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Bill Britt

Dr. King’s Legacy Depends On You

Darrio Melton



By Rep. Darrio Melton

This week, we took a day out of our schedules to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a tireless advocate for socioeconomic justice and equal rights at a time of tremendous upheaval in our nation’s history. Dr. King shared his dream with America and empowered us to continue moving the bar forward, never accepting less than fair and equal representation for all people.

Yet in 2016, almost 50 years after Dr. King’s death, we still face tremendous socioeconomic and political disparities in our state and in our nation.

We have a prison system that incarcerates Black men at a rate six times that which it incarcerates white men. We have an economic system that pays women 77 cents for every dollar men earn doing the same job, and that rate is even less for women of color. We have a system of public education that offers access and opportunity to children from wealthy families while leaving children from low-income families far behind their peers.


Dr. King warned us about all of this, and he told us that we have the responsibility to fix it. We’re working hard in the Legislature, but we have to do more–and the best way we can do that is by empowering underrepresented groups to seek public office and speak for those who need a voice.

As Dr. King told us, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” There are good people across this state who have a passion for public service who feel disenfranchised from the political process.

How do we expect things to change when the Office of the President of the United States has historically been 98 percent white and 100 percent male? Our Supreme Court is 78 percent white and two-thirds male. In Congress? Only 19 percent are women, despite the fact that women make up roughly half the US population. For people of color, the statistics are worse: only 8 percent of members of Congress are African American and only 7 percent are Hispanic or Latino. The average age of Representatives in the House is 57, and in the Senate it’s 62.

The numbers are shameful, and the American people need better representation in all levels of government, because the American people are not entirely comprised of 60-year-old white males. We all succeed when we bring a diversity of perspectives to the table: our cultural, racial, socio-economical and personal histories make us who we are–the American people.

So consider this me formally asking our women, young people, and people of color: Run for office.

Speak up for the people who need your voice, because the voices of those who wish to hold back progress ring louder in your silence. Speak up because you know that our children shouldn’t be measured by where they come from, but where they want to go. Speak up because our wives deserve equal pay for equal work and our sons deserve a future outside of a prison fence.

The time is always right to do what is right, and it’s time to speak up and keep moving towards Dr. King’s dream.
Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.


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Bill Britt

Opinion | AG, commerce secretary hide real problem with economic development bill

Bill Britt



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During a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the controversial economic development bill, HB317, not a soul present addressed the critical problem with the bill — the gaping loophole created by allowing individuals to work as part-time economic development professionals.

Of course, the bill doesn’t use the words part-time. Instead, it calls this individual a “less than full-time,” economic development professional – there is a difference without a distinction.

The bill, currently stalled in committee, is slated to re-appear next week after Republican Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh met with Gov. Kay Ivey, who expressed her desire to see the legislation move forward, according to those with knowledge of the meeting. Ivey’s office acknowledged that the governor and the Senate president pro tem were joined by two unidentified staffers, but little else was publicly known about the conversation.

Keen observers of the ethics laws, like the Alabama Political Reporter’s own analysis, believe HB317 could be passed without controversy by simply removing the “less than full-time” provision and tweaking the bill to not allow lawmakers and public officials to avoid the revolving-door statute because of HB317’s vagueness on the issue.


But removing the less than full-time language is problematic since Attorney General Steve Marshall, Gov. Kay Ivey’s commerce secretary, Greg Canfield, and others have refused even to acknowledge there is a classification of part-time economic development professionals.

During the House debate last week, Republican lawmakers were assured the part-time provision was stripped from the bill, but it was not. Canfield and Marshall, with the aid of high-powered attorneys/lobbyists from Bradley Arrant, devised the ambiguous language “less than full-time,” to trick wary House Republicans into passing the bill, which they did.

Bentley appointees trick lawmakers into passing dangerous ethics, economic development bill

Several legislators expressed their anger after learning about the deception by reading about it in APR.

None of these warnings from APR and other press outlets discouraged Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, from holding what he called a chairman’s hearing on Wednesday.

