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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.
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.
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.
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.
Jimmy Smith, an 86-year-old Collegeville retiree, held an 8×10 framed photograph of his four daughters in his hand when he stood Thursday to ask the Jefferson County Department of Health not to renew an air emissions permit for ABC Coke.
He says his oldest daughter died of cancer and another daughter gets cancer treatments twice a month. He’s also a cancer survivor and a survivor of a community he says has been plagued with pollution for years.
“Y’all can deny this permit, and I promise you they will get the message. They will clean up their act,” he says. Read more.
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.
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.
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
Democrats across the country took the House and flipped several governorships during the midterms. It was a different story in Alabama. Democrats here lost every statewide race, and they lost five statehouse seats to Republicans. The Montgomery Advertiser recently reported the Alabama Democratic Party sat on hundreds of thousands of dollars as candidates say that money could have been used toward their campaigns. Many Alabama Democratic candidates blame their poor performance on the lack of support from the state party. Heather Milam, one of many Democrats who ran for the first time, lost the race for secretary of state to Republican incumbent John Merrill. She spoke with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager. Read more.
Its embattled executive director might be keeping his job for now, but the landscape at the Birmingham Public Library remains in flux. One seat on the library’s nine-member board of trustees is newly vacant, and a second will be empty by the end of the year. Read more.
The Alabama Statehouse got a little more red Tuesday, with the GOP picking up one seat in the Senate and likely five in the House, according to unofficial results and media reports.
The number of white Democrats in the Alabama House dropped from six to one — newly elected Neil Rafferty of Birmingham. In the Senate, the number of white Democrats held steady at one.
Republicans have had a supermajority in the Statehouse since 2010, but the additional seats may give the party more confidence to take on potentially controversial issues.
“They already could shut down debate, they could move bills,” retired Athens State University political science professor Jess Brown said Wednesday. “Democrats could make a little noise on the fringes, but Republicans ruled the roost. That will remain the same.”
Now, Brown said, they have “a little breathing room from public opinion” and more leeway to take up a statewide gas tax increase — something Republicans have flirted with for several years — and possibly a lottery. Read more.
Republicans prevailed in Tuesday’s statewide races for Alabama’s top elected offices, including lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor and two public service commission positions.
Alabama voters turned out in higher-than-expected numbers to vote on a lengthy ballot that included statewide offices, state legislative seats, judicial candidates and mid-term federal races for Congressional seats. Voters
supported Republicans and incumbents over Democratic challengers by margins that averaged about 60 percent for the Republicans to about 40 percent for the Democrats. Read more.
Incumbent Alabama lawmakers serving Jefferson County all won re-election in Tuesday’s general election voting, and two new members who ran for open seats, will join the Jefferson County delegation.
Republican Senate candidate Dan Roberts and Democratic House candidate Neil Rafferty will be a part of a large freshman group in the 2019 Alabama Legislature after 22 House members and 10 senators retired in 2018 or resigned to seek other offices or positions.
The addition of Roberts and Rafferty, a Republican and a Democrat, does not change the political party makeup of the county delegation since they replaced a Republican and a Democrat. Read more.
Circuit Court Judge Bob Vance Jr. relishes being the other guy, the one who’s not making the headlines.
“The problems that we really need to confront need a serious-minded person who can quietly and professionally deal with those problems,” he said at his campaign party in Birmingham. “We don’t need the drama or the theatrics of another Roy Moore. In order to get the job done and deal with the problems we’ve actually got, we need that kind of quiet, professional attitude to deal with them. That’s why I don’t have a problem with those kinds of descriptions.”
Unfortunately for Vance, he has another description after his bid for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court – runner-up. With 53 of 67 counties reporting, Vance trailed Republican candidate Tom Parker 639,619 to 374,233, or 63.05 percent to 36.89 percent.
Look here for vote results in races for seats on the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeals.
A campaign mail piece sent primarily to African-American voters features photos of President Donald Trump alongside members of the Ku Klux Klan — and it’s not the first time that the groups listed as the flyer’s sponsors have used the tactic.
The flyer, which was shown to Birmingham Watch by the staff of Gov. Key Ivey’s campaign, is emblazoned with “Vote or Die” on one side and “Hate Crimes Are On The Rise” on the other, along with images of Trump superimposed on a Confederate battle flag and images of Klan members. Under that image, the flyer reads, “Governor Ivey, Attorney General Steve Marshall and Republican Legislators are strong supporters of Trump’s plan to ‘Make America White Again.’”
An Ivey campaign spokesperson said they were given copies of the flyer by Ivey supporters in Hoover and Vestavia Hills.
