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Gulf State Park named Alabama Tourism’s Attraction of the Year

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey poses for a photo with Greg Lein, Director, Alabama's State Parks, at the Alabama Governor's Conference on Tourism in Montgomery, Ala., Monday, August 6, 2018. The newly renovated Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores was named the Alabama Attraction of the Year at the annual awards.

Gulf State Park has been named the Alabama Tourism Department’s 2018 Attraction of the Year.

The park received the honor Monday night at the Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

The park includes three miles of white sandy beaches and draws visitors from around the world. Alabama Tourism praised the park’s staff and volunteers who provide hospitality, educational and recreational offerings.

The Alabama Tourism Department praised Gulf State Park, saying, “the park sets a benchmark of economic and environmental sustainability by demonstrating best practices for outdoor recreation, education and accommodations.”

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Chris Blankenship also praised the park’s staff and volunteers for their work.

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“Our employees and dedicated volunteers work incredibly hard to make Gulf State Park the best it can be,” Blankenship said. “This park is one of the jewels of our entire system and we’re honored to receive the award from the Alabama Tourism Department for 2018 and we expect the next year to be even better with the opening of the new Lodge and Conference Center this November.”

Gulf State Park has received many other awards in the last several years. TripAdvisor.com inducted the park into its Hall of Fame for receiving accolades from its customers. The park has also received three other certificates from the travel website over the past five years.

Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein, who accepted the award for the park, pointed to these awards as evidence of the park’s excellence.

“The Tourism Attraction of the Year Award reflects these recent achievements, as well as the work to re-establish our lodge and create new improvements in the park,” Lein said. “These achievements by staff and volunteers, coupled with the investments in new amenities such as trails, education facilities and the rebuilding of our Lodge at Gulf State Park, have made the park an attractive setting for the recruitment of new business partners like Valor Hospitality and Hilton Hotels and Resorts.”

TripAdvisor recognized the park in three categories of excellence, based on visitor reviews and rankings on the travel website. The park includes a 1,540-foot-long fishing and education pier, 500 improved campsites, 33 cottages and cabins, a nature center, an 18-hole golf course, over 3 miles of beaches, several coastal lakes, more than 28 miles of trails, a dog park and multiple beach access sites.

Improvements to 6,500-acre Gulf State Park in recent years include restored and expanded sand dunes, a new Interpretive Center and a Learning Campus. Thousands visit the park every year.

A new Lodge at Gulf State Park is set to open in November. Connectivity to the outdoors is the central focus of the environmentally friendly coastal development. The lodge, which is designed to meet LEED Gold and SITES Platinum standards, will have 350 rooms and 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space. It’ll feature the largest beach view ballroom on the Gulf Coast, which can accommodate groups of up to 1,000. A Gulf-front pool and restaurant with house-made and locally sourced food are also planned.

 

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Second law-enforcement officer confirms Ivey’s hospitalization, cover-up and trooper demotion

Bill Britt

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When then-Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey was rushed to a Colorado hospital in April of 2015, her security detail officer, Thomas “Drew” Brooks, followed protocol by reporting the incident to his superior officers. He also reported that Ivey’s Chief of Staff Steve Pelham told him not to tell anyone. Brooks said that he was later instructed to say that Ivey was hospitalized for altitude sickness.

“I was present and informed on what was happening with the Lt. Gov. in real-time,” said John Thomas “J.T.” Jenkins who at the time served as Chief Administrator and running the day to day operations under then-ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier.

Former ALEA Chief confirms Ivey’s emergency hospitalization and cover-up

Jenkins, a career state law enforcement officer, served as a former Alabama Marine Police Director and as Deputy Director of Homeland Security before accepting a position as Collier’s number two at ALEA.

“As Chief of Staff Spencer informed me of the Colorado situation as it was happening,” said Jenkins.

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According to both men, Trooper Brooks was not giving his opinion of what was happening on the ground in Colorado but what the medical personnel were reporting as it was happening.

According to the trooper at Ivey’s bedside, doctors in Colorado were saying they believed she had suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA). TIAs produce stroke-like symptoms but usually last only a few minutes causing no permanent damage, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Ivey’s doctor recently released a letter in which he said he examined her after her three-day stay in a Colorado hospital and found no evidence of a TIA.

According to BMJ Journal, one of the world’s oldest general weekly peer-reviewed medical journals, a TIA can’t be accurately diagnosed after the event.

