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The Education of Dr. Joseph Silver: Kicking the Hornet’s Nest, Part One

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Much has been made of the recent turmoil surrounding the short tenure of Dr. Joseph Silver at Alabama State University.

For weeks, the events leading to Silver’s resignation played out like a Nixonian drama in print, around the blogosphere and on the airwaves.

Rumors abounded as speculation of improper contracts, double-dealings and a family feud was whispered throughout the Capitol City.

While down the road a ways, the President of the University of Alabama resigned without a hint of controversy, yet certainly question could have been raised. The two events are greatly different in the way the media probed them and the way the rumor mill dispatched them. Is this once again the specter of quiet racism that speaks softly but says so much about our present society?

The Governor has called for an forensic audit of ASU, so, it is not known if there is any merit to the accusations of fiduciary improprieties, that will be a matter for another time.

What is worth probing is the history of Dr. Silver and his legacy at other institutions of high learning. If past is prologue, then perhaps Dr. Silver should have never been offered the presidency at ASU in the first place?

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From the Turkey Day Parade fiasco to the abrupt firings of Dr. John Knight and Danielle Kennedy much has been reported, but what details were left out of the reports, what shades were used to color the story and what really led to the $685,000 thousand dollar payout to Dr. Silver?

The Turkey Day Confrontation

The Turkey Day Classic, dating back to 1924, is considered the first black college football classic. This year the epic showdown between the Alabama State University Hornets and the Tuskegee University Golden Tigers took place on Thursday, November 22, in the New Hornet Stadium.

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According to a report in the “Montgomery Advertiser,” “Silver said when he arrived at the start of the Turkey Day Classic parade, he discovered there was no car for him and his wife, but that all other ASU administrators, including [Dr. John] Knight and former president William Harris (who is now serving as ASU’s interim president), had been provided parade cars by Capitol Hyundai.”

This report leaves out several details of the events and distorts others.

Capitol Hyundai supplies the vehicles but it is Public Safety that had control of the transportation. According to sources inside and even the written emails after the incident confirm that a miscommunication between parade organizers and Public Safety resulted in Dr. Silver’s car being late for the event but it did arrive before it was needed for the parade. It is also a fact that a new black Lexus SUV had been outfitted with the University President’s magnets to transport Dr. Silver and his wife in case the Hyundai did not arrive in time.

Even though two vehicles were made available to Silver and his wife, the President decided to walk, while his wife road.

In an internal memo dated Monday, November 26, 2012, Associate Vice-President of Development at Alabama State University Zillah Fluke states,

“On Thursday (November 22,2012) morning at the TDC parade, President Silver asked me where the vehicle transport the President and First Lady was. My response to him was that I did not know and that I was not involved in that portion of the parade operation. He asked me who was responsible, my response, which was an assumption, as Vice President Danielle Kennedy. His response to me was how can everyone except the President of the university have a vehicle and no provisions we made for the president. I was not able to provide an answer and apologized. I then saw that the university president magnets were placed on Executor Director Davis’ black SUV and indicated that I believed the president will be traveling in the Executive Directors’ car. Dr.Silver responded that that was inappropriate and he was disappointed with the matter, but would deal with it.

“Dr. Silver walked towards Vice President Danielle Kennedy and proceeded to ask her where the president’s vehicle was. Unfortunately, at that point I could not hear the details of the conversation, but could see the interaction. When Dr.Knight became involved in the dialogue, it was obvious to the onlooker that the dialogue had become intense, and as a university official and alumni, I was embarrassed that the conversation had to take place in such a public forum. I do not know what the exact dialogue was, but I could tell it was not good. I even said amongst the colleagues around me “this is not a good look” and was tempted to let them know that from our vantage point the solution(president’s vehicle had arrived). At that point, they realized the car has arrived and the parade proceeded.”

It is also important to note that the “Montgomery Advertiser” quoted Silver as saying Vice President John Knight was provide a car when, in fact, Dr. Knight was never provided a Capitol Hyundai as the report implies.

