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Bentley to face Collier in unlawful termination trial

Bill Britt

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A breaking news story published by APR on March 1, 2016, exposed Gov. Robert Bentley’s attempt to cover up the firing of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier.  Nearly three years to the day after the Monday Massacre, Collier will have his day in court.

Monday Massacre at ALEA

Montgomery Circuit Judge Greg Griffin has set a March 4, 2019, trial date. Collier will face Bentley in his unlawful termination suit.

The Monday Massacre as it is known was part of Bentley’s scheme to accuse Collier of criminal wrongdoing as a pretense for his firing him a few weeks earlier.

Bentley and his alleged mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, along with others in the administration sought to paint Collier as a crook; however, a Montgomery Grand Jury cleared Collier of all the allegations leveled by Bentley and his cohorts.

Collier’s case against the former governor revolves around a claim of unlawful termination. Collier was fired from his position at ALEA after he refused Bentley’s order to lie in an affidavit to the court in former House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s trial. After his firing, Bentley’s paramour, Mason, and Collier’s replacement, Stan Stabler, launched a smear campaign against him.

In a nearly six-hour deposition, Bentley admits to most of the allegations brought by Collier, except he blames Collier’s replacement, Stan Stabler, for the dirty deeds.

Gov. Kay Ivey, rather than settle the lawsuit, has spent over $400,000 to defend the disgraced governor.

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With a trial date looming, the Ivey administration faces humiliation for defending Bentley as a jury trial will make public sorted tales of romance, revenge and dirty dealings during Bentley’s tenure.

“We are ready to go the trial,” Collier’s attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn, told APR on Monday. “We have a few more depositions to take, but we feel good about presenting the case to a jury.”

Few court observers understand why Gov. Ivey’s administration would spend public resources and political capital to defend Bentley when the state’s General Liability Trust Fund would cover Collier’s claim.

“This is not about the state defending itself,” said an Ivey insider. “This is about a vengeful governor [Bentley] and his girlfriend working to ruin a man’s life for doing his job.”

Not only did Bentley and Mason try to discredit Collier, they worked to ruin him, as noted in court findings. Additionally, the prolonged legal battle financed by the state has placed an extraordinary strain on Collier and his family.

Collier suffered a debilitating back injury during his state service which resulted in several back surgeries. Bentley’s lawyers have tried to use Collier’s back injury as a way to paint him as a drug addict, but court records show that instead of increasing pain medications, as with an abuser, Collier under doctor supervision has lowered his intake and dosage on pain medication.

Despite the evidence, lawyers paid by the Ivey administration have worked to smear Collier at every turn says a former administration official who has encouraged settlement.

The administration fought to protect Bentley, arguing executive immunity, but the court found that the immunity clause didn’t apply because Bentley’s retaliation against Collier fell outside of his official duties.

As APR‘s Josh Moon wrote in September, “Griffin’s decision to allow the case to move forward, and specifically rejecting the defense’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that Bentley was immune from prosecution.” As Moon observed, Griffin’s ruling recast Bentley’s position which means the state has no responsibility to cover Bentley’s legal fees.

Opinion | Maddox is right: The state shouldn’t pay for Bentley’s attorneys

Collier’s case will now test the limits of future governors’ immunity standing.

Judge Griffin also encouraged the parties to notify him if a settlement was reached before the trial date.

Indications within the Ivey administration are that reaching an agreement with Collier might be desirable but uncertain.

According to Collier’s attorney, he looks forward to facing his former boss before a jury of their peers.

APR reached out to Gov. Kay Ivey’s office and received no comment on the trial.

 

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Crime

Deadline extended for Alabama prison bids due to coronavirus

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced that because of the COVID-19, she’s giving a two-week deadline extension for submission of proposals to build then lease three new prisons to the state.

Those proposals had been due by April 30 but the two developer teams – Alabama Prison Transformation Partners and CoreCivic – will have until May 14 to file their proposals, according to a press release from Ivey’s office Tuesday.

The decision to extend the proposal submission deadline came after discussions with two groups about the impacts each are experiencing because of COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, according to Ivey’s office.