A statement along the bottom of the flyer says that the message was sponsored by Vote or Die, SOS Movement for Justice & Democracy and the Alabama New South Coalition. Representatives of those groups did not return calls.
Political materials with racial overtones are not new to Alabama.
Jefferson County commissioners and Jefferson County Tax Collector J.T. Smallwood have different ideas of who must OK contracts set up by Smallwood.
Commissioner David Carrington said Thursday any contract involving Jefferson County government income and expenses must be approved by the commission. Smallwood, an elected official, said he doesn’t work for the commission.
“Department heads answer to the commission. I answer to the voters of Jefferson County every six years,” Smallwood said. “We don’t work for the commission. Now some of the employees in my office do. I guess that’s a little different story.”
Smallwood is running against Joe Knight to represent District 4 on the commission on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. Read more.
After weeks of contentious discussion, it’s official: Wardine Alexander is the newest member of the Birmingham City Council, filling the District 7 seat formerly held by Jay Roberson. Her appointment, as well as the election of District 4 Councilor William Parker as president pro tempore, marks the end of a deadlock between two factions of the council.
But it also came amid an escalating feud between the council and Mayor Randall Woodfin who, along with most of his staff, was conspicuously absent from Tuesday’s meeting — prompting some councilors to say that they were “shocked” and “outraged” by what they called a display of “petty politics.”
Several months after taking the job, Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith is expected to deliver a comprehensive plan for crime reduction to the City Council next month.
The announcement of the plan was made at Tuesday’s council meeting by Cedric D. Sparks, Mayor Randall Woodfin’s chief of staff, in response to concerns expressed by the council about increasing rates of violent crime in the city.
2018 is on track to become the city’s deadliest year in decades. As of Oct. 16, Birmingham had logged 92 homicides in 2018, slightly ahead of the 87 homicides that had been reported at this point last year. By the end of 2017, Birmingham had a reported 117 homicides, the highest rate since 1995. Read more.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has appointed a Jefferson County air pollution expert to the seven-member panel charged with giving the agency administrator independent technical advice for setting federal standards under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler named Corey M. Masuca, principal air pollution control engineer for the Jefferson County Department of Health, to the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee on Oct. 10. The CASAC will lead a review of recent science to advise whether any changes are necessary to the standards for ground-level ozone or particulate matter to provide public health with an adequate margin of safety.
That panel may take on added importance with the EPA’s move last week to dismiss two larger outside advisory panels of scientists who were to evaluate emissions for harmful public health effects. Read more.
The CBD Store in a strip mall along Highway 280 in suburban Birmingham looks like a typical health and wellness shop. A decorative waterfall gurgles against the light blue walls. Capsules that look like vitamins, creams, drops taken orally and candies line the shelves. They’re all infused with CBD.
People seeking an alternative to pain medications or anti-anxiety drugs are increasingly turning to CBD oil. Some athletes even claim it helps with post-workout recovery. Others say it helps with chemotherapy and arthritis. Studies have shown it curbs severe epilepsy.
But there’s just one problem: CBD is derived from marijuana. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Read more.
Coal mines are coming back in some parts of Alabama. Industry observers say easing of regulations and a steady demand for coal overseas means more mining jobs. That’s welcome news in places like Brookwood in Tuscaloosa County, where coal is mined to produce steel. Read more.
Alabama’s startup scene grabbed eyeballs last year when Target bought Birmingham-based Shipt for $550 million. The city’s entrepreneurial community wants to keep that momentum going. One new effort is the Alabama Futures Fund. The $25 million fund will provide venture capital to new companies either in Alabama or to those willing to relocate here. WBHM’s Andrew Yeager spoke with Matt Hottle of Redhawk Advisory.
More than 150 nonprofit newsrooms across the country, including Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism in Birmingham, will participate in this year’s NewsMatch, the largest grassroots fundraising campaign to support nonprofit news organizations. The national effort will launch Nov. 1.
In 2017 NewsMatch helped to raise more than $4.8 million from individual donors and a coalition of private funders.
Sue Cross, executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News, which serves as one of NewsMatch’s nonprofit partners, said, “We are encouraged to see such strong growth in community support of news … NewsMatch makes it easy for communities and individuals to find and fund their local sources of trusted news.” Read more.
The Jefferson County Department of Health has extended the deadline for comments on the proposed renewal of the air emissions permit for ABC Coke. The move comes at the request of residents and environmental groups.
Concerns about the permit heightened following a federal corruption trial where an executive with ABC Coke’s parent, Drummond Company, and a lawyer were convicted in a scheme to thwart testing for pollution near the Tarrant plant. Read more.
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