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Legislators File Freedom of Information Act Request to See ASU Contracts

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday Senator Dick Brewbaker (R), Representative Jay Love (R), and Senator Trip Pittman (R) sent the interim President of Alabama State University (ASU), Dr. William Harris, a letter notifying him that the trio of legislators have filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all “contracts, subcontracts, and expenditures” between ASU and public officials and their relatives.

Senator Brewbaker wrote in his letter to Pres. Harris: “As the Chairs of House and Senate Committees responsible for education policy and budgeting, we believe it is our duty to reassure the public of contractual transparency of expenditures at state educational institutions.”

In September Dr. Joseph Silver assumed his duties as President of Alabama State University.  Within just 90 days the new University President was suspended by the ASU Board of Trustees (BOT) because he alleges that the University had longstanding improper financial dealings involving certain public officials.

At the center of that controversy is ASU Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Knight (D) who is also an Alabama House of Representatives member representing Montgomery.

In a dramatic BOT meeting on November 26, the BOT voted to place Silver on paid administrative leave. At the same meeting, an angry President Silver fired Rep. Knight (D) by email using his i-phone.  President Silver also sent a termination email to Danielle Kennedy, the vice president of university relations. An ASU attorney has since stated that the firings of Kennedy and Knight were a violation of University procedures and ASU has overruled those personnel actions by President Silver.

The day after suspending Silver, the Vice President for Business and Finance, Edward Patrick and Joyce Outler, the Senior Assistant to the President, were both suspended.  Three days later they were both fired. University Vice President Danielle Kennedy said the two no longer work for Alabama State because the board of trustees did not approve their hiring. Patrick and Outler had previously worked at Clark Atlanta University with President Silver.

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The BOT initially made Rep. Knight the acting President of ASU, but because of Silver’s allegations against Rep. Knight the BOT (this time with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in attendance) made former ASU President Dr. William Harris the interim President of the historically black college. President Silver remains on paid administrative leave pending a BOT decision regarding his fate. There is speculation by many that the BOT intends to fire President Silver. Silver meanwhile defends his conduct and says that the reason he has been punished is because he exposed “old bones” by questioning ASU’s contracts.

At the November 30 meeting, the BOT accepted Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) recommendation that the BOT postpone any decision about embattled University President Joseph Silver’s future for 5 to 10 days and conduct an independent audit of ASU’s finances.

Gov. Bentley said in a written statement, “The issue before all of us now is to do what is best for Alabama State University. Toward that end, Chairman Dean has agreed with me that an independent and comprehensive financial audit of this university will be conducted immediately. That is a positive step in the right direction.”

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Gov. Bentley said, “This University is vitally important to this community, to our state and to our nation.  And we don’t ever need to lose sight that our students are our first priority. And we don’t need to forget that in any way. That is very important. Their education and their future are the reasons that we must stay focused on delivering a quality learning experience.”

Gov. Bentley said, “I was very proud and privileged to be here last week at the dedication of Alabama State’s beautiful new stadium. You only have to look around this campus to see the tremendous progress that Alabama State has made and continues to make every day.”

Gov. Bentley said, “I know this board is faced with some very difficult challenges.  That’s why I have met with Chairman Dean and other members of the board.  I have also met with the president of the Faculty Senate, the president of the Student Government Association and the head of the ASU National Alumni Association.  In addition, I have met with and spoken with Dr. Silver to gain his perspective.”  “The students, faculty, staff and alumni of Alabama State University, and all the people of this state, deserve transparency in everything that we do.  And I am going to make sure that happens. “

Complicating the unpleasant situation was President Silver’s mother’s recent death.  “Given the news, our board will not consider the primary item of our agenda today related to Dr. Silver. In my opinion, it would not be appropriate, and even more, it would not be respectful. Those discussions can wait until a later date,” Chairman Elton Dean said.

The audit of all University contracts will be conducted by Warren Averett Wilson & Price in Montgomery. Some political insiders are questioning the independence of Warren Averett Wilson & Price because they have done financial review work for ASU before. Some political insiders speculate that Brewbaker, Love, and Pittman’s request for all documents could possibly be the beginning of an investigation by the state legislature.

Prior to coming to ASU, Dr. Joseph Silver had been provost at Clark University in Atlanta, GA.

ASU students have vocally supported President Silver, are demanding that he be restored to his position with the University and have embraced his call for a thorough and independent investigation of the embattled University’s finances.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama continue surge

On Monday, 1,335 patients with COVID-19 were being cared for in hospitals statewide, the most to date.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Data from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows hospitalizations have increased since July 1. (APR GRAPHIC)

Alabama on Monday saw the highest number yet of COVID-19 patients in hospitals since the start of the pandemic, and the second-highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases on record. 

