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Bill Britt

A further look at revelations in final report on scheme to smear Pouncey

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

A recently exposed internal investigation by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), alleges five individuals devised a “scheme” in July of 2016, to deny Dr. Craig Pouncey a fair chance of being selected as the State Superintendent of the Department of Education.

The internal investigation also found that an unnamed individual or individuals participated in the plot to discredit Pouncey. At this time it is unclear who, other than the five people named in the report, may have colluded in the actions taken to derail Pouncey’s election. A statement by attorney Dennis Bailey at Wednesday’s Board meeting may reveal some tantalizing clues.

According to the final report accepted by the State Board of Education last week in a 6 to 1 vote, a plan was hatched and executed by Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) board member, Mary Scott Hunter, then-Interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, and ALSDE attorneys Juliana Teixeira Dean, James R Ward III, and Susan Tudor Crowther.

The report states: “Most regrettably, these five participants have caused grave and serious harm, and casts a major shadow on the veracity and credibility of the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education (through no fault of the majority) that still lingers to the present day.”

Who are the others that may have participated in the alleged scheme?

Bailey, a partner at Rushton Stakely, is representing Dean, Crowther and Ward, three of the five people named in the report.  Bailey is being paid to represent the trio from a taxpayer-supported insurance fund.

On Friday, Bailey said Dean, Crowther, and Ward were following the advice of counsel in their handling of the anonymous complaint against Pouncey. Is Bailey laying the groundwork for an “advice of counsel” defense for the three attorneys? Are Dean, Crowther, and Ward going to accuse other attorneys for their actions against Pouncey?

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Who is the legal counsel Bailey is referencing?

The final report submitted by ALSDE attorney Michael Meyer contains emails between Balch Bingham lawyers and those, which Meyer says, were participants in the scheme. Emails show Balch Bingham attorneys Dorman Walker and David Boyd, who serve as outside counsel for the Department, were in contact in some way with the five individuals accused of executing the plan to tarnish Pouncey. Also, the evidence present by Meyer found that only board member, Hunter, was aware of these discussions.

Why are Balch Bingham lawyers giving advice on a matter that the report finds outside of official department duties?

If this was as the report states a “scheme” by Hunter and four others, why are Walker and Boyd giving advice in a smear campaign? The report shows Hunter was the only Board member aware of this information.

According to the report, “In a memorandum dated July 22, 2016, Associate General Counsel, James Ward, wrote a memo to General Counsel Dean and Associate Attorney, Susan Crowther, in conjunction with submission to [Balch Bingham attorney] Mr. Dorman Walker, departmental outside legal counsel, outlining four ways that the legal staff could pursue an investigation of Dr. Pouncey.”

According to the report, “relevant e-mails and documents beginning on July 22, 2016, thumb drive submission,” were given to Cleveland and Dean that would have cleared Pouncey’s name.

However, the investigation found that despite having information exonerating Pouncey, neither “General Counsel
Dean nor Dr. Cleveland displayed the professionalism, initiative, or fairness to acknowledge it to Dr. Pouncey, Senator Dial’s Joint Investigative Committee, or the State Board members (except Mary Scott Hunter).”

Why if Hunter, Dean, and Cleveland “beginning on July 22, 2016” had the evidence proving Pouncey’s innocence did Dean seek advice from outside counsel Walker on how to proceed with the investigation? Why did Hunter, Dean and Cleveland leave Pouncey’s reputation in doubt when the report says they had the information to clear him in their possession?

Also why did Dean feel a need to write Walker about reviewing Ward’s four steps to investigate the Pouncy allegation when according to the report she had all the relevant emails and the thumb drive information? On July 22, 2016, she writes, “Dorman [Walker], Good morning. We would appreciate your review so that the three of us can discuss at a later time.”

On August 11, 2016, in a 5 to 4 vote, Sentance was elected Superintendent.

On August 30, 2016, Balch Bingham attorney David Boyd (with Walker copied) suggested Dean and Cleveland follow up with the Ethics Commission given the information that came to light when Hunter “demanded that Mr. Pope conduct a computer search, as the departmental Chief Information Security Officer, for all e-mails and documents regarding the anonymous allegations.”