In a November 26, 2012, letter addressed to Elton N. Dean, Sr. Chairman, Board of Trustees of ASU, by Vice President of University Relations Danielle Kennedy outlines her version of the events of the Turkey Day Classic.

“Dear Chairman Dean,

“I have been a higher education professional for more than 17 years, worked for six University presidents and have never experienced a heated exchange with one of them in a very public forum. On Thursday, November 22, 2012 while working the Turkey Day Classic Parade, University President Joseph Silver became highly agitated and irate when his official vehicle for the parade had not arrived.“On Wednesday afternoon, staff in the office contacted me to let me know the vehicles for the University’s presidents were ready for pick up from Capitol Hyundai. I attempted to contact Executive Director Davis for pick up; however, I was unable to reach him. At that point, I was able to reach Chief Huey Thornton who did have members of the Department of Public Safety staff pick up the vehicles and transport them to the campus Public Safety Building. The cars were on campus and ready for the parade. Cars had been secured for both President Silver and President Tochon.

“I contacted Executive Director Davis on the morning of the parade to determine the ETA of President Silver. He said they were en route and would arrive shortly. When they arrived at the parade in Director Davis’s personal vehicle, I inquired why they were not in the Hyundai vehicle. I explained to him what had occurred the day before. Director said that he and Chief Thornton had not communicated about the vehicles, yet he immediately contacted him and arranged to have the vehicles “blue lighted” to the parade location. At that point, I felt that the car would make it time for the President to use. President Silver inquired as to the whereabouts of his car. I explained that Public Safety was to have transported him to the parade in the vehicle but because this had not occurred the vehicle was on the way. He told me that Public Safety was not responsible for his vehicle but that I was. I explained that this had always been our process and that the car was on the way. He shook his head at me, and I walked away. I checked with Director Davis again, and he again said the car was on the way. Because the car had not arrived and in order to be prepared, I placed the President and First Lady’s car magnets on Director Davis’s car.

“At the time the ASU units began to roll, the car had not made it. We placed Mrs. Silver in the Director’s car in order to keep the parade rolling in case the official car did not arrive on time. It was at that time that President Silver walked over to me and said “How does everyone else have a car but the President?” “This is wrong.” “You know this is wrong.” “You are wrong.” He said this all while raising his voice and pointing his finger at me. He was highly agitated and obviously angry with me. To try to bring closure to the situation, I said to him “The car is on the way and will be here shortly.”

“At that point, Dr. Knight came over and said “Don’t talk to her that way.” “Stop talking to her that way.” Dr. Silver repeated the comments he made to me about this being wrong. Dr. Knight said “The car is on the way.” “We will stop until the car gets here.” At that point, the car was within 30 feet of our location. Dr. Silver said “No! I will just walk.” Dr. Knight said “The car is right here. I am going to hold up the parade; I can because I am in charge of this parade.”

“The car came up and we began to change vehicles. We moved the magnets, escorted and placed Mrs. Silver in the Hyundai vehicle. Director Davis gave directions to the officer regarding his vehicle and drove Mrs. Silver in the vehicle as President Silver walked.

“This was a very uncomfortable situation for all involved. The fact that the President chose to lose his temper and take a member of his team to task in the middle of the street whiled hundreds of onlookers witnessed the exchange was highly inappropriate and did not reflect positively on him or the University. I was shaken by the exchange and had a difficult time focusing on the tasks at hand for the remainder of the day. I have experienced heated discussions and debates with supervisors but never in an open forum with member of the public present. In this instance, I felt that President Silver was not following his own edict of treating people with respect. I felt totally mistreated and disrespected.

“I take great pride in my work and work countless hours to assure that the requirements and needs for all events are well managed. More than that, I take great pride in managing the ASU brand. I would never do anything to make the University or the University President look bad. Additionally, I would never tai part in any action that would undermine all that we have done to create an image of excellence for ASU. This exchange was not good for the brand especially as it involved the CEO and members of his leadership team.

