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Moore: “It’s about time” the 2017 special election is investigated

Brandon Moseley

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Former Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore responded to reports that Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was looking into media reports that a group used potentially illegal social media tactics to influence the 2017 special election, in which former Democratic candidate Doug Jones defeated Moore to win the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.

Marshall told reporters with the Washington Post that the disinformation campaign targeting Roy Moore’s Senate bid may have violated law. The news of the influence campaign was first reported by the New York Times earlier this month.

“It’s about time that state and federal authorities, as well as the general public, are becoming aware of the false and deceptive tactics used by the Democrat party and political operatives to influence the Alabama Senate election in 2017,” former Chief Justice Moore said in a statement. “It is curious that my former opponent Doug Jones, “Now” pretends to be ‘Outraged’ and calls for an investigation after the election, and Facebook suspends 5 accounts for ‘bad behavior.'”

Jones has said he was shocked when he read the report and has himself called for an investigation.

Jones “outraged” about Russian-style social media experiment during US Senate race

Marshall told the reporters that he was worried that the operation could have affected the closely fought Senate race.

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“The information is concerning,” Marshall said. “The impact it had on the election is something that’s significant for us to explore, and we’ll go from there.”

Marshall said that he first learned of the disinformation campaign called Project Birmingham through news reports over the past two weeks and that his office was beginning to gather information about the effort.

On Wednesday, internet billionaire Reid Hoffman apologized for donating $750,000 to the group, American Engagement Technologies, which is tied to the effort to discredit Moore and bolster Jones. Hoffman said on Wednesday that he did not know that the money was used for an illicit disinformation campaign.

According to the Times’ reporting, Democratic operatives created a fake website based on strategies first developed by Russian operatives, allegedly with ties to the Russian intelligence service, in the 2016 election to help elect Donald Trump.

A group of elite Democratic tech experts set up a fake conservative website that encouraged write-in votes instead of votes for Republican nominee Roy Moore. It also highlighted thousands of Russian-based bots beginning to follow the Moore social media pages.

One participant in the Alabama project, Jonathon Morgan, is the chief executive of New Knowledge, a small cyber security firm that wrote a scathing account of Russia’s social media operations in the 2016 election that was released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

An internal report on the Alabama effort, obtained by the Times, says explicitly that the firm “experimented with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.”

The project’s operators created a Facebook page on which they posed as conservative Alabamians, using it to try to divide Republicans and even to encourage write-in votes to draw votes from GOP nominee Roy Moore.

“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the report says.

Morgan said in an interview that he saw the project as “a small experiment” designed to explore how certain online tactics worked, not to affect the election.

Morgan said he could not account for the claims in the report that the project sought to “enrage and energize Democrats” and “depress turnout” among Republicans, partly by emphasizing accusations that Moore had pursued teenage girls when he was a prosecutor in his 30s.

“The research project was intended to help us understand how these kind of campaigns operated,” said Morgan. “We thought it was useful to work in the context of a real election but design it to have almost no impact.”

The Times report that the project had a budget of $100,000.  The project was so successful that some Republican groups, most notably the Alabama Young Republicans, withdrew their support for Moore during the election.

There is no evidence at this point that Jones sanctioned or was even aware of the social media project.

Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic operative who served as a top adviser to the Jones campaign, told reporters that he had noticed the Russian bot swarm suddenly following Moore on Twitter. But he said it was impossible that a $100,000 operation had an impact on the race.

Trippi said he was nonetheless disturbed by the stealth operation. “I think the big danger is somebody in this cycle uses the dark arts of bots and social networks and it works,” he said. “Then we’re in real trouble.”

“We did have suspicions that something odd was going on,” said Moore’s campaign manager Rich Hobson and that they complained to Facebook. “Any and all of these things could make a difference,” Hobson said. “It’s definitely frustrating, and we still kick ourselves that Judge Moore didn’t win.”

Jones called for an investigation in a phone call with reporters last week.

“I can tell you very simply, hell, I’m as outraged as everybody else about it,” Jones said. “I have railed about Russian interference in our election process ever since I started campaigning and during this first year in the Senate, and I think we’ve all kind of focused too much on just the Russians and not picked up on the fact that, you know what, some nefarious groups, whether they’re right or left, could take those same playbooks and start interfering with the elections for their own damn benefit. And I gotta tell you, I’m not happy about it.”

Jones said his team had “no idea” about any of the social media antics being played during the election.

“I will tell you this: I think the FEC and the Department of Justice should take a close look at this to determine whether or not any criminal laws were violated, and if so, prosecute them,” Jones added. “We have to kind of nip this in the bud. We should not encourage or allow to happen any group, regardless of who they are or maybe even well-intentioned, to do the kind of things that illegally interfere with the election process. That is my position. I feel very strong about it.”

