By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R from Montgomery) announces staff changes for the incoming 114th Congress.
Representative Roby said, “Today I announced my Congressional staff for the 114th Congress. Several new staff members have been hired, and others promoted, all to enhance our legislative efforts and constituent services. Learn more about our team and their responsibilities here.”
Rep. Roby said, “I’m proud of what we have accomplished thus far, and I’m optimistic the new Republican majority will present more opportunities for legislative success under regular order. As such, I have been pleased to bring on new staff members, promote current ones and organize our team in a way that can expand our legislative capabilities.”
Rep. Roby continued, “Since first being elected to Congress, I’ve tried to surround myself with top-notch staff members who add value to our legislative efforts and demonstrate a commitment to serving the people of Alabama’s 2nd District. I’m confident these new staff members will contribute greatly to our team’s ability to get results on behalf of all of you, and we are eager to hit the ground running in the 114th Congress.”
In addition to her Capitol Hill office, Rep. Roby operates three District offices in Andalusia, Dothan and Montgomery, where staff specialize in constituent services and community outreach.
Stephen E. Boyd continues as Rep. Roby’s chief of staff. Boyd serves as Rep. Roby’s top adviser and leads the team of 15 staff members and manages all aspects of the Congressional office. Boyd previously worked for six years with U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions. Boyd is a native of Birmingham and a graduate of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School of Law.
Joe Williams continues as Rep. Roby’s District Director. Williams manages Rep. Roby’s district staff, oversees a range of constituent services, and serves as the primary liaison to state and local elected officials and business and community groups. Williams is a native of Headland, Ala., and a graduate of Auburn University, the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Williams previously worked for former Second District Rep. Terry Everett (R).
Jessica Fuller Hamilton continues as Rep. Roby’s Executive Assistant. Hamilton previously served under U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R). Hamilton is a native of Mobile has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama and a masters degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Todd Stacy continues as Roby’s Communications Director. Stacy is a Prattville. native and Auburn University graduate. Stacy manages Rep. Roby’s external communications, acts as her spokesman and is the point of contact for media inquiries. Previously Stacy served as Communications Director for Speaker of the Alabama House Mike Hubbard (R from Alabama) and as Press Secretary for former Alabama Gove
Mike Albares was recently promoted to Legislative Director in the Roby office. Albares will lead Rep. Roby’s legislative team, oversee her work on the House Committee on Appropriations, and will continue to personally handle agriculture issues. Albares is a Dothan native and University of Richmond graduate. Over the last four years, Albares has served as Roby’s Legislative Correspondent and Legislative Aide. Previously, Albares served on the staff of former Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich.
Andrew Ashley was recently hired as Military Legislative Aide for Rep. Roby. Ashley is a native of Northern Virginia and a West Point graduate. He also has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of South Carolina. Ashley previously worked for Honeywell International in defense procurement and currently serves in the Reserves Congressional Affairs division. Ashley is also a combat veteran of Southern Afghanistan. Ashley’s responsibilities will include defense policy, veterans issues, foreign affairs and homeland security. His predecessor, Mac Tolar, left Rep. Roby’s office to work for the Select Committee on Benghazi.
Sophie Trainor was recently hired as Legislative Assistant for Rep. Roby, specializing in health, education, workforce and financial services issues. Trainor previously worked for Sen. Sessions and Congressman Lee Terry (R from Nebraska). Trainor graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in Human Environmental Sciences.
David Wellen has been promoted to Legislative Correspondent. Wellen is from New Orleans and is a graduate of Louisiana State University. Wellen previously worked as Staff Assistant in Rep. Roby’s office.
Margaret Virden was hired over the summer as a Staff Assistant. Virden is a native of Montgomery and is a recent graduate of Mississippi State University. In the Summer of 2013, she interned in Rep. Roby’s office. Virden fills the vacancy created by the promotion of former Staff Assistant David Wellen.
Lindsee Gentry was hired over the summer as Press Assistant. Gentry is a native of Southaven, Miss., and is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama. Gentry assists the communications director and Rep. Roby with a wide range of press activities, including interaction with media organizations. Gentry fills a vacancy created when Seth Morrow left to become Communications Director for Congressman Bradley Byrne (R from Mobile).
Lori Ward Williams from Clio has transitioned to the role of Field Representative for the Montgomery District Office. She had previously had served as the Field Representative in the Wiregrass Area. She filled the vacancy created when Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) appointed Ronda Walker to the Montgomery County Commission. Her regional focus now includes Autauga, Bullock, Butler, Crenshaw, Elmore, Montgomery and Pike Counties. Williams also coordinates the military academy nomination process, as well as submissions to the Congressional Art Competition. Williams is a graduate of Auburn University Montgomery. Previously she worked on the staffs of Gov. Bob Riley and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R).
