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Birmingham Mayoral Election on Tuesday

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Tuesday Birmingham voters will get their chance to decide who will be the Mayor of the largest City in Alabama.

The Alabama Political Reporter recently covered a Mayoral forum at McElwain Baptist Church in East Birmingham. Most political commentators believe that incumbent Mayor William Bell will cruise through a re-election. But, that has not prevented several challengers from running against Bell, who has been a political force in Birmingham and Jefferson County for decades.

Birmingham area real estate investor Kamau Afrika said he was born and raised in the Smithfield Community of Birmingham and attended Parker High School growing up. Mr. Afrika said he was running because he is concerned by the unconscionable utility rates that Birmingham residents are paying and he believes that he can improve the budget situation and work well with the city council.

Afrika cited a Wall Street Journal article that claimed that Birmingham was the 13th worst managed city in America and an Alabama Policy Institute review, which ranked Birmingham as the worst managed city among Alabama’s 5 largest cities. Afrika promised to bring fiscal responsibility if he is elected.

Pat Bell said that she grew up in Birmingham but was born in rural Dallas County. Ms. Bell said that she attended Kingston Elementary and Hayes High School. Bell said that she had worked in advertising for Yellow Pages and then worked in radio advertising. Ms. Bell said that she had worked in several political campaigns and that she had helped get former Mayor Richard Arrington in office, but was not satisfied with the result so she is running herself. Like both Afrika and Dr. Huey, Ms. Bell has run unsuccessfully on a number of occasions.

Incumbent Mayor William Bell told the estimated 90 people in attendance that it is a great honor to serve as Mayor of Birmingham. Mayor Bell said that when he was first elected, “There was a dark cloud hanging over the city.” Former Mayor Larry Langford had been convicted on federal corruption charges, the city had had two interim Mayors, the city was in a budget crisis, and Bell inherited a $77 million deficit.

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Mayor Bell said that if re-elected, “I promise you one thing: that I will be the number one cheerleader” [for the City of Birmingham]. Bell said that he has done things to improve the situation including bringing people back to the city. Mayor Bell said that the downtown community is growing. “Give me another opportunity to bring the city forward.” Bell said that he has the heart to do the right thing and that he knows how to do it in a dignified and positive way. He has gone to Washington to seek funds not only to repair the devastation from the 2011 tornadoes which devastated the Pratt City neighborhood; but also to improve the City as a whole. Mayor Bell said that his efforts have brought in $27 million in federal grant money.

Dr. Stephanie Sigler Huey said that she was born in Birmingham and raised in the Elyton Village neighborhood. Dr. Huey said that she has 20+ years of experience in the business world, before starting a second career in education. Dr. Huey has a Masters degree in Mathematics and teaches in Parker the school where she graduated from. Dr. Huey ran for Mayor in 2003 and 2009 and was contemplating relocating to Washington D.C., but the students in Parker High School said ‘Dr Huey please run for Mayor of Birmingham’ so she is once again running for the office. Dr. Huey said, “I have a vision for the city of Birmingham, but we have got to work together to move the city forward

Adlai Trone said that he is originally from Birmingham and attended Birmingham schools. Trone said that he played football at Auburn University and graduated with a degree in Finance. Trone also played in the last Iron Bowl held in Birmingham and played two years of professional football with the Birmingham Steel Dogs before becoming a full-time financial planner with Ameriprize Financial in Atlanta. Trone moved back to Birmingham as an independent financial planner; but switched careers to education when he learned that things were so bad that the Birmingham City Schools were forced to recruit teachers from the Philippines. Trone taught Math at Carver High School, but has been demoted to tutor after the State took over the City school system.

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Kamau Afrika vowed to end the gridlock if he is elected. “I have a good relationship with everybody on that council.” Afrika promised to bring: honesty, integrity, and transparency to city government and enforce city regulations if elected, “We got so much on the book that is not being enforced.”

Ms. Pat Bell said that members of the City Council claim that Mr Bell is acting like a dictator. “I don’t want to be a dictator.” Ms. Bell said that if she was elected she would make sure that people are put in positions where they need to be so that the citizens are best served by their city government.