Boyd wrote, “I understand that the Department’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) [Pope] has personally advised you as well as Dr. Cleveland that he has identified certain archived emails or other documents that may shed light on the veracity or not of the allegations against Dr. Pouncey.” He further advised, “Finally, let me add a point in case there might be any misunderstanding of the significance, or lack thereof, of the fact that the Pouncey-related emails that surfaced recently were from an anonymous source. Whether receipt of documents or information from an anonymous source could trigger a reporting obligation under ’36-25- l 7′ is irrelevant here. The CISO [Pope] has confirmed the existence in the Department’s records of certain documents that may be relevant to a potential violation of the law. It is that information, not the earlier anonymous distribution, that prompts the need for further investigation, evaluation, and potential reporting under ’36-25-17.'”

Pope later testified that neither Dean or Cleveland acted on the information he gave them. Those emails, the final report concluded, would have cleared Pouncey of any wrong-doing.

Why, after Sentance was elected Superintendent, did no one reveal the documents that would have cleared Pouncey? Why did Hunter and the others remain silent?

Even now, the cloud of conspiracy hangs overhead as Sentance tried to hide the final report that would clear Pouncey, while casting Hunter, Cleveland, and the three attorneys as the prime movers in the scheme to ruin Pouncey?

Why are Sentance, Hunter, and Dean even now trying to discredit the report by bringing in retired Judge Bernard Harwood to punch holes in its conclusions?

Who are the others? We don’t know. But, the probe into this smear campaign is far from over, no matter how hard the schemers work to cover their tracks.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Take action, lead

Bill Britt

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My wife and I lived in New York City on 9/11 and heard the first plane roar overhead before crashing into tower one of the World Trade Center. That act of terror was swift, startling and violent.

COVID-19 is a slow-burning fire consuming resources, businesses and most terribly, lives.

Any reasonable person knows that now is a time to take decisive actions, big and small.

In the days following the attacks of 9/11, our leaders followed a steady drumbeat to war, a war that still lingers.

Today, there is no one to battle except the virus itself, and anyone with eyes to see and a mind to reason understands that our nation and state were ill-prepared to lead the charge.

This doesn’t mean that government leaders aren’t trying; it simply means at varying levels they were not ready.

In the aftermath of 9/11, some excused the government’s ineptitude to detect the plot against the United States as a failure of imagination.

But a few weeks after the terrorist attack, I met with a top insurance executive who said that their company had gamed out a scenario where two fully fuel 747s would be highjacked and crashed into each other over the island of Manhattan setting the entire city ablaze.

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It was not a failure of imagination, just as the coronavirus outbreak isn’t either. In both cases, it was inaction.

Winston Churchill said, “I never worry about action, but only inaction.” Our leaders have been slow to act. He also said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

So it is again, there is nothing new under the sun.

It’s easy to sit back and critique, second guess and rattle off to anyone who will listen to how you would have done it differently. Armchair pundits and Monday morning quarterbacks are always in abundance.

Leadership is rare and only in times of real human crisis do we see who is up for the challenge.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the famous line from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961. “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Alabamians may not know how to shelter-in-place, but we do know how to hunker down for a spell.

What we don’t do very well is nothing.

At APR, we are busier than ever trying to inform the public on the ever-expanding calamity accurately. We neither seek to sensationalize or trivialize the news.

Daily, my concern is for the people of our state, the human toll this crisis will reap.

Yes, the economy is essential, but jobs and businesses can be replaced. Who can replace a human life?

No one knows when this pandemic will subside or what cost we will pay for early missteps, but every life saved is a victory and every life lost should weigh heavily on our souls.

The Biblical account of Job is rich in its instruction about loss and suffering. Job’s family, home, and business were all destroyed, but afterward, they were restored by a devine second chance.

And what did Job do to break the chain of misfortune?

“And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” KJV Job 42:10.

If you don’t pray, think about your friends and wish for their well-being.

All across our state, prayers and well wishes I’m sure are raining down.

We are all in the midst of a potential catastrophe of unknown proportions.

Yes, the government can do more and they must, but each of us should do what we can to help others as well. We must all lead in our own way.

The people of our nation and state are rising to the occasion, but still, many are in denial and they are adding to the problem.

Leadership is not an elected or appointed position; it is a choice; leaders stand up and lead.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Have hope

Bill Britt

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Healthcare professionals and scientists seem to indicate that we are closer to the beginning of the COVID-19 calamity than at the middle or the end.

But even in times of real human crisis, hope isn’t dead but remains a vital thread in the fabric of what we know as the human spirit.

In his eighth State of the Union address in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

This is part of the message Roosevelt relayed to the American people as he prepared the nation to enter World War II.

