Former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier in August asked a Montgomery Circuit Court to compel disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley to disclose his personal knowledge about donations made to the non-profit, ACEGOV.
Bentley’s state-funded legal team replied to Collier’s motion saying it is part of a, “new, unfounded conspiracy theory,” in its Friday filing asking to court to deny Collier’s request.
Known in political circles as the ‘Girlfriend Fund,” because it paid money to Bentley’s alleged girlfriend, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, ACEGOV is a 501(c)(4) set-up in Feb. 2015, by Bentley’s then-General Counsel Cooper Shattuck to promote Bentley’s political agenda.
Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration continues to pay tens of thousands in legal fees to protect Bentley in his lawsuit with Collier.
A team of lawyers from Maynard Cooper & Gale, led by Harvard educated attorney, John C. Neiman Jr., represent Bentley with the state footing the ever-growing legal bill.
Neiman, who was part of the legal team that worked to overturn portions of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County V. Holder. Neiman is one of Bentley’s staunch defenders telling those close to the case that he will spend every dollar in the state’s legal fund before he sees Collier receive any payment for his wrongful termination.
It has also been reported that Neiman threatened to ruin Collier personally if he continued his lawsuit against Bentley. This type of hardball defense was not always Ivey’s posture.
Over a year ago, when it became clear that Ivey would replace Bentley as governor, a member of Ivey’s inner-circle approached Collier with a suggested promise of a resolution. However, since taking office, Ivey’s administration has spent hundreds of thousands to defend Bentley.
The administration is not forthcoming with exact figures paid to Birmingham-based Maynard Cooper & Gale for Bentley’s defense, and the money is difficult to track as some of the funds seem to be coded under unusual classifications. According to a former administration official, Ivey’s team ignores or slow-walks “inconvenient” press requests hoping that a reporter will become distracted or move on to another job.
Why Ivey changed her position on a resolution with Collier is unknown, but those close to the lawsuit believe certain individuals and companies that supported ACEGOV don’t want to suffer the humiliating blowback from their names being exposed by Collier’s lawsuit.
Collier was fired from his position at ALEA after he refused to follow Bentley’s order to lie to prosecutors in the Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard criminal case.
Neiman in his most recent filing implies that Bentley’s order for Collier to lie to the prosecution was not improper. “It is undisputed that Collier ignored that [Bentley’s] request and thereby injected the Governor’s office into the Attorney General’s prosecution of the Speaker of the House.”
Neiman also claims, “Collier had conducted an inadequate investigation of the allegations Collier had proposed to discuss in his affidavit.”
Collier’s firing grew out of actions taken by Hubbard’s attorney Lance Bell, who in January 2016, contacted ALEA to arrange for attorney and radio host Baron Coleman to issue a complaint accusing prosecutor Matt Hart of leaking grand jury information. Bell’s actions are recounted in an affidavit by Hal Taylor, current ALEA Secretary.
Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker III, who presided over Hubbard’s trial, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals have both rejected Neiman’s argument.
Not only does Collier’s lawsuit raise questions about the state’s choice of representation; it also unearths a long suspected question as to why Gov. Ivey would go to such great lengths to protect Bentley.
Collier is asking the court to compel Bentley to identify donors he solicited to fund ACEGOV or those who contributed to the fund of which he has personal knowledge. It is widely suspected that a who’s who of business owners and corporate entities funded the non-profit to curry favor with Mason, who was Bentley’s close advisor.
Suggested payoffs to news outlets and radio talk show hosts for favorable coverage of the Bentley administration is also believed to have been part of ACEGOV’s secret mission.
According to Bentley’s state-funded legal team, “Collier’s motion makes baseless assertions that are not supported by the evidence.”
Perhaps the bigger question being asked in Montgomery is why is the Ivey administration so doggedly defending Bentley instead of putting the matter to rest?
