APR’s Top 5 Under-reported stories of 2016

December 29, 2016

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Over the past year, APR has broken a number of prominent, statewide stories.

While many of those have been picked up by other news outlets – some of them lifted nearly verbatim from APR’s website without attribution – a few stories have gone almost unnoticed and with little follow-up from more traditional outlets.

These stories are important and involve millions of dollars of taxpayer money, abuses of power and manipulations of the systems meant to ensure law and order and justice in the state.

Here are the top five:

 

1.Failed computer systems: From STAARS to CARES and several in between, the State of Alabama is apparently incapable of implementing a technology system that works properly.

The CARES system, meant to streamline the process for enrolling citizens in programs such as Medicaid, cost taxpayers $60 million and was originally authorized in 2014. In September, APR reported that it still wasn’t operational and wasn’t close to being operational.

A similar situation has occurred with the STAARS system. That $47 million system has never functioned properly and cost the State thousands more to correct a variety of issues.

Despite the massive amounts of money being spent to get the malfunctioning programs implemented and consistently fixed, the issues have attracted very little public and media scrutiny outside of APR.

 

2. The Supreme Court’s refusal to disclose public records: After having multiple requests to unseal the records in the case against suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore denied, APR filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to compel their production. Thus far, APR is standing by itself in that lawsuit.

On one hand, it’s easy to understand why few media outlets have joined in this fight for public records: the man at the center, and who might benefit from the fight, is Roy Moore.

However, Moore went through a state-mandated process for removal and the justices on the Supreme Court entered votes and logged records that should, under Alabama law, be public documents. To keep those votes and records a secret, the Judicial Inquiry Commission has stepped into the fray and claimed a right to conduct secret hearings.

It’s easy to dismiss this because it’s Moore on this hot seat. But next time, it might be someone we all like.

3. Phil Williams’ investigation: Despite Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard being found guilty of 12 felony charges related to using his office for personal gain, a similar investigation into Williams has gone relatively unnoticed. The basis for the investigation was Williams’ rapidly expanding law practice since his election to the Senate in 2010 – growing from zero clients to 43, many of whom reportedly had direct ties to his business in the Legislature.

APR originally reported the investigation back in January 2016, when it was being handled by ALEA. That report brought a sharp reaction from Williams, who took to social media to claim he had researched the allegations and spoken to ALEA officials and concluded that no investigation was under way. In a subsequent story, APR reported that ALEA had no contact with Williams but that the AG’s office had picked up the investigation after ALEA director Spencer Collier was fired.
4. Mary Scott Hunter/Sentance selection: This entry is less about media interest and more about public interest. Because there has been surprisingly little public outcry over one of the most blatant political scams in recent memory. That is particularly true considering the beneficiary of the scam was inserted into one of the most important and influential positions in the State – State superintendent.

It went like this: the favorite for the job, Craig Pouncey, was accused by anonymous letter of cheating on his dissertation. That anonymous letter was forwarded to the Ethics Commission by school board member Mary Scott Hunter by way of a State department of education attorney.

The Ethics Commission has a long-standing policy of not accepting anonymous complaints. But it took this one because the complaint came to them from Hunter, even if she was just forwarding an anonymous complaint. And then, to make things extra slimy, the commission, which routinely takes weeks to offer an official letter confirming a valid complaint and investigation, issued such a letter in less than 24 hours. And took the unprecedented step of issuing that letter in a manner that ensured it would be made public.

Sketchy, man. Very sketchy.
5. The Hubbard Trial details: The Hubbard trial certainly received its fair share of media scrutiny, but many important, intricate details within the case went virtually unnoticed.

From former State health director Don Williamson dramatically changing his testimony when on the stand to Montgomery radio host and attorney Baron Coleman issuing an affidavit claiming he might have been given grand jury info from the State’s lead prosecutor to Hubbard forgetting that a “close friend” wasn’t dead, there were wild, crazy stories that – due to time and space constraints – received only glancing coverage and public interest.

That trial, which resulted in Hubbard’s conviction of 12 felony charges, will be one of the biggest political events in this State for the next decade. Unfortunately, some of its biggest and most important moments went barely noticed outside of APR.

 

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