• Education

    Federal Court of Appeals Judges Grill Attorneys for Gardendale, NAACP in Hearing

    ATLANTA — Both sides in the Gardendale school separation court case faced a panel of three federal judges at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, and those judges weren’t always buying what the attorneys were selling.

    The oral arguments were part of the latest step in the legal process of Gardendale’s proposed separation from the Jefferson County School System, which would result in a municipally operated system with four schools. The plan is opposed by JefCoEd and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Both fear the separation would harm the county system’s efforts to achieve full and final legal racial desegregation and end federal court supervision that began in the 1970s.

    Last April, U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala ruled that Gardendale could go on with the formation of its system but could take control of only two elementary schools at first and would gain complete control when she was satisfied that desegregation issues had made sufficient progress. She also found that the reason the city wanted to separate was racially motivated.

    That partial decision didn’t satisfy either party. Gardendale appealed to the 11th Circuit, asking that they rule in favor of a full takeover right away. The NAACP wasn’t happy, either, arguing in their cross-appeal that the racial-motivation finding should have disqualified the city from breaking away.

    The three-judge panel peppered attorney Aaron Gavin McLeod, representing Gardendale, with numerous questions about how the split would affect not only JefCoEd’s efforts to achieve complete desegregation, but also its finances. Justice William Pryor, in particular, seemed visibly dismayed at why Haikala’s “split decision” came to be.
    “What law empowers a district judge to impose a partial separation that no party asked for?” he asked McLeod. Read more.

    ,
  • Economy

    What Happens If CHIP Goes Away? Congress’ Failure to Fund Popular Health Program for Kids Could Leave Thousands in Alabama Uninsured

    It’s a $53 billion* question for Alabama, and that’s just the U.S. government dollars at play in a year in the state. There are also the personalities, policies and practices setting the direction of federal influence on everything from Alabama retirees’ Social Security checks to Boeing Company’s more than $900 million* in contracts. Today’s report on the Children’s Health Insurance Program is the first of BirminghamWatch’s looks at the Alabama-Washington connection.

    If your child needed medicine for asthma or ADHD or treatment for an infection or injury, what would you do if you didn’t have insurance or the funds to pay?

    That’s the scenario thousands of Alabama families face if Congress fails to reauthorize funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP. Despite bipartisan support, including professed support from the Trump White House, CHIP was not reauthorized in time for a Sept. 30 deadline. And now as the clock ticks, the funding for 160,000 children in Alabama hangs in the balance.

    About 77,000 of those children have insurance paid for by the state’s Medicaid program, using CHIP funds. Medicaid could still choose to provide insurance for these children if Congress fails to act, but the state of Alabama would have to pick up the cost for covering them. Medicaid routinely faces yearly struggles for funding in the Alabama Legislature.

    But 83,000 children whose insurance through Alabama’s ALL Kids program is subsidized by about $200 million from CHIP would find themselves without insurance that many of their parents can afford. If Congress doesn’t act soon, that’s what will happen early in 2018, said Cathy Caldwell, director of the ALL Kids program.

    “If CHIP funding is not continued, it’s very likely that the ALL Kids program would go away,” Caldwell said. She estimated the program could be canceled in about February. Read more.

    ,
  • Birmingham City Council

    “You Have to Follow Your Own Path:” Mayor Bell Reflects on 40 Years of Public Service

    Nov. 21, 2017 — Mayor William Bell bid a tearful farewell to the Birmingham City Council during Tuesday’s meeting, the last of his nearly eight-year tenure as mayor.

    His successor, Randall Woodfin, will be sworn into the office Tuesday.

    During an emotional address in council chambers, Bell reflected on his decades-long career in government and expressed gratitude to his city employees — or, as he said he liked to call them, his “coworkers.”

    Read his full remarks.

    ,
  • Birmingham City Council

    To Uber or Not to Uber: That is the Question Before Birmingham’s Transportation Committee

    Nov. 20, 2017 — Birmingham City Councilors say they may revisit the ordinance that allowed ridesharing company Uber to begin operating in the city.

    During its first meeting of the 2017-2021 term, the council’s transportation committee — now led by District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn — received a presentation from Stephanie Jones, a representative of Birmingham Cab Drivers United.

    Jones expressed concerns about ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft, which she said operated “under no rules, regulations, nothing.” In particular, she pointed to a perceived lack of accountability ride-sharing companies have to city governments, specifically regarding background checks — which, currently, are done in-house at their respective companies. Read more.

    ,
  • 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.

    ,
  • 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.