Ainsworth returns to work after testing positive for COVID
Ainsworth’s office on Sept. 21 announced he had tested positive earlier that week, having been tested after someone in his Sunday school class tested positive for the disease.
Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Wednesday announced that he was returning to work that day and had met public health requirements for quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19 some time last week.
Ainsworth’s office on Sept. 21 announced he had tested positive earlier that week, having been tested after someone in his Sunday school class tested positive for the disease.
“While many have battled with coronavirus, my symptoms never progressed beyond some mild congestion that I usually experience with seasonal allergies,” Ainsworth said in a statement. “During the quarantine period, I participated in several Zoom calls, caught up on some office work, spent some quality time with my family, and completed a number of overdue projects on my farm.”
Members of Ainsworth’s staff who were in close contact with him haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 but will remain in quarantine for a full 14-day period as a precaution, according to a press release from Ainsworth’s office Wednesday.
“Ainsworth once again urges all Alabamians to practice personal responsibility, which may include wearing masks, maintaining social distancing whenever possible, and taking other precautions to lessen chances of exposure to COVID-19,” the press release states.
Ainsworth still disagrees with Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask mandate, he said. According to the release, he considers such orders “a one-size-fits-all governmental overreach that erodes basic freedoms and liberties while removing an individual’s right to make their own health-related choices.”
The wearing of cloth or medical masks has been proven to inhibit the spread of COVID-19 and the more people who wear masks, the better. While not perfect, masks limit the spread of respiratory droplets that may contain infectious virus shed from the nose and mouth of the mask wearer.
It is possible — even likely — for symptomatic, pre-symptomatic and mildly symptomatic people to spread the virus. That’s why it’s important to wear a mask even when you’re not sick.
Cloth masks offer only minimal protection from others who are not masked, meaning that masks are not simply a matter of personal safety but safety of others. Masks are also only effective when worn over both the mouth and the nose. [Here’s a guide on how to wear masks properly.]
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told Ivey after she announced the statewide mask order that it was a “brilliant” idea. The order has been credited by Alabama infectious disease experts as having dramatically reduced the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the weeks after the order went into effect.
Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told APR on Tuesday that from personal observation he is seeing more people not wearing masks, or wearing them improperly, and said the state could dramatically reduce the risk of COVID-19 if the public regularly wore masks and wore them properly.
Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday crossed the 1,000 mark for the first time since Aug. 31 — a sign that Alabama may be headed for another peak in hospitalizations as the state prepares for winter and flu season.
Faith in Action Alabama calls on law enforcement to protect voters from harassment
“In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.”
Nine clergy members from across the state have signed an open letter calling on local and state law enforcement to protect voters against intimidation and harassment at the polls.
The clergy are leaders in Faith in Action Alabama, a regional association of Christian congregations affiliated with the national group Faith in Action, the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the country. It seeks to address a range of issues like gun violence, health care, immigration and voting rights.
This is their letter:
Across our country and here in Alabama, it is being seen that citizens are turning out in record numbers to vote early and by absentee ballots. It is very heartening to see so many of our fellow citizens energized and committed to exercising that most fundamental and critical duty of citizenship, the use of their franchise. As servant leaders of an ecumenical association of nearly 2,000 faith communities across our state we are certainly encouraging our congregants to fulfill this duty either through early, absentee or day of election voting. For us this is not only part of our civic duty, but as people of faith obligation as well.
Unfortunately, it it also largely known that there are forces in our country that are actively, publicly and fervently at work to suppress the votes of some of our fellow citizens. We write to implore you to use the full authority of your office and department to ensure that those who seek to vote, especially on November 3, 2020 are not assailed or intimidated by illegal harassment in their polling places. We believe these threats are pervasive enough and real enough that proactive measures should be in place as citizens come to vote throughout that day. The strong, visible presence of uniformed legitimate law officers will hopefully prevent any attempts at confrontation or intimidation and violence.