Mayor William Bell said that within the structure of the City government, the Major is the one to lead the city. You can not have ten different individuals making decisions. Where you get into conflict is when the legislators (the City Council) wants to play political games. “I will not let anyone run over me.” Bell said that as Mayor he has brought the Birmingham Barons back to the City of Birmingham and built a new hotel (the Weston) that will bring more conventions to Birmingham. If re-elected, “I will continue to make you proud.”

Dr. Stephanie Sigler Huey said that there is confusion on the city council now. “God is not an author of confusion.” Huey said that the city needed to have the mayor and the council sitting together to work together. “When I am Mayor there is not going to be any bickering or any arguing.”

Adlai Trone said that the the Mayor is the head administrator. The important thing is that a team approach is needed. Currently, budgets haven’t passed and because of that the people have suffered. The neighborhoods and the people are suffering. Trone said that his biggest accomplishments are his masters degree from the University of Alabama in financial planning and that in his second year of teaching his school made AYP in Math. “None of the schools that I taught in are on the failing list.”

Mayor Bell said that he is committed that the City will be the best sports venue that it can possibly be. Bell said that the city currently has the Barbers Indie Racing league and that he will work with Major League Soccer if they approach the city about expansion but to this point the city has not been approached by the MLS.

Ms. Bell said that the 21st century generation has been left out. Ms. Bell said that the Barons are nice but when you are preparing the 21st generation only to go to jail you have accomplished nothing. Ms. Bell said that too many Birmingham youths grow up in fatherless homes and that she wants the youth to learn how to be fathers.

Dr Huey said that the young generation wants an NBA team and she is committed to getting them an NBA team.

Afrika said that children are our future and that education and academics is his priority, Afrika said that Birmingham is the number eight city in America right now for poverty. The lack of education and skills is a problem that needs to be solved.

The mayoral election for the first time is running on the same date as the city council elections so Birmingham residents will also be able to select their city councilperson and their representative on the city’s school board.

The city school system is currently being run by the state of Alabama due to insufficient reserves and no consensus on a plan to save 30 days of reserves. The new school board will be tasked with leading the system out of state management.

The polls open on Tuesday at 7:00 am and will remain open until 7:00 pm.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with six and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook.

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Legislature

Medical marijuana bill “is not about getting high” — it’s “about getting well.”

Bill Britt

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More than half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana in some form. Last week, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB165 on an 8 to 1 vote. If the measure becomes law, it will allow Alabama residents to obtain medical marijuana under rigorously imposed conditions.

Known as the Compassion Act, SB165 would authorize certain individuals to access medical marijuana only after a comprehensive evaluation process performed by a medical doctor who has received specific training.

“I care for people who are ill, and I try to reduce their suffering to the best of my ability, using the tools at my disposal that are the safest and most effective,” said Dr. Alan Shackleford, a Colorado physician who spoke before the Judiciary Committee. “Cannabis is one of those tools.”

Shackleford, a Harvard trained physician, has treated more than 25,000 patients at his medical practice over the last ten years, he says a large number of his patients have benefited from medical cannabis.

While there are detractors, the Compassion Act is not a hastily composed bill but is, in fact, the result of a year-long study by the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission that voted to approve the legislation by an overwhelming majority.

“It’s a strong showing that two-thirds [of the commission] thought the legislation was reasonable and well-thought-out,” said Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, after the commission vote.

Melson, who chaired the commission, is a medical researcher and is the lead sponsor of SB165.

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Two-thirds of Americans say that the use of marijuana should be legal, according to a Pew Research Center survey. “The share of U.S. adults who oppose legalization has fallen from 52 percent in 2010 to 32 percent today” according to Pew. The study also shows that an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (91 percent) say marijuana should be legal either for medical and recreational use (59 percent) or that it should be licensed just for medical use (32 percent).

These numbers are also reflected in surveys conducted by Fox News, Gallup, Investor’s Business Daily and others.

“This bill is not about getting high. This bill is about getting well,” says Shackleford.