Cindy Pate was recently hired as a Field Representative for the Wiregrass area. Pate is a native of Birmingham and a graduate of Samford University. She previously worked for Sen. Sessions and U.S. Representative Spencer Bachus (R from Vestavia). She is the field representative for the Wiregrass counties including: Conecuh, Covington, Geneva, Coffee, Dale, Henry and Barbour.
Charlotte Wood Bent continued as Rep. Roby’s Montgomery Constituent Services Representative. Previously she served on the staff of former Congressman Everett and worked for the Social Security Administration. Bent is a graduate of Troy University.
Barbara Hulse Light will be the Constituent Services Representative (Dothan). She is a native of Virginia and has a bachelor’s degree from James Madison University (BA) and a master’s degree from Troy State University. She first moved to the Wiregrass in 1996 with her husband when he was stationed at Fort Rucker. Previously, she served on the Dale County Board of Registrars.
Amelia McMahon is the Constituent Services Representative (Andalusia). McMahon is a native of Covington County. She has worked in Roby’s office since January 2014. Previously she worked for Congressman Jeff Miller (R from Florida). She is a graduate from the University of West Florida with a degree in elementary education.
Rep. Roby’s office locations include;
Capitol Hill Office
442 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Covington County Office
505 East Three Notch Street
Andalusia City Hall, Room 322Andalusia, AL 36420
217 Graceland Drive
Dothan, AL 36305
401 Adams Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36104
Representative Roby was recently elected to her third term to the United States Congress representing Alabama’s Second Congressional District.
Black Voters Matter isn’t giving up on Black voters in Alabama
“When you don’t vote, you give away your power,” said Arnee Odoms, Alabama state coordinator for Black Voters Matter.
The Black Voters Matter Fund isn’t giving up on Black voters having their say in the November election in Alabama. In fact, the group is working to ensure that Black voters can and do turn out to vote in greater numbers than ever before in the 2020 general election.
“When you don’t vote, you give away your power,” said Arnee Odoms, Alabama state coordinator for Black Voters Matter. “And your vote is a sense of agency. You’re giving someone agency over your everyday life.”
This month, the group launched radio advertisements and voter outreach caravans to engage Black voters and drive voter turnout. The ads will air across multiple states through Nov. 2, the group says, and will encourage Black voters to “reclaim your power, use your voice, and vote … because we matter.”
The outreach effort is taking place across a dozen states, including Alabama, and the group is leading a van caravan that will stop in Alabama and a number of other Southern states as part of the organization’s ”We Got The Power” campaign. It will come through several cities in the Black Belt, leading an in-person absentee voting parade to increase registration and voter turnout.
Half of voters already believe it will be difficult to vote in this year’s election, and voter I.D. laws, strategic closing of polling locations in predominantly Black communities, disenfranchisement of those with felony convictions among other voting restrictions in a post-Shelby Co. v. Holder election landscape add little confidence.
Alabama — described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a microcosm of the multi-pronged assault on the right to vote in this country” — was recently sued by civil liberties groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU over a “de facto ban” of curbside voting and photo ID and witness requirements for absentee ballots, requirements that disproportionately affect older voters, voters with disabilities and Black voters.
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit, ordering Alabama to make changes to its strict voter requirements ahead of the election because of COVID-19 concerns.
One of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit is Black Voters Matter, a nonprofit created by two Alabama natives, political strategist Cliff Albright and community organizer LaTosha Brown. The fund’s most significant work deals directly with voter disfranchisement in predominately Black communities in Alabama’s Black Belt.
“Black Voters Matter was created to fund grassroots organizations, mostly Black, who would not normally receive funding to address issues of voting and other things in their own community,” Odoms said. “We do a lot of work around just organizing everyone and anything: COVID-19 responses, disaster relief in Mobile. It’s really a multi-faceted fund.”
Black Voters Matter operates in 10 states throughout the country, including Alabama and neighboring Georgia and Florida. Hundreds of thousands of grant dollars go to smaller local non-profits and grassroots organizations in Black communities in Alabama, primarily in the Black Belt, that lack the funding to continue their work.
“They are not equipped with the resources to complete the strenuous process of a grant,” Odom said. “We try and make the process as simple as possible for them, so we can get the funds out to them, and they can do work in their community.”
A city that Black Voters Matter impacted during the last election cycle is Tuskegee, where Black Voters Matter has been present on the ground for two election cycles.
“[During] the last election cycle they were very helpful in terms of getting financial resources to us,“ said Norma Jackson, councilwoman-elect in Tuskegee’s 1st district and a spokeswoman for the fund. “So that we could put young people on the ground to do door-to-door canvassing and voter registration.”
Black Voters Matter continues to help turnout efforts in Tuskegee, providing funds that directly aid canvassing, phone banking and voter registration in the Black community even amid COVID-19.“ We realize it is COVID-19 season, [and we] can’t do things in the traditional way that we’ve done them, but they will be knocking on doors with their masks and gloves and finding out who needs to get registered,” Jackson said.
