By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
The fight for control over investments of the Employees’ Retirement Systems and the Teachers’ Retirement Systems in Alabama has not yet reached its end.
On December 16th, the Alabama Political Reporter reported on events leading up to an identical bill being prefiled on the House side in preparation for the 2014 Alabama legislative session by Democrat Johnny “Mack” Morrow of Red Bay. Curtis Stewart, a recent Robert Bentley appointment to the ERS board, announced a resolution that would prevent Dr. David Bronner, Chief Executive Officer of the Retirement Systems of America and Secretary-Treasurer of ERS, from using proxy votes of other investment committee members to take immediate action on day-to-day investment decisions.
The resolution passed, and the controversy began. Dr. Bronner, who had claimed Bentley was bringing “politics” into nonpartisan pension fund investment decisions even before the Stewart resolution, decried the Governor for improperly influencing the investment decision process by using his appointment power to force this outcome.
Governor Bentley claimed that he had not known about the new rule until it passed, but he (not for the first time) went on record as saying that allowing one individual power to make such crucial decisions “dangerous.”
Bronner, who has had proxy discretion over investments for about four decades, has long held that such decisions — including, as he says, whether or not to purchase stock at moment’s notice. He recently fired back at Bentley’s comments about his sole discretion being dangerous in a widely circulated opinion article titled “DANGER! DANGER! RSA is investing in Alabama!”
“I have been called many things in the past 40 years of serving Alabamians as the head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama,” he began. “Call me liberal or conservative, arrogant or brilliant, but dangerous? Really, Gov. Bentley? Dangerous?”
He then went on to elaborate on RSA investments in the state, including sections headed “golf,” “hospitality,” and “real estate.”
Finally, Bronner spent a few lines criticizing Bentley on his failure to expand medicaid for low-income families in Alabama:
“Politics is taking precedence over the poor and that is not acceptable. The 300,000 women and children in Alabama that would benefit from Medicaid expansion need for us to do the right thing. We need the billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs that would come with Medicaid expansion. We don’t need political games taking the priority over helping Alabamians in need.”
Many thought that the sparring would end on the opinion pages, but the fight is now in both houses of the legislature. With the 2014 Alabama legislative session beginning on January 14th, bills are now filed in the house and senate in what seems to be a serious effort to give Bronner back what the Democrat who prefiled the house bill called “total unilateral control.”
Senator Roger Bedford of Russellville, who has served as a Democrat nearly continuously since the 1980s, has now filed the identical bill in the upper chamber. The description of the bill is as follows:
“Retirement Systems of Alabama, secretary-treasurer, investment decision authorized without approval of Board of Control, Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System, Secs. 16-25-20, 36-27-25 am’d.”
According to his Senate biography, “Senator Bedford is an attorney, a conservative Democrat, a Baptist, a Rotarian, and belongs to the Alabama Bar Association, the Cattlemen’s Association, the NRA, Ducks Unlimited, American Cancer Society, Executive member of the Boy Scouts of America, and the Tennessee Valley Council.”
The ERS board oversees the retirement pension fund for all public employees in the state of Alabama.
Pike County DHR social worker receives Spirit of Adult Protective Services Award
The Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) announced on Wednesday that Raven Boswell, a licensed social worker with the Pike County Department of Human Resources is the recipient of the 2020 Alabama Spirit of Adult Protective Services (APS) Award.
The award is presented annually to a frontline worker who, through his or her own initiative and innovative ideas, make substantial contributions to the growth and development of the APS program. As the Spirit of APS Award recipient for Alabama, Ms. Boswell will be nominated for the National Spirit of Adult Protective Services Award (NAPSA) held in November 2020.
Boswell began her career with the Pike County DHR in the Adult Protective Services program in December 2013. She works closely with law enforcement, attorneys, judges, healthcare providers, placement resources, and the community as she navigates the goal of keeping vulnerable adults safe. Ms. Boswell has developed an invaluable rapport with community stakeholders who recognize her diligence and reliability when advocating for adults in the community.
Shortly after beginning her employment with DHR, Ms. Boswell played an instrumental role in assisting with the closure of an unlicensed group home in which more than 20 vulnerable adults were being mistreated and neglected. Since the experience, Ms. Boswell has been dedicated to the APS program which has greatly benefited Alabama citizens.
