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.
BIRMINGHAM VOTES 2017
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:
Newly Elected Birmingham City Councilor Hunter Williams Calls for Broad Coordination to Move the City Forward
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Alabama Republican Party website has been “bombarded” with hacking attempts over the past several days, according to Infomedia CEO John Lovoy.
Infomedia is a Birmingham-based web company that maintains ALGOP.gov, the Alabama GOP’s website. (Infomedia also maintains BirminghamWatch.org.)
Lovoy said that approximately 29,000 attempts to compromise ALGOP.gov have been noted this week. The origin of these attempts is currently unknown, Lovoy said, but Infomedia has had to increase security on the site to combat the attacks. As of Friday afternoon, Infomedia had not determined that any of the attempts had been successful.
The status of the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans (GYBR) website, linked to on ALGOP.gov, has raised concern, however. Until Friday afternoon, a link purportedly to that organization’s site from the Alabama GOP website’s “Clubs/Coalitions” page redirected, instead, to a Chinese-language site with erotic content. Representatives for the party said they had been unaware of that until notified by BirminghamWatch. Read more.
Read the day’s reports on the Moore situation.
Ministers Sign Letter Saying Roy Moore ‘Not Fit for Office’ (AL.com)
Sexual Misconduct Claims Roil Alabama Campaign, Divide Women (Associated Press)
Key Dates in the Life of Roy Moore (Associated Press)
2018 Primaries Behind Alabama GOP’s Reaction to Moore Allegations (Montgomery Advertiser)
Kay Ivey Doesn’t Disbelieve Roy Moore Accusers; Will Still Vote for Him (Montgomery Advertiser)
Write-In Candidates Hope to Make a Mark in Senate Race (Opelika-Auburn News)
Moore’s Poll Numbers Weaken as Allegations Take Hold (Anniston Star)
Roy Moore Scandal Ignites Fundraising Explosion for Democratic Challenger Doug Jones (NBC News)
11 Roy Moore Election Scenarios: What If He Drops Out? Write-In Win? Can Senate Refuse to Seat Him? (AL.com)
The Alabama Republican Party is standing by its man.
A week after allegations of sexual improprieties with teenagers surfaced about U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, the state party has finally broken its silence and announced it will continue to support Moore in his race against Democratic candidate Doug Jones.
Read the day’s reports on the Moore situation.
Democrat Jones Leads Roy Moore by 8 Points in Alabama, Per Fox News Poll (Washington Post)
Alabama Senate Race Aggravates Deep Divide in Republican Party (New York Times)
Marsh Opposes Write-In Alternative to Moore (Anniston Star)
Moore Scandal Creates Difficult Politics for Alabama Republican Women (Decatur Daily)
Birmingham Young Republicans Censure Roy Moore, Pull Endorsement (AL.com)
Will Alabama’s Politics Scuttle Its Chances at Toyota-Mazda? (AL.com)
In Sex Crimes and Other Cases, Roy Moore Often Sided With Defendants (New York Times)
Read BirminghamWatch’s coverage of the controversy
Lawyer for Roy Moore Demands Analysis of Signature in Yearbook of Woman Who Said He Sexually Abused Her<.a>
Another Woman Accuses Roy Moore of Attack, Senate Leader Calls for Vote to Expel, and Pastors Publish Letter of Support
Roy Moore Says Sexual Allegations Were Raised to ‘Defrock’ His Campaign, Fallout Continues as Some Republicans Defend Him and Others Look for Ways to Bounce Him From the Ballot
Calling for changes to state law governing a city’s ability to create its own school system, opponents of Gardendale’s breakaway effort say the issue isn’t simply about black and white, but a dilution of education resources and limitations on choices and chances for students.
“We’re not picking on Gardendale. We’re just trying to stop this train,” said Margaret Z. Beard, president of the Jefferson County Retired Teachers’ Association, one of the panelists at a Tuesday night Call to Action Forum at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church.
The north Jefferson County town of Gardendale’s effort to break away and form a new municipal system, which began five years ago and is now pending in the federal courts, was at the center of the discussion at the forum, titled “The Resegregation of Jefferson County.”
A petition circulated at the forum calls for an amendment to the Code of Alabama “to change from 5,000 to 25,000 the population a municipality must have before control of schools … shall be vested in a city board of education.” Read more.
The Jefferson County Commission today hired four law firms to recoup expenses incurred because of the opioid crisis.
The county entered a legal services contract with Napoli Shkolnik, PPLC; Edmond, Lindsey & Hoffler, LLP; Perkins-Law, LLC, and Riley & Jackson PC.
The four firms were hired to file suit on Jefferson County’s behalf against manufacturers and distributors of opioids alleging they fraudulently marketed and distributed the drugs.
County officials contend the opioid crisis has brought about great expenses for cities and counties, including the increased cost of staffing the coroner’s office, the cost of providing indigent residents with opioid addiction treatment, the increased cost of law enforcement, the cost of administering potential overdose treatment and the decrease in employable citizens as a result of their addiction.
Proposal to Build Bridge Over the Little Cahaba Open for Comments. Opponents Fear Danger to the Drinking Water Supply, ALDOT Points to Improved Traffic
The river runs through it – the “it” being the undeveloped areas adjacent to the Little Cahaba River. But will a new road also run through this pristine watershed that protects the quality of a major source of drinking water for most residents of Jefferson and Shelby counties?
The Alabama Department of Transportation is taking written comments from the public until Nov. 1 on whether to widen and extend Cahaba Beach Road from near U.S. 280 across a new bridge and connect it to Sicard Hollow Road.
ALDOT regional engineer DeJarvis Leonard said the cut-through project would take many years to complete but would improve access between roads on either side of the Little Cahaba River and reduce travel times.
Environmentalists’ concerns include potential degradation of drinking water by the construction, traffic and potential future commercial development. They also point out the river is a prime recreation area for canoeing, kayaking and hiking. Read more.
When organizers of an effort to separate Gardendale from the Jefferson County School System began their work, they had no idea it would attract so much attention from national news media — or that much of that attention would be unfavorable to their cause.
The effort to break away and form a new municipal system, which began five years ago and has since landed in the federal courts, has been covered by well-known media such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. The latter aroused the ire of parents of Gardendale High School students when a photographer was allowed to work inside the school. Additionally, reporters from online outlets that specialize in educational issues, racial issues or both have also focused on the city and the separation effort.
Last month alone, two stories were published nationally about the Gardendale breakaway, both casting the effort as part of a larger issue of resegregation in urban public schools. Read more.
Sept. 26, 2017 – The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve a human rights ordinance that was first proposed more than four years ago.
In a 7-0 vote, the council passed the City of Birmingham Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which would put into place protections against discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or familial status. Read more.
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.
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.
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.
Two partners in a Birmingham law firm and a vice president of one of the world’s largest coal companies have pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering. Read more.
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.
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