The narrow election was the first time in a quarter century that Alabama sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

Moore said, “This problem must be addressed before the 2020 election if we are to preserve our Country. May God be with us!”

Elections

Gadsden voters choose an elected school board in local referendum

Brandon Moseley

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Gadsden voters voted Tuesday in favor of an elected school board.

The next Gadsden school board will be an elected board. Currently Gadsden has an appointed school board, where the City Council picks the members of the board school board.

Former state Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) sponsored legislation to allow the voters to decide on whether or not they want an elected board. Butler formerly served on the Etowah County School board which is elected. The Attalla School Board is also an elected board.

“I am very pleased that the elected school board referendum in Gadsden passed tonight by a better than 2 to 1 margin,” Butler said on social media. “I was confident in its passing because I know all parents want to be invested in their children’s education, and this allows every parent a voice. Next step is for talent from all walks of life to step up and run for a seat on the City of Gadsden Board of Education.”

1,244 voters voted in favor of an elected school board, while only 562 voted in favor of keeping an appointed board. The result were 68.9 percent in favor of the elected board to just 31.1 percent opposed.

Alabama has a mixture of school board arrangements. St. Clair County for example has an elected school board and an elected school superintendent. Leeds has an appointed school board and an appointed superintendent. Birmingham has an elected school board, which appointed the school superintendent. In St. Clair County the school board members and the superintendent run in partisan political races where most candidates go through the Republican or Democratic party primaries. In Birmingham, the school board candidates like the council candidates run in municipal elections and do not have to align with a political party.

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Original reporting by the Gadsden Times contributed to this report.

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Leeds voters resoundingly reject property tax increase

Brandon Moseley

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Leeds voters went to the polls Tuesday and overwhelmingly voted to reject a property tax increase.

This was a very highly controversial proposal from the beginning and ultimately voters decided that they were taxed enough already.

Leeds Mayor David Miller had said that the money would have been used for a new athletics complex at the high school, a new football stadium at Leeds High School, a new library, a senior center, city hall, and other improvements.

City officials claimed that two-thirds of the money would have gone to the city school system and one third to the city government.

The voters defeated the proposal 1506 to just 971. 60.8 percent of Leeds voters were opposed, while only 39.2 percent voted in favor of the proposal despite a well-funded effort to sway voters.  The vote No effort, however, was extremely active on social media.

The proposal would have raised property taxes by 9 mills. The owners of a $100,000 home would have to pay $90 more a year in annual property taxes. The owners of a $300,000 home would have been forced to pay an additional $270 a year.

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Mayor Miller promised before the referendum, “If the referendum passes, we will build what we have guaranteed to build. If not, we will build what we can as we can.”

When Leeds built a new high school four miles away from their old high school, which became a middle school they did not build a new football stadium. The Leeds Green Wave sports teams still play at the old fields, that date to the 1950s behind the middle school. After the failure of the referendum, they will continue to play at the old field for the foreseeable future.

Leeds is located east of Birmingham on Interstate 20. Approximately sixty percent of Leeds is in Jefferson County, almost thirty percent is in St. Clair County, and about ten percent in Shelby County. Leeds has a Bass Pro Shoppe store, the Grand River outlet mall, and has been the home of Lehigh Cement for over a hundred years.

While state legislators keep bringing bills authorizing tax increases, voters increasingly reject them. Tuesday’s failure of the Leeds property tax increase; follows recent rejections of tax increases by St. Clair County voters, Muscle Shoals voters, Baldwin County voters, and others.

State legislators are mulling an increase in fuel taxes to pay for more road projects.

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Former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis officially announces run for Montgomery mayor

Chip Brownlee

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Former U.S. Congressman Artur Davis has officially announced a run for Montgomery mayor.

He announced his decision in a video posted on Twitter Monday.

Davis has tried for the position before. He finished second in a five-candidate field in the 2015 mayoral race.

He said he will emphasize his own roots in Montgomery public education and his commitment to reviving the local school system, which includes 12 failing schools and has been the subject of an emergency state intervention.

“I know what the Montgomery school system used to be capable of achieving,” Davis said. “I used an education at traditional schools like Jeff Davis High and Dannelly as a springboard to win awards at Harvard and become a congressman by age 35. As Mayor, I will have one major mission: to build a community-wide coalition of our new school board, teachers, parents and businesses that will return Montgomery public schools to being a foundation to succeed anywhere in America.”

Opinion | What the next mayor needs

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Davis addressed the issue in an op-ed he authored in December 2018.

“The next mayor must join forces with the new school board to extricate the schools from the state takeover, a mismanaged event that creates the kind of uncertain chain of command that makes it impossible to attract a national caliber superintendent,” Davis wrote.

Davis was born and raised in Montgomery.