“This was a very unfortunate situation with which I would have rather not had any involvement. Please let me know if additional information is needed.

“Sincerely,

Danielle M. Kennedy”

Kennedy acknowledge that a mix-up led to Dr. Silver’s transportation arriving later than others. Both Fluker and Kennedy agree that heated exchange took place, however, Fluker does not have knowledge of the exact conversation only her impression. Kennedy and Fluker concur to the fact that appropriate alternative transportation was provided for Silver and that the Hyundai did arrive in time for the Silvers.

Dr. Silver’s account is the one quoted in press reports by the “Montgomery Advertiser.” It varies from Fluker and Kennedy in minor but important details.

Silver’s letter to Chairman of the Board of trustees:

“Chairman Dean,

“I gave you a call yesterday and left a message for you that I had called. As per your earlier instructions to me which were to call Trustee Wiggins when you do not answer a call, I did do so on yesterday evening. Yet, I still wanted you and other Board members to be aware of my concern. My call was because of what I am feeling is an orchestrated attempt to mis-position me and misrepresent me with the Board members in the informal network and because of long time friendship that I presently do not have, I am not a party to some of those conversations. So, as a consequence, I am being portrayed very negatively to some Board Members and in some parts of the community. While I clearly understand what is going on and why, I was calling you to share the truth.

“The most recent example took place this Thursday at the parade. When I arrived at the parade, there was no car for Mrs. Silver and me to ride in during the parade. However, the former presidents who participated in parade, city and county officials, and all other official participants had cars, but I did not and no one seemed to think that something was amiss. I inquired of Mrs. Fluker and Mrs. Kennedy as to why and how did that happen, even as that parade was starting. Mrs. Fluker stated that she was not in the loop on the matter and therefore she could not offer any information as to how this happened. Mrs. Kennedy responded that the “campus police was to bring a car” for me, and walked away. As she was walking away, I asked, “what is wrong with this picture in that the President and First Lady do not have a vehicle of the parade and everyone else does.” Mr. Knight just blurted, “don’t you talk to her like that.” To which I responded, “like what, I am just asking her a logical question.” Again, the response was “Public Safety should have gotten your car.” It was the Director of Public Safety, Dr. Davis, who transported me from the house to the parade and he stated that he had no knowledge of anything related to a parade car. He stated that no one had contacted him about getting a car to the parade. Upon learning of the situation, he did make a call back to his office to inquire about the car.

“Given that the parade about start and did actually start, I decided to walk the parade route. Mrs. Silver chose not to walk the parade route. Therefore, Director Davis indicated that he would driver her in his personal car. Mr. Knight told him to just wait for a car to arrive. Of course Mr. Davis did not know when the car would arrive because he was not in the loop. I stated again that I would walk and if Mrs. Silver wanted to ride in Mr. Davis’ car, then that was her choice. Mr. Knight stated and I quote him verbatim, “I (he) am in charge and don’t move that car.” This can be verified by my wife and Director Davis as they were present the entire time. We all were taken aback by the statement and it put Director Davis in an awkward position. I proceeded to walk and Director Davis, with my wife in his car began to follow me as I walked the parade route, because there were others being held up. One of his officers finally brought a car after the parade had started. Director Davis and Mrs. Silver exited this personal car and got into the car that the officer brought. The officer took Mr. Davis’ personal car from the parade route and parked it, I was later told. Trough all of this, I remained professional even though I knew that a car should have been there for my wife and me in our official capacity of President and First Lady.

“Given that this is what happened and the absolute truth, I was totally surprised to learn that several board members and some community folk were told that I yelled and cursed Mrs. Kennedy and Mrs. Fluker. This is no the truth and not even close to the truth.