Originally announced as a public hearing, Williams, chair of the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee, changed the meeting to what he called a chairman’s hearing, which is an unknown committee meeting with dubious origins.

Senators present expressed dismay at Williams holding a hearing at which only individuals and groups favorable to the bill were permitted to speak.

Marsh to meet with Gov. Ivey to decide fate of economic developer bill

And speak they did, without ever addressing the less than full-time designation.

Katherine Robertson spoke on Marshall’s behalf and not only expressed her boss’s support for the legislation but the urgent need to pass the bill this session. Robertson, like her boss, failed to mention the part-time exception.

Last week, Marshall said HB317’s amendments were written by a “top official from my corruptions division.”

However, neither Matt Hart or Mike Duffy, the senior members of the public corruption unit, have spoken publicly or privately. In fact, lawmakers who have talked to Hart and Duffy say neither would comment on HB317 or any ethics legislation.

It’s no secret that Marshall, an appointee of disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley, is working to dismantle the public corruption unit led by Hart. Marshall’s election campaign is being funded by many of those who protected former Speaker Mike Hubbard and a host of out of state individuals with no apparent ties to Alabama.

Perhaps most spectacular was the appearance of state ethics chair Jerry Fielding, who praised the legislation, ostensibly giving it the Ethics Commission’s stamp of approval despite the fact that the commission’s executive director, Tom Albritton, publicly voiced his opposition to HB317. Albritton, Hart and Duffy are perhaps being muzzled because to speak would expose their bosses’ big lie.

Privately before Wednesday’s chairman’s meeting, Fielding assured Decatur Republican Sen. Arthur Orr that four of the five sitting ethics commissioners were supportive of the bill. He further expressed his promise that the commission wanted to work in conjunction with the legislature.

As envisioned by those who established the ethics commission, Fielding’s assurance of working hand-in-glove with lawmakers would be considered inappropriate at best.

Fielding, during his presentation, never mentioned the less than full-time rule.

Why is the less than full-time exception so crucial to all these so-called public servants?

If we knew who was paying Bradley Arrant, the full answer might be identified. On the surface, it doesn’t take much imagination to see individuals like former Gov. Bob Riley exiting his lobbying business to become a less than full-time economic development professional. Or wealthy business investor, Will Brooke, who like Riley, was entangled in Hubbard’s conviction on public corruption charges.

Under HB317’s less than full-time exception, Brooke, Riley and others could give lavishly to lawmakers like Hubbard without fear of being ensnared by the ethics laws. But that’s just a quick look at why Marshall, Canfield and others pretend that the less than measure exists.

Perhaps Marshall could remove all doubt by letting someone who actually knows the law speak on the subject or Gov. Ivey could demand Canfield come clean. Neither is likely to happen.

A fix for the worrisome parts of HB317 is at hand, but for now, there seems no one willing to admit a problem exists.


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Bill Britt

Opinion | Piecemeal approach to ethics reform continues, and it’s questionable

Bill Britt



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Two bills designed to dramatically alter current ethics laws were approved by the House Ethics Committee last week. As introduced in the House, HB387, sponsored by Republican lawmaker Rep. Rich Wingo, would among other things allow public officials to hide potentially illegal acts under a new notifications rule. Wingo’s bill is companion legislation to SB221, sponsored by Republican Sen. Trip Pittman.

Another stab at rewriting current ethics laws is found in HB432, sponsored by Republican Rep. Alan Baker, which will greatly expand the powers and purview of the executive director of the Ethics Commission.

Earlier this month in a press conference, Republican lawmakers Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Attorney General Steve Marshall, Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Mike Jones seemed to signal a halt to any new ethics legislation during the current legislative session.

In announcing a newly formed commission to study and make recommendations as proposed by SB343, these powerful Republican legislators said the issue of ethics reform was better left until the 2019 legislative session.