Jackson also pointed to the social media visibility of Black Voters Matter, which has helped connect younger voters in the community.
“The [Black Voters Matter] T-shirts and armbands — those kinds of visibility have been impactful especially with younger voters,” Jackson said. “Having the volunteers wear those shirts when they go out into the community to canvass has been helpful.”
Although much of its work revolves around funding organizations that mobilize voters, Black Voters Matter emphatically denies solely being an electoral organization.
“We are first and foremost a power building organization,” reads a statement from their website. “And while we firmly believe that voting and electoral organizing is one way to build power, it is by no means the only way.”
One of the multiple organizations that Black Voters Matter financially partners with is The Ordinary People Society, whose work ranges from incarcerated voter registration to operating a soup kitchen and halfway home in Dothan.
“In the South particularly, the funding apparatus is very difficult because a lot of philanthropists don’t like to fund the South,” said Rodreshia Russaw, executive director of The Ordinary People Society. “We have funding gaps —anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 that [we] need to mobilize the community.”
Black Voters Matter grants help TOPS employ poll watchers, afford gas and support for transportation to the polls. Along with being a first round winner of the $500,000 SPLC “Vote Your Voice” grant, Black Voters Matter works in conjunction with other partners like the ACLU to support election protection work across the state.
“Black Voters Matter has been effective in their role of building, elevating, and funding grassroots organizing initiatives to build power in the South, particularly in historically disenfranchised Black communities,” said JaTaune Bosby, executive director of the Alabama ACLU.
“It is their work that allows organizations like the ACLU to make strategic decisions on programmatic work to help advocate for better access for voters and build support for election protection across the state,” Bosby said.
State is prepared for heavy increase in mail-in absentee ballots, Merrill says
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said the state is on track to far exceed its record for highest number of absentee ballots in an election, but he’s confident that his office is prepared for it.
“There’s no reason to be worried about it because, see, I don’t wait ‘til the last minute to make sure that we’re prepared,” Merrill said.
As of Tuesday, there were 101,092 absentee ballots requested. Of those, 35,184 have been successfully returned. The final tally of absentee ballots returned is expected to be between 150,000 and 175,000, Merrill said.
The highest number on record was roughly 89,000 in the 2012 general election, when President Barack Obama was re-elected. The second-highest was about 88,000 in 2016, when President Donald Trump was elected.
Additional election workers have been hired and more are available should they be needed, Merrill said. His office has provided extra ballot tabulators to ensure that the state’s 68 jurisdictions are able to do a full count on Election Day. Merrill said that all ballots in the state’s possession on Nov. 3 will be counted that day.
He didn’t say whether there are indications that slowdowns in the operations of the United States Postal Service might affect voters, but he encouraged anyone planning to vote absentee to request their ballot as soon as possible to avoid last-minute problems.
Voters who plan to cast absentee ballots or who have started that process can check the status of their ballot online.
“Through using our online portal, Alabama voters can check when their absentee ballot was sent out by the county, when their absentee ballot was returned to the county, and whether the ballot was accepted or rejected,” Merrill said.
He stressed that his office is the only authoritative source for accurate and current information about the election. His office has identified issues with mailers from both conservative and liberal groups that include information about voting by mail, Merrill said. In the case of one distributed by the national Democratic Party, he said his office reached out to the Alabama Democratic Party to address erroneous information it had on it.
All voters should be cautious about third-party information, he said, and carefully follow instructions issued by his office. For those voting absentee, it’s especially important that they check the boxes on both the ballot application and the ballot that indicates they are voting by mail because they are “ill or inform” and can’t make it to their polling place. That option is available to anyone who wants to vote absentee due to concerns about COVID-19.
Troy vs. South Alabama football game postponed due to COVID-19
Tuesday, the University of South Alabama paused its football workouts because of COVID-19 issues. Saturday’s “Battle for the Belt” game between Troy University and South Alabama has been postponed, both schools announced Tuesday. No makeup date has been announced.
The Jaguars will be pausing football workouts on a temporary basis.
“This postponement is unfortunate, however it’s prudent and wise,” said USA Athletics Director Joel Erdmann. “Our most significant concern is the well-being of our student-athletes. We are looking forward to hosting Troy at Hancock Whitney Stadium at a date to be determined. We appreciate the collaboration and understanding of Troy, and the leadership of the Sun Belt Conference office in working through this situation.”
South is next scheduled to play host to Texas State on Saturday, Oct. 17.
“We are obviously disappointed for our team but certainly respect this decision,” Troy Athletics Director Brent Jones said. “This is a tremendous rivalry game for both teams and fan bases, and I appreciate South Alabama Athletics Director Joel Erdmann and the Sun Belt Conference for their open lines of communication during this process. We look forward to welcoming our great fans back to The Vet on Oct. 10 when we host Texas State in our home opener.”