The history of our state is marked by the efforts of tens of thousands of Alabamians who marched, protested, brought legal actions, shed their blood and some even gave their lives that every citizen of this state might have full and free access to the ballot box. In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.
Please be assured of our prayers for you and the men and women of your department who have the awesome responsibility of providing public safety and equal protection under the law for every Alabamian. If we, the members of Faith in Action Alabama’s Clergy Leadership Team, can be of assistance please do not hesitate to call upon us.
Rev. Jeremiah Chester, St. Mark Baptist Church, Huntsville
Rev. David Frazier, Sr., Revelation Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile, and Moderator, Mobile Baptist Sunlight Association
Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
Bishop Russell Kendrick, Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast
Bishop Seth O. Lartey, Alabama-Florida Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
President Melvin Owens, Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention
Bishop Harry L. Seawright, Ninth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
Dr. A.B. Sutton, Jr., Living Stones Temple, Fultondale
Father Manuel Williams, C.R., Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South, Montgomery
Report: Alabama’s Black Belt lags behind state in economic prospects
Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.
It took Marquis Forge five years and 18 banks before he and his partner were able to open their company, Eleven86 Water, in Autauga County, just north of the Black Belt, and a report released Tuesday shows how Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.
Forge, a former University of Alabama football player, told reporters during a briefing Monday that he considers Autauga County, which borders the Black Belt’s Lowndes County, part of the Black Belt, and said it shouldn’t have been so difficult to access the capital needed to start a business.
The report released Tuesday by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center titled “Black Belt manufacturing and Economic Prospects” is the last in the center’s Black Belt 2020 series, and found that only four of the state’s 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the center, are above the statewide average of 22.4 businesses per 1,000 residents, and just one, Montgomery County, was above the 2018 statewide average of personal income of $43,229.
Researchers also found that just three Black Belt counties are above the state’s average in gross domestic product being produced by counties of $45,348.
“To achieve Governor Ivey’s ambitious goal of 500,000 a million more Alabama workers with skills by 2025, all hands have to be ‘on deck.’ It will require higher labor force participation rates, particularly in the Black Belt, where the average is 20 points below the statewide average,” said Stephen Katsinas, director of the university’s Education Policy Center and one of the authors of the report.
“Due to smaller economies of scale, our approaches to education, workforce development, and community building will have to be different to reach Alabama’s Black Belt,” Katsinas continued. “In the longer term, we first must define the Black Belt, because you can’t measure what you can’t define. Then we must do what West Alabama Works is doing–go where the people are to bring hope by connecting them to a well-aligned lifelong learning system that makes work pay.”
Donny Jones, COO of Chamber of Commerce West Alabama and Executive Director of West AlabamaWorks, told reporters Monday that one of the keys to helping the Black Belt will be helping state and Congressional legislators understand the nuances of rural Alabama.
Jones said the state should look at how colleges are graded, and that many smaller colleges don’t get credit for putting students through programs that get them short-term certificates that lead to jobs.
“Those are some of the things on the statewide level that we can really start to work on,” Jones said, adding that they’ve already begun teaching modern manufacturing in Black Belt high schools that gives students college credits toward an associates degree while still in high school.
“I think that’s very important for individuals to understand the impact that we can have in our higher ed and our K-12 system, really works hand in glove to move the needle for workforce development,” Jones said.
Jim Purcell, State Higher Education executive officer of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, told reporters that it’s also important to look at one’s own community and identifying what is “unique and special,” and said he was recently in Autauga County, where he is from, and bought two cases of Eleven86 Water because he remembered how good the water there was.
“I think that’s what you’ve done, is you’ve taken the gift that Autauga’s environment has and enhanced it, so that the people can benefit from it,” Purcell said to Forge. “I think that’s the key.”
Asked what he’d tell state legislators to spur them to make changes so that other entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to struggle as hard as he did to open a business, Forge said he would ask for a clearer path for assistance.