“I am steadfastly committed to the strategic effort to build three new men’s correctional facilities – this ‘Alabama solution’ is a direct result of our dedication to implement actionable solutions that address long-standing challenges facing our prison system,” Ivey said in a statement. “Given the unforeseen circumstances associated with COVID-19, it is in the best interest of the state of Alabama to grant this extension so that the developer teams have adequate time to perform required due diligence and to prepare thorough and thoughtful proposals.”

Ivey’s plan to build three new prisons is part of her solution for fixing the state’s overcrowded, deadly prisons, which remain under threat of a federal lawsuit if state officials don’t address what the U.S. Department of Justice has said are violations of inmates’ Constitutional rights to protection from violence and sexual assault.

Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said in a statement that the spread of COVID-19 “has only further demonstrated the critical need for new correctional facilities in Alabama.”

“As we have stated before, overcrowded conditions within the Department’s dilapidated facilities create increasingly challenging circumstances to ensure inmate and staff health and safety,” Dunn said. “The developer teams expressed the need for an extension – due to work and travel restrictions implemented in the wake of this national health crisis – and we fully supported the extension.  Improved prison infrastructure, increased staffing, and stronger rehabilitation programs will allow for transformational results.”

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Congress

Jones asks for faster COVID-19 emergency payments

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, asked the Treasury Secretary on Tuesday to expedite direct assistance payments to citizens amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Jones and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., expressed concern that CARES Act payments made through paper checks to some citizens would not be mailed until April 24. The senators asked that debit cards be mailed instead, thereby speeding up assistance.

“It is our understanding that payments made electronically can be distributed quickly, but the Internal Revenue System (IRS) must print paper checks and mail them separately. As a result, we encourage the Treasury Department to offer a targeted group of Americans the option of receiving their direct assistance payment on the Direct Express debit cards, which are used for other federal benefits like Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits,” the senators wrote.

“While a slight lag between Congressional action and the support arriving to workers is understandable, the Treasury Department must act expeditiously to get these funds to their intended recipients,” the letter continues.

The $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package includes payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. The first round of payments are likely to begin around April 13 and will be directly deposited into the accounts of those who filed taxes in 2018 or 2019.

Social Security beneficiaries who did not file taxes in recent years but who receive their benefits through direct deposit are to receive the emergency payments around 10 days after the first round of payments, also through direct deposit. Paper checks will then be mailed to other individuals.

The letter’s full text: 

April 7, 2020

The Honorable Steven T. Mnuchin

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Secretary of the Treasury

U.S. Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Secretary Mnuchin,

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included economic relief to Americans in the form of direct cash payments to provide support during this unprecedented public health and economic crisis. In order to provide this much-needed assistance directly and quickly, we request the Treasury Department utilize its Direct Express debit card as one method, at the option of the individual, for disbursing these payments as an alternative to paper checks.

We were alarmed by the Washington Post report on April 2, 2020, that “$30 million in paper checks for millions of other Americans won’t start being sent out until April 24, as the government lacks their banking information. And some of those checks won’t reach people until September.”[1] Americans should not have to wait five months to receive their checks.

While a slight lag between Congressional action and the support arriving to workers is understandable, the Treasury Department must act expeditiously to get these funds to their intended recipients. These direct assistance payments are aimed at assisting American workers in covering the cost of essentials household items, including rent and mortgage payments, outstanding bills, and food to feed their families.

It is our understanding that payments made electronically can be distributed quickly, but the Internal Revenue System (IRS) must print paper checks and mail them separately. As a result, we encourage the Treasury Department to offer a targeted group of Americans the option of receiving their direct assistance payment on the Direct Express debit cards, which are used for other federal benefits like Social Security and Veterans Affairs benefits.[2] Using debit cards could be limited to Americans eligible for this program not already signed up for direct deposit, have a bank account, or require a paper check.

As Americans across the country practice social distancing to contain the spread of COVID-19, we support delivering benefits automatically to as many people as possible and request that debit cards be offered as an option to distribute the assistance payment. Debit cards are a safer method of delivery than paper checks. Paper checks will force Americans to leave their homes to deposit the funds and can be a source of fraud. We appreciate your consideration of this request to keep Americans safe during these challenging times.

