Category: Government

Jefferson County Commission Approves Workforce Development Funds for Lawson

Sheila Tyson called a pair of rental assistance agreements “a Band-Aid on a bad wound” as the newly installed Jefferson County Commission met for the first time on Monday.

Tyson and her fellow commissioners had heard two items during their committee meeting that allotted money to pay the rent for a couple of Jefferson County households to keep each from becoming homeless.

Tyson, who chairs the commission’s Community Services and Workforce Development Committee, said poor persons in the county need training so they can provide for themselves.

During their meeting, commissioners also approved $75,000 from the general fund for Lawson State Community College for workforce development and job training programs. Read more.

A Q&A With Wardine Alexander: New Birmingham Councilor Cites Workforce Development, Clean Streets Among Her Top Priorities.

Wardine Alexander won’t be the newest member of the Birmingham City Council for long. She took her seat as District 7’s representative Oct. 30, following a narrow vote — and now, she’ll have a say in appointing the replacements for former councilors Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson, who vacated their seats to join the Jefferson County Commission last week.

Alexander replaced Jay Roberson, who suddenly resigned from the seat in September, citing his wife’s new job with Alabaster City Schools.

BirminghamWatch conducted an interview with Alexander about her priorities and skills, her previous roles on the city’s library board and board of education, her impression of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s administration and why she wanted to a be a councilor. Read the Q&A.

Conquering Hero or Political Villain? How Alabama’s Conservative Voters Will View Jeff Sessions After Turbulent AG Tenure

The end of Jeff Sessions’ topsy-turvy time as attorney general came abruptly, a day after one of the nation’s most important mid-term elections. After nearly two years of being publicly berated by President Donald Trump, Sessions is out and free to return home to Alabama, the state that sent him to the U.S. Senate for 20 years.

How conservatives across the state will welcome him is an open question. Will he be greeted as a conquering hero or a political villain? For that matter, will he return to Alabama or stay in Washington, where any number of law firms, consultants and other political organizations would welcome the deposed attorney general with open arms and a fat paycheck.

And then there’s perhaps the biggest question of all. Will he cast a longing eye on the seat he once held, now occupied by Democrat Doug Jones? So far Sessions isn’t saying anything publicly.

Former State Senator Scott Beason of Gardendale, now a self-described “recovering politician” and radio and television talk show host, thinks Sessions is not “a mercenary kind of guy” and probably won’t slip into a job at a K Street lobbying firm in Washington.

But as far as the regard with which Republican voters back home have for Sessions, Beason thinks it will fall somewhere in between hero and villain. Read more.

Woodfin to Pension Board: ‘Work With Me’ on Pension Investment Shortfall

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin addressed city employees Wednesday, acknowledging “serious challenges” facing the city’s pension system and urging the pension board to begin working with him on solutions immediately.

“For years, this issue has not been handled,” Woodfin said in a letter released alongside a video address. “If we act now, there is time to correct this problem, protect our employees and avoid a financial crisis for the city.”

According to Woodfin, the city’s unfunded pension liability stands at $378 million, which means that the city will need to contribute $378 million more than it already does to the pension fund over the next 30 years. Read more.

Written in Black and White: In Alabama’s Statehouse, the Parties Are Split Almost Entirely by Race

When newly elected Neil Rafferty takes his place in the Alabama House of Representatives next year, he will be the only white Democrat in the 105-seat chamber

With one other white Democrat in the Senate, the Alabama Legislature’s two parties are almost entirely divided by race. An all-white GOP has a supermajority.

“You can’t deny the optics at times,” Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said about the party and racial split. He’s been a lawmaker since 2006 and has seen the racial polarization increase as the white Democrats dwindled in numbers.

Less than 10 years ago, in the 2006-2010 term, there were 62 Democrats in the House. More than half of them were white, said House public information officer Clay Redden. Now, there are 28 Democrats total. Republicans picked up five more seats in last week’s election.

In all, more than 75 percent of the members of the Legislature were white less than a decade ago, and more than 60 percent were Democrats, according to an analysis done at the time by The Birmingham News.

Being the minority race in the minority party isn’t something Rafferty, D-Birmingham, said he’s thought too much about.

“I’m going to go down there with humility and an eagerness and willingness to work with my colleagues, all of my colleagues, for the betterment of the state and House District 54,” he said last week.

But race has been an issue in the Statehouse in recent years.

England is concerned that, without diversity among parties, all issues begin to be viewed in a racial context.

“Racial issues are important, they are, but not everything is racial,” he said. “You don’t want everything to be painted with a broad brush because of the messenger and lose the message.” Read more.

New Jefferson County Commissioners Pledge to Work on Behalf of Residents

The latest edition of the Jefferson County Commission took office Wednesday with a swearing in ceremony in the morning and a meeting in the afternoon to set its organization in place.

When the day was done, Jimmie Stephens was again president of the commission and Lashunda Scales, who, like Sheila Tyson, made the move from the Birmingham City Council, was elected president pro tem. Read more.

Library Board Debates Filling Two Management Positions

For the past year, the Birmingham Public Library has been embroiled in a controversy surrounding Executive Director Floyd Council. But at Tuesday’s meeting, the library’s board of trustees shifted its focus to replacing two other key staff members, including Council’s second-in-command.

Deputy Director Sandra Vick Lee has announced that she will retire Dec. 7, while Tobin Cataldo, the library’s coordinator of collection management, is leaving his position Nov. 16 to head up the Jefferson County Library Cooperative.

The questions of how to fill those positions while permanent replacements are sought, and who has the authority to appoint those replacements, led to a muddled, sometimes tense board meeting Tuesday night

Scales and Tyson Couldn’t Have Been More Different in Farewells to the Birmingham Council

On their final day as city councilors, Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson addressed their colleagues during an otherwise uneventful council meeting, reflecting on their tenures before they move to a higher level of government.

Scales and Tyson were technically elected to the Jefferson County Commission in Nov. 6’s general election, though they were both uncontested and had been assumed to take their seats since winning their July runoff elections. Scales had been the councilor for District 1 since 2009, while Tyson had represented District 6 since 2013. Both won their bids for re-election last year, but their commission wins meant that they would have to leave their seats with three years remaining in their terms.

Their speeches at Tuesday’s council meeting highlighted the contrast in their political styles — Scales loquacious and boastful, Tyson serious and determined — and in many ways epitomized their respective terms on the council. Read more.

EPA Southeast Administrator, Former ADEM Commissioner Indicted on State Ethics Charges

A former director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, who’s now the regional administrator for the EPA, has been indicted on state ethics charges related to the case in which an executive of Drummond Corporation and a partner in the Balch and Bingham law firm were convicted earlier this year.

Onis “Trey” Glenn III, who directed ADEM from 2005 to 2009 and later was appointed by President Donald Trump to head the EPA in the southeastern states, was indicted by a Jefferson County grand jury of multiple charges sought by the Alabama Ethics Commission.

In addition, Scott Phillips, who was once an Alabama Environmental Management commissioner and later a business partner with Glenn, also was indicted on multiple ethics charges.

As of Tuesday evening, the indictment documents had not been filed on Alacourt, the state’s online court filing system, so neither the exact number of counts nor the details of each count can be independently verified. However, the Ethics Commission released a brief statement with some details, confirming that the indictment — handed down by the grand jury Friday — was for “use of office for personal gain,” “soliciting and/or receiving a ‘thing of value’ from a principal, lobbyist or subordinate of a lobbyist,” and receiving money in addition to that received in one’s official capacity.” Read more.