Alabama Department of Human Resources Commissioner Nancy Buckner said, “Working with our Adult Protective Services clients takes an incredibly special, compassionate and talented person and Raven Boswell is certainly all of those things. In her six years with APS she has demonstrated an extremely high level of understanding, compassion, and concern for this group of Alabama’s most vulnerable citizens. Her unsurpassed dedication to DHR’s mission of protecting elderly and disabled adults is demonstrated as she consistently exhibits integrity and commitment in her daily work. Not only is she concerned with defending the defenseless, but she also makes extraordinary efforts to ensure stakeholders are acknowledged for the invaluable services they provide to vulnerable adults.”
During this unprecedented time of COVID-19, Ms. Boswell has maintained contact with her clients and providers by providing them with greeting cards to remind them that she is thinking of them. Additionally, Ms. Boswell recognizes community leaders and service providers each year by presenting them with awards in which they proudly display in their establishments.
Sam Smith, Director of APS for the Alabama Department of Human Resources commented, “Raven’s tireless efforts to bring awareness to the community reflect a better understanding of the problem and promote increased care and intervention for those who are victims of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Without this outreach many elderly and disabled victims of abuse may otherwise go unnoticed. Raven’s model of service to others in her community and our State is a great credit upon herself and an example for others to follow.”
Pike County DHR Director, Patricia Faircloth said, “Ms. Boswell consistently exceeds standards in her ability to demonstrate the skills necessary to manage a caseload of ongoing Adult Protective Services cases. She has received recommendation letters from local APS stakeholders throughout her career and she is extremely respected in our community. Ms. Boswell is an invaluable asset to Adult Protective Services in Pike County and is a role model and future leader.”
The mission of the DHR Adult Protective Services Division is to support and enable county departments to protect elderly and disabled adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation and to prevent unnecessary institutionalization.
AHSAA schools can receive free Pixellot production units
The Alabama High School Athletic Association announced today a new program that will enable its member schools that currently lack production capabilities to receive up to two free Pixellot automated production units for use in their primary sports venues. The program is being offered by the NFHS Network, the leader in streaming live and on-demand high school sports, and is created to assist schools facing revenue losses due to restricted attendance at games and other events in light of COVID-19.
The network has allocated more than $200 million in capital for the nationwide project, which is open to eligible schools whose state high school association is a member of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
AHSAA member schools can access additional information and sign up to receive their free Pixellot units atwww.nfhsnetwork.com/pixellot.
The Pixellot solution will help high schools stream their athletic events and activities so that fans can follow the action even when unable to be there in person. The NFHS Network will also be assisting schools by increasing its subscription revenue sharing effective August 1, 2020.
“We recognize that the next several years will be challenging for our high schools and state associations,” said Mark Koski,CEO of the NFHS Network. “Many are facing budget cuts and reduced resources, and attendance at athletic and other school events may be restricted. From the NFHS Network’s inception seven years ago, we have been driven by the goal to create a platform that showcases every high school event across every sport and every level of competition. Consistent with this goal, we want the High School Support Program to demonstrate our continued commitment to help our partner schools manage through the inevitable complications created by COVID-19.”
AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said the opportunities created by NFHS Network for AHSAA member high schools can be a much-needed boost n light of the current COVID 19 challenges.
“The NFHS Network is offering a remarkable opportunity for our schools that are currently without automated production capabilities,” said Savarese. “As our schools grapple with reduced resources and the potential loss of event-related revenue, the NFHS Network’s High School Support Program can help to reduce COVID-19’s impact. I encourage our eligible schools to sign up for their free Pixellot units immediately.”The AHSAA was the first state association to join the NFHS Network in 2013. Member schools joining the NFHS Network have consistently been among the top 10 content providers ever since. The AHSAA school broadcast program schools have received collectively more than $247,000 in much needed revenue from the NFHS Network, which ranks fourth nationally behind only Georgia, Illinois and California.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our schools to modernize themselves with automated production capabilities for livestreaming athletics and other high school events—at no cost,” Savarese added. “We’re appreciative of the NFHS Network’s High School Support Program and encourage our eligible schools to take advantage of the free production units and enhanced revenue-sharing from streamed events.
In addition to the free Pixellot equipment and revenue enhancements, the High School Support Program will also offer the ability for fans to made donations online directly to schools of their choosing through the NFHS Network’s platform beginning August 1, 2020.The NFHS Network provides high schools with a platform to produce and broadcast professional-grade events. The Pixellot automated production solution was introduced to high schools three years ago and has quickly become an integral component of the NFHS Network’s offerings. The Pixellot solution allows every event to be streamed live without requiring personnel to produce the games, thereby eliminating the operational strain created by manual production.
