Tony Petelos attended a party Thursday to mark his retirement after a decade as county manager for Jefferson County. Petelos is the only county manager Jeffco has had, and the county now is searching for its next one. County commissioners earlier lauded Petelos for his stability during a tumultuous period in the county’s history, through tornadoes, bankruptcy, receivership, a sewer crisis and a consent decree.
MONTGOMERY — Republican Stan Cooke, a pastor from Kimberly, announced his campaign for state auditor Wednesday. Current Auditor Jim Zeigler is term limited and cannot run for reelection. Cooke said in a statement that his conservative Christian background makes him an ideal candidate to be auditor. Read more.
Solomon Crenshaw Jr. recently won two first-place awards and a third-place award from the National Federation of Press Women for stories he wrote for BirminghamWatch in 2020. Read more.
State of Alabama
MONTGOMERY — State Finance Director Kelly Butler is retiring Aug. 1 due to medical complications that might be associated with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Gov. Kay Ivey said today.
Early symptoms point to an ALS diagnosis, and Butler will undergo additional testing in the coming days, a press release from Ivey’s office said.
“Without exception, Kelly Butler has been the finest finance director to have ever served the state of Alabama,” Ivey said. Read more.
MONTGOMERY — An Alabama statute requiring chemical castration for certain convicted child sex offenders has not been used after being passed two years ago. The law was national news when it was passed in 2019, but its lack of impact is mostly due to the relatively minor scope of cases in which it could apply. Read more.
Landing, an apartment rental company, will relocate it headquarters to Birmingham, creating more than 800 new jobs. Read more.
Crime and Policing
Over Memorial Day weekend, at least 26 shootings were reported in major cities across Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. At least 10 people were killed and 17 others were injured. It was the latest example of rising homicides and gun violence across the Gulf states this year. Read more.
Alabama State House
Gov. Kay Ivey and some legislative leaders met Wednesday to discuss possible next steps after the governor’s proposal to lease three new men’s prisons stalled earlier this month.
“No decisions were made today; this was simply an opportunity for an update on where we are and what needs to happen, going forward with respect to improving our prison infrastructure,” Ivey said in a written statement.
The meeting included Ivey, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, and the Legislature’s two General Fund budget chairmen. Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, and Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range.
Officials did not disclose the details of what was discussed, but called the meeting productive and the first of several. Lawmakers earlier this year balked at a nearly $3 billion price tag on Ivey’s 30-year prison lease plan and said they’d largely been excluded from discussions.
When replacement parts are needed for the Alabama State House’s electrical system, some have to be “scavenged” because the system is so old that new parts are no longer available.
Meanwhile, the HVAC system has outlived its intended lifespan and is contributing to mold issues in the nearly 60-year-old, eight-floor building, according to a recent facility condition assessment by a Georgia-based engineering firm.
The report has renewed discussions about the health and safety conditions of the building and the need for a new building, or at least significant renovations. The report and springtime presentation to the Legislative Council outlined some concerning conditions in the building and about $51 million in renewal costs needed in the next 10 years.
The bottom line is that lawmakers need to act on the condition of the State House and the costs will be significant, Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, told Alabama Daily News on Tuesday. Gaston is chair of the Legislative Council, which owns the State House.
2022 U.S. Senate Race
WASHINGTON — Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, isn’t giving up on his claim that Donald Trump was elected president last year.
“Somewhere in the neighborhood of 900,000 to 1.7 million non-citizens voted in the 2020 presidential election, overwhelmingly for Joe Biden,” Brooks told the Washington Examiner this week.
He said former President Trump won “if only lawful votes cast by eligible American citizens were counted.”
The Examiner noted that Brooks didn’t provide any backing information for his claims, which have been rejected by the departments of Justice and Homeland Security, the FBI and numerous courts and elected officials.
MONTGOMERY — Katie Britt has made it official: the Wiregrass native and former head of the state’s largest business organization is running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican.
In a campaign announcement video released Monday, Britt said she would “put Alabama first and never apologize for it, championing pro-jobs policies that increase opportunity for hardworking families in every corner of our state. Because we don’t just need a senator from Alabama, we need a Senator for Alabama.”
During the late 2010s, Britt served as chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, who is retiring after the end of this term. After her work in Washington, Britt was named president of the Business Council of Alabama, which advocates for pro-business policies on the state and federal level on behalf of member companies.
With a little less than a year to go before primary elections, the race for Shelby’s Senate seat is starting to take shape. Two Republicans were already in the race: Congressman Mo Brooks and Lynda Blanchard, a businesswoman who was recently ambassador to Slovenia under former former President Donald Trump. Brandaun Dean, former mayor of Brighton, Alabama, is the only announced candidate on the Democratic side.