On Monday, 1,335 patients with COVID-19 were being cared for in hospitals statewide. That was 172 more COVID-19 patients than were hospitalized the previous day — and the largest single-day increase in hospitalization numbers reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The last record number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama was on Friday, when 1,201 people were being treated statewide. The increase Monday is also 134 more patients than were being care for on Friday.

Friday was the sixth straight day of record-breaking COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama. Friday also saw the second-highest number of deaths in a single day in the state, when ADPH confirmed 35 new deaths as a result of COVID-19, nearly breaking the previous record of 37 set on May 12.

On Monday, the state also added 1,860 to Alabama’s total case count, bringing the cumulative total now to 54,768 confirmed cases. That’s the second-highest single-day increase in cases since the start of the pandemic. With 25,783 people presumed to have recovered from the virus, and at least 1,096 dead, more than half of the state’s cases, or 27,889, are presumed to be active.

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Testing has ticked up slightly in the last few weeks — Alabama’s seven-day average of tests conducted was 9,176 on Monday, 93 more than the previous high set on July 5 — but the percentage of tests that are positive continues to increase as well, a sign that new cases aren’t just due to more testing. 

The seven-day average positivity rate Monday was 16.18 percent, which was almost 30 percent higher than it was a week ago. Taking into account the Alabama Department of Public Health’s incomplete testing data on July 9 and in early April, which threw off the positivity rate, Monday’s seven-day average was the highest on record for Alabama. 

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Public health officials say that the percent of tests that are positive should be at or below 5 percent or there’s not enough testing being done and cases are going undetected. 

Madison County continues to see a surge in new cases. The county added 267 new coronavirus cases on Monday, and over the last week added 1,044 new cases, which was 70 percent more than were added the week before. Madison County’s positivity rate this week has been roughly 16 percent. 

Jefferson County followed closely behind Madison County, adding 266 new cases Monday and 1,602 cases within the last week, which was a 30 percent increase from the week before. 

In Mobile County, there were 157 new cases Monday.

Mobile County’s weekly total of new cases for the last week was 23 percent higher than the previous week. 

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Economy

Extra $600 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits ends July 26

The extra weekly unemployment payment of $600 ends later this month. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Despite surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Alabama and in many other states, an extra $600-per-week in unemployment compensation through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is expected to expire July 26. 

That extra money, meant to help those whose jobs were displaced by coronavirus and through no fault of their own, was made possible through the CARES Act, the federal aid program that is to continue through Dec. 31, 2020, but the extra weekly payment of $600 ends later this month. 

“At this time, the federal government has not changed or extended the FPUC program. States do not have the ability to extend FPUC,” the Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release on Monday. 

The end of the extra assistance will impact more than 25 million Americans, during a time when COVID-19 continues to spread actively through communities. 

More than $1 billion has been pumped into Alabama’s economy through the extra $600-a-week payments to Alabamians, according to the New York City-based think tank The Century Foundation.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments make up 60 percent of total unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic. 

In Alabama, 35,760 people are receiving the extra $600 a week, which totals approximately $91.7 million weekly into the state, according to The Century Foundation, which estimates that benefits to Alabamians receiving unemployment assistance will decrease by 70 percent once the extra $600 a week dries up. 

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The average current combined unemployment benefits in Alabama is $854.95 and after the end of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, the remaining unemployment benefit will be roughly $254.95.

There are also racial justice implications in the end to the extra $600 a week in aid, according to the think tank.

“Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina all have average unemployment benefits below $300 per week, as a result of both low wages and unemployment insurance rules that simply offered less protection to predominantly black workforces,” The Century Foundation’s report notes.

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In Alabama, 57 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to April were women and 50 percent were white, while 43 percent were Black, while Black people make up only 27 percent of the state’s population.

The report states that the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit was intended to be a public health measure, helping workers while they stay home until it is safe to go back to work.

“Just as rushed reopenings put families at risk, eliminating FPUC now will force people to rush back to work before it is safe,” the report reads.

Job seekers can visit their local Career Center or search jobs online without cost at alabamaworks.alabama.gov

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Elections

Barry Moore receives two key endorsements

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Barry Moore, Republican candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. (VIA BARRY MOORE CAMPAIGN)

Barry Moore, candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, received two key endorsements from the Alabama First Responders Association and the Veterans Leadership Fund. Both groups made the decision to endorse Moore because of his pro Veteran, pro Law Enforcement, and Pro First Responders stance. 

“We at the Veterans Leadership Fund, an initiative at GatorPAC, are proud to endorse Veteran, Barry Moore for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. At VFL, we have a rich history of supporting candidates who best represent true conservative values and have served our great country. As a self term-limiting representative, a devout conservative, and a true man of the people, Barry Moore is the ideal representative for veterans and conservatives alike,” said Rob Maness, founder of GatorPAC and the Veterans Leadership Fund. 

