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The number of Alabamians working is at an 11-year high

Brandon Moseley

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Friday Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced that Alabama’s wage and salary employment measured 2,042,400 in June, a ten-year high. The last time it measured at or above this level was in December 2007, when it measured 2,045,800. This is the largest number of Alabamians working since before the Great Recession.

“Wage and salary employment in Alabama continues to increase significantly month after month,” said Washington. “This month’s count is the second largest we’ve ever recorded, yielding only to pre-recessionary numbers. It represents the most jobs our economy has supported in more than a decade. Employers are hiring in Alabama, jobs are available in Alabama, and people are working in Alabama.”
Over the year, wage and salary employment has increased 21,600, with gains in the manufacturing sector (+4,600), the leisure and hospitality sector (+4,400), and the professional and business services sector (+4,000), among others.

Wage and salary employment increased in May by 7,000. Monthly gains were seen in the leisure and hospitality sector (+2,300), the manufacturing sector (+1,800), and the education and health services sector (+1,300), among others.

“We know that our economy is supporting record numbers of jobs, and we also know that Alabamians are working in record numbers – the most in more than 11 years,” Washington added. “Twenty-one thousand more people are working now than they were last year. That means more Alabamians are supporting their families, and spending money in their communities.”

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Saks) said, “Great news for the State of #Alabama under Donald J. Trump leadership! Wage and Salary Employment in our state at a TEN YEAR HIGH!

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Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted May unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, a slight increase from April’s record low rate of 3.8 percent, and well below May 2017’s rate of 4.6 percent.

Shelby County has the lowest employment rate at just 2.7 percent. Cullman has just 3.1 percent. Marshall has just 3.2 percent. Washington County has the highest unemployment at 8.95 percent. Greene County has 7.2 percent and Clarke County had 6.9 percent.

Nationally the news has been good almost across the economy. The U.S. unemployment rate is just 3.8 percent.

For the first time since such record-keeping began in 2000, the number of available positions exceeded the number of job seekers, the Labor Department said earlier this month.

The U S. Labor Department reports that the total number of workers receiving unemployment benefits has dropped to just 1.75 million: the lowest number since December 1973 when the population and the workforce were much smaller than they are now.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) has been touting the incredible job numbers as she campaigns across the state for her own term as Governor. Republicans are hopeful that Americans will take not of the rising economic tides and will reward GOP candidates at the ballot box in November.

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Veteran UA system trustee named interim chancellor

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Finis E. St. John, IV, a veteran member of the Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama System, will become Interim Chancellor of the three-campus UA System effective August 1. He will succeed C. Ray Hayes, who announced his plans in June to transition his responsibilities to a Systemwide behavioral health initiative and other administrative priorities. 

A member of one of Alabama’s oldest and most established law firms, St. John will take an unpaid leave of absence from St. John & St. John, LLC in Cullman and will serve without compensation in the interim System position. His wife and law partner Gaynor, who has been with the firm for more than a quarter century, will continue to practice law in Cullman.

Alabama Senator Richard Shelby issued a statement Monday afternoon describing St. John as “one of the most influential people” in Alabama. “Fess St. John is ideally positioned to lead the UA System as Interim Chancellor, advancing its mission and bringing higher education and health care to a new level,” Sen. Shelby said. “I am thrilled that Fess has been selected for this role and look forward to witnessing the tremendous impact he will have in every area of the UA System.” 

The Interim Chancellor’s appointment was among several items considered today in a called meeting of the UA System Board. Calling St. John’s academic and professional credentials impeccable, Trustee Joe Espy also cited his leadership in helping manage more than 450 significant capital projects, well in excess of $3 billion, and his valuable role on the UAB Health System Board, which has been crucial to the turnaround in rankings and research funding at UAB.

“The fact that Fess St. John is willing to serve as our Interim Chancellor without compensation is a tremendous public service,” Espy said. “We are extremely grateful that he is willing to step in and take on these complex administrative duties at a critical time for our campuses and the UAB Health System. As the state’s single largest employer and a proven leader in building Alabama’s economy, our System will be able to maintain our positive momentum without missing a beat.”