The FDA has approved the first new drug for Alzheimer’s disease in 20 years, but some doctors, including one at UAB, warned patients’ families not to expect much from the drug any time soon. Read more.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville
MONTGOMERY — U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville made stops in the Capital City Thursday as part of his swing through the state during the Senate recess.
After visits to Maxwell Air Force Base and the 187th Fighter Wing at Dannelly Field, Tuberville lauded the missions of Alabama’s military installations and spoke of the importance of maintaining them.
“There’s a lot of tradition here,” he said, speaking of Montgomery’s history with the Air Force and the “Red Tails” legacy of the 187th. “It’s important that we keep it going. Obviously, coming here in the future we’ve got one of the best weapons the world has ever known in the F-35. We’re excited about that. I’m here today to walk around and take a look to see what we can do to move that up, get the needed buildings built quicker and faster…”
A remarkable student finished my News Writing and Reporting class this past semester with an A-plus. She wants to practice law.
Another remarkable student also finished with an A-plus. He wants to work in sales.
Journalism is freakin’ doomed.
OK, two anecdotes do not a crisis make. But I wish — unrealistically, of course — that all the talent I see in my courses would want to choose journalism as a career.
MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s state agencies wanting to spend more than $10 million on purchases or projects will soon have to answer more questions from a panel of lawmakers.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday signed House Bill 392 from Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia. Though the final version of the bill significantly scaled back from what Jones originally filed, the bill will give the existing Legislative Contract Review Committee, made up of about a dozen lawmakers, the ability to question the spending of more than $10 million by state agencies and departments from their General Fund appropriations.
The committee can delay state contracts and expenditures for 45 days, but can’t outright kill them.
Birmingham City Schools and Alabama Regional Medical Services will be giving COVID-19 vaccinations to city school students and their parents over the summer in an effort to make schools and their communities safer when they reopen in the fall.
LifeTech, a previously successful residential job-training center for the recently paroled, is expected to reopen later this year.
The center was shuttered last year in a controversial move by the then-leader of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.
Now, new director Cam Ward says he expects a “soft opening” of the Thomasville center in late summer. Read more.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, will seek a fifth term in the Alabama Legislature next year. The Morgan County native had considered a run for Congress in Alabama’s 5th District, the north Alabama seat Mo Brooks is leaving to run for the U.S. Senate.
Orr said he had potential donors and supporters discuss a congressional bid with him.
“I think with the current field of candidates, the race is wide open, but the Lord is just not calling me to do that at this time in my life,” Orr, 57, said. “It was an easy decision.” Read more.
Race in Alabama
Community activists in Birmingham called for police reform at a vigil Tuesday evening as they marked the first anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A few dozen people gathered at Kelly Ingram Park to remember the life of Floyd and other Black people killed by police. Aside from police reform, speakers also called for resources to be directed away from traditional law enforcement operations. Read more.
The Birmingham Promise educational initiative has received $8 million in donations from local corporations, Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Tuesday.
That number includes $5 million from Birmingham-based investment firm Vulcan Value Partners — the program’s largest private donation to date. It also includes $1 million each from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and Protective Life, as well as from
Alabama Power, which donated for the second consecutive year.
Birmingham Promise offers juniors and seniors in city schools paid internships, dual enrollment opportunities and scholarships to two- or four-year public colleges. Read more.
Jan. 6 Commission
Alabama’s House congressional delegation split along party lines on the vote to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, with at least one Republican agreeing with the complaint that the panel wouldn’t consider political violence from the left.
The six Alabama Republicans were among the 175 lawmakers who voted against the creation of the commission. All Democrats, including Rep. Terri Sewell of Birmingham, voted for the bill.
“I cannot vote in favor of a partisan commission that will not look at all political violence against Members of Congress and Capitol Police,” Rep. Mike Rogers , R-Saks, said in a statement.
Alabama’s population has grown to more than 5 million people not because of residents expanding their families, but because of people moving into the state from other places in the country.
In fact, Alabama’s birth rate fell in the 2010’s and its death rate rose, which follows a national trend, according to a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama analysis of U.S. Census Bureau estimates released earlier this month. Read more.
Birmingham City Elections
New challengers have emerged in Birmingham’s upcoming municipal elections, which will take place Aug. 24. Since late February, 10 additional candidates have announced runs for council seats, with some races growing rather crowded; one new candidate, meanwhile, has thrown his hat into the ring for mayor. Read more.
UPDATED May 18, 2021 — Six people so far have lined up to challenge Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin for a chance to lead the city. Read more.
UPDATED May 18 — Three months before Birmingham’s municipal elections, the pool of candidates for City Council is shaping up to be a large one. Read more.
U.S. Senate Race
Lynda Blanchard, a Montgomery business executive who served as U.S. ambassador to Slovenia during the administration of former President Donald Trump, has begun her race to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Alabama in 2022 by borrowing $5.11 million for her campaign.