“In all of my thirty plus years of professional life, I have never yelled at an employee or raised my voice at an employee. In my entire life, I have never cursed anyone. Using such words has never been a part of who I am. The good news, at least from my perspective, is that others witnessed the conversation. Director Davis, Mrs. Fluker and Mrs. Silver were present and can verify my statements. Of course Mrs. Kennedy was there also and if she is truthful, she should verify that I did not raise my voice, not did I curse here. Since Mrs. Fluker was supposed to be one of the persons “verbally victimized,” I suggest that you ask her directly. Also, you should also ask Director Davis and my wife about what I said, my tone and my demeanor. I am also willing to take a lie detector test.

“Chairman Dean, as I stated, I do not have access to the informal network having only been here a little more than two months, so there is no way I can compete with that reality. However, I do not want the access that others have, which I do not have, to cloud the reality of who I am, what I have said, or what I am doing and trying to do for the university. Having one side of a situation is not good for anyone, especially me in this situation. You hired me as president and that is what I see as my role. In carrying out that role, I must work closely with the Board on all matters. This I will do in concert with the Board, we must build upon the good things here and move the university forward. I will come every day to work hard to do just that.

“Thank you for receiving this email. It is unfortunate that I have to spend my time defending myself against something of this nature. This is a first fork me and I have been in higher education for over ;thirty years. As a Board, you should not be in this position. We all have more important things to attend to on behalf of the university. In an earlier email, I shared the financial finding that as known since January 2012, again this summer and this fall, prior to my arrival here at ASU, but was not shared with me upon my arrival or with the Board. I simply followed up on a question a Board member had asked at the September Board meeting and a conversation at a community meeting to verify. I (or the Board) should never have to find out information from a third party that puts the university at potential risk. All I have asked for is what you asked of me when I was hired, accountability, customer service, forward progress to build upon what the Board and staff had put in place. I am still very committed to that end.

“I have publicly acknowledged the good work of the Board and the administrators before my arrival, including the impact of Mr. Knight on ASU and the larger community. I will continue to do so in the future. That history cannot be changed and it is significant. Neither can his relationship with some Board members be changed and I do not expect it to, because that too is a part of history. But, it should not cloud judgement and it I should not have to be mis-positioned or mis-represented for trying to carry out my role as president and fora asking for accountability from all staff, including myself.

“I stand ready to respond to any questions.”

As with any human intercourse, tone, tenor and body language are most often needed to assertion hostility. However, it seems that Silver perhaps rightly was upset, but by all accounts a remedy to the situation seemed to be forthcoming.

A few days later Silver fired Knight and Kennedy by iPhone email just minutes before the ASU board members went into a closed session to discuss Silver’s future.

It is difficult to imagine a Hollywood movie in which the president of a university sits across the table from two prominent members of the administration and fires them before they are about to decide the characters’ fate. Was this comedy/drama just too unbelievable to make it into the final cut?

But this is what Silver did at the meeting that would subsequently place him on administrative leave and led to his resignation.

“Montgomery Advertiser” reporter Josh Moon was the first to request the emails from ASU, in a letter to Moon, Kenneth L. Thomas, General Counsel for ASU wrote on November 29, 2012:

“Dear Josh:

“Please find attached two emails wherein Dr. Silver purports to terminate Dr. John Knight and Mrs. Danielle Kennedy “for cause and insubordination, effective immediately.”

“Please note that these emails do not meet state and federal due process requirements for a cause termination. Further, these emails are not considered to be official notices pursuant to the Alabama State University (“ASU”) Policies and Procedures Manual and the pattern and practice of ASU. You should also note that these emails were sent from Dr. Silver’s iPhone during Monday’s Executive Committee meeting (5:37 p.m. and 5:38 p.m.) in which he was placed on administrative leave.

“I would hope that you will refer to my statements and explanations made in this letter in any story that you may produce regarding this matter so that the emails can be placed in their proper context. Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions or concerns regarding this matter.”

The emails read as follows:

“From: Joseph Silver

To: John Knight

cc: Carmen Douglas

Subject: Termination

November 26, 2012, 5:38 p.m.

“Dear Mr. Knight,

“As President of Alabama State University, I am terminating you as Executive Vice President, for cause and in subordination effective immediately.