According to a research paper published in BMJ Journal, “There is no test for TIA: the gold standard remains assessment as soon as possible by a clinical expert. The diagnosis relies heavily on the patient’s account of their history and on expert interpretation of that history. Interobserver agreement for the diagnosis of TIA between different stroke-trained physicians and non-neurologists is poor.”

Collier says he was receiving information about what was being determined by the medical professional treating Ivey at the time.

He has also said he doesn’t question Ivey’s current physical condition and can relate to the challenges of dealing with health issues.

Jenkins also confirmed to APR that Collier was summoned by Ivey to the Montgomery offices of Balch and Bingham where she asked Collier to remove Trooper Brooks from her security detail, allegedly for trying to hack her email account.

Collier said he didn’t believe Ivey’s allegations against Brooks because she was adamant that his alleged hacking not be investigated.

“Spencer came to me after his meeting with Gov. Ivey and said for me to reassign Drew.”

Gov. Ivey’s campaign spokesperson, Debbee Hancock, said in a press release that Brooks was not demoted.

However, state personnel records contradict Ivey’s spokesperson’s claims showing that Brooks’ pay was cut when he was dismissed from Ivey’s security detail and reassigned to a licensing station in Houston County.

Brook’s transfer letter reads in part, “The three (3) step pay differential authorized for employees assigned to Dignitary Protection will be removed. Consequently, your semi-monthly salary will be modified from $2,038.50 (step 4 of salary range 77) to $1,895.90 (step 1 of salary range 77).”


 


Collier verifies that Jenkins was briefed during the incident in Colorado and that he handled the personnel records on Brooks’ transfer.

Both men corroborate the facts as reported by APR and say that former Gov. Robert Bentley could also validate the points if he would go on the record.

Bentley has told several close confidants about Ivey’s Colorado health scare but refuses to answer media requests for information.

Currently, Collier is suing Bentley for wrongful termination.

While serving as ALEA Chief, Collier was ordered by Bentley to lie to the state’s attorney general’s office in the lead-up to the criminal trial of Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. Bentley fired Collier because he wouldn’t lie.

“She [Ivey] instructed law enforcement to lie and then covered the issue up… sounds just like Bentley,” said Collier.

The Ivey administration has paid over $300,000 to defend Bentley in his lawsuit with Collier.

“Bentley was briefed [about Colorado] and knows everything——sounds like a good reason to pay his legal bills,” Collier said.

Opinion | Collier’s allegations are not about Ivey’s health — they’re about retaliation

APR‘s reports have not questioned Ivey’s current physical well-being. Ivey and her doctor have both said she is in good health. Ivey denies Collier’s account of the Colorado hospitalization, cover-up and demotion of Trooper Brooks.

 

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She scheduled a mastectomy and the next day her doctor told her she didn’t have breast cancer

Josh Moon

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The card came in the mail on June 1, and Beth Rhea knows it was June 1, because the day before was one she’ll never forget.

The day before, May 30, Rhea scheduled a mastectomy with her surgeon — a procedure she hoped would cure her breast cancer. That’s a hard day to forget.

It was, for Rhea, the end of one of the longest months of her life. On May 2, she had gone to her OB/GYN for a checkup, after noticing clear signs of possible breast cancer. She was sent for a mammogram that afternoon.

The evidence of the cancer was so clear on that scan that the imaging center at Helen Keller Memorial Hospital in Sheffield called later that day and helped Rhea set up an appointment for a biopsy.

Two weeks later, she had the biopsy performed. A week after that, there was another test to determine the extent of the cancer and the best treatment options. And then, finally, when the test and biopsy results clearly showed the presence of cancer, the appointment on the 30th to set up the mastectomy.

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A truly awful month.

A day later, Rhea went to her mailbox and found a card from that OB/GYN she visited on May 2, Dr. Larry Stutts, who is also a state senator.

The card informed Rhea that Stutts’ office had received the results from her mammogram, and they were normal. No cancer detected.

“I was … I was just stunned,” said Rhea, who posted copies of the card and her mammogram results on Facebook shortly after.

That would not be the most disappointing part, however.

Rhea said Stutts has been her doctor for over 20 years. While she isn’t what she would call a “doctor person” — meaning that she, like many people, hate going to the doctor — she had been to see Stutts numerous times over the years.

But May 2, before leaving for the mammogram, was the last conversation she’s had with him.

“Not a phone call. Not a letter. Not a text message. Nothing,” Rhea said.

Despite serving as her doctor for more than two decades, and despite Stutts’ office being aware that Rhea had received the card saying her mammogram results were normal, she said Stutts has never bothered to call her.

