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Legislature

Russian expat hires Poarch Creek’s lobbyist to hawk legislation to monitor contractor’s work

Bill Britt

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A former Russian banker’s company is now offering software to the state that would take screen captures of contractor PCs at least once every three minutes and also track keystrokes and mouse activity.

Poarch Creek’s lobbyist, Barton & Kinney, LLC, is pushing legislation similar to that being hawked in New Jersey and 20-plus other states that would require any company doing at least $100,000 worth of work for a state to “use software to verify that all hours billed for work under the contract for services performed on a computer are eligible charges.”

Barton & Kinney, LLC, comprised of former Republican Rep. Jim Barton and Phillip and Allison Kinney has become a powerhouse lobbying firm based on their relationship with Poarch Creek’s Vice President Robbie McGhee. McGhee and the Kinneys have been nearly inseparable during past legislative sessions. However, this year McGhee has only shown his face at the State House on rare occasions when the tribe has felt its gaming monopoly was being threatened.

The lobbying outfit now represents TransparentBusiness, Inc, which is pressing state lawmakers across the nation to pass legislation that would demand the type of monitoring software it offers.

The company was founded by Alex Konanykhin, a Russian national who, according to his Wikipedia profile, was granted political asylum in the United States in the early 2000s.

Russian Time Magazine reported that Konanykhin was considered one of the most wealthy and influential men in post-Soviet Russia. They said, “You could call him an oligarch, or a genius.”

Alex Konanykhin – KGB most wanted makes it big in the tech world

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Konanykhin told Russian Time Magazine, “I want to conquer the world like GOOGLE did.”

Alabama’s Chief Information Officer Jim Purcell doesn’t like the notion either, telling Statescoop, “It’s a bad idea all the way around. It assumes that only interaction with your computer is billable time. If you’re not moving your mouse or typing your keys, you’re not working. That’s a very 19th-century approach to work.”

Nationwide lobbying push for contractor monitoring software alarms state CIOs

A presentation video by TransparentBusiness states, “Managers cannot even be sure if their telecommuters are working or golfing.”

Again, Purcell tells Statescoop this is a fallacy that begins with a false premise.

“It assumes a standard that isn’t true, which is that contractors are screwing the states by over-billing,” said Purcell. “But that’s a management problem. I don’t need a key-logger and a mouse-tracker to know if they’re working or not.”

UK-based The Register reported, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine not a boot stamping on a face, but keystroke logging on gov’t contractors’ PCs.”

TransparentBusiness says its tracking software will, “Save your state tens of millions of dollars with zero cost and zero risk.”

Purcell calls it, “[C]rony capitalism at its worst.”

But Purcell is not the only IT specialist that has problems with the monitoring platform.

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers was so alarmed at the proposed legislation that it issued a rare public statement.

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers, which represents state CIOs, opposes state legislation which would mandate contractor monitoring software because of the significant risks to citizen privacy and federal regulatory compliance concerns it could create.”

NASCIO also cites concerns over, “the potential for unintended consequences, such as impacting a state’s cybersecurity insurance policy coverage.” The organization further sees a serious risk a citizens’ private data becoming public.

NASCIO says it doesn’t support, “legislation that could serve to increase or introduce additional risk.”

Correction: In the original article, APR quoted a state senator, which TransparentBusiness, Inc., took issue with his comment.

The senator’s quote as printed by APR was never meant to imply that TransparentBusiness, Inc., was engaged in anything other than legitimate contractor monitoring.

TransparentBusiness, Inc. system is employed by states including, most recently, New Jersey to optimize productivity.

According to the company’s website, TransparentBusiness’, “platform is designed to help our clients increase freelancer productivity, protect client budgets from overbilling, allow coordination and monitoring of their work force, and provide real-time information on the cost and status of all tasks and projects.”

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Marsh’s budget hearing compared to revenge porn

Bill Britt

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has scheduled a general fund budget hearing for early July — purportedly to prepare for the 2021 Legislative Session that begins in February.

But that is not the real reason for the budget hearing, according to Senate insiders who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid provoking Marsh. The actual purpose of public hearings, according to multiple sources, is to try to find a way to embarrass Gov. Kay Ivey.

In a press release from his office, Marsh says the budget meetings will focus on funding prison reform and rural broadband.

However, an agenda circulated for a July 9 budget committee meeting obtained by APR makes no mention of broadband and focuses entirely on the Ivey administration’s spending.

In the press release, Marsh said that the budget hearing is needed to address “a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal.”

But according to the Governor’s Office and published reports about Ivey’s prison reform plan, there is no mention of a $2 billion proposal as Marsh claims.

He also states that the other reason for the hearings is to address “a stunning lack of rural broadband investment.” However, broadband is not an item on the agenda.

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Marsh’s enmity toward Ivey was on full display in the days after the governor revealed his “Wish list” in May, to spend federal relief money on a variety of projects only vaguely related to the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to those who regularly interact with the Senate, he is still angry that Ivey exposed his plan to appropriate nearly $1.9 billion in federal relief money to finance pet projects, which included spending $200 million on a new State House.

The money the state received under the CARES Act was to be allocated to shore up business, citizens’ interests and institutions ravage by the shutdown due to the spread of COVID-19.

First, Marsh denied the existence of a “wish list,” then he said Ivey asked for it, and finally, he took ownership of the list and said he thought $200 million for a new State House is a “good idea.”

For weeks after the debacle, Marsh aided by some Senate Republicans tried to spin what happened without success.

Marsh had also wanted to use $800 million in CARES Act funds to build out rural broadband and had reportedly hoped to use the budget meeting to push his broadband plan forward.