“Peace be with you

“Joseph H. Silver Sr.

President

“Sent from my iPhone”

“From: Joseph Silver

To: Danielle Kennedy

Cc: Carmen Douglas

Subject: Termination

November 26, 2012 5:38 p.m.

“Mrs. Kennedy,

“I am terminating you as Vice President for University for cause and insubordination, effective immediately.

“Peace be with you.

“J H Silver Sr.

“President

Sent from my iPhone”

It would seem under the strict code of academia that such emails would produce a wave of concern among school officials as well as legal council.

Silver’s emails closed with, “Peace be with you,” but little was to be found.

Soon the full media feeding frenzy ensued when Silver announced at a press conference that in October he had informed ASU trustees of his concerns about questionable contracts.

Silver told the “Montgomery Advertiser” that he “discovered some items I considered questionable and troubling, at best, and a conflict of interest at the least” while reviewing finances and contracts for the university.

“I was placed on administrative leave because I raised a few probing questions, and I refused to go along to get along. That is not my operating style,” Silver said according to the “Advertiser.”

Silver said that he, “refused to go along to get along,” this seems to be a pattern in Silver’s work history that the University should have been aware of before his hiring.

The incident has thrown suspicion on officials ranging from Attorney General Luther Strange to most of the Montgomery State Delegation, as well as contractors and anyone else who has had business dealings with ASU.

The audit ordered by Governor Robert Bentley, the price tag of around $500,000, has set tongues wagging statewide as more money is poured into a endless pit of statewide investigations.

Yet, little has been done in the way of looking at the history of Dr. Silver.

A November 11, 2000, report by “The Augusta Chronicle” entitled “Savannah State staff seeks VP resignation,” easily pops up on any google search of Joseph Silver.

Silver came to Savannah State as Vice President for Academic Affairs along with University President Carlton Brown, they formed a self-described “Dream Team.”

But not everyone at the school found Silver and Brown a dream to work for.

According to the report, 14 faculty staff and university friends filed the letter asking for Silver’s resignation. “We often have the impression that you do not work for our interests so much as the will of your supervisors in Atlanta,” the letter said. “Indeed, you have not earned the confidence of the faculty, staff and community, and you do not deserve it. Therefore, for the following reasons, we ask for your resignation.”

The November 2000 story also states that, “For three years, the faculty has given Dr. Silver low performance evaluations based on claims that he runs the campus like a dictatorship, hires unqualified yes-men to fill key positions and intimidates those who question him. Even some faculty and staff members who didn’t wish to take sides on the issue said egotistical administrators have stymied the grievance process and left unhappy employees with little hope of relief.”

In his past positions Silver has been accused having a style that was intimidating and even by some accounts bullying.

Was Silver’s reputation as an ineffectual and egotistical administrator what led to the Turkey Day Classic confrontation? Was Silver’s charm and personal charisma so great that the search committee overlooked the fact that in 2000, faculty and staff at Savannah State University had called for Silver’s resignation?

But this is just a small piece of information that comes to light when a search of Dr. Silver’s tenure at other universities is evaluated.

In part two, a closer look at Silver’s short time at ASU and the troubles that followed him there.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Doug Jones applauds signing of veterans mental health and suicide prevention bill

The legislation is aimed at bolstering the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mental health workforce to serve veterans. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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President Donald Trump over the weekend signed into law legislation cosponsored by Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, that aims to bolster mental healthcare for veterans and address veteran suicides. 

“Too many veterans – in Alabama and across the country – lack access to affordable, compassionate and effective mental health care. Through increased access to local and innovative treatment options, this new law will help veterans get the life-saving mental health services they may need,” Jones, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Wednesday.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, and Sen. John Tester, D-Montana, introduced the landmark Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which would bolster the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mental health workforce to serve veterans. 

The law also increases telehealth access for rural veterans, implements a pilot program to give veterans access to complementary care and establishes a grant program requiring the VA to better partner with agencies helping veterans to identify earlier those who are at risk of suicide. 