Across the nation and here in Alabama, everyone is experiencing disruption to daily life.

Worry, doubt and fear is everywhere as minute-by-minute bad news rolls in like a spring deluge.

“Hope Springs Eternal,” is a phrase from the Alexander Pope poem An Essay on Man in which he wrote:

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

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Man never Is, but always To be blest.

The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

“Hope is, of course, the belief one holds during difficult circumstances that things will get better,” writes Saul Levine M.D., Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego in Psychology Today. “It is unique to our species because it requires words and thoughts to contemplate possible future events.”

Dr. Levine concludes that hope is the very nature of the optimism that drives us to work toward overcoming.

“It has religious meaning for believers in God, who through prayer trust that their future will be protected by their Deity,” said Levine. “But the presence of hope is secular and universal, and serves as a personal beacon, much like a lighthouse beckoning us during periods of darkness and stormy seas.”

There is a reason for alarm as the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been uneven, ineffectual and at times bordering on dereliction of its duty.

For years, there has been a movement to shrink government to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. The response by the federal government to the COVID-19 outbreak is a manifestation of that thinking.

Except for Gov. Kay Ivey, most state officials have remained near mute or totally silent during the crisis. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth has offered encouragement. Still, others seem to be in hiding except for a few Republicans who have sought to politicize the moment by criticizing U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

These times call for decisive leadership, frank words about the realities facing our State but not political pandering.

Diseases like COVID-19 are not partisan, seeing neither Democrat or Republican. The State’s political leaders—the real ones—need to offer solutions, not partisan finger pointing.

Gov. Kay Ivey and her staff are doing their best, Press Secretary Gina Maiola is keeping the press informed almost hourly, likewise Communications Director Leah Garner is guiding the governor’s message so that the public is informed. Health officer, Dr. Scott Harris’, briefings are realistic, sobering and needed. Ivey’s chief of staff, Jo Bonner, is a steady hand quietly and methodically aiding the governor and the various agencies who need support.

There have been missteps and blunders, but the governor’s office is meeting a Herculean challenge with calm and efficiency.

If good intentions and best efforts are worth anything, if giving it one’s all is the best any of us can do, then Gov. Ivey and her staff deserve appreciation.

The situations in the State will worsen before it is better.

No one knows how long COVID-19 will plague our State, but be assured that hope and faith beat worry and fear every time.

In what has become known as the “Four Freedoms Speech,” FDR also had a message for the world. “Men of every creed and every race, wherever they lived in the world” are entitled to “Four Freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Our present danger will pass and we will once again need to work to preserve the four freedoms that FDR spoke about so many years ago.

Hope is one of our greatest assets in times like these. Please remain safe, have courage and believe that better days are ahead.

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Bill Britt

Analysis | Alabama Power is keeping the lights on for everyone, that’s not enough for some

Bill Britt

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Alabama Power Company last week announced that it had not and would not disconnect any of its utility customers during the COVID-19 crisis. That commitment was not enough for the environmental group GASP or Energy Alabama.

That was the simple story I was writing when the absurdity of the situation dawned on me.

This is no time to politicize a crisis.

The hardworking women and men at Alabama Power are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battlefield making sure the citizens and businesses of the state have reliable energy despite the dangers posed by the coronavirus virus.

Since the Governor’s emergency declaration Alabama Power has determined that there would be no disconnects and no late fees.

“We have not terminated service for any customer since the declaration of emergency by the state,” wrote APCO spokesperson Michael Sznajderman to APR. “It has been our policy since that declaration that no customer financially affected by this health crisis will experience a service interruption.”

But GASP and Energy Alabama want Alabama Power to do more for customers impacted by COVID-19. Alabama Power has said it will work with each customer who has been affected by the crisis with no disruption of service and no late fees.

But again, that is not enough for GASP and Energy Alabama.

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Electrical power is an essential resource, so is food and gasoline, but no one is demanding that Publix or Exxon-Mobile provide groceries and fuel without payment. And neither has a food chain or filling station offered a free supply of gas or groceries until the end of this critical period.

For any individual or group to demand free gas and food would be seen as absurd, but somehow utilities should shoulder the burden, and they do.

For those who cannot pay their utility bills, Alabama Power is giving what amounts to an interest-free loan.

Credit card companies are still charging interests and late fees and no customers are being able to spend without limits, but that is what Alabama Power is doing for its customers.

However well-meaning these demands being made by GASP and Energy Alabama are, they seem to be more political than practical.

