Category: Government

Birmingham Council OKs Firehouse Funding After Contentious Meeting

More than a month after the Birmingham City Council rejected a five-year funding proposal for the Firehouse Ministries Homeless Shelter, it voted on the item again Tuesday — and this time, it passed.

The funding proposal hadn’t changed since it had last come before the council on Oct. 23; it still allocated $200,000 per year for five years to the Firehouse, which is building a $5.6 million facility to expand its services for the homeless.

But the council itself had changed drastically since Oct. 23, with two councilors leaving and another, District 7’s Wardine Alexander, being appointed in the interim.

The absence of former councilors Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson, who both resigned from the council in November to join the Jefferson County Commission, was likely the deciding factor in the proposal’s passage. Both had vehemently opposed the measure, citing unsubstantiated allegations that the Firehouse did not give black patrons equal treatment, and along with District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt and District 9 Councilor John Hilliard, they formed the voting bloc that had initially blocked the Firehouse’s funding.

But Hilliard was mostly silent during the discussion of the Firehouse funding Tuesday, and while Hoyt expressed at length his reservations about the funding, both ultimately voted to approve it. Alexander abstained from voting. Read more.

As Alabama’s Unemployment Rate Decreases, Medicaid Enrollment Does Not

Alabama’s unemployment rate hit record lows in the past year, falling below 4 percent, but the number of people enrolled in Medicaid hasn’t decreased.

Medicaid, the health care provider for the state’s poor and disabled, has higher enrollment now than when the unemployment rate hit nearly 12 percent in 2009. September enrollment was up slightly this year compared to September 2017.

While more people are working, not all of them are in jobs that pay enough to get their families off Medicaid, advocates say.

Medicaid’s enrollment is troubling to state lawmakers, who’ve been advised that the way to curtail Medicaid’s ever-expanding cost is to get more Alabamians employed.

“It’s a large concern, why the rolls aren’t shrinking as people get into the workforce,” state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said recently. “I remember being told that as unemployment falls, so would Medicaid enrollment.” Read more.

Glenn, Phillips Face State Felony Charges Related to Federal Corruption Trial

The former head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s southeastern operations faces six state felony charges, and the former chairman of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission faces three felony charges related to a federal investigation into efforts to stop a cleanup of toxic industrial waste in North Birmingham.

Trey Glenn, who resigned from his EPA post earlier this week, was indicted by a Birmingham grand jury on six felony counts of using his position for personal gain and 14 misdemeanor ethics charges.

Scott Phillips, the former AMEC chair who also was a partner with Glenn in a consulting firm during his tenure with the commission was indicted on three felony counts of using his position for personal gain and 13 misdemeanors.

The indictments were handed down Nov. 9, but the number of charges and their nature was not confirmed until the documents were made available Wednesday in the Alacourt online reporting system.

All the charges relate to soliciting money from Drummond Company, which operates the ABC Coke facility in Tarrant, and contracting with the Balch and Bingham law firm in Birmingham as part of the scheme. Read more.

Birmingham Council Approves Funds for Transit Authority, With Conditions

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to approve funding for the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority and a handful of other organizations, including the Birmingham Business Alliance, Create Birmingham and REV Birmingham.

The funding initiatives were fulfillments of promises made by Mayor Randall Woodfin’s FY 2019 budget, which switched the BJCTA’s funding from a lump sum payment to quarterly installments, and which removed funding from various economic development organizations and instructed them instead to apply through the newly created Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity.

Though Woodfin and members of the council expressed “grave concerns” about the way the BJCTA was being run, they ultimately all agreed on the funding so that citizens reliant on the public transit system would not lose service. Even so, the amount that was approved will be meted out in quarterly installments of $2.5 million — a way, Woodfin said, to keep the BJCTA in check. Read more.

Birmingham Council Formally Opposes Cahaba Beach Road Project

The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution opposing construction of a road and bridge project across the Little Cahaba River on Cahaba Beach Road.

The resolution was approved without discussion as part of the council’s consent agenda. It was discussed and approved by the council during a committee meeting earlier this month.

The road would connect Cahaba Beach Road off U.S. 280 to Sicard Hollow Road in Shelby County and to the Liberty Park development in Vestavia Hills. It would cross the Little Cahaba River, which flows from Lake Purdy, the area’s primary source of drinking water, to the Cahaba River near where water is withdrawn for treatment.

Councilors have expressed concerns about risks to water quality, including the potential for accidents, hazardous spills into the drinking water source and pollution from the road, along with degradation of the natural forest. The Birmingham Water Works Board is expected to consider a similar resolution.

Read the BirminghamWatch story on the earlier council meeting:
Birmingham Council Members Push Back Against Road in Watershed That Protects Drinking Water

Applicants for Vacant Council Seats Include Former BoE VP, Former Mayor’s Brother

Friday marked the deadline to apply for the two vacant seats on the Birmingham City Council — and the list of applicants is lengthy.

There are 14 candidates for the District 1 seat formerly held by Lashunda Scales; 18 have applied to fill the District 6 seat formerly held by Sheila Tyson. Both Scales and Tyson resigned from the council Nov. 14 to be sworn in as members of the Jefferson County Commission.

There are plenty of familiar names among the applicants, including some, such as Sherman Collins Jr. and LaTanya Millhouse, who ran unsuccessfully against Scales and Tyson for their council seats in the past. There also are several former members of the Birmingham Board of Education hoping to repeat the success of District 7 Councilor Wardine Alexander, the former school board president who was appointed to the council earlier this month.

The list also includes a former Jefferson County commissioner, the brother of former Mayor William Bell, a former chair of the Birmingham Public Library’s board of trustees, and a former member of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s transition team. Read more and see the full list.

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.