“I do agree that this city is on the edge of making history,” Artur wrote in 2018. “But the test for candidates is not how well we represent one community or satisfy that community’s insiders and gatekeepers. It is whether any of us has what it takes to make Montgomery a trendsetter in repairing failing schools and blighted neighborhoods and in forging a more prosperous, more equitable future.”

He spent 35 years of his life in the city, where he started his career as a federal prosecutor in Alabama’s Middle District.

He said his experience fighting crime will guide his approach to making Montgomery safer.

“I learned as a prosecutor that there are two kinds of criminal offenders,” Davis said. “First, the ones devoted to wrecking their own communities and who have no respect for their own neighbors. To take them on, we need to commit to a larger police force and an aggressive plan to confront gang violence and the rise in gun and property crimes. But there are also people in the criminal justice system whose lives can be turned around. I want Montgomery to become known as a model for finding work and dignity for ex-offenders who want rehabilitation.”

Davis served four terms as a congressman in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

Since 2015, he has also served as the executive director of the state’s civil legal aid program and as a policy consultant on issues including barriers to occupational licensing and criminal justice reform.

His wife is Tara Johnson Davis, who is a nonprofit executive running two homeless shelters in Montgomery.

The election will be held Aug. 27, 2019.

Montgomery County Commission President Eltron Dean and 25-year-old political newcomer Marcus McNeal have all announced plans to run. Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven read is also reportedly considering the option.

 

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Leeds votes Tuesday on a tax increase referendum

Brandon Moseley

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Leeds voters are going to the polls Tuesday to vote on whether or not to raise property taxes in order to finance a number of improvements to the city: including a new football stadium, new library, new city hall, senior center and other improvements.

This has been a highly controversial proposal with very vocal people on both sides.

“No one is trying to force the citizenry to impose an Ad Valorem increase not wanted by the majority. However, numerous requests for a new library, better senior facilities with added services, a meeting facility large enough to accommodate big events, suitable space for our police department, easily accessible downtown city hall and utility company offices and competitive sports facilities at our High School, have led to this offer to the citizens of Leeds of an opportunity to vote as to whether these items are of sufficient importance to a majority of voters to warrant a modest Ad Valorem increase,” Leeds Mayor David Miller said on social media.

“The City was in good financial shape when this administration took office and is in even better shape now,” Miller said. “The City has a large cash reserve for emergencies and revenue more than sufficient to make all bond payments, payroll etc., without this tax. This referendum is needed for new facilities, not day-to-day expenses. Our financial strength was recently certified by Standard and Poors of New York and our bond rating reconfirmed as “AA” (Double A), up from an A+ rating during the previous administration.”

“The City has stated long and often what the money would be spent for. In response to this claim, the City, however, not only listed the uses of the money in writing, but passed a resolution guaranteeing that the money would, as a minimum, be spent on a new City Complex located downtown on the block owned by the City across from Windstream,” Miller continued. “Only one Council member voted against providing this guarantee to the citizens. The facilities to be included in the complex were specified in the resolution and included a new library, senior center, gym, court/council space, large meeting space, convenient administrative offices for the BOE and Water Works and of course, City Hall administrative space. This will allow the Police Department to have much needed additional space when the City Hall admin. moves out of its present location. Likewise, the BOE also provided a specific, detailed listing of the sports facilities and programs to be provided. An additional beneficiary of the move will be the Leeds Outreach program, so vital to so many in our community. The additional space created by the departure of the senior center, court/council and workout equipment from the Civic Center will allow the Outreach to have much needed additional room. The City is also investigating repairs to the Civic Center to allow its use well into the future.”

“This administration is committed to building a new library as part of the Municipal Complex, if funded,” Miller stated. “Each citizen should vote his or her conscience, but base their decision on facts, not false allegations. If the referendum passes, we will build what we have guaranteed to build. If not, we will build what we can as we can.”

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The tax increase will be 9 mills. The owners of a $100,000 home can expect to pay $90 more in annual property taxes than they pay already. The owners of a $300,000 home can expect to pay an additional $270 a year.

City School Superintendent John Moore told WBRC Fox 6 TV that two thirds of the money will go to the city school system and that one third will go to the city government.

Opponents have questioned the need for a new football stadium, city hall, and many specifics in the plan. Others simply say that they are taxed enough and don’t want to pay any more.

Polls open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 7:00 p.m. Remember to bring a valid photo ID to the polls.

Leeds is located east of Birmingham on Interstate 20. Approximately sixty percent of

Leeds is in Jefferson County, almost thirty percent is in St. Clair County, and about ten percent in Shelby County. Leeds has a Bass Pro Shoppe store, the Grand River outlet mall, and has been the home of Lehigh Cement for over a hundred years.

Tax votes, even tax votes for schools, have not done well in Alabama in recent years. Many spectators in Montgomery are watching how this tax increase effort, which has been well financed and well led, performs with the voters.

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Moore: “It’s about time” the 2017 special election is investigated

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