    ,
  • Government

    A Walk Across the Park: Birmingham’s New Mayor Meets with JeffCo Commission

    Dec. 14, 2017 – The Jefferson County Commission received a visit from a neighbor Thursday morning – Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

    “It’s 100 percent important,” Woodfin said. “Birmingham is the largest city in our county, so city and county should work together. … “We can’t be in a space where we’re operating in silos.”

    Commissioner Sandra Little Brown, a former Birmingham City Council member, acknowledged that the lines of communication haven’t always been open from the two governmental sides of Linn Park.

    “We represent the same people that you do,” Brown said. “I hope we can get the message to the council members.” Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Rick Journey and Chanda Temple Joining Woodfin’s Staff

    Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has tapped television news reporter Rick Journey to serve as his director of communications. Former Birmingham City Schools spokeswoman Chanda Temple also has taken the position of public information officer.

    “Our administration’s focus on servant leadership by putting people first starts with transparency and providing a clear message to our citizens and our employees that we will serve with the public’s best interest at the core of our work,” Woodfin said in a statement. “I am pleased to have Rick and Chanda be part of providing that clear message and joining an administration committed to core values of transparency, efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and customer service.” Read more.

    ,
  • Birmingham City Council

    City of Birmingham Has a 2018 Budget, Five Months Late. Next up, Zero-Based 2019 Budget

    Dec. 12, 2017 — The Birmingham City Council Tuesday approved a budget for the 2018 fiscal year, more than five months after that fiscal year actually started.

    “We have a budget!” proclaimed Council President Valerie Abbott after the unanimous vote, drawing a standing ovation from many who had gathered in the council chambers.

    The delay was the result, at first, of an apparent breakdown in communications between former Mayor William Bell and the council. After the Oct. 3 municipal elections, the council further delayed passing the budget until newly elected officials — Mayor Randall Woodfin and the three new councilors — could have their input on the budget.

    Two weeks into Woodfin’s administration, his office delivered his budget “compromise,” which trimmed significant amounts earmarked for city departments and culture and recreation funding.

    While most councilors expressed a sense of relief about the passage of a budget, the specifics of the budget drew a more measured response.

    President Pro Tem Jay Roberson described himself as “elated” that the budget had passed and praised Woodfin for his influence.

    “I know he was ready to get this behind him, too, and ready to move forward to his next fiscal year for consideration,” he said. “There are some areas that I think need some work, but you can still make adjustments in that process as needed.”

    Speaking from the dais, District 1 Councilor Lashunda Scales thanked the mayor, but with muted praise. “The mayor knows that all of our expectations are very high with this incoming (2019) budget, and I think mine are probably superlative above,” she said, adding that, “in the spirit of willingness to work with everyone, I didn’t get all the things (I wanted).” But, she said, she was “looking forward” to the next set of budget discussions.

    “It was six months overdue,” Abbott said after the meeting, calling the delay “embarrassing.”

    “I would have agreed to almost anything to get our departments back functioning correctly and getting our employees their salary treatments that they desperately need at this time of year,” she added. “Not all of us like the budget, but we never all get what we want. That’s part of life. We’re used to that idea. We have to prioritize; my priority was to get the budget passed. Next year, things might be different.” Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 U.S. Senate Race

    Sen. Cory Booker Campaigns for Doug Jones in Birmingham

    Dec. 10, 2017 — U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, visited Senate candidate Doug Jones’ campaign headquarters in downtown Birmingham Sunday afternoon to deliver a rousing stump speech.

    Booker, who was joined by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, gave a speech highlighting the importance of political struggle and called the Alabama Senate race “one of the most consequential elections in our nation in my lifetime.”
    Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 U.S. Senate Race

    Jones Condemns Divisiveness During GOTV Concerts Across the State

    Doug Jones called for a rejection of divisiveness and a change in the “face of Alabama” during a Saturday night get-out-the-vote rally, featuring a performance by local soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones.

    The concert was the fourth get-out-the-vote event of the day for Jones, the Democrat widely seen as the underdog in the special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
    Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 U.S. Senate Race

    Moore Campaign Promises Lawsuit for “Patently False” Pro-Jones Ad

    Roy Moore’s campaign announced Wednesday morning that it would consider legal action against television stations continuing to air what it describes as a “patently false” advertisement from the pro-Doug Jones Highway 31 Super PAC.

    The 30-second ad in question focuses on rumors, as reported in a Nov. 13 New Yorker article, that Moore had been banned from the Gadsden Mall for soliciting sex from teenage girls. Moore has denied these accusations, as well as multiple other allegations of sexual contact with underage women.

