Author: Virginia Martin

Reading Birmingham: Put Aside the Politics. This is First and Foremost a Story of People who Love Music.

About 10 years ago, while visiting rural England, I met a genuine Southernphile (and yes, that is a word I just made up). When a young hotel clerk learned I was from Alabama, he engaged me in a long and animated conversation about his love for Southern pop culture.

While his sources were dubious (his favorite movie was Smokey and the Bandit and his favorite television show was The Dukes of Hazzard), his fascination was sincere. What he loved most of all was the band Lynyrd Skynyrd. “I don’t care about the politics,” he said. “They just sound so bloody good.”

Historian Andre Millard found a similar lack of interest in politics, especially the politics of race, among many of the musicians interviewed for his book Magic City Nights. Read more.

Congressional Votes for the Week Ending July 20, 2018

WASHINGTON – Alabama’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives split along party lines when voting on a Republican statement of opposition to a tax on the use of coal, natural gas and petroleum products.

All three are produced in different areas of Alabama, but the state also has had to grapple with pollution caused by the production and use of fossil fuels. The House approved the Republican statement opposing the tax, which was a nonbinding statement expressing the House’s opinion on the issue.

Here’s how area members of Congress voted on major issues in the week ending July 20. Read more.

Relatives of Unaccompanied Minors Fear Deportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jury Says ‘Guilty’ in Trial of Two Men Accused in Bribery of a Legislator

Balch & Bingham attorney Joel Gilbert and Drummond Vice President David Lynn Roberson were found guilty this afternoon on all counts in a trial over allegations former Rep. Oliver Robinson was bribed to oppose the expansion of an EPA clean-up site in north Birmingham.

Both men had been charged with conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and three counts of wire fraud. A third defendant was dismissed from the case earlier this week. Robinson has pleaded guilty and agreed to work with prosecutors. His sentencing date had been set or next month but earlier today was extended until September.

This story will be updated as events develop.

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

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

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

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

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

Birmingham Offers Help to Renovate Homes in Blighted Neighborhoods

Two big economic development projects in Birmingham may pay off for city neighborhoods. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin announced a program Wednesday to spend $1 million on home renovations in blighted neighborhoods.

The program will improve 100 homes in 100 days. Woodfin said the money comes from the sale of two city properties: a downtown parking deck after the grocery delivery company Shipt expanded, and the site of a new data center planned near Sixth Avenue South in North Titusville. Read more.

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

The landscape of the Jefferson County Commission – and the Birmingham City Council – changed Tuesday night as a pair of councilmembers unseated commission incumbents.

Sheila Tyson appeared to have won the Democratic nomination to the Jefferson County Commission District 2 seat. With more than 99 percent of the vote counted, Tyson had 52.6 percent of the vote to Sandra Little Brown’s 47.4 percent, according to the county’s unofficial vote returns.

Lashunda Scales appears to have won the Jefferson County Commission District 1 race with 59 percent of the vote to incumbent George Bowman’s 41 percent. Neither Tyson nor Scales faces Republican opposition in November’s general election, making Tuesday’s vote tantamount to election.

“I don’t know if this is how I imagined it would be,” Tyson said at the 4 Seasons Club, where she assembled with supporters. “It’s just unbelievable. It’s just unbelievable. We didn’t have money. We had people in municipalities actually working on the ground.”

Across town in Roebuck, Scales sang “Victory Is Mine” with her supporters. “This has been a very, very long journey,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to know how to act on a Saturday moving forward (because of the weekend campaign efforts).

Tuesday’s runoffs assure that the County Commission will have at least three new members after the votes are certified in the fall. Read more.