Despite his office receiving electronically every subsequent test result and notifications of procedures and outcomes, no one has bothered to call and check. No one, including Stutts, has reached out to help Rhea navigate the cancer treatment process — which would be normal for an OB/GYN.

And that is the most egregious part of this, as far as Rhea is concerned.

Mistakes happen in health care, just as in any profession. Rhea said she could understand how a mixup might’ve occurred, and she possibly could have forgiven it.

But the lack of compassion and responsibility from Stutts make that impossible now.

“The only person who reached out to me from that office was (an administrative assistant) who sent me a message on Facebook,” Rhea said. “She explained it was a mistake made by a nurse in the office.

“But what that tells me is that the people in that office know a mistake was made, and that (Stutts) knows a mistake was made, and not one of them has called me to see if I’m OK, to see if they can help with anything. What kind of a person does that?”

Well, Larry Stutts.

This isn’t, exactly, Stutts’ first time in the spotlight for an egregious act. He has been, essentially, a pariah in the Alabama Senate thanks to self-indulging bills that embarrassed and angered his colleagues.

The most notorious, of course, was his attempt to repeal a law that was passed after one of his patients died. Without telling his Republican colleagues, Stutts attempted to repeal Rose’s Law — a law named after Rose Church, who was Stutts’ patient, required insurance companies to cover a 48-hour hospital stay after childbirth.

Church, who died in 1998, was released just 36 hours after giving birth to a baby girl. The Church family sued Stutts. Their local state senator at the time took up the cause to get Rose’s Law passed.

The stunt gained national attention for Stutts, who was shamed on multiple national tv shows.

But it didn’t stop him.

He also tried to repeal a law that requires doctors to notify their patients if a mammogram reveals dense breast tissue — often a sign that the patient could be at increased risk for breast cancer. That law was sponsored by the senator Stutts defeated for his seat — a senator whose wife was a breast cancer survivor.

Stutts has also been sued multiple times for medical malpractice, including an awful case that was filed last December over the death of twin babies. That case is still ongoing.

And there could be one more coming.

Rhea signed an official complaint against Stutts last week with the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners, often the first step in the legal process.

She’s doing much better these days. The mastectomy was a success and she’s cancer free at the moment. She’s planning to start a support group in Franklin County for breast cancer survivors — she’s currently having to drive to Decatur for a group there — and is busy following her daughter around to band competitions.

Rhea’s life was upended by the cancer diagnosis, and she’s just now getting things back to a state somewhere near normal. But the hurt from what happened, and the way it was handled by Stutts, remains.

“I just want others to know what he did and what sort of a person he is,” Rhea said. “When I think about what he did — you know, I could have died if I just got his card and went on about life for a year. He has to know that. And to not call me or acknowledge this …. I want to make sure others know about this.”

 

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Alabama one of country’s least politically engaged states

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama is one of the United States’ least politically engaged states, according to a new report that analyzed voter registration, past voter participating and political contributions ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

Alabama ranked as the 3rd least politically engaged state, according to the analysis conducted by WalletHub.

The analysis compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across ten different indicators of political engagement that ranged from the percentage of voters who voted in the 2016 elections as compared to the 2012 election, the total political contributions per adult and the percentage of voters who have voted in past midterm elections.

Alabama ranked 43rd in the country for the percentage of the electorate that voted in the 2016 election, 46th for the change in the percentage of the electorate who voted in 2016 as compared to 2012, and 35th for total political contributions per adult.

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Source: WalletHub

The state also scored as the 27th state in the country for percentage of registered voters in the 2016 election, 28th for the percentage who voted in the 2014 midterm elections and 38th in voter accessibility policies.

With election day in only 15 days, the U.S. ranks 26 of 32 when it comes to voter turnout among developed democracies. In 2016, a record 137.5 million people voted, but that’s only 61.4 percent of the voting-age population. The numbers are worse for midterms when in 2014 only 36.4 percent of eligible voters voted.

Elections experts predict the 2018 midterms may draw the highest turnout for a midterm election in decades.

Alabama’s voter registration deadline is today, Oct. 22. You can register online at alabamavotes.gov until 11:59 p.m.

 

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Record employment numbers set in September

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey announced Alabama has once again broken employment and job records. In September, wage and salary employment reached a record high, and the number of people counted as working was also a record high, for the fifth month in a row.

“Not only are we experiencing record high employment, this month we’ve also broken another record our economy is currently supporting the most number of jobs in history!” Governor Ivey said. “September’s job count of 2,048,000 bypasses the previous record of 2,045,800, which was set in December 2007.”