 

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Governor

Ivey awards $2.9 million for weatherization projects to assist elderly, low-income residents

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded 14 grants totaling $2.9 million to assist low-income and elderly residents with improvements to their homes to lower energy costs and improve home safety. 

The grants support Alabama’s Weatherization Assistance Program which provides funds to keep homes warmer in the winter and cooler in summer and makes them more energy efficient. The grants target the elderly, people with disabilities and low-income families with children.

“Alabamians on limited incomes, especially during these difficult times, can often struggle to buy medicine and groceries when having to pay high heating and cooling bills,” Gov. Ivey said. “These grants offer tremendous relief by providing weatherization measures that make vast differences in sealing homes against the elements and reducing energy costs.”

Qualified homes are assessed to determine the most cost-effective energy efficiency measures. Common improvements including installing insulation in attics, walls and floors; sealing air leaks around doors and windows; repairs and tune-ups to air-conditioning and heating units and replacing light bulbs with more energy-efficient bulbs.

The improvements also reduce the risk of fires and other home hazards.  

Grants are available in all 67 Alabama counties and work is managed through community action agencies and regional planning commissions.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants from funds made available by the U.S. Department of Energy.

 “ADECA joins with Gov. Ivey and these partner agencies to make the Weatherization Assistance Program the success it has been and will continue to be,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “The improvements make a lasting impact in reducing home energy costs for those in need.”

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Listed (geographically) are grant amounts, community action agencies responsible for the programs, the counties served and their telephone number. Applicants should contact those agencies.

  • $107,309 to Community Action Agency of Northwest Alabama (Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale) 256-766-4330
  • $171,342 to Community Action Partnership Huntsville/Madison and Limestone Counties(Limestone and Madison) 256-851-9800
  • $292,188 to Community Action Agency of Northeast Alabama Inc. (Blount, Cherokee, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Marshall and St. Clair) 256-638-4430
  • $217,595 to Community Action Partnership of North Alabama (Cullman, Lawrence, Marion, Morgan, Walker and Winston) 256-355-7843
  • $205,533 to Community Service Programs of West Alabama Inc. (Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Pickens, Sumter and Tuscaloosa) 205-752-5429
  • $388,664 to Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity(Jefferson) 205-327-7500
  • $171,872 to Community Action Agency of Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun and Cleburne (Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, Randolph and Talladega) 256-362-6611
  • $61,577 to Community Action Committee Inc. of Chambers-Tallapoosa-Coosa (Chambers, Tallapoosa and Coosa) 256-825-4287
  • $265,673 to Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission (Autauga, Chilton, Dallas, Elmore, Macon, Perry, Russell and Shelby) 334-262-4300
  • $106,277 to Alabama Council on Human Relations Inc. (Lee) 334-821-8336
  • $155,278 to Montgomery County Commission (through Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission) (Montgomery) 334-832-1210
  • $267,420 to Organized Community Action Program Inc. (Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lowndes and Pike) 334-566-1712
  • $297,008 to Mobile Community Action Inc.(Choctaw, Mobile and Washington) 251-457-5700
  • $192,264 to Community Action Agency of South Alabama (Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Marengo, Monroe and Wilcox) 251-626-2646

ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | Amid the coronavirus crisis, don’t forget the good people

Josh Moon

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Late last month, firefighters from Reece City — a small town on the outskirts of Gadsden — started knocking on every door in town, and handing those who answered a free meal. 

Every house got a good meal, purchased from one of Reece City’s restaurants, and the firefighters got a chance to ask everyone how they were doing and see if anyone needed help. Then, a few days later, everyone in town found out that they were getting a $28.20 break on their water bill — that’s the base rate for water service, which meant several town residents received a bill for zero dollars. 

The man behind the ideas for the food giveaway and water breaks, according to the Gadsden Times, which first reported the story, was Mayor Phil Colegrove. He was frustrated with the bickering in Congress over legislation to aid people dealing with COVID-19, and he was worried about his constituents, many of which were recently laid off from the Goodyear plant in nearby Gadsden. 