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Cristi Cain, the mother of a young boy with epilepsy that suffers hundreds of seizures a day, pleaded with lawmakers to make medical cannabis legal.

“This body has said so many times that your zip code should not affect your education,” Cain told the committee. “Well, I don’t believe that your area code should affect your doctor’s ability to prescribe you medication. If we were in another state, my son could be seizure-free.”

SB165 will strictly regulate a network of state-licensed marijuana growers, dispensaries, transporters, and processors.

There will be no smokable products permitted under the legislation and consumer possession of marijuana in its raw form would remain illegal.

“The people of Alabama deserve the same access to treatment as people in 33 other states,” said Shackelford.

 

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Education

Opinion | Instead of fixing a school for military kids, how about just fixing the schools for all kids?

Josh Moon

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The education of police officers’ kids isn’t worth any extra effort. 

Same for the kids of nurses and firefighters. Ditto for the kids of preachers and social workers. 

No, in the eyes of the Republican-led Alabama Legislature, the children of this state get what they get and lawmakers aren’t going to go out of their way to make sure any of them get a particularly good public education. 

Except, that is, for the kids of active duty military members stationed at bases in this state. 

They matter more. 

So much so that the Alabama Senate last week passed a bill that would create a special school to serve those kids — and only those kids. To provide those kids — and only those kids — with a quality education. 

An education better than the one available right now to the thousands of children who attend troubled school systems, such as the one in Montgomery. 

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The charter school bill pushed by Sen. Will Barfoot at the request of Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth carves out a narrow exception in the Alabama Charter School law, and it gives the right to start a charter school located at or near a military base — a school that will be populated almost exclusively (and in some cases, absolutely exclusively) by the kids of military members. 

The explanation for this bill from Barfoot was surprisingly straightforward. On Tuesday, Ainsworth’s office sent information packets around to House members to explain the necessity of the bill. 

In each case, the explanation was essentially this: the Maxwell Air Force Base folks don’t like the schools in Montgomery and it’s costing the state additional federal dollars because top-level personnel and programs don’t want to be in Montgomery. 

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And in what has to be the most Alabama response to a public education problem, the solution our lawmakers came up with was to suck millions of dollars out of the budget of the State Education Department budget and hundreds of thousands out of the budget of a struggling district and use it to build a special school that will provide a better level of education to a small group of kids simply because it might generate more federal tax dollars. 

And because having your name attached to a bill that supposedly aids the military looks good, so long as no one thinks about it too hard. 

But in the meantime, as this special school is being built, the hardworking, good people of Montgomery — some of them veterans and Reservists themselves — are left with a school district that is so recognizably bad that the Legislature is about to build a special school to accommodate these kids. 

Seriously, wrap your head around that. 

Look, this will come as a shock to many people, but I like Will Ainsworth. While we disagree on many, many things, I think he’s a genuine person who believes he’s helping people. 

The problem is that he is too often surrounded by conservatives who think every issue can be solved with a bumper sticker slogan and screaming “free market!” And who too often worry too much about the political optics and too little about the real life effects. 

And Montgomery Public Schools is as real life as it gets.

Right now, there are nearly 30,000 kids in that system. And they need some real, actual help — not the window dressing, money pit BS they’ve been handed so far through LEAD Academy and the other destined-for-doom charters. And they sure as hell don’t need a special charter for military kids to remind them that the school system they attend isn’t good enough for the out-of-towners. 

Stop with the facade and fix the school system. 

You people literally have the power and the money to do this. Given the rollbacks of tenure laws and the passage of charter school laws and the Accountability Act, there is nothing that can’t be done. 

Listen to your colleagues on the other side, who took tours recently of charter schools in other states — charters that work with underprivileged students and that have remarkable success rates. Hell, visit those charters yourself. Or, even better, visit some states that have high performing public schools in high poverty areas, and steal their ideas. 

But the one thing you cannot do is leave children behind. Whatever your solution, it cannot exclude some segment of the population. It cannot sacrifice this many to save that many. 

That sort of illogical thinking is what landed Montgomery — and many other areas of the state — in their current predicaments. Carving out narrow pathways for a handful of students has never, ever worked. 