Ethics reform bill to sit on hold until next session as lawmakers begin discussions

However, last week, without the simplest acknowledgment of irony, HB387 and HB432 were championed by House Ethics Committee Chair Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison. Ball, an intemperate critic of the laws that convicted his friend, former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, hustled the bills out of his committee despite leadership’s suggestion just days earlier.

Ball not only defended Hubbard after his conviction on felony offenses, he has also repeatedly accused the state prosecution team members of criminal acts during Hubbard’s trial. Despite Ball’s unfounded claims and outspoken desire to kill ethics laws that convicted Hubbard, he remains head of the House Ethics Committee.

HB387 and HB432: Potential for Mischief

A detailed analysis of the two bills’ potential damage to state ethics laws is perhaps too exhaustive to enumerate without it becoming a somnolent potion, however, even a top-level reading of the bills casts light on just how dangerous these laws could be in the wrong hands.

Pittman-Wingo deals a blow to transparency

On its face, the Pittman-Wingo bills do little more than create a meaningless “notification” requirement. But a deeper dive shows that under this new notification provision, a lawmaker may take a job or a consulting contract with a principal – forbidden under current law, or any business without seeking an ethics advisory opinion.

Under this statute, the Ethics Commission is neither authorized or required to do anything at all with the notification, and while the lawmaker’s employment would be public record, someone would need to know about the filing to ever know to look for it.

These bills, as written, make no distinction between consulting contracts from principals or other businesses that do not hire lobbyists.

As APR has pointed out on numerous occasions, all revisions, additions or alterations to the present Ethics Act must be viewed in light of the Hubbard prosecution and conviction.

Under the Pittman-Wingo scheme, with a simple notification to the ethics commission, legislators may enter into a consulting contract or job without needing a review.

Imagine the fun Hubbard’s lawyer would have had with this statute.

“Thank God, for these notifications. Poor Mike filed his paperwork with the commission, and now the attorney general from Timbuktu is trying to throw this good-Christian-family-man in prison for just working to put food on his family.”

These are just a few examples of latent possibilities for misconduct under the Pittman-Wingo scheme.

Expanding powers of the executive director

HB432, carried in the House by Rep. Baker, with its companion legislation, sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward – both Republicans – would significantly expand the sphere of influence of the Ethics Commission’s executive director.

Any examination of laws governing the state ethics commission should begin with questioning the effectiveness of the commission as it presently functions.

Comprised of political appointees who, at times, appear to rule with the caprice of a Marseilles madame, the commission on occasion has created laws while stretching the existing ones beyond any reasonable facsimile of their intended meanings.

The commission’s executive director is hired by the commission and is likewise subject to its whims or will be fired.

A summary of the bill’s intentions, as APR discussed with Ward and Ethics Director Tom Albritton, would permit more flexibility for minor ethics violations and allow the director to “self-generate[d]” a complaint. It would also empower the director and his staff to go beyond the “four corners” of a complaint. If passed in its current form, these companion bills would authorize the director to bypass the state’s attorney general or district attorneys in favor of the U.S. attorney in public corruption cases.

Some of these provisions run counter to current law and give unelected bureaucrats more power and influence than they already command.

While granting the executive director more flexibility on minor offenses, it would seem wholly imprudent to undermine the attorney general’s role as a constitutional officer and top law enforcement official in the state. With this in mind, should the law allow political appointees to usurp power granted to the attorney general?

If enacted, these bills would massively expand the investigative authority of the commission. Current Director Albritton has argued publicly that the commission already has power to self-generate a complaint, and that is true, but only by degrees. There is a process whereby the commission can initiate an investigation without receiving a formal complaint from outside sources. A procedural process is currently in place that somewhat safeguards against an unscrupulous use of an ethics investigation. Director Albritton may never abuse his power, but that doesn’t mean the next director will not.

There are other questions unanswered by these bills that should be thoroughly vetted before passage.

President Pro Tem Marsh said of sweeping ethics reforms, “It deserves all the questions to be asked to make sure we are covering everything.”