“Instead of digging down through a tunnel with a spoon I would have someone outline the tracks on getting funds and assistance from local, state and the national level, because there are funds out there,” Forge said.
After going to 18 banks to get the financing he needed, he still had to liquify all his assets to make it happen, Forge said.
“How many people are going to do that?” he asked. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”
To read all of the Education Policy Center’s reports on Alabama’s Black Belt, visit here.
Zeta is a hurricane again
Zeta currently has sustained winds of 85 mph. On its current course it will make landfall at Southeast Louisiana or the Mississippi Coast late this afternoon and move through Alabama tonight.
Zeta is continuing its path toward the Gulf Coast, and it is strengthening. Zeta is now a hurricane again and is forecast to be a category two hurricane when it comes ashore this evening.
“As expected, #Zeta is strengthening as it moves across the Gulf of Mexico,” the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency warned. “The windfield extends nearly 150 miles and we will begin to see impacts such as tropical winds, rain, rip currents and dangerous surf, as well as storm surge in Baldwin County.”
Zeta currently has sustained winds of 85 mph. On its current course, it will make landfall along southeastern Louisiana or the Mississippi coast late this afternoon. It should move through Alabama tonight.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama state line including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and metropolitan New Orleans.
According to the NOAA, hurricane conditions are expected there this afternoon, with tropical storm conditions beginning later this morning.
Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion. Damaging winds, especially in gusts, will spread well inland across portions of southeastern Mississippi and southern Alabama this evening and tonight.
A Storm Surge Warning is in effect from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Navarre Florida including Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, Pensacola Bay and Mobile Bay.
“If you live in a low-lying area you should evacuate before dark on Wednesday evening to a safer place,” warned Congressman Bradley Byrne, addressing Mobile and Baldwin County residents. “If you live on higher ground in southwest Alabama please make your plans Wednesday to be wherever you plan to spend the night by dark Wednesday evening and do not leave until daylight Thursday as we will experience tropical storm force winds and 2-4 inches of rain which could cause flash flooding, downed trees or downed live power lines. This storm should pass through our area rapidly and be gone early Thursday. Let’s all pray that this is the last storm of this hurricane season.”
ABC 33/40 television meteorologist James Spann said on social media, “We will deal with periods of rain today with temperatures in the 70s; the main wind and rain associated directly with Zeta will come tonight, and there is potential for a high impact wind event for much of the state.”
Storm surge predictions have risen since yesterday. Under current forecasts, Zeta is expected to bring a storm surge of six to nine feet for Dauphin Island. The storm surge will be four to six feet in Mobile Bay, and three to five feet for the Baldwin County shore towns of Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to the Florida line.
Wind gusts in Mobile and Baldwin counties could be as much as 70 miles per hour. Isolated tornadoes are a possibility as this powerful storm system moves through the state of Alabama.
Because the storm is moving so fast, it should not produce as much torrential rain as a slower moving storm, reducing the flooding risk; however, that fast speed means that it won’t lose a lot of strength as it moves through the state, thus tropical storm winds could be experienced well inland.
Most of Alabama should get 1 to 3 inches of rain. The combination of heavy winds and heavy rains could weaken the root systems of trees meaning there is a possibility of losing power tonight. Citizens should check their emergency kits and make sure that they have flashlights, batteries, radios and fully charged phones in case they are needed tonight.
The Mobile County Emergency Management Agency is asking that people who live on the coast or in flood-prone areas to evacuate before tonight. Shelters have been set up in Mobile County including a medical needs shelter.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has set up a shelter for livestock evacuating the area at the Alabama A&M Agribition Center in Huntsville.
Sandbags are available at the Baldwin County Commission office in Robertsdale. There is a limit of 25 bags per person while supplies last.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has declared a state of emergency.
Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia Counties were declared a natural disaster area after Hurricane Sally slammed into the state last month. Many areas are still in the process of cleaning up from that storm.