But Alabama Power has been a target of political grandstanding since Gov. George C. Wallace determined that racist rhetoric wasn’t enough to win every election and he needed a “cause” to fight for the common man. Wallace vilified Alabama Power for political gain, nearly bankrupting the company along the way.

All good populist crusades need a villain to rail against, synthesizing the fight to a David versus Goliath trial with the populist as the champion.

Of course, most times when a journalist slams Alabama Power, the left cheers, but if anyone dares to point out facts that might agree with the utilities company’s position, they must be on the take.

How silly and cynical is the world of politics where everything is conspiratorial and everyone is getting paid?

At APR, we present arguments left, right and center and when we see injustice or absurdities, we are not afraid to speak.

Alabama Power is a big company that employs thousands of Alabamians and for decades, it has been the foil of politicians, environmentalists and others.

Right now, Alabama Power’s employees are working tirelessly to keep the lights on for every citizen and business in the state.

Now is not a time for political grandstanding or seeking a fight where none truly exists.

Alabama Power has said it will not disconnect any customer or charge late fees and will work with those who need help once the crisis passes.

For now, “Always on” is a reassurance to every citizen who is out of work or struggling to make ends meet in this challenging time.

GASP and Energy Alabama may have a role to play, but during these trying times, we are better if we work together for our community and not our political causes.

Since publishing this article Alabama Power issued a more definitive statement view here. 

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | Stay calm, stop hoarding

Bill Britt

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Grocery shelves are empty, no milk, toilet paper or eggs, and even grass-fed beef that sells for nine-dollars a pound is gone.

But that’s not because there’s a lack of food, it’s because people are making panic-purchases and hoarding.

We are better than that.

“There’s plenty of food and plenty of things in the supply chain,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “And as long as customers just buy what they need and don’t hoard, there will be no problems at all – there’s plenty of food in the supply chain.”

Earlier this week, State Health Officer Scott Harris also urged Alabamians not to panic buy.

“First of all, just remember to be prepared, but there’s no advantage to being over-prepared,” he said. “There is no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of things other than temporarily for paper products, as we all know about, but we have no concerns or issues that people won’t be able to access food if they need it. I would say in any type of closure activity throughout the world grocery stores have been exempted from that. And it would be no different, in this state as well. Grocery stores have to remain open because people have to be able to access that food.”

While self-preservation is a basic human instinct, this is not a time to return to our baser nature.

But now is a time for those who profess faith to remember the words of the psalmist who said, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”

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There is food, but those who choose to purchase mass quantities of unneeded food and supplies are making it difficult for everyone who is on a tight budget or practicing restraint. There is no reason for anyone to buy more than they need, to do so is to ignore the idea of shared responsibility and community.

Grocery store workers are putting themselves on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle by assisting customers, stocking shelves and cleaning the facilities, a thankless job for the wages they earn. Over-buying places a heavier burden on those workers and also threatens their well-being while taxing the entire food pipeline.

Hoarding may help one family, but it will hurt many others. This is not the way Americans and Alabamians should behave.

Even in a time of social distancing, every citizen should remember they are apart of a broader community and not an island unto themselves.

Total stocks of chicken were up 12 percent from last year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Frozen pork supplies are 11 percent higher than last year and shares of pork bellies were up 32 percent from last January. There is plenty of American and Swiss cheese, but its caught in a supply chain that didn’t anticipate people losing their minds.

For example, total red meat supplies in freezers were up 5 percent from the previous month and up 3 percent from last year according to the USDA, but still, the meat aisles are empty because some people are buying more than they need.

Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S., has hired more than 2,000 workers in the last week to keep up with increased demand from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, is hiring 100,000 new workers to keep up with demand, especially for basics, like food and household supplies.

Kroger and Amazon are just two examples of companies stepping up, so that essential needs are being met.

Not hoarding is a way of respecting our neighbors and those who work in warehouses and grocery stores.

Indeed, it can feel like a gripping moment of uncertainty. Doing things that makes us feel safe is reasonable enough, but when it causes us to forget that we are all in this together, it leaves us all more vulnerable.

Self-sacrifice, a sense of shared burden, is the hallmark of a great society.

Anxiety, panic and fear are soul killers diminishing our ability to function much less contribute our talents and labor for the greater good.

We are better than our fears, so we can ride out this present storm with hope for tomorrow because tomorrow will surely come. In the meantime, stay calm and stop hoarding.

 

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