“The Alabama First Responders are proud to endorse Barry Moore for Alabama’s second Congressional district. Alabama’s heroes put their lives on the line every day. We must protect their jobs, and make sure that their families will be covered if something tragic happens in the line of duty. Barry always voted in support of first responder legislation while he served in the Alabama Legislature. We are confident that Barry Moore will continue his support while serving in Congress,” said interim Director Brett Trimble. 

Moore responded with the following statement:

“I am very honored to receive both of these endorsements. I am a Veteran and having the support of the Veterans Leadership fund is quite an honor. I have always worked to support and defend our Veterans. When I served as the Chairman of Military and Veterans Affairs in the Legislature, I always made sure our servicemen and women were a top priority.

“First Responders are the backbone of our communities. They serve the citizens and put their lives on the line each day. When a disaster happens we can always count on these brave men and women to respond with courage and empathy. President Trump has shown great care in protecting and defending our law enforcement officers. We can’t let the Democrats attempt to defund the Police. When I’m serving in Congress, I will stand strong with the President and DEFEND our Police and first responders.”

Moore is a small businessman, Veteran, former member of the Alabama Legislature, husband, and father of four from Enterprise.

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Elections

Sessions says Alabama doesn’t take orders from Washington after Trump inserts himself in race again

Brandon Moseley

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GOP Senate candidate and former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, released a statement pushing back against President Donald Trump’s endorsement of his opponent, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, in which he said “Alabama does not take orders from Washington.”

The blunt comments were in response to a Twitter post from Trump once again inserting himself in the Alabama Senate race.

“I’ve taken the road less travelled,” Sessions said. “Not sought fame or fortune. My honor and integrity are far more important than these juvenile insults. Your scandal ridden candidate is too cowardly to debate. As you know, Alabama does not take orders from Washington.”

This was after Trump tweeted, “Big Senate Race in Alabama on Tuesday. Vote for @TTuberville, he is a winner who will never let you down. Jeff Sessions is a disaster who has let us all down. We don’t want him back in Washington!”

Trump has called his decision to appoint Sessions as U.S. attorney general his “biggest mistake” as president.

The rift between the two former friends began in 2017 when Sessions, newly appointed as attorney general, recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation. Sessions has steadfastly defended the decision and continues to maintain that he was forbidden by U.S. Department of Justice policy forbidding anyone who was part of a campaign from investigating that campaign.

Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump in the 2016 presidential election and worked tirelessly throughout 2016 as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.

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Sessions maintains that had he not recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation things would have gone worse for Trump. As it was, his duties in the matter fell on fellow Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel.

The special counsel investigation successfully prosecuted a number of close Trump associates for various failings in their personal and professional lives, but ultimately never was able to indict the president or a member of the Trump family, and it never was able to produce tangible evidence that the 2016 Trump campaign was involved in collusion with Russian intelligence agencies to defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Sessions is running for the Senate seat he gave up to be attorney general.

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Tuberville has been avoiding the media since a New York Times report detailed how Tuberville’s business partner David Stroud cheated investors out of their savings and was sentenced to ten years in prison. The two had formed a hedge fund, managed by Stroud, a former Lehman Brothers broker. Tuberville maintains that he was Stroud’s biggest victim, but the investors sued Tuberville, who settled out of court.

Sessions’ campaign maintains that incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’ campaign will capitalize on the scandal during the general election similarly to how they capitalized on allegations against former Chief Justice Roy Moore to win the 2017 special election to win the Senate seat vacated by Sessions to be attorney general.

Sessions was a late entrant into the Senate campaign. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, has endorsed Sessions.

“Jeff Sessions is a good friend and a respected former colleague,” Shelby wrote. “I believe he is well-suited to return to his role as United States Senator for the state of Alabama, where I served with him for more than 20 years. He has my full support and endorsement.”

Sessions was Senator from 1997 to 2017. He was U.S. Attorney General from 2017 to Nov. 2018. Prior to his Senate service, he served the state as Alabama Attorney General, Republican Party Chairman, and U.S. Attorney under Presidents Ronald W. Reagan (R) and George H. Bush (R). Sessions was also a former assistant U.S. Attorney and a U.S. Army reserve officer. He is a native of Alabama who grew up outside of Camden in rural Wilcox County.

The Republican primary runoff is on Tuesday. In order to vote in any Alabama election you must: be registered to vote, vote at your assigned polling place, and have a valid photo ID. It is too late to register to vote in this election or obtain an absentee ballot; but if you have an absentee ballot today is the last day to return it either through mail or by hand delivering it to your courthouse absentee ballot manager’s office.

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