Blanchard, 61, co-founder of real estate investment management company B&M Management, has loaned $110,000 to the campaign, which has also borrowed $5 million from Servis 1st Bank of Birmingham, according to the report she filed with the Federal Elections Commission for the first three months of this year.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Huntsville, the only other candidate to file with the FEC for the May 24, 2022, GOP primary for the seat being vacated by Sen. Richard Shelby, declared contributions of $274,152 during the period. A number of others are expected to join the field. Read more.
Congress Votes on Limiting Debt Collection Actions, Accommodating Pregnant Workers and Biden Nominees
WASHINGTON — Alabama’s members of Congress voted along party lines on all major issues during the legislative week ending May 14. Those included bills to limit actions on debt collectors, require accommodations for pregnant workers and confirm nominations by President Biden. Read more.
Jefferson County commissioners learned Tuesday that Wheless Partners will be hired to conduct a nationwide search to replace County Manager Tony Petelos, who announced his retirement recently. Read more.
Birmingham will receive just more than $5 million to combat homelessness from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s American Rescue Plan Act, it was announced Thursday. The funding is intended to help cities create affordable and supportive housing and services for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Read more.
City of Birmingham
Mayor Randall Woodfin on Tuesday announced the pardons of more than 15,000 Birmingham residents convicted of marijuana possession, declaring that “one small mistake should not define an entire lifetime.”
The pardons — which were announced April 20, an unofficial holiday celebrating cannabis — covers residents with closed marijuana possession cases in the Birmingham Municipal Court between 1990 and 2020.
The pardons are part of Woodfin’s Pardons for Progress program, launched in November 2019, which was meant to remove employment barriers for people who had been convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession. Read more.
Major banks have backed off of financing two of the three proposed new prisons in Alabama, leaving opponents of Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to lease the prisons from private groups hopeful that any deals related to the third site, in Brierfield, also would hit a snag.
Bloomberg News reported Monday that the sudden about-face by Barclays and Keybanc took financial traders by surprise.
The prisons in Escambia and Elmore counties are slated to be built by CoreCivic, a prison company that has contracted with the state of Alabama to build the two prisons and lease them to the state for 30 years. The third site, proposed for Brierfield in Bibb County, is to be built and owned by a consortium headed by BL Harbert. Read more.
Came across an academic article saying public officials no longer have private lives off limits from prying media and opposing political campaigns — to the detriment of public service. It was published in 1998.
Imagine how things are now with heightened divisive politics, partisan news media, uncontrolled social media and a never-ending list of politicians whose horrifying activities in their private lives demand public scrutiny.
The question of when the private lives of politicians deserve public exposure is a perpetual one for the press. It has arisen lately with the cases of U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz (OK, actually zero question here) and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, who admitted last week to marital infidelity. Read more.
After a fire destroyed their last apartment in 2019, Kenneth Tyrone King and his family recently saved up enough money to rent a new place in Birmingham.
But the relief was short-lived. Bills, mostly medical, quickly began piling up at the new address.
For King, 57, this was just the latest development in a cycle of debt. He has not had health insurance for years. He lost his most-recent job at a temp agency after having emergency open heart surgery in December. He barely has enough money for the two prescriptions that he needs each month.
“I can afford one of them, but one of them, it’s like a $60 medication,” King said. “Those types of challenges, if I had affordable health care, or a health care plan, it would have at least covered some of it.”
King falls in the coverage gap. He does not qualify for Medicaid and he cannot afford to buy a private insurance plan. If Alabama expanded Medicaid, that would mean opening up eligibility to people like him and other low-income adults who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level, which equates to less than $18,000 a year for a single adult. Read more.
Samford University’s board of trustees named a new president Wednesday. Beck A. Taylor, now president of Whitworth University, will succeed Andrew Westmoreland effective July 1. Westmoreland is retiring as president, a post he has held since 2006. Taylor will be the university’s 19th president. Read more.
Hate in Alabama
The Southern Poverty Law Center released its annual list of hate groups nationwide Feb. 1, and while the number of groups has gone down from last year, there are still 20 Alabama groups that made the cut. Altogether, the SPLC tracked 830 organizations defined as hate groups in 2020. “The number is a barometer, albeit only one, of the level of hate activity in the country,” the website says. Read more.
The Legacy of Race
Vestiges of segregation still thread through the systems and processes with which we engage throughout our lives, influencing Black Alabamians in large and small ways, including economic opportunities and lifetime wealth, relationship with law enforcement, health care and even projected lifespan. BirminghamWatch has an ongoing effort to analyze how these sometimes unrecognized vestiges of segregation are playing out in people’s lives today. Read stories in The Legacy of Race series.
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