Let’s stop trying it.

 

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Crime

ADOC investigating possible suicide at Easterling Correctional Facility

Eddie Burkhalter

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The death of a man serving in the Easterling Correctional Facility in Barbour County on Sunday is being investigated as a possible suicide. 

Marquell Underwood

Marquell Underwood, 22, was found in his cell unresponsive at approximately 4 p.m. on Sunday, according to a statement by the Alabama Department of Corrections. 

Underwood was being held in solitary confinement, known as “segregation” cells in Alabama prisons. Suicides in such isolated cells is central to an ongoing lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections. 

“He was not on suicide watch. All attempts at life saving measures were unsuccessful,” The statement reads. “ADOC cannot release additional details of the incident at this time, pending an ongoing investigation and an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death.” 

Underwood pleaded guilty of murder in the 2015 shooting death of Gregorie Somerville in Tuscaloosa and was sentenced to life in prison. 

Underwood’s death is at least the second preventable death inside state prisons this year. 

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Antonio Bell’s death on Jan. 9 at Holman prison is being investigated as a possible drug overdose. 

Last year at least 6 people serving in Alabama prisons died as a result of suicide, according to news accounts. During 2019 there were 13 homicides in state prisons, and as many as 7 overdose deaths, according to news accounts and ADOC statements. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2014 lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections over access to mental health care for incarcerated people is ongoing. 

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“The risk of suicide is so severe and imminent that the court must redress it immediately,” U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson wrote in a May 4, 2019, ruling. 

Judge Thompson in a 2017 ordered required ADOC to check on incarcerated people being held in segregation cells every 30 minutes, to increase mental health staffing and numerous other remedies to reduce the number of preventable deaths. 

“The skyrocketing number of suicides within ADOC, the majority of which occurred in segregation, reflects the combined effect of the lack of screening, monitoring, and treatment in segregation units and the dangerous conditions in segregation cells,” Thompson wrote in his order. “Because prisoners often remain in segregation for weeks, months, or even years at a time, their decompensation may not become evident until it is too late—after an actual or attempted suicide.” 

The SPLC in a Jan. 2019 filing wrote to the court that “the situation has become worse, not better, since the Liability Opinion. There have been twelve completed suicides since December 30, 2017…Defendants fail to provide the most basic monitoring of people in segregation. Defendants fail to do anything to learn from past suicides to prevent additional suicides.”

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Crime

Early morning contraband raid at Easterling Correctional Facility

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Alabama Department of Corrections on Tuesday raided the Easterling Correctional Facility in Barbour County to collect contraband. 

More than 200 officials from ADOC, state Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, Department of Natural Resources, Game Warden Division, and Russel and Coffee County Sheriff’s departments conducted the early morning search, according to an ADOC press release. 

“Operation Restore Order is a critical initiative designed to create safer living and working conditions across Alabama’s correctional system,” ADOC commissioner Jeff Dunn said in a statement. “The presence of Illegal contraband including drugs, which undoubtedly is perpetuated by the presence of illegal cell phones, is a very real threat we must continue to address.” 

“Additionally, our aging and severely dilapidated facilities are constructed of increasingly breakable materials that ill-intentioned inmates can obtain and fashion into dangerous weapons. The presence of illegal contraband puts everyone at risk, and action – including Operation Restore Order raids – must regularly be taken to eliminate it,” Dunn’s statement reads. “We remain committed to doing everything in our power to root out the sources of contraband entry into our facilities, and will punish those who promote its presence to the full extent of the law.”

ADOC is developing plans to conduct more of these larger raids, in addition to smaller, unannounced searches, which prison officials hope will help the department “develop intelligence-based programs to identify contraband trends and provide necessary intelligence to identify corruption indicators.” 

“The public should contact ADOC’s Law Enforcement Service Division at 1-866-293-7799 with information that may lead to the arrest of anyone attempting to introduce illegal contraband into state prisons. The public may also report suspicious activity by going to the ADOC Website at http://www.doc.alabama.gov/investigationrequest.”

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