The law also strengthens how the VA will be held accountable for addressing veteran suicide, and it will allow the studying of the impact of living in high altitudes on veteran suicide risks and diagnostic biomarker research to identify depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and other conditions.

More than 20 veterans die by suicide every day, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates, and of those, 14 have received no treatment or care from VA. 

“The social isolation and increased anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated many of the issues our veterans face,” the senators wrote in a letter to Senate leadership before it was approved and signed into law by the president. “Our nation’s veterans and their families are waiting on Congress to take action to deliver these desperately needed resources. We must act now to provide this vital assistance to Americans who have sacrificed so much for our country and who deserve the best our nation has to offer. As such, we are seeking immediate passage of S. 785 when the U.S. House of Representatives reconvenes in September.”

The law is named in honor of
Commander John Scott Hannon, a member of the Navy SEALs who served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years. Hannon was helping other veterans even while he was receiving mental health treatment himself. He died by suicide on Feb. 25, 2018.

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Veterans can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, and then press 1, or text to 838255. 

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Congressional candidate James Averhart endorsed by list of U.S. dignitaries, retired military leaders

The 1st Congressional District Democratic candidate has been endorsed by a list of retired U.S. dignitaries and retired military leaders, his campaign said Wednesday. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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Congressional candidate James Averhart

James Averhart, the Democratic candidate in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District and a retired U.S. Marine, has been endorsed by a list of retired U.S. dignitaries and retired military leaders, his campaign said Wednesday.

“James Averhart is an integral leader — a man of principles and a patriot. He is the best choice to represent District One on The Hill,” said Ambassador Theodore Britton, a World War II Veteran who was nominated by President Gerald Ford to serve as U.S. ambassador to the island nations of Barbados and Grenada.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. General Walter E. Gaskin, who served as commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said Averhart is experienced in matters of government and policy and understands the lay of the land in Washington D.C.

“He will be ready to hit the ground running to get things done for the district, and moreover, be that bridge to unite the parties in Congress as well as the nation,” Gaskin said in a statement.

“James Averhart is a strong dynamic leader who will get the job done. He is meticulous and a consummate professional that will advocate and work for all citizens of our district and Alabama,” said Ambassador J. Gary Cooper, a retired Marine Corps major general who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to serve as assistant secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs, and was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica.

“At a time when it seems that the Republican leadership is in lockstep with a president, who considers those in service to our great nation to be ‘suckers’ and ‘losers,’ is antithetical to what this country needs. We have over 30,000 citizens hospitalized and over 211,000 deaths due to coronavirus, which could have been prevented with sound, methodical leadership. We have been disappointed by this President and the Republican leadership standing with him. It is time for substantive change in our Nation’s Capital,” Averhart said.

“The American citizenry deserves and expects more of its leadership. We should no longer settle for those who continue to promulgate untruths and spew divisive rhetoric. We deserve leadership who will extol the truth and hold in high regard a united nation,” Averhart said.

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Avergart’s Republican opponent in the Nov. 3 election is Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl.

The following are a list of Averhart’s endorsements, according to his campaign:

Ambassador Theodore Britton

  • Nominated by President Gerald Ford to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the island nations of Barbados and Grenada
  • Served as the U.S. Special Representative to West Indian island nations of Antigua, Dominica, St. Christopher, Nevis, Anguilla, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia
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Ambassador J. Gary Cooper 

  • Vietnam Veteran and Retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General
  • Nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica.
  • Nominated by President George H.W. Bush to serve as Asst Secretary of the Air Force, Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

Lieutenant General Ronald L. Bailey

  • First African American to command the 1st • U.S. Marine Division
  • Served as Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations, U.S. Marine Corps.
  • Retired in 2017 following 41 years of service.

Lieutenant General Walter E. Gaskin

  • Served as Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, NC Served as Commanding General, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Quantico, Virginia
  • Served as Chief of Staff, Naval Striking and Support Forces-Southern Europe
  • Served as Deputy Commanding General, Fleet Marine Forces-Europe in Naples, Italy

Major General Cornell A. Wilson, Jr.