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UA System Chancellor Emeritus Dr. Robert Witt strongly endorsed the decision. “Fess St. John is the perfect choice for Interim Chancellor,” said Witt. “He and I have worked side-by-side since I arrived in 2003, and the impact of his leadership is measured by strong academic programs on our campuses, the physical growth of facilities and student resources, and the global reputation of the UAB Health System. We are extremely fortunate to have him in this new role.”

President pro tem Ronald Gray thanked St. John for committing the time and energy to serve the System as Interim Chancellor: “Because Fess has agreed to accept this position, the Board can move in a deliberate and thorough fashion to evaluate all possibilities and secure the best possible candidate for the permanent role at the most opportune time for the System.”

Pro Tem Gray said the Board’s top leadership recruitment priority will be the search for a successor to UAH President Robert Altenkirch, who announced his plans to retire after the next president of the Huntsville campus is in place.

In making the nomination, past President pro tempore Karen Brooks referenced multiple occasions when Trustees have been asked to fill the Chancellorship on an interim basis. In 1989, Emeritus Trustee Sam Earle Hobbs of Selma filled the Chancellorship, and John T. Oliver, Jr., who was a sitting Trustee from Jasper, was Interim Chancellor in 1996-97.

Originally elected to the Board in 2002, St. John was President pro tem from 2008-2011, during a period of exponential growth for the campuses and the UAB Health System. He has chaired numerous standing committees and played a key role in recruiting senior campus leadership, including UAH President Robert Altenkirch. 

St. John, who will continue to serve as a Trustee, currently serves on the five-member Executive Committee, the Physical Properties Committee and the UAB Health System Board Liaison Committee. He chairs the Athletics Committee and co-chairs the Legal Affairs Committee. St. John has been a member of the UAB Health System Board of Directors since 2008 and serves on both the UAB Athletic Foundation and the Crimson Tide Foundation Board.

A cum laude graduate of The University of Alabama in 1978, he was inducted to Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa and Jasons. He received his law degree in 1982 from The University of Virginia School of Law and was chair of the Moot Court Board. Five generations of family members have served the state of Alabama in public service roles, and his late mother Juliet St. John was the first woman attorney in Cullman.

Finis St. John is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which is comprised of the best of the trial bar from the United States and Canada. Fellowship in the College is by invitation only. He is also a Fellow of the American Board of Trial Advocates and has been recognized as an Alabama Super Lawyer since 2007. He is the long-time chairman of the board of First Community Bank of Cullman.

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Deposition: Bentley was pressured by lawmakers, attorneys, major donors to upend Hubbard trial

Josh Moon

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Former Gov. Robert Bentley said during a recent deposition that he was pressured by lawmakers, attorneys and major donors on numerous occasions during the Mike Hubbard trial to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Alabama Attorney General’s Office — a move that likely would have torpedoed the case against the former House speaker.

Under oath during a deposition in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, Bentley said Great Southern Wood owner and mega-political donor Jimmy Rane contacted him three different times about appointing a special prosecutor.

Additionally, Rob Riley, son of former Gov. Bob Riley and a Hubbard attorney, also contacted his office about opening an investigation of the AG’s office. Two more of Hubbard’s attorneys, Augusta Dowd and Lance Bell, also contacted Bentley about appointing a special prosecutor, Bentley said. Bentley also said three sitting legislators pressured him, but he said he didn’t remember who they were.

“I did not want the governor’s office to be involved in that trial in Lee County,” Bentley said during the deposition. “I wanted to stay neutral, because I had been getting pressure to do other things. I told them I had no plans to do anything. I told them to leave me alone.”