A piecemeal approach has been rejected by most in Republican leadership. Perhaps it’s time for Ball and others to follow suit.


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Bill Britt

Opinion | Crusaders against payday lenders sink to new low

Bill Britt



By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

When well-intentioned organizations host speakers whose goal is to tar a particular individual or business, it dirties the good works mission of the group and cast doubts over the program’s real purpose. So it was when Leadership Birmingham invited Dr. Neal Berte.

e, retired head of Birmingham Southern College to speak about payday lending at a recent gathering of the 2018 class of Birmingham-based leadership program.

According to two individuals who attended the gathering of Birmingham’s rising stars it wasn’t about small lending but a virulent attack on an individual who happens to run a very successful alternative consumer lending company.


Instead of the pros and cons of payday lending the presentation centered on the life of Ted Saunders, who serves as Chairman & CEO of Community Choice Financial Inc., a company which among its many businesses offers payday lending.

Why would Dr. Berte once a member of the board of directors for a banking institution—whose catastrophic failure caused millions in wealth to vanish— think it was right to cast aspersions on Saunders’ character and prosperity?

“It was wholly inappropriate,” said a witness to the attacks on Saunders. “Dr. Berte embarrassed himself.”

Both attendees who spoke to the Alabama Political Reporter on background described the presentation as nothing more than character assassination.

Berte according to individuals who attended the presentation say the presentation  showed pictures of Saunders’, home, listed his income and more to disparage his success.

As one attendee said, “I felt like I was watching a primer on character assassination.” Another individual said “I felt the presentation was over the top and I was seriously concerned that Leadership Birmingham was pushing an agenda rather than offering an educational program.”

In response to APR‘s request for information about the event Ann Florie, Executive Director of Leadership Birmingham, said all events and there content is protected by a confidentiality agreement.

As a successful businessman, Saunders has helped other Birmingham-centric entrepreneurs to also achieve enormous success.

As an early investor in Shipt a leading online same-day delivery platform, Saunders’ belief in the Birmingham company was essential to its much-lauded success. Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) purchased Shipt in December 2017 for $500 million in cash. According to those present at the leadership presentation, Berte and Farley failed to mention Saunders contributions to making the Magic City a center for business opportunities.

Liberal groups, especially during the Obama Administration era, marked businesses like Community Choice simply because they found objectionable.

Taking its lead from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau— birthed by Democrat U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren— several progressive groups have taken tough stands on alternative lending.

As if it were a holy mission to protect working Alabamians from short term high-risk  lenders many have gone from a push for reasonable regulation to outright wars on those who offer short-term loans to people who have nowhere else to turn for ready cash in cases of an emergency or unforeseen financial needs.

In recent years some of these groups have stooped to misleading legislators about the intentions of a bill they are promoting. On several occasions, certain organizations have cherrypicked news article to claim Republican support for bills falsely.

Surprisingly, it has been Republican lawmakers like Decatur State Senator Arthur Orr who have championed these liberal groups agenda. Even with liberal leanings, Orr has remained the chair of the state’s education budget a position that offers him enormous power despite the amazement of many conservatives in the Senate.

While those who hope to stamp out payday lending have in the past used questionable methods until now, they resisted character assassination.

In an odd piece of news found when researching old archives for this report APR found where Dr. Berte was a part of an elite group that courted Saudi princes to invest in Birmingham in 1978.

According to the book “The American House of Saud, The Secret Petrodollar Connection,” Berte was part of a group of 25 Birmingham heavy hitters who were “going to be the best damn friends the Saudis ever had,” back in late 1970’s and 80’s. The story gets a lot more interesting as it dives into how Saudi princes and an ex-CIA operative turn Birmingham business and educations leaders into rogue agents for their oil-kingdom.

Perhaps the next time Dr. Berte is asked to speak, he will share the facts of his involvement with The American House of Saud instead of meddling in a business owners life.


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Dr. King’s Legacy Depends On You

by Darrio Melton Read Time: 3 min