Troy, South Alabama and the Sun Belt Conference will work together to determine if there is a mutual date that the game could be rescheduled later in the season.
South Alabama defeated Southern Mississippi University on opening day; but lost to Tulane and UAB. South Alabama played UAB on September 24. USA has not released whether or not any of their players in that game against UAB have tested positive for coronavirus.
Troy will play against Texas State on October 10 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Troy.
It’s the first virus-related postponement for the Jaguars, who have also “paused” football practice and workouts indefinitely. South Alabama also paused offseason football workouts for roughly a week in mid-July. The school has declined to announce the number of players and/or staffers who have tested positive for COVID-19, though a handful of players have been unavailable for undisclosed reasons in the Jaguars’ last two games.
Troy (1-1) has already had its Sept. 5 opener against the University of Louisiana Monroe postponed until Dec. 5 due to a COVID outbreak on the Warhawks’ team.
South Alabama and Troy do not have a common open date until at least Dec. 12. This makes re-scheduling the game difficult. The latest date the Sun Belt Conference championship game could take place is Dec. 19, with the final bowl pairings set to be released the following day.
Auburn University had its home opener vs. Kentucky last Saturday and will play the University of Georgia on Saturday. The University of Alabama will have its home opener Saturday in Tuscaloosa vs Texas A&M.
The NFL has had to postpone the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Tennessee Titans game this week after Titans players and staff have tested positive for the coronavirus. The NFL hopes to play that game on Monday or Tuesday.
There have been 13,558 cases of coronavirus in Mobile County, the second most in the entire state trailing only Jefferson County. Mobile County has had 748 people diagnosed with the virus in just the last week. 295 people have died of COVID-19 in Mobile County, which trails only Jefferson County.
The state of Alabama has had 154,701 coronavirus cases and 2,540 COVID-19 deaths in the global pandemic. 1,019,065 people globally have died from COVID-19.
Nursing Home Association announces plan for indoor visits
The Alabama Nursing Home Association today announced a plan to resume indoor visitation in nursing homes and continue outdoor visitation. The resumption of limited indoor visits is possible because of a change in guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and an amended state health order.
“It’s important for nursing home residents and their family members to be able to visit in person and this is another step toward returning life to normal in nursing homes,” said Brandon Farmer, President & CEO of the Alabama Nursing Home Association. “We are pleased CMS is moving in this direction and thankful Governor Kay Ivey and Dr. Scott Harris amended the state health order to accommodate this change. We are working closely with Governor Ivey’s administration and the Alabama Department of Public Health to help our members understand and implement these guidelines.”
According to the CMS guidance referenced in the amended state health order, visitors and nursing home staff must follow certain requirements for the limited indoor visits. The CMS guidance says, “we encourage facilities in medium and high-positivity counties to test visitors, if feasible. Facilities may also encourage visitors to be tested on their own prior to coming to the facility (e.g. within 2-3 days) with proof of negative test results and date of the test.” Visitors must also adhere to CMS’ core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention and pass a health screening. The requirements are designed to protect the health of nursing home residents and staff members. Visitors who do not comply with the infection prevention requirements will not be allowed to visit. According to CMS, nursing homes located in a county with a positivity rate of greater than 10% will not be allowed to offer indoor visitation.
“Resident safety is our top priority as we expand visitation and the CMS guidelines will be closely followed. The public must continue to do its part to lower the spread of COVID-19. Decreasing community spread and consistent testing are key to our ability to offer indoor visits,” Farmer said.
For indoor visitation, CMS says nursing homes must have no new onset of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days and not be currently conducting outbreak testing, limit the number of visitors per resident, limit the number of visitors in the building at one time and limit visitors’ movement inside the building. Visitors must wear a mask that covers their mouth and nose and practice social distancing while visiting their loved one during their entire visit. Violation of these policies could result in denial of future indoor visits.
CMS said outdoor visitation is still preferable to indoor visits and outdoor visits should be held whenever practicable. All visitors of Alabama nursing homes will need to schedule an appointment to visit their loved one.
Below is a list of do’s and don’ts for nursing home visitors.
Nursing Home Visitor Do’s and Don’ts
- Do schedule an appointment to visit with your loved one
- Do use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before, during and after your visit
- Do wear a mask covering your mouth and nose during your entire visit in the facility
- Do maintain social distance of at least six feet from staff and residents
- Do keep out of areas that are not designated for visitation
- Don’t remove your mask while in the facility
- Don’t leave the designated visitation area
- Don’t come to the facility without an appointment
- Don’t come to the facility if you have any symptoms – coughing, sore throat, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell – even if you attribute these symptoms to some other cause (allergies or cold).