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Clandestine Strategy Becomes Reality, Just Maybe

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY — In March, the Alabama Political Reporter wrote of a clandestine strategy to eliminate the Alabama Historical Commission.

Reportedly devised under the aegis of Senate President Pro Tem and House General Fund Budget, Chair Steve Clouse,  HB584, sponsored by Rep. Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka), would dismantle the Alabama Historical Commission, terminate all staff, and shutter its building.

The Commission is “responsible for fostering the historical heritage of the State of Alabama and the preservation of historic sites, buildings and objects within the State.” The Bill would transfer the “responsibilities of the State Historic Preservation Office and State Archeologist, Fort Mims, and the preservation supervision of the State Capitol, to the Alabama Department of Archives and History.”

The Bill would also transfer the properties of Fort Morgan, Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson, Old Cahawba, and the Confederate Memorial Park to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Those with inside knowledge of events say Dr. Stephen McNair was tasked by Republican leadership to design the consolidation plan that lead to HB584. McNair, until a few months ago, was the Director of Historical Sites at the commission. It has been suggested that McNair was relieved of his duties, after it was discovered he was secretly developing the consolidation plan.

According to an internal memo acquired by Alabama Political Reporter, someone within the department believes the plan was “developed surreptitiously by a former member of the AHC staff, without input of the AHC leadership or the other affected agencies.”

It also states “the agencies were not given an opportunity to work collaboratively on a solution before it was filed.”

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A “transition coordinator” would be appointed by Gov. Bentley, with broad powers, due to the bills vaguely defined authority. It is believed by many within the historical community that McNair would be the transition coordinator, with an eye toward a cabinet position. McNair is the son-in-law of former Democrat State Representative Charles Oliver Newton, who lost an election after switching parties in 2014. Newton’s brother is acting Finance Director for the Gov. Robert Bentley administration.

The memo states a vast divestment of historical sites by January 1, 2016. “Such rapid divestment would abrogate existing management agreements for Belle Mont, Fendall Hall, Magnolia Grove, and Gainswood,” according to the memo.

It also states, “The fate of the AHC’s extensive archaeological collections from Fort Mims, Fort Toulouse, Old Cahawba, Fort Morgan, and other sites is not provided in the Bill. Many of these artifacts are stored at sites specified to go to the State Parks system, which has neither the resources nor the desire to care for these materials, the very fabric of Alabama history.

Over the last few years, the Republican supermajority has fast tracked several “efficiency” plans to streamline government.

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Crime

Three more prison workers test positive for COVID-19, testing of inmates remains low

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two workers at the Bullock Correctional Facility and one employee at the Kilby Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Thursday evening.

The latest confirmed cases among staff bring the total of COVID-19 cases among prison workers to 58. Twelve of those workers have since recovered, the Alabama Department of Corrections said in a press release Thursday. 

ADOC is investigating to determine whether inmates or staff had “direct, prolonged exposure to these staff members,” according to the release. Anyone exposed to the infected staff members will be advised to contact their health care providers and self-quarantine for two weeks, according to the release. 

The latest case at Bullock prison makes 5 workers there who’ve tested positive for coronavirus, and the worker at Kilby prison also became the fifth employee at that facility with a confirmed case of the virus.

There have been confirmed COVID-19 cases in 18 of the state’s 27 facilities, with the Ventress Correctional Facility in Barbour County with the most infected workers, with 12 confirmed cases among staff.

As of noon Thursday, there were no additional confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, according to ADOC. Of the 11 confirmed cases among inmates, two remain active, according to the department. 

The extent of the spread of the virus among inmates is less clear, however, due to a lack of testing. Just 155 inmates of approximately 22,000 had been tested as of Tuesday, according to the department. Test results for six inmates were still pending. 

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An ADOC spokeswoman was working to respond to APR’s questions sent Wednesday asking whether the department had plans to broaden testing among inmates to include asymptomatic people, but APR had not received responses as of Thursday evening. 

ADOC this week completed installation of infrared camera systems at major facilities that can detect if a person attempting to enter or exit the facility is running a temperature greater than 100 degrees, according to the release Thursday. 

“This added layer of screening increases accuracy of readings while reducing the frequency with which individuals must be in close proximity at points of entry/exit,” the release states.