    Stories of the ban have been corroborated by some former Gadsden Mall employees and dismissed by others. Former mall manager Barnes Boyle told WBRC that, “to my knowledge, he was not banned from the mall.” Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    Three Indictments Handed Down in Investigation of Birmingham Water Works

    The state grand jury investigating Birmingham Water Works Board and other aspects of Birmingham and Jefferson County government yielded three indictments Wednesday.

    The attorney general and FBI officials announced the arrests of Sherry Lewis, the chairwoman of the Birmingham Water Works’ board of directors, Jerry Jones, a former vice president at Arcadis, and Terry Williams, the owner of Global Solutions International, Inc., on felony state ethics charges.
    All three surrendered Wednesday at the Jefferson County Jail.

    The charges stem from allegations Lewis used her office for personal gain of herself, a relative or companies with which she is associated, took part in decisions that could benefit her or a relative, and solicited or received something of value to influence her official action. Jones and Williams are accused of aiding and abetting Lewis and offering something of value to influence official action. Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 U.S. Senate Race

    Senate Candidate Doug Jones Disses Roy Moore, Says People of Both Parties Need to Work Together

    U.S. Senate candidate Doug Jones in a speech Tuesday didn’t mince words about his opponent and the ramifications of electing a man embroiled in a scandal, while also stressing a need for unification, civility and a willingness to work across the political aisle to move Alabama forward.

    The Democratic Senate hopeful was in Birmingham for a campaign stop at Pepper Place on Southside. Jones told the crowd of about 100 supporters that electing former state Chief Justice Roy Moore could have dire consequences for the state’s business climate as it tries to lure automobile makers Toyota-Mazda. Alabama and North Carolina are in the running for a $1.6 billion plant that would create about 4,000 new jobs.

    Jones also said Moore was an “embarrassment” to the state, and he said he supports the women who have complained that Moore had inappropriate sexual contact with them as minors.

    The candidate said the “extreme partisanship” in Washington has hampered the government from making progress on critical issues, and he would work with Republicans as well as Democrats to find solutions. Read more.

    ,
  • Birmingham City Council

    Birmingham City Council Delays Proposed $30 Million Renovations to Legion Field

    Dec. 5, 2017 — The Birmingham City Council discussed a proposed five-year, $30 million renovation to Legion Field during Tuesday’s meeting.

    Though parks and recreation committee Chairman William Parker eventually elected to withdraw the measure from consideration, members of the council indicated that discussions of the proposed plan would continue.
    Parker’s plan, which he said was “in the infancy stage,” would spend just less than $30 million dollars on improvements to the stadium, which opened in 1927. Though 2015 renovations to the stadium improved its scoreboard and sound system, Parker’s proposal would take a more holistic approach over the course of five years, starting with the 2018 fiscal year and ending in 2022.

    “I really applaud Councilor Parker … for coming up with this plan, because whatever revitalization is employed with respect to Legion Field, then it needs to be a comprehensive plan,” Councilor Steven Hoyt said. “We’ve still got some things to figure out, but at least we have a starting point, and we have a facility that can be transformed to something even greater and better.” Read more.

    ,
  • Environment

    Alabama Faces Another Drought Season With No Plan for Water Use; Governor Shifts Direction in Who Will Produce One

    Memories of Alabama’s devastating 2016 drought must be short.

    A reminder: The Cahaba and other rivers stopped flowing in places, and water utilities were slow to place restrictions on their customers when reservoirs ran almost dry. The worst of the eight-month drought didn’t end until spring 2017.

    Now, as Alabama’s climatologist predicts dryer months ahead, Gov. Kay Ivey has disbanded a broad panel charged with developing a comprehensive water use plan for the state.

    Environmental groups are voicing surprise and dismay. The leader of one says disruption in the planning process delays a plan that is needed quickly.

    The action puts future water plan efforts in the hands of an appointed commission that has no public members and has not produced an actionable water management plan in its 27 years of existence. Read more.

    ,
  • Government

    With First Demolition, Woodfin Promises “Aggressive” Approach to Blight

    Dec. 1, 2017 — Mayor Randall Woodfin oversaw the demolition of a dilapidated house in Rising-West Princeton on Friday morning, an event that he said would exemplify his administration’s more aggressive approach to combating blight.

    Woodfin said the issue of abandoned structures was “easily” one of the top two complaints he had received during the course of his mayoral campaign.