Alabama had a year-over-year job growth of 1.3 percent, the largest percentage increase in 2018.

“In January, economists predicted that Alabama would see job growth of 27,000 in 2018,” said Secretary of Labor Fitzgerald Washington. “I’m pleased to say that, year-to-date, we’ve already seen job growth of 47,000, surpassing that prediction by 20,000 jobs, and we still have three months left to grow.”

Wage and salary employment increased in September by 9,100. Monthly gains were seen in the government sector (+6,000), the education and health services sector (+4,000), and the professional and business services sector (+2,100), among others.

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Over the year, wage and salary employment increased by 26,800, with gains in the professional and business services sector (+11,500), the manufacturing sector (+8,200), and the construction sector (+2,800), among others.

Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted September unemployment rate is just 4.1 percent.

2,117,027 people were working in September, which is also a record high. In August, 2,112,099 people were counted as employed, and 2,082,085 were counted as employed in September 2017.

“This is the fifth month in a row that we’ve announced that more people are working in Alabama than ever before,” Gov. Ivey said. “Alabama’s businesses are hiring, Alabamians are working, and wages are rising.”

Wages are also increasing. Average weekly earnings increased over the year in Alabama by $53.82. Manufacturing weekly earnings increased by $27.18 over the year, and construction weekly earnings were up $55.08 over the year.

The economic boom is happening nationwide. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, September unemployment was 3.7 percent.
Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) said that the prosperity will continue as long as the American people continue to embrace free market principles.

“While Washington elites and national media obsess about other matters, working Americans rejoice at yet another great jobs report,” Congressman Brooks said. “In September, Americans celebrated a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, America’s best since 1969 and a continuation of the strongest economic boom America has enjoyed in more than a decade!”

“The bottom line is that free enterprise works. Socialism doesn’t,” Brooks stated. “Congress and President Trump’s tax cuts, deregulation, restoration of free enterprise principles, and fair trade policies have united to spur fantastic economic growth that benefits all of America. The result? More jobs. Higher pay. Small business optimism higher than at any time in the last 35 years. Economic growth rates at levels unseen in more than a decade. The most explosive DOW Jones jump in decades. All are great for American families.”

“Gone are the days of anemic jobs reports and subpar economic performance,” Brooks stated. “The American economy has been unleashed and is roaring along. This is what the American people are capable of when we embrace liberty-based, free enterprise economic policies and reject the feel-good socialist policies that have resulted in untold misery and despair in places that have succumbed to their siren song. The prosperity we’re seeing now will continue as long as America embraces free-market capitalism— the greatest engine for human advancement and wealth creation in history.”

The America’s economy added 134,000 new, nonfarm payroll jobs in September 2018 and has added 2.7 million over the past year.

Unemployment rates have fallen for all major races and ethnicities over the past year. African Americans have experienced the biggest improvement. The African American unemployment rate improved by 1.0 percentage points (from 7% in September 2017 to 6% in September 2018). The Hispanic American unemployment rate improved by 0.6 percentage points to just 4.5 percent. The Caucasian American unemployment rates improved by 0.4 percentage points to only 3.3 percent. The Asian American unemployment rate improved by 0.1 percentage points to 3.5 percent. Over the past year, the average weekly earnings for all non-farm American workers increased by $30.49, a whopping 3.4 percent increase over September, 2017. Americans are also keeping more of those earnings due to passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

There are 90,830 unemployed persons in Alabama in September, down from 91,183 in August. There were 83,667 in September 2017, but fewer Alabamians were in the work force.

The counties with the lowest unemployment rates are: Shelby County at 2.8 percent, Cullman County at 3.1 percent, and Marshall and Elmore Counties at 3.3 percent. The counties with the highest unemployment rates are: Wilcox County at 9.3 percent, Clarke County at 7.3 percent, and Lowndes County at 7.2 percent.

The major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are: Vestavia Hills at 2.5 percent, Homewood at 2.6 percent, and Alabaster at 2.7 percent. The major cities with the highest unemployment rates are: Selma at 7.7 percent, Prichard at 7.2 percent, and Bessemer and Anniston at 5.2 percent.

The general election is just 15 day away and Republicans are hopeful that voters will consider the improving jobs situation and widespread prosperity when they vote.

Congressman Mo Brooks is seeking a fifth term representing the Fifth Congressional District. He faces former Huntsville City Attorney Peter Joffrion (D).

Kay Ivey is seeking her own term as Governor. She faces Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter “Walt” Maddox (D).

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Gulf State Park named Alabama Tourism’s Attraction of the Year

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 2 min
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