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Colegrove told the Times. 

That seems to be the prevailing thought behind a whole bunch of recent actions. 

In neighborhoods all around Alabama, there are teddy bears in windows and chalk drawings on driveways offering messages of hope. 

Those with a little spare time and some know-how are sewing face masks for nurses and healthcare workers, and for their friends and family members. My wife’s friend made three for us. Mine has Spiderman on it. My daughter’s has the “Toy Story” characters. 

Various groups have delivered more than 10,000 masks to healthcare workers around Alabama. 

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People are calling local restaurants and paying to have meals delivered to hospitals for the workers. Anonymously. 

In Muscle Shoals, “Operation Drumstick” is providing meals to out-of-work musicians. 

All across Alabama, locally-owned restaurants are partnering with local farmers to offer fresh produce, and in some cases, are even letting the farmers set up and sell their products in the restaurants’ parking lots. The same thing is happening in north Florida. 

In several towns across the state, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies are delivering meals to elderly shut-ins. 

In some towns, people have set up impromptu delivery services for the elderly and those more vulnerable to COVID-19. 

All across the state, anonymous food deliveries are showing up at hospitals and fire stations and police departments and sheriff’s offices. 

Several nurses from Alabama have dropped everything and traveled to New York to help with the country’s most severe — and most heartbreaking — outbreak of coronavirus. Others have traveled to the hardest hit areas of Alabama to lend a hand. 

Local news stations in the state have reported on at least five drive-by birthday parties for kids whose normal parties were cancelled because of the outbreak. And there was a 50-car parade in Foley for the 100th birthday of Charlene Anderson. 

I say all of this because it seems like maybe we all could use a reminder of just how good most people really are. Despite our differences and our preferences, at the end of the day, given the opportunity, most folks in this state — and around the country — will help each other. 

Doesn’t matter about your race. Doesn’t matter where you live. Doesn’t matter which god you worship. Doesn’t matter how you vote. 

And it hasn’t been just individuals, either. 

We can be cynics and look for the self-serving reasons behind them, but there are a whole bunch of major companies out there that have voluntarily gone above and beyond to help their customers. From cell phone carriers to car manufacturers to banks, it seems every company out there has a payment forgiveness program and a variety of other options to make life a tad less stressful during this time. 

I don’t know of a single public service company — gas, water, electricity — in this state that isn’t guaranteeing they won’t turn off service for late payments, and then work with customers in the future on payment plans that are manageable.

The state’s car manufacturers, including Hyundai, Toyota/Mazda and Honda, all guaranteed the pay for workers during recent work-stoppages.  

The Poarch Creek Indians and other casino owners in the state have guaranteed the pay of all salaried workers, even as the casinos sit empty and idle. 

Ashley Home Stores have pledged to provide 10,000 meals, purchased from local restaurants, and given to local community organizations. 

Even the politicians got something done, and a lot of it was directed at people who rarely get noticed in legislation — the working poor. 

The acts of selflessness and sacrifice — and I’m certain I have failed to mention many, many more — have been, if you actually stop and seek them out, overwhelming and reassuring. They bring hope and smiles in a time when both are in short supply. And they run counter to the notion that Americans are either selfish or indifferent to the suffering of their fellow man. 

Maybe no example better illustrates that than GianMarco’s Restaurant in Birmingham. Long considered one of the best restaurants in the state, GianMarco’s popularity hasn’t made it immune to the struggles of coronavirus. 

It has bills like all the other restaurants. It has staff to pay. And a couple of weeks ago, like with every other restaurant out there, the flow of cash basically stopped. 

And yet, earlier this week, GianMarco’s still managed to serve 150 of Birmingham’s homeless community. 

Just for a moment, sit and think about that — the kindness, the compassion, the sacrifice. Just to give another struggling human a few minutes of peace and a decent meal. 

It is very easy right now to get down, to allow the awfulness of this pandemic to overtake you, and to feel trapped by one terrible story after another. 

But it’s worth remembering two things: 1. This will end and life will return to normal at some point, and 2. There are a whole lot of good people out there who make life a little brighter and a little better, even in the worst of times. 

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