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Opinion | Notes on a theme: Nonsense

Montgomery, Alabama, USA with the State Capitol.

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Mammoth prison spending contract headed to contract review

The State of Alabama is entering into a contract to pay Wexford Health Sources Inc., nearly $400 million over the next two years to provide, “comprehensive healthcare including medical and mental health care and management services to state inmates,” according to figures supplied to Legislative Contract Review.

To be exact, $360,481,062.00 of state taxpayers’ money will need to be approved at Thursday’s Contract Review to pay for prison services.

Alabama Department of Corrections has thrown in with Wexford despite a lawsuit pending against the company in Mississippi. Wexford has been sued by the Mississippi attorney general, who is asking the company to repay $294 million it allegedly gained as a participant in a bribery scandal that led to criminal charges against Mississippi’s former prison commissioner and a former consultant for Wexford.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration has ignored Wexford’s troubled past and at the urging of ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn is moving forward with the Wexford contract.

While Contract Review is sometimes seen as a toothless tiger, it does have the power to hold the contract for 45 days, perhaps giving time for closer consideration of what’s at stake and what’s at risk.

No one has yet to explain the rush to sign Wexford or why Dunn is so keen on the company.

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What seems apparent is that while the Ivey administration is scandal adverse, it appears that Dunn — an appointee of disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley — is not.

Republicans on contract review who have primary opponents certainly want to see their Wexford vote in a campaign ad. “Millions spent on prisoners while working families struggle. Drain the Montgomery Swamp,” sounds like a cool commercial.

A mini ethics drama: Pants on fire

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton voiced his frustration to after Republican attorney general candidate, Alice Martin, a former state chief deputy attorney general and a former U.S. attorney, called him on a piece of legislation that would greatly enlarge his power as director of the ethics commission. As reported by Lee Roop of the Alabama Media Group, Martin said, of Senate Bill 267 if it was to become law, [It] “would grant massive new authority to a politically appointed commission that has often strayed from the law and had to be checked and challenged repeatedly by the Attorney General’s Office when I served as chief deputy AG.”

Anyone with even a remedial understanding of the state’s ethics law understands that Martin is right about SB267. She is also right that the ethics commission, if left unchecked, would make laws, create exceptions for their cronies and always bow to powerful lawmakers and lobbyists.

Where the real issues arose is when Albritton said that the bill was written by the Attorney General’s office, even indicating that Special Prosecution Divison Chief Matt Hart had drafted the bill. This is only accurate in so much as Albritton and the Ethics Commission did a cut and paste job on a bill which was written by the team that crafted SB343, which is the large ethics reform bill that now sits in the Senate.

SB267 is sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward who says that the bill as written was only partially developed by the AG’s office – the rest was crafted by Albritton and his staff.

Albritton replied to Martin’s comments are telling, “I am disappointed by the fact that she has now taken a piece of legislation about which there was uniform agreement not only from her own office, but also from our office as well as the Office of Prosecution Services (the DAs) and is distorting it for what can only be political gain.”

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In fact, there was never a vote taken by the Office of Prosecution Services on SB267, according to the group’s chief, Barry Matson. Matson says OPS members have not voiced any opposition to Albritton’s bill, but it has not received an up or down vote like SB343. Albritton’s statement has caused concern among several district attorneys and other justice officials.

Homeless-helper Steve to the rescue

Yellowhammer News and Todd Stacy’s blog this week reported on how Attorney General Steve Marshall came to rescue a homeless woman after the Republican Winter Dinner at the Renaissance in downtown Montgomery last weekend.

In a staff report — which generally means a report with information supplied by an outside source and published without attributing the actual writer — claims that, when “Marshall and a group of colleagues were walking back from the Alabama Republican Party’s dinner last Friday night in Montgomery, an apparently homeless woman asked the group for money.” Marshall came to the woman’s rescue by not giving her money as she had asked but, “[S]poke with the woman and then walked with her several blocks to a nearby homeless shelter.”

The nearest shelter being some 12 blocks away, Marshall and the unidentified woman must have enjoyed a pleasant stroll.

Also according to the report, “A bystander snapped a smartphone picture of the incident and sent it to Yellowhammer News.”

How handy that an unknown bystander just happened to document Marshall’s good Samaritan moment.

It’s a good thing the homeless woman wasn’t sexually assaulted by someone from Marshall’s office, or she might have ended up in a basement calling for help on a walkie-talkie.

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After woman’s “horrific” sexual assault, what did Steve Marshall do?

The report by Yellowhammer also included a reference to Matthew 25:35, which reads, “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in.”

Too bad Marshall didn’t heed that verse when dealing with sexual assault in his office.

Let’s just be thankful that on this occasion, Marshall had no political agenda as with a woman who he ignored and humiliated when she was sexually assaulted by another man while working in Marshall’s office. The homeless woman was truly fortunate – some are not so lucky.

Opinion | This is why women don’t come forward

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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