  • Served as Director, Reserve Affairs Division, Manpower and Reserve Affairs – Headquarters, U.S. MArine Corps, Quantico, Virginia.
  • Appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, NC, to the position of Secretary of Military and Veterans Affairs.

Lieutenant General Willie J. Williams

  • Served as Director of the Marine Corp Staff
  • Retired in 2013 after serving 39 years in the U.S. Marine Corp.

Brigadier General John R. Thomas

  • Served as Director for Command, Control, Communications and Computers, U.S. Marine Corps.
  • Served as Director and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Marine Corp.

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AARP’s COVID-19 dashboard shows Alabama nursing home lagging behind national averages

In each of five parameters Alabama fared worse than the national average.

Eddie Burkhalter

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A recently-released dashboard shows that Alabama’s nursing homes, residents and staff alike, are suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s concern over what may happen in the coming days and weeks. 

“We know we’re moving into a very dangerous time right now, with flu season, and weather getting colder and people moving indoors,” said AARP Alabama spokeswoman Jamie Harding, speaking to APR on Monday. 

AARP partnered with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio in the creation of the dashboard, which in this first set uses data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to look at five parameters for the four-week period ended Sept. 20. 

In each of the five parameters — nursing home resident deaths per 100 residents, resident cases per 100 residents, staff cases per 100 residents, supply of personal protective equipment and staffing shortages — Alabama fared worse than the national average.

In the last month, there were 1.03 COVID-19 deaths among Alabama nursing home residents per 100 residents, tying with Mississippi as the second highest death rate in the nation, coming just behind South Carolina, which had the most, at 1.2 deaths per 100 residents, according to the AARP reports. 

As of Oct. 14, 45 percent of Alabama’s total COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic were among nursing home residents, totaling 1,088 resident deaths at the time, according to the dashboard. For the four weeks ending Sept. 20, nursing home residents made up 48 percent of the state’s deaths. 

Harding also noted that by the time CMS publishes the nursing home data “it’s about two to three weeks old” so the public isn’t getting up-to-date information on what’s happening in nursing homes, but she said at least the AARP’s dashboard will show trends in the data over time. 

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“We want the state, we want our leadership to take this data seriously, to see that we are not performing well on these five metrics, which are very critical metrics, and we want to know how this is going to be addressed,” Harding said. 

The Alabama Department of Public Health has declined to release county-level or facility-level details on coronavirus in long-term care facilities and nursing homes, citing privacy concerns. 

“So that’s the problem, and Alabama has stubbornly refused to release daily reports, and remains one of just a handful of states still refusing to release the daily report, and we really have no good answer,” Harding said. 

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Harding also discussed a COVID-19 outbreak at the Attalla Health and Rehab, first reported by AL.com, in which the facility had to be evacuated due to a huge spike in cases there, peaking on July 10. Some residents were taken to a local hospital, while others were taken to Gadsden Health and Rehab and Trussville Health and Rehab, sparking an outbreak of COVID-19 at Trussville Health and Rehab. 

AL.com’s reporting noted that while at least 10 states have special strike teams ready to send staff and supplies to nursing homes experiencing an outbreak, Alabama does not. 

The new outlet quoted Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health as saying that the department doesn’t have the staffing to form such teams. 

“That is an indication that this was a problem they were never prepared for, and they should have been,” Harding said.  “They are the Department of Public Health. This is their work. This is their job.” 

Harding also said that as of at least the end of September, the Alabama Nursing Home Association hadn’t yet begun spending the $50 million in CARES Act funds, which Gov. Kay Ivey announced on Aug. 7 would be made available to reimburse state nursing homes via the hospital association’s Education Foundation for the cost of fighting against COVID-19. 

John Matson, ANHA’s spokesman, told ABC 33/40 reported on Sept. 28 that the funds were in a holding account and the first claims should be paid in early October. Matson said an accounting firm had been hired  to help handle the administration of the funds. 