Ivey blocked his plan to use CARES Act funds for pork projects and convinced the Legislature to reject Marsh’s preferred budget in favor of Ivey’s executive amendment.

“First Ivey made him look greedy and foolish and then she turned most of the Legislature against him,” said one of APR‘s sources.

Recently, Ivey was once again a step ahead of Marsh when just days after he announced his July budget hearings to consider broadband expansion, Ivey released her plan to spend $300 million on rural broadband, stealing his thunder.

According to APR‘s Senate sources, Ivey’s latest move was another blow to Marsh’s ego.

“Del, [Marsh] has power, but he’s never had to deal with a governor who knows how to counter him,” said another Senate insider.

Another regular observer of Marsh said, his latest move to hold budget hearings is akin to “revenge porn.”

“She dumped him, and now he wants to get even, sounds a lot like revenge porn to me,” the source said.

At the July hearing, Ivey Administration officials will be questioned on CARES Act spending, budgets for the department of corrections and pardons and parole.

Finance Director, Kelly Butler, will testify to what CARES funds have been spent and what remains.

ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn will be queried on several issues, including hiring, overtime pay, prison construction, and Holman prison’s status and personnel.

Pardons and Paroles Commissioner, Charles Graddick, will face the committee to discuss personnel costs, equipment purchases with an “emphasis upon computers, software, vehicles, office furniture and other substantial expenditures,” according to the document.

Lastly, the committee will question Personnel Department Director, Jackie Graham, to give an account for DOC and ABP&P personnel growth plans.

While it is wholly within the Legislature’s purview to approve and exercise oversight of government spending, this is not what the budget hearings are about according to APR’s sources.

According to several Senate insiders and others with knowledge of Marsh’s thinking, this is a move to paint Ivey’s administration as “out of control on spending.”

“This is a trap Marsh hopes to use for PR, but what if there’s nothing to see, how does he spin it,” asked an individual with close ties to the administration. “She’s kicked his tail before; she’ll likely do it again,” the source said.

 

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House

Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.

In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.

“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”

“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”

The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.

 

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Governor

Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19

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A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.

The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.

All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.

In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.

Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.

 

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Legislature

Alabama Democrats call for Rep. Will Dismukes to resign over support for Confederacy

Eddie Burkhalter

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Updated at 8 p.m. to include a response from Rep. Will Dismukes.

The executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party on Friday called for the resignation of a Republican state representative over his support for the Confederacy, Confederate monuments and his membership in a local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter. 

The Alabama Democratic Party — in a statement released Friday — said that Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Pratville, is receiving criticism for his support of the lost Confederate cause and “as elected officials of all stripes seek to move Alabama forward, Dismukes is stuck in the past.” 

“Rep. Dismukes, Chaplain of the ‘Prattville Dragoons: Sons of Confederate Veterans,’ was recently praised in the group’s newsletter as being representative of the Confederacy’s ‘Godly heritage,'” the press release states.

“We need elected officials who work for a better tomorrow for all Alabamians,” said Wade Perry, executive director of Alabama Democratic Party, in a statement.  “That should go without saying. If little Will wants to play dress-up and pretend to fight for the lost cause, he should resign. His job is to pass laws that help Alabamians, not honor folks who fought to preserve the institution of slavery.”

Dismukes in a Facebook post later on Friday addressed the call for his resignation, and said he’d neither resign nor apologize for the photo in which he was standing in front of the American and Confederate flags.

“I will release an official statement tomorrow. No worries I’m not resigning because the Democratic Chairman requested my resignation. I also will not be apologizing over a picture in front of the flags nor being chaplain of my local SCV camp which is listed as a heritage group by the SPLC,” Dismukes wrote in his post. “We have enough people caving to the communist left. For the love of life it’s time for people to stop being so sensitive and apologetic and take a stand before our country is Gone with the Wind. This is way bigger than history and monuments. Deo Vindice.”

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Dismukes’s use of the phrase “Deo Vindice” — in his post Friday, and in other posts on his social media — is notable. The phrase was selected by the Confederacy as a motto, and translates to “God will vindicate,” according to the Museum of American History.

In an interview on WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Dismukes was critical of a recommendation by House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, to stop using tax money to fund the Confederate Memorial Park in Chilton County.

The Alabama Historical Commission receives about $600,000 annually to run the park, according to Al.com. 

“I think he’s dead wrong. I don’t think it would be a wise decision for our state to move in that direction,” Dismukes said during the program, as quoted by Yellowhammer News.

In a Facebook post on June 14, Dismukes called for more funding for the Confederate Memorial Park.  “No chance we stop funding the State Park!!! This will not happen on my watch,” he wrote.

“We technically give a small portion of what is actually supposed to go towards the park. If anything we should give more to the park and ensure our history is preserved,” Dismukes wrote in the post. 

In an April 27 Facebook post, Dismukes refers to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression.” In several other Facebook posts, he references and quotes the national motto of the failed Confederacy, “Deo Vindice.”

In another Facebook post, Dismukes is seen standing in front of a Confederate flag, wearing a shirt with a Confederate flag patch while celebrating “Confederate Flag Day.”

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, protests against police brutality have resulted in calls for policies to address systemic racism and for Confederate monuments to come down, and across the South and in Alabama many have already been removed. Monuments in Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery have come down. 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation on Thursday released a statement calling for the removal of Confederate monuments, most of which the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit said “were intended to serve as a celebration of Lost Cause mythology and to advance the ideas of white supremacy.” 

“Many of them still stand as symbols of those ideologies and sometimes serve as rallying points for bigotry and hate today. To many African Americans, they continue to serve as constant and painful reminders that racism is embedded in American society,” the nonprofit said in a statement.

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