There are currently more than 5,000 Pixellot units in high schools across the country which will produce in excess of 250,000 live games this upcoming school year with no human involvement.
In addition to livestreaming 27 different sports, the NFHS Network also livestreams performing arts, graduations, award ceremonies, and other school events. To date, the NFHS Network’s successful partnerships with participating high schools and state associations have allowed it to distribute over $25 million back to schools and state associations.
“We’re excited for our schools to take part in the NFHS Network’s High School Support Program,” said Savarese. “Schools can benefit from the easy to use, fully automated production units to livestream sports events to their fans, allowing them to watch from anywhere. At the same time, revenue sharing from viewer subscriptions can help to offset losses in ticket sales, concessions, and more due to COVID-19. We’re appreciative of the valuable revenue stream being enabled through the program.”
Hightower for Congress announces “Doctors Coalition”
Bill Hightower campaign for Congress said this week that it has received the endorsement of over 30 prominent South Alabama physicians who will serve as the leadership for Hightower’s new “Doctors for Hightower” Coalition.
The pro-Hightower doctors wrote a letter to voters in Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.
“We have committed our careers to supporting the south Alabama community and we know first-hand the struggles that medical professionals, providers, and institutions face in addressing the healthcare needs of our community,” the Hightower doctors wrote. “These are challenges that have been magnified in the face of the global pandemic that has ravaged our country and community, and will have ramifications for years to come.”
“South Alabama and the entire Gulf Coast needs strong leadership in Congress that will stand up for our ability to provide accessible and affordable care for our community,” the doctors claimed. “Leadership that understands the needs of medical professionals and patients, an effective voice who will be able to deliver for our community, and an ear we know will be there to listen when future challenges emerge…”
The doctors endorsed Hightower because, “Bill Hightower knows and understands the medical community and healthcare sector. He is the son of Dr. Billy M. Hightower, a healthcare pioneer in open-heart surgery for the Gulf Coast. As a state Senator, Bill Hightower stood up for not only doctors, nurses, and other health professionals, but for patients and their rights. And as a congressman, Bill Hightower will work with the medical community to improve our medical funding and services to help the people of coastal Alabama. He will work to innovate and develop better ways to deliver affordable and accessible care, so we can better serve our patients. We know Bill Hightower is committed to working to ensure we are better able to work to support our patients, to provide the care they want and deserve.”
Hightower served in the Alabama Senate. He ran for the Republican nomination Governor in 2018 but lost to Gov. Kay Ivey, who went on to win her own term. Hightower has owned several small businesses in the South Alabama area. He worked for several large multi-national corporations before moving back to Alabama following 9-11. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Alabama and a master’s from Vanderbilt University. He and his wife Susan have children and grandchildren.
Bill Hightower is running against Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl for the Republican nomination in the July 14 Republican primary runoff. The winner of the Republican nomination will face the winner of the Democratic Party primary runoff between Kiani Gardner and James Averhart.
Incumbent Republican Congressman Bradley Byrne is not seeking reelection.
Decatur joins growing list of Alabama cities, counties requiring masks
In a 3-1 vote, the ordinance passed, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday when the order will go into effect.
Decatur City Council members on Wednesday approved a face mask order that will require the wearing of masks in public and while on public transportation, joining a growing list of local municipalities and counties taking up such measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In a 3-1 vote, the ordinance passed, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday when the order will go into effect.
The ordinance will require Decatur residents to wear masks while outside, in restaurants or businesses and on public transportation. Failure to do so could result in a fine of up to $500.
Council members Paige Bibbee, Billy Jackson and Charles Kirby voted to approve the ordinance, and Council member Kristi Hill voted against the measure, according to a video of the meeting.
Decatur Police Chief Nate Allen told Council members before the vote that the area’s hospital intensive care beds are “approaching capacity” and elective surgeries have been cancelled to save room for COVID-19 patients.
The city of Decatur is in Morgan and Limestone counties. In Morgan County, 30 percent of the county’s total COVID-19 cases have come in the last two weeks, while Limestone County added 44 percent of the county’s cases within the last two weeks.
Decatur Council members’ decision Wednesday came on a day when Alabama saw yet another record high number of COVID-19 patients being cared for in hospitals.
On Wednesday, the state added 1,161 new COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths from the virus. It’s killed 1,032 people in Alabama, the UAB physician said. At least 1,110 people were being treated in hospitals in the state Wednesday, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the most since the pandemic began.