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State suspends commercial paddlefish seasons on the Alabama River indefinitely

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) has indefinitely suspended future commercial paddlefish fishing seasons on the Alabama River.

State biologists have expressed concerns about the health and sustainability of the fishery. Paddlefish mature slowly and have low reproductive rates making them highly susceptible to overfishing. This coupled with the lack of reliable fishery-dependent data from recent commercial paddlefish seasons has led to this protective measure.

In 1988, ADCNR implemented a statewide prohibition on the commercial and recreational harvest of paddlefish in response to the rapid depletion of the species in Alabama waters that occurred during the early to mid-1980s. The biology and life history of paddlefish combined with a relatively low population size and the high value of its eggs for use as caviar makes it particularly vulnerable to overharvest and localized extinction.

Sampling by ADCNR fisheries biologists earlier this decade indicated that the paddlefish population in the Alabama River had sufficiently recovered to a level that was considered robust enough to support a regulated commercial fishery so in 2013, ADCNR initiated a limited annual commercial season for paddlefish within designated management areas of the Alabama River with the understanding that these monitored commercial fishing efforts would provide the data necessary to develop a management plan for the species.

During the initial paddlefish season in 2013, and with the subsequent seasons running through 2016, the information being obtained from harvest reports submitted by paddlefish harvesters and buyers was useful in evaluating the response of the paddlefish population to commercial fishing pressure.

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The ADCNR said that that all changed beginning with the 2017 season and continued into the now halted 2018 season. The quality and accuracy of the fishery-dependent information being obtained by ADCNR from season participants diminished. An analysis of these reports indicated that some of the paddlefish harvesters were likely falsifying records in an effort to obscure an overharvest of the fishery.

During the 2018 season, there were reports of illegal fishing methods used by some permitted paddlefish harvesters. This information led to ADCNR law enforcement officers initiating an intensive investigation. This investigation resulted in 135 convictions for paddlefish fishing violations.

A review by ADCNR of the biological information and outcomes of the 2017 and 2018 commercial paddlefish seasons indicated that any future commercial paddlefish harvest seasons could lead to overfishing and jeopardize the long-term sustainability of paddlefish in the Alabama River.

Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula) have a long, paddle-shaped snout that is about a third of the fish’s total body length. The fish uses its really long snout to help stabilize the fish as it swims and specialized cells in the snout assist in detecting the plankton swarms which the fish eats. The skin is smooth. Juvenile paddlefish are pink on the back and white on the venter; but as the fish ages and reaches 10 to 12 inches, the body color changes to bluish gray on the back and cream on the venter. The fish has comparatively small eyes compared to the rest of the head and body. On the underside of the snout are two minute barbels in front of a large, toothless mouth. The gills are large and show the many closely spaced filaments that trap microscopic food. On each side, a gill cover extends posteriorly, ending in a long, pointed flap. Like sharks and rays the skeleton is composed of cartilage rather than bone. Adults can be 3.9 to 5.9 foot in length.

Susan Holland caught the state record in 1982. It weighed 52 pounds 12 ounces. Paddlefish are protected so if one is caught it must be released.

Paddlefish are generally found in open water, but have also been found in many small streams. Paddlefish are a migratory species. They congregate below dams to spawn in March and April. Spawning between one female and several males is believed to occur in open water. The eggs then float downstream with the current and drift to the bottom where they stay there until hatching. Hatchlings grow fast and reach 12 to 14 inches in their first year. Paddlefish are a very long-lived fish species with a lifespan of 20 to 30 years.

Commercial paddlefish harvesting on the Alabama River is hereby shut down until further notice.

For more information about paddlefish in Alabama, visit:
www.outdooralabama.com/non-game-fish/paddlefish.

It is the mission of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to promote wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

(Information from ‘Fishes of Alabama and the Mobile Delta’ was used in this article.)

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Emails show Ivey, staff used private Gmail and iCloud accounts in Lieutenant Governor’s Office

Chip Brownlee

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Emails provided to the Alabama Political Reporter show Gov. Kay Ivey and her top advisers used personal email accounts like Gmail and iCloud to conduct official business while Ivey was serving as lieutenant governor.

Dozens of emails released to APR in response to allegations made by Democratic candidate Walt Maddox this morning show Ivey and her staff, including her chief of staff, Steve Pelham, communicated via their personal Gmail and iCloud accounts with top advisers between 2011 and 2014, during Ivey’s second term as lieutenant governor.

The majority of the emails released relate to the then-lieutenant governor’s schedule ranging from campaign events to economic development meetings. A portion of the emails related to Ivey’s campaign for lieutenant governor in 2014 and others deal with personal scheduling issues, both of which would have needed to be sent from personal accounts.

Office holders are prohibited from using state email accounts to conduct personal or campaign-related business.

But several of the emails, specifically those that are dated in 2011, 2012 and 2013, indicate Ivey and her staff were conducting state business through personal emails, including one trip to Washington that appears to have required the use of state aircraft.

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Ivey appears to have used several email accounts including a Gmail account, a Charter email account and another unidentified account named “Susan Anthony.” Ivey’s then-chief of staff Pelham, who now serves as Ivey’s chief of staff in the Governor’s Office, also used two different iCloud accounts, the emails obtained show.

The emails released to APR were collected from the Alabama State Archives, where official business is cataloged and saved in accordance with state law requiring emails and other state records be preserved.

Public officials are not prohibited from using personal email accounts, although it’s generally accepted that official business conducted on private emails must be retained as public record.

Ivey’s office has so far not responded to a request for comment sent early Monday afternoon.

Advocates for open government have long expressed concerns that the use of private emails by public officials can shield official business from public records requests because those emails aren’t automatically or immediately captured on state servers that are often searched to fulfill those records requests.

The emails have to be voluntarily submitted to the state archives or voluntarily searched for public records requests.

Maddox said Ivey’s use of a private email, while not illegal, is cause for concern.

“The discovery that Kay Ivey’s staff used private email servers during a period of time when there are so many questions about what actually occurred in Colorado in 2015, is disturbing,” Maddox said in a statement. “These private email servers are not available to be searched when a public records request is made, and that should be very troubling to every Alabamian who wants open, honest government.”

The Democratic candidate said Ivey should release all records from the private accounts found in the archives.

“This continues an unacceptable pattern of secrecy and nondisclosure by Kay Ivey,” Maddox said in a statement. “Accordingly, In addition to the questions I requested Governor Ivey answer regarding allegations of misuse of law enforcement and potential cover-up, she should immediately, in the interest of full disclosure, take immediate steps to release all email records for the following accounts.”

The revelation about Ivey’s purported use of private email accounts in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office comes at a time when Ivey is facing questions about a hospitalization during a 2015 trip to Colorado for an aerospace conference.

As APR reported over the last week, former ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier, a former Republican state representative who was appointed to lead Alabama’s unified law enforcement agency by former Gov. Robert Bentley, and his second in comand  told APR that Ivey and her staff attempted to cover up the hospitalization.

According to the trooper at Ivey’s bedside, doctors in Colorado said 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.

When a member of her security detail reported the incident to superior officers after Pelham, Ivey’s chief of staff, told him not to tell anyone, the officer, Thomas “Drew” Brooks, was removed from Ivey’s security detail and his salary was reduced, according to personnel records obtained by APR.

Ivey has denied retaliating against the trooper assigned to her protective detail and her staff has maintained the hospitalization was the result of altitude sickness and nothing more serious.

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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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State suspends commercial paddlefish seasons on the Alabama River indefinitely

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 4 min
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