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Elections

League of Women Voters of Alabama sue over voting amid COVID-19 pandemic

Eddie Burkhalter

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The League of Women Voters of Alabama on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kay Ivey, Secretary of State John Merrill and several Montgomery County election officials asking the court to expand Alabama’s absentee voting and relax other voting measures amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The nonprofit is joined in the suit by 10 plaintiffs who range in age from 60 to 75, many of whom have medical conditions that put them at greater risk for serious complications or death from COVID-19. 

“Voting is a right, not a privilege, and elections must be safe, accessible, and fairly administered,” the League of Women Voters of Alabama said in a press release Thursday. “Alabama’s Constitution specifically requires that the right to vote be protected in times of ‘tumult,’ clearly including the current pandemic.” 

Currently, to vote absentee in Alabama, a person must send a copy of their photo ID and have their ballot signed by a notary or two adults. The lawsuit asks the court to require state officials to use emergency powers to waive the notary or witness requirement, the requirement to supply a copy of a photo ID and to extend no-excuse absentee voting into the fall. 

Among the plaintiffs is Ardis Albany, 73, of Jefferson County who has an artificial aortic valve, according to the lawsuit. 

“Because she fears exposing herself to COVID-19 infection, Ms. Albany has already applied for an absentee ballot for the November 3, 2020, general election,” the complaint states. “Her application checked the box for being out of county on election day, and she is prepared to leave Jefferson County on election day if necessary to vote an absentee ballot.” 

Another plaintiff, 63-year-old Lucinda Livingston of Montgomery County suffers from heart and lung problems and has been sequestered at home since March 17, where she lives with her grandson, who’s under the age of five, according to the complaint. 

“She fears acquiring COVID-19, given her physiological pre-morbidity, and she fears spreading the virus to her grandson at home,” the complaint states. “She has never voted an absentee ballot, but she wishes to do so in the elections held in 2020. She does not have a scanner in her home, cannot make a copy of her photo ID, and has no way safely to get her absentee ballot notarized or signed by two witnesses.” 

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In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Ivey pushed the Republican runoff election back until July 14. Although Merrill has allowed those who may be concerned about voting in person in the runoff to vote absentee by checking a box on the ballot that reads “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls.”

Merril has not extended that offer for voters in the municipal and presidential elections in November, however. 

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alabama continue to rise, while testing for the virus has remained relatively flat in recent weeks. 

“We’re extraordinarily concerned about the numbers that we have been seeing,” said Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking during a press briefing Thursday. 

Harris said the department continues to see community spread of the virus and have identified several hotspots. He’s concerned that the public isn’t taking the virus seriously or following recommendations to wear masks in public and maintain social distancing, he said Thursday. 

“One hundred years ago the nonpartisan League of Women Voters was founded to protect and preserve the right to vote and the integrity of the electoral process,” said Barbara Caddell, President of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, in a statement. “The unexpected risks posed by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) challenge our election system to the utmost.  Today, we ask that Alabama’s courts use Alabama’s laws to make it safe and possible for all citizens to vote.”

The League of Woman Voters of Alabama’s lawsuit is similar to a suit by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program which asks the court to require state officials to implement curbside voting for at-risk citizens during the coronavirus pandemic and to remove requirements for certain voter IDs and witnesses requirements.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a brief in that suit that states the department doesn’t believe Alabama’s law that requires witnesses for absentee ballots violates the Voting Rights Act.

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Health

Two patients at Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatric Center die from COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two patients at the state’s Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatric Center have died from COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Mental Health confirmed to APR on Thursday. 

There remained 17 active coronavirus cases among patients at the state-run facility, said ADMH spokeswoman Malissa Valdes-Hubert in a message Thursday. 

One patient at the facility has recovered from the virus, Valdes-Hubert said. Two nurses at the facility have also tested positive for the virus, Valdes-Hubert said on May 15. 

There were no confirmed cases at ADMH’s two other facilities in Tuscaloosa, Bryce Hospital and the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility as of Thursday, Valdes-Hubert said.

Among the preventative measures being taken at the Mary Starke Harper facility are staff temperature checks and screening for other symptoms, and workers are required to wear FDA approved masks, Valdes-Hubert previously said.

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News

Inmate at Elmore prison dies after attack from another inmate

Eddie Burkhalter

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A man serving at the Elmore Correctional Facility died Wednesday after being assaulted by another inmate, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday. 

Jamaal King, 33, died Tuesday from injuries he received after an attack from another inmate, ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Banks wrote in a message to APR.  

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against King by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” Banks said in the message. 

King was serving a 22-year sentence after being convicted of murder, according to ADOC. His exact cause of death is pending an autopsy.

 

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