lundy said the proposal to rescind the second contract was based on allegations BEAT failed to fulfill the first. Instead, he argued, the second contract should be opened to bids from other contractors. 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.

    ,
  • Education

    Round Two: Gardendale Board, NAACP File Briefs With Appeals Court in School Breakaway Case

    The opposing sides in the ongoing Gardendale school-separation case have thrown their first punches in the second round of their fight.

    Attorneys for the Gardendale Board of Education and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund have filed briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, arguing from opposite sides why they think the ruling by District Judge Madeline Haikala to give Gardendale control of two elementary schools should be thrown out. Read more.

    ,
  • General

    JeffCo Commission Presses Pause on Cotswold Development

    Aug. 10, 2017 – Jay Morgan applauded as Commissioner David Carrington voiced his disapproval of an effort to get zoning in The Cotswolds subdivision amended to permit the construction of a pair of houses on land that was designated to be left undeveloped.

    “He said they need to play by the rules,” said Morgan, who lives in the subdivision on Sicard Hollow Road near Liberty Park. “These developers … they were not playing by the rules. They started building the driveway and didn’t even have a building permit. That’s why we have rules and regulations.”

    Carrington ultimately moved that the matter be carried over for no more than six months to allow, among other things, for all parties to be duly notified. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    These Little Warrants Went to Market

    Aug. 8, 2017 – Jefferson County Commissioners were told at their committee meeting Tuesday that they’ll need to wear their best “Sunday go to meeting” attire Aug. 31 as they pose for a picture commemorating the recent sale of warrants for school systems in the county.

    “It was a very successful warrant issue,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said after the meeting. “We actually had orders for $1.7 billion worth of warrants, of which there were only $338 million to sell. It drove the interest rate down, which benefits the citizens of Jefferson County, puts more money in our coffers to be able to utilize for the citizens of Jefferson County.”
    Stephens said the county continues to advance from its dark days of bankruptcy.

    “We’re more proactive in what we’re doing,” he said. “We have the resources in place now – whether they be human resources or whether they be capital resources – in order to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Jefferson County.” Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Funding for Titusville Day Event Raises Questions at Birmingham Council Meeting

    Aug. 8, 2017 — Tuesday’s mostly placid meeting of the Birmingham City Council was marked by questions over funding for community events in District 6. A resolution appropriating $10,000 for the 33rd Annual Titusville Day — a gathering organized by Councilor Sheila Tyson that took place Aug. 5, — appeared on Tuesday’s agenda.

    Councilor Valerie Abbott expressed concern that money was being spent on the Titusville Day item despite lack of an approved FY 2018 budget. Council President Johnathan Austin responded that the council was spending based on the previous fiscal year’s budget until the new one passed.

    Council President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt added that approval of expenditures before a budget was passed “just depends on who it is and what it is,” drawing chuckles from the dais.

    “I got it now,” Abbott laughed. “At least you spoke truth to power, as you’re always saying.”
    Despite questions about whether the item had been approved by the city’s law department, which it hadn’t, the item passed. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    JeffCo Commissioners Say Indigent Care Not as Expensive as Previously Thought, but Needs to be Watched

    Commissioner David Carrington acknowledged feeling better about the financial state of indigent care in Jefferson County during Tuesday’s commission committee meeting. He said last week he’d be told the county’s cost for inpatient indigent care at UAB Hospital was up to $25 million, well over the commission’s cap of $16 million to $17 million.

    County Manager Tony Petelos said Tuesday the county actually has spent just less than $12 million for inpatient indigent care so far this year.

    “I feel better than I did two weeks ago,” Carrington said. “My initial concern was it appeared as if the inpatient portion of the indigent care fund was out of control. I received some new data and it appears the inpatient data is in control.” Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Mayor Elections

    Top Three Candidates for Mayor Square Off During Debate

    Aug. 10, 2017 – On Thursday morning, WBHM and the Birmingham Business Journal held a mayoral debate that featured three of the 12 candidates in the race – incumbent William Bell and challengers Chris Woods and Randall Woodfin – a restriction that drew criticism from the candidates who were not invited to take part.

    According to WBHM, the candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on polling data, specifically, a WBRC Fox 6 News poll that sampled 214 registered Birmingham voters. In the poll, 54 percent of likely voters cited Bell as their first choice, with Woods at 17 percent and Woodfin at 14 percent.

    Some candidates who were not included in the debate took to social media to express their frustration. “They use the same flawed data polling that FOX 6 use don’t waste your time!” (sic) wrote candidate Frank Matthews on the event’s Facebook page.
    Philemon Hill, another candidate, wrote on Facebook that the debate was skewed in Bell’s favor, calling it “a bought event” that was “a controlled environment so Bell can feel comfortable.” He also took issue with the event’s scheduling – at 8:30 a.m. on the first day of school for Birmingham City Schools. “Holding a mayoral forum at the same time … education can’t be a priority for any involved party,” he wrote.

    Gigi Douban, the news director at WBHM, called such claims “ridiculous,” noting that “setting benchmarks for participants is common practice,” and saying that focusing on candidates who had polled at over 10 percent allowed for a “more substantive discussion of the issues.” Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Bham Council Turns on Itself Over Issues of Favoritism and Skirting of Council Rules

    Questions of protocol dominated a somewhat chaotic meeting of the Birmingham City Council on Tuesday, during which councilors argued over whether some agenda items had gone through appropriate channels – and, in some cases, accused each other of attempting to circumvent proper procedure.

    “This is trickery,” Council President Pro Tem Steven Hoyt said at one point, and that sense of confusion and distrust hung over the entire meeting.

    Hoyt was referring to a proposed resolution that would have rescinded roughly $22,000 in funding for the council’s discretionary contracts that had not been approved before June 30. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Grand Jury Investigating Local Government to Continue

    Jefferson County Presiding Judge Joseph Boohaker said today that he has been told something will come from the state grand jury investigating Birmingham Water Works Board and other aspects of Birmingham and Jefferson County government.

    “There will be something coming,” he said. “I have been assured.”

    Boohaker recently told BirminghamWatch and other media that he would speak with Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart to determine whether the grand jury should continue.

    “It will press on,” the judge said. “I had a chance to speak with Matt Hart and he assured me they are making progress. As long as they’re making progress, they will continue on.” Read more

    ,