Harding expressed concern that the federal aid wasn’t being spent to help protect state nursing homes quickly enough, and said that the Attalla nursing home outbreak was made worse by a staffing shortage as workers either became sick themselves or quit to protect themselves and their loved ones. Alabama nursing homes weren’t overstaffed before the pandemic, she said. 

“We would like to see some of that $50 million dollars spent to address staffing emergencies,” Harding said. 

Matson, in a response to APR on Monday, said that since mid-March, Alabama’s nursing homes have been in the center of a fight to defend the most vulnerable citizens of our state from the most insidious and infectious virus attack in the last century. 

“Every resource has been pushed to the extreme,” Matson said. “While critics have the luxury of creating dashboards generated from government databases, the caregivers of Alabama’s nursing homes have relentlessly fought day-by-day, risking their own health, to care for the residents who depend on us. Our people are heroes and our nursing homes have met an unprecedented challenge.” 

Matson said every dollar of the $50 million spent must be justified by documentation, every claim is to be audited by an independent auditing firm before reimbursements are approved and ANHA filed regular reports to the Alabama Department of Finance which are publicly viewable. 

ANHA’s report for September, filed Oct. 15, states that many facilities were just then become eligible to apply for some of those $50 million due to requirements that the facilities deduct from amounts claimed any other coronavirus aid the facility may have received from other sources, such as the “Medicaid COVID add-on of $20 per day per Medicaid patient, DHHS Provider Relief Funds; and SBA payroll Protection payment loans attributable to payroll, if any.” 

“Therefore, due to the application of these mitigants, many facilities are just now becoming eligible to apply for and receive funds,” the report reads. 

The September report also states that to guard against funds not being available “in the event of a second or later COVID-19 wave, the Foundation is holding back 25% of approved claims.” 

The report also says that 12 facilities as of Sept. 30 were approved for $6.5 million in claims, with $1.6 to be held back for possible future COVID-19 waves. As of Oct. 13, there were $10.4 million in pending claims filed by 65 facilities, according to the report, and there were $16.9 million on total claims paid or pending.

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Birmingham refinances $179 million in debt

“When I became mayor in November 2017, it became apparent the city was not on sound financial footing,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin.

John H. Glenn

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Birmingham's skyline (STOCK PHOTO)

Birmingham has refinanced $179 million in general obligation debt, securing the lowest interest cost for the city in decades and accruing $44 million in present value savings from bond refunding. *Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Birmingham filed one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history. Birmingham has never filed for bankruptcy. However, Jefferson County was involved in one of the largest municipal bankruptcies in U.S. history. The headline also said Birmingham paid off the debt. It has refinanced the debt.

“When I became mayor in November 2017, it became apparent the city was not on sound financial footing,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “A key reason was the city was not paying into its pension at the level that was needed. Today, we have dramatically increased our payment to the pension. I want to thank the council for their support in this effort. We have reduced the cost of borrowing money and have strengthened our financial position.”

Bond refunding reduces the payments for debt service in the general fund by upward of $5 million per year for the next five years, allowing $13 million in real cash savings for commercial development use in the future.

Stifel served as senior bookrunning manager for the issue and led the structuring of the financing, as well as the sales and underwriting.

Based on number of issues sold, Stifel is the leading underwriter in the country and has a major presence in the State of Alabama.

Birmingham has now nearly doubled its contribution to its pension fund since the 2017 fiscal year.

The city’s commitment to increasing its pension funds, coupled with a focus on maintaining services and infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic has generated confidence in the city’s finances among rating agencies.

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Four credit rating agencies — S&P, Moody’s, Fitch and KBRA — reaffirmed the city’s current ratings. A downgrade could have cost the city millions of dollars during the recent bond refunding and created bigger challenges for the operating budget.

Birmingham’s Porter White & Company and Atlanta’s Terminus Municipal Advisors LLC served as municipal advisors for the city during the refunding phase.

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