The push to appoint a special prosecutor was widely viewed as a defense strategy by Hubbard’s lawyers, meant to undermine the credibility of the prosecutor on a case Hubbard’s attorneys couldn’t win. Hubbard’s defense team filed motion after motion claiming that lead prosecutor Matt Hart had overstepped the law during his investigation of Hubbard or that Hart had leaked grand jury information to the media.

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Ultimately, Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker dismissed those complaints, and a quick investigation by ALEA determined that Hart had not leaked grand jury information during the case.

Hubbard was convicted two years ago on 12 felony counts and sentenced to four years in prison. He remains out of jail as his appeal awaits the slow-moving Court of Criminal Appeals.  

Oddly, some of the major players in that case have gone from calling for investigations of the AG’s office to financially supporting Steve Marshall, the incumbent AG appointed by Bentley.

Rane, who was directly involved in one of the counts for which Hubbard was convicted, has dumped hundreds of thousands in donations into Marshall campaign account or into political action committees that have donated to Marshall.

Through his Great Southern Wood company, Rane has contributed more than $1 million in Alabama over the last year, with almost all of that money going through PACs. In total, Great Southern Wood dumped $218,000 into 11 PACs that donated to Marshall. Those 11 PACs gave Marshall $217,500.

Through his law firm, Rob Riley, who is still listed as an attorney for Hubbard — a man with a pending appeal that Marshall’s office is fighting — has donated $2,500 to Marshall.

While Bentley initially resisted calls to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hart, the idea apparently stuck with him. In April, APR cited information from several sources saying that Marshall received the appointment to AG — replacing a departing Luther Strange — after Marshall agreed to investigate Hart. At that time, Hart was deep into an investigation of Bentley that would ultimately end in the governor’s resignation and guilty pleas to two misdemeanor campaign finance violations.

Marshall has denied that his appointment came with any strings attached.

 

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Bill Britt

A move to reunify BCA is underway

Bill Britt

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Reconciliation efforts are underway to salvage the Business Council of Alabama after a very public split with some of its most influential members.

Those close to the negotiations speaking on background say recent talks have been productive, but there are still many details that must be agreed upon before a reunification occurs.

The forced exit of President and CEO Billy Canary earlier this month was the first step toward restoring BCA’s reputation and mending fences.

Individuals who are negotiating rapprochement are looking to restructure BCA’s governance to ensure that any future leader will not exercise the unchecked authority wielded by Canary. They also want to make BCA more equitable, fair and balanced in its representation of its members.

Beyond the mechanics of structure is the need for a strong leader who can restore not only confidence in the once powerful organization but also one who can navigate the state’s political landscape while enduring the inevitable discord that comes with change.

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There is a level of hope that an improved structure and new leadership might be in place by BCA’s summer conference, which begins August 10 at Point Clear. But even those involved in the process know it’s a tall order to fill given the short window of opportunity.

Perhaps the most significant challenge is identifying an individual who can articulate a vision for BCA, inspire confidence in its members and ensure elected officials that they are dealing with an honest broker.

There is much at stake in the upcoming legislative session, not only because it is the first year of the quadrennium, when hard tasks are generally achieved, but the 2019 session will also welcome many new legislators not necessarily in step with BCA due to a bruising primary season.

People may forgive, but they often do not forget, and there are many bridges to build.

Lawmakers will be wise to remember the warning of President Ronald Reagan, “Trust but verify.”

For a revitalizing transition to occur, a clean sweep of BCA’s leadership team is imperative, as those who served the old guard must be replaced or else it’s a false start doomed to fail.

BCA would be wise to move away from the partisan approach taken over the last eight years and look to establish relationships that favor business-friendly legislation without bright lines of division.

In business as in life, sharp breaks are sometimes required and often are inevitable, but this doesn’t have to be one of those times.

Now is an hour for wise deliberation, difficult choices and bold resolve to strengthen the entire business community and not merely to fortify the narrow interests of a few.

Over the last year, good and honest leaders called for BCA to do what was right. That fight hopefully can be put aside to now do what is best.

 

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The number of Alabamians working is at an 11-year high

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 2 min
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