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Gov. Says Conflicts of Interest Found at ASU, Attorney for the University Says No

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Monday the auditing firm that is investigating allegations of financial impropriety at embattled Alabama State University released a 36 page report which appears to vindicate explosive allegations by former ASU President Joseph Silver

The preliminary 36 page report claims that auditors have found evidence of possible conflicts of interest involving board of trustee members, contracts without proof that any actual work was ever performed, financial waste, payments to family and friends of ASU board of trustees (BOT) members, inappropriate payments, and obstructing the investigation.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) who ordered the investigation accused ASU authorities of stonewalling the investigation and vowed, “We also will furnish all of this material to the appropriate authorities. We will furnish it to the Attorney General’s Office and we also will furnish this to the federal authorities.”

ASU attorney U.W. Clemon responded: “ASU is deeply troubled by Governor Bentley’s release this afternoon of a “Privileged and Confidential” document titled “Preliminary Update.” The release of this document is unfair and is in violation of an express agreement reached with the Governor’s Office two weeks ago that ASU would be allowed to review and respond to the forensic audit before it was released.”

Clemon claimed that he and the BOT have not had a reasonable opportunity to review and analyze the Preliminary Update, but said that what we have reviewed is incorrect.

Clemon said that,

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“Nowhere in the 36-page preliminary report is there any allegation, claim or finding that any ASU Trustee, administrator or staff member stole or otherwise misappropriated funds. The report alleges various ‘conflicts of interest’ with respect to three Trustees. Nowhere in the report does it find that these Trustees sought or received a personal benefit from the contracts listed, nor does the report find that these Trustees caused the contracts involved to be executed between ASU and individuals/entities listed.”

Retired federal judge Clemon said, “The alleged conflicts of interest were declared by a firm that was handpicked by the Governor without a bid and was paid for by funds under his control.” Clemon continued, “Much of the report questions ASU’s accounting procedures and codes. All of ASU’s accounting procedures during the five-year review period conformed to generally accepted accounting principles in the industry, as has been confirmed through regular, periodic audits.”

Clemon claimed that the firm’s allegations of “obstruction” during the review process was based solely on the fact that ASU hired outside legal counsel to represent the University’s interests during its investigation.

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Governor Bentley ordering a forensic audit of embattled Alabama State University (ASU) after a fiery exchange between the ASU BOT and then University President Dr. Joseph Silver. The review was conducted by Forensic Strategic Solutions, Inc., of Birmingham.

At the time of the ordered review Gov. Bentley said, “Alabama State is a world-class university that makes a positive difference in this community and in the lives of all the students it serves. Recently, many people have expressed concerns about contracts and other matters surrounding the university. The students, faculty, staff and alumni of ASU, and all the people of this state, deserve transparency. I support continuing to use Warren Averett, LLC, to conduct the institution’s financial audit. However, I am engaging Forensic Strategic Solutions to conduct a separate analysis as well.”

Dr. Joseph Silver became President of Alabama State University in September 2012. After he alleged that ASU had longstanding improper financial arrangements involving certain public officials, the new University President was suspended by the ASU Board of Trustees (BOT) on November 26. Literally minutes before he was suspended, President Silver fired Rep. John Knight (D) from Montgomery as the ASU Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer 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 BOT appointed Knight as the interim University President. An ASU attorney later announced that the firings of Knight and Kennedy were void because Silver did not follow University procedures.

On November 27th, 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.

On November 30th, the BOT met again this time with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in attendance. 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. Silver defended his conduct and said that the reason he was punished is because he exposed “old bones” by questioning ASU’s contracts. Silver has since accepted a financial settlement from the University that includes a confidentiality agreement.

At the urging of the Governor the ASU Board ordered an audit of all University contracts by the firm of Warren Averett Wilson & Price in Montgomery. After some political insiders questioned the independence of Warren Averett Wilson & Price because they have done financial review work for ASU before, Gov. Bentley ordered a full forensic audit by an outside auditing firm.

Gov. Bentley said at the time, “This is in the best interest of Alabama State and all of us who love this university. We want to make sure nothing gets in the way of the success of ASU and its students. The ASU Board and leadership have publicly stated that they support full transparency in this process, and this additional review will help ensure we achieve that.”

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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Alabama DHR announces grants providing temporary assistance for stabilizing child care

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Human Resources announced on Friday a new grant program to provide assistance to licensed child care providers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Temporary Assistance for Stabilizing Child Care, or TASCC, grant program’s purpose is to stabilize the number of child care providers that are open and providing services, as well as encourage providers to reopen.

DHR is now accepting applications for TASCC grants. The deadline to apply is August 7, 2020. The total grant amounts will be based on each provider’s daytime licensed capacity with a base rate of $300 per child.

To be eligible for a grant, licensed providers must be open or plan to reopen no later than August 17, 2020, and continue to remain open for a period of one year from the date of receiving the grant award. As of this week, 1,306 of Alabama’s 2,448 child care facilities were open in the state.

“We are proud to offer this program as a support and an incentive to an important sector of our economy. These grants will give the support many providers need to reopen and assist those already open,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “This program is going to be vital for our child care numbers to reach the level required to provide adequate services as parents return to work. We have already made significant strides in reopening facilities over the past several months; in April only 14 percent were open while now 53 percent are open.”

These grants will provide support for paying employees, purchasing classroom materials, providing meals, purchasing cleaning supplies, providing tuition relief for families, as well as other facility expenses.

DHR recommends child care providers read all guidance prior to submitting a TASCC application. Child care providers need to complete the application to determine the estimated grant amount. Grant applications will be processed as they are received and grants awarded once approved.