    “People want their property value protected. They want to feel safe where they live,” he said. “The minimum we can do is getting more aggressive about getting rid of these dilapidated structures.”

    Woodfin said his administration was beginning to inventory dilapidated structures across the city and then determine which should have their demolition prioritized. Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Mayor Elections

    Police Chief A.C. Roper Retires as Mayor Woodfin Looks to Make Personnel Changes at City Hall

    Nov. 29, 2017 — Less than 24 hours after Mayor Randall Woodfin took office, Birmingham Police Chief A.C. Roper announced his retirement.

    Roper, who has been chief since 2007, said in a statement that he’d informed Woodfin of his decision on Nov. 8. He said he had decided not to reapply for his position “after a considerable amount of prayer.” Roper said he’d stay on for the next few months as the search process begins for a new chief.

    Roper’s future with the department had been in question since Woodfin’s election, though Woodfin stressed Monday that Roper’s resignation was voluntary. Throughout his campaign, Woodfin expressed concern over the increase of crime in the city. The city logged its 100th homicide of 2017 on Monday — roughly on track to tie 2016’s homicide count of 109, the highest number since 2006’s 110.

    Woodfin when he spoke with BirminghamWatch on Monday described gun violence in Birmingham as an “epidemic” and said the city would have to combat crime “in a different way” than it had been.

    Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Mayor Elections

    Woodfin Takes Office as Mayor, Promises Spirit of Collaboration at City Hall

    Nov. 28, 2017 — “Truthfully, this is not my inauguration,” Randall Woodfin said shortly after he was sworn in as Birmingham’s 30th mayor. “This is our inauguration.”

    That sentiment — that Woodfin’s administration will be a collective effort to improve the city — extended throughout most of the inauguration ceremony Tuesday afternoon. Before Woodfin took the oath of office, political commentator and motivational speaker Jeff Johnson urged attendees to ask themselves what they could do to improve the city. Singer-songwriter Sebastian Cole performed a cover version of John Legend’s “If You’re Out There,” a call-to-action anthem that quotes Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see.”

    After Woodfin was sworn into office by Judge Nakita Blocton — with his mother, Cynthia Woodfin-Kellum, holding the bible — he, too, emphasized the importance of community collaboration. He cited the “grassroots movement we built from scratch” as having propelled him into office.

    For much of his speech, Woodfin referred to himself and the nine members of the City Council as a unit, at one point calling them up to join him at the podium.

    “The 10 of us collectively not only represent you, are dedicated to fighting for you, but wholeheartedly we believe in you,” he said. Read more.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Mayor Elections

    As He Takes Office, Mayor Randall Woodfin Looks to Hard Decisions Ahead

    Randall Woodfin was officially sworn in as the 30th mayor of Birmingham today, beginning a four-year term that he has promised will bring major changes to the organization and operation of city government, including pushes to increase transparency and reduce crime.

    He’ll start his tenure with an audit of city finances and reassessment of the structures of all city departments — which, he says, is going to lead to some “heavy” decisions. There are other challenges ahead as well, he said, in working to reduce the city’s rampant gun violence, advocating for an increased minimum wage, and improving the quality of life for Birmingham citizens.
    Read the Q&A with the new mayor.

    ,
  • 2017 U.S. Senate Race

    Oops: Hackers Hijack Young Repubs Site, Send Viewers to Chinese Erotica

    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.

    ,
  • 2017 U.S. Senate Race

    After Week of Silence, Alabama Republican Leaders Say They’ll Stand by Roy Moore

    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
    Friends of Moore’s Accuser Defend Her Decision to Discuss Allegations Now
    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
    Accusations of Sexual Misconduct Against Roy Moore Throw Senate Race Into Turmoil
    ,
  • Education

    ‘Resegregation of Jefferson County’ Forum on School Breakaway Case Calls for Legal Changes

    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.

    ,
  • Environment

    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.

    ,
  • Education

    Spelling Their Name Right Isn’t Enough for Gardendale School Supporters Tired of the Limelight

    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.

    ,
  • 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.

    ,
  • 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

    2 Lawyers, Drummond Exec Plead Not Guilty in Corruption Probe

    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.

    ,
  • 2017 Birmingham Elections

    The polls are busy this fall year as Birmingham and Alabama voters go to the polls to elect a U.S. senator, mayor, city councilors and board of education members. Here are the dates for the upcoming elections:

    Sept. 26: Republican runoff, Special Senate Election

    Oct. 3: Birmingham Mayor, Council, School Board runoffs

    Dec.12: General election, Special Senate Election

    ,