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An online fillable application is available for the TASCC grant at www.dhr.alabama.gov/child-care/. The application must include an Alabama STAARS Vendor Code in order to be processed. For questions regarding the application, please email DHR at [email protected].

 

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Gov. Ivey awards grant for new system to aid child abuse victims

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Gov. Kay Ivey delivers the 2019 state of the state address. (CHIP BROWNLEE/APR)

Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded a $375,000 grant to establish a statewide network that will ensure that victims of child abuse receive immediate and professional medical care and other assistance.

The grant will enable the Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics to collaborate with the Alabama Network of Children Advocacy Centers in creating the Child Abuse Medical System.

 “Child abuse is a horrendous crime that robs children of their youth and can negatively affect their future if victims do not receive the proper professional assistance,” Ivey said. “I am thankful for this network that will ensure children get the professional attention they need and deserve.”

The medical system will be a coordinated statewide resource that includes pediatric physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and other medical professionals along with specialized sexual assault nurse examiners.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant.

“ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey and those dedicated people who are part of the Child Abuse Medical System to support these children at a time they need it most,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell.

Ivey notified Tom Shufflebarger, CEO of Children’s of Alabama, that the grant had been approved.

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ADECA manages a range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, recreation, energy conservation and water resource management.

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U.S. Attorney Jay Town announces resignation

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Attorney Jay Town announced his resignation Friday. (WHNT)

Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, on Friday announced his resignation and plans to work at a Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company. 

Town’s resignation will be effective Wednesday, July 15, according to a press release. 

“After much thoughtful prayer and great personal consideration, I have made the decision to resign as the United States Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama.  I have tendered my resignation to Attorney General William Barr. General Barr expressed his gratitude for my service to the Department of Justice and to the Northern District and, despite having hoped I would continue in my role, understood and respected my decision,” Town said in a statement. 

“I am extremely grateful to President Trump, to whom I also tendered a letter, for his special trust and confidence in me to serve as the U.S. Attorney. It was an honor to be a part of this Administration with an unrivaled class of United States Attorneys from around the nation.  I will forever remain thankful to those who supported my nomination and my tenure as the U.S. Attorney,” Town continued.

Town said his job with the unnamed Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company is to begin later this year, and the company is to announce his position “in a few weeks.” 

“The Attorney General of the United States will announce my replacement in the coming days or weeks,” Town said in the release.  

Town has served in his position since confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August 2017. Prior to that appointment, Town was a prosecutor in the Madison County District Attorney’s office from 2005 until 2017.

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Attorney General William Barr in a statement Friday offered gratitude for Town’s three years of service. 

“Jay’s leadership in his District has been immense.  His contributions to the Department of Justice have been extensive, especially his work on the China Initiative and most recently as a Working Group Chair on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. I appreciate his service to our nation and to the Justice Department, and I wish him the very best,” Barr said in a statement.

The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the department’s lengthy investigation into the state’s prisons for men found systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption which are likely violations of the inmates’ Constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment. 

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Town’s office leads the discussions between the U.S Department of Justice and the state on the prison conditions. 

Problems with violence, deaths and drugs in Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons have not markedly improved in the year’s since the U.S. Department of Justice released its report.

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Health

Alabama’s daily COVID-19 deaths second highest since start of pandemic

In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama saw 35 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, the second highest daily number of deaths since the pandemic began. 

The previous record daily high was May 12, when the state recorded 37 coronavirus deaths. Prior to that, the high was on April 22, when Alabama saw 35 deaths from the virus. In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.

While cases have been surging since mid-June, deaths have largely remained stable. Deaths are considered a lagging indicator, meaning that it takes longer for deaths to begin rising after cases and hospitalizations begin rising.

“The fact that we’re seeing these sharp increases and hospitalization in cases over the past week or two is really concerning,” said UAB expert Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom earlier this week. “And we expect, given the lag that we know there is between cases and hospitalization — about a two-week lag, and a three-week lag between cases and deaths — that we’re on a part of the curve that we just don’t want to be on in our state.”

It’s unclear whether this new rise in deaths will become a trend, or whether it is a one-day anomaly, but the 14-day average of deaths per day is now nearly as high as the previous peak on May 14 — weeks after the state hit its first “peak” in cases per day in late April. The previous high of the 14-day average of deaths per day was 16 on May 14. The average is now at 14 deaths per day, on average.

The uptick in deaths comes after days of record-high new daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The state added 1,304 new COVID-19 cases Friday, down from Thursday’s record-high of 2,164, but the trend of rising daily cases has continued largely unabated since early June. 

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The 14-day average of daily tests was at an all-time high Friday, at 8,125, which was 308 more tests than the previous high, set Wednesday. The percent of tests that were positive also increased, however, so the new cases can’t be attributed solely to more testing. 

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The 14-day average of the percent positivity was 14.22 on Friday. Excluding Thursday’s figure, because the Alabama Department of Public Health didn’t publish total tests administered on Thursday, which threw  off percent positive figures, Friday’s 14-day average was the highest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. 

There were a few higher 14-day average percent positivity days in April, but those numbers were skewed as well, because ADPH wasn’t able to collect all testing data from commercial labs during that time period. 

Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Thursday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Thursday 1,125 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fifth straight day of record current hospitalizations. 

UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity earlier this week. The hospital has both a COVID ICU and a COVID acute care unit designated to keep patients separated from those who don’t have the virus, but it has more space in other non-COVID units should it need to add additional bed space.

Hospitals in Madison County this week are also seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, told reporters Wednesday that local hospitals were reporting record numbers.

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