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Corruption

Opinion | Whose side is ADEM on?

Josh Moon

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Imagine this scenario: A thief calls the local police and tells them that he’s been stealing from local homes and businesses, and that he plans to steal more. He tells the cops when and where he’s been stealing, and when and where he plans on stealing from in the future. And the cops tell him that’s cool, and they do nothing.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Except, ADEM is actually worse than that.

On Wednesday evening, WHNT in Huntsville reported that 3M has, for years now, been dumping illegal chemicals, identified as PFSA, into the Tennessee River. And for many of those years, the company was reporting those illegal dumps to ADEM, which apparently ignored the reports or didn’t read them or simply didn’t care.

Honestly, we are to the point now that we’re probably worse off with ADEM than without. We should take the money that we’re apparently wasting on that staff and give it to the various Riverkeeper groups around Alabama. Hell, they find half of the problems, and provide much more honest and thorough reports, and do a much better job notifying the general public of problems than ADEM ever has.

Because the problems with ADEM go well beyond its continued cozy relationship with 3M, which has led to ADEM essentially being a non-participant in an ordeal that saw two counties stop drinking their tap water and a $28 million settlement hit the table.

ADEM has been an embarrassment for years now, and not just because it often misses or is late on serious environmental issues. It also has the infuriating tendency of serving as a sort of public relations arm of the offending companies.

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Whether it’s Drummond Coal in North Birmingham or Tyson Foods in Cullman County or 3M and several others in Decatur or … hell, pick a major corporation near any body of water in this state, you’ll find ADEM there to tell you why the pollution isn’t really as bad as it seems.

Just last week, after the Black Warrior Riverkeepers tested the Black Warrior River downstream from a Tyson wastewater “spill” and found dangerously high levels of E-coli bacteria, ADEM swooped in like an Alabama environmental Baghdad Bob to tell everyone that the water was actually safe.

Nothing to see here. Ignore the 175,000 dead and rotting fish.

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And yes, there were an estimated 175,000 dead fish from that “spill.” And I keep putting “spill” in quotation marks, because the word implies that an accident occurred and I’m not so sure it was an accident, because this makes the third time something like this has occurred at that plant.

The Cullman Journal interviewed people who live along the river and downstream from the plant, and they talked extensively of this awful “spill,” and how they watched 50-pound catfish surface and die and how they were worried about their pets who routinely drink from that water and how ADEM never warned them about the spill or told them what precautions to take.

Those people also talked of the old “spills,” in 2016 and 2015 and 2011. And the newspaper noted that ADEM had fined the plant, for all of those spills, the staggering sum of $19,000.

Which is probably less than what it would cost the plant to appropriately dispose of the waste it’s dumping.

But this is the way ADEM rolls.

Under its current leadership, with Lance LeFleur at the helm, ADEM has been far more concerned with businesses’ bottom lines than with the state of Alabama’s environment. To a literally sickening degree.

The height of its incompetence and culpability was exposed worst in the legal battles surrounding the North Birmingham superfund site. Documents and testimony showed how ADEM officials cozied-up to the state’s worst polluters, helping them to avoid stiff federal penalties and manage bad PR.

Alabama citizens should be lighting the torches and digging out their pitchforks. This is the environment we all claim to love and cherish — the rivers and lakes we fish and boat in, the woods we hunt in, the wild game we eat, the air our children breathe.

And the cops we pay to patrol that environment appear to have switched sides on us.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Corruption

Lake View mayor pleads guilty to ethics violation, resigns from office

Eddie Burkhalter

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Former Lake View Mayor Paul Calhoun

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday announced the conviction of former Lake View Mayor Paul Calhoun after he voted on a matter that benefited him personally, a violation of the state’s ethics law.

Calhoun, 45, pleaded guilty in Tuscaloosa County district court to voting on a matter in which he had a financial interest, according to a press release from Marshall’s office. 

The crime is a Class A misdemeanor, and as part of the guilty plea, Calhoun agreed to resign from office and not run again in the upcoming municipal election, according to the release.  

Calhoun was appointed mayor of Lake View in 2016, and was later elected to a four-year term. 

Calhoun, who was a voting member of the town’s council, voted “no” on a motion to order himself to repay the town for travel expenses incurred for unauthorized out-of-state travel expenses, according to the release.

His vote against the measure resulted in a tie that led to the failure of the motion’s passage. 

“Former Mayor Calhoun crossed the line when he violated state ethics laws for his personal benefit,” said Marshall. “We expect public officials to conduct themselves with integrity and when they do not, they will be held to account.”

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Calhoun’s sentencing date has not yet been set, and the conviction is punishable by up to a year in prison, a fine of up to $6,000 or both.

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Corruption

Birmingham building inspector arrested, charged with abusing office for personal gain

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Tuesday announced the arrest of a city of Birmingham building inspector charged in connection with soliciting and accepting a bribe in 2016, to approve a building inspection.

Thomas Edward Stoves surrendered to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office on Monday and was released on bond, according to a press release from Marshall’s office.

Stoves, 41, was working as a building inspector for the city’s Planning, Engineering and Permits office when in August 2016, he allegedly solicited and accepted $1,200 in exchange for approving a building inspection, Marshall’s office said in the release.

Stoves is charged with violating the state’s ethics laws by using his public position for personal gain, which is a class B felony and punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

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Congress

Voting rights activist calls for federal Department of Democracy

LaTosha Brown, a Selma native who co-founded Black Voters Matter, issued a statement saying that it is time to reimagine American democracy.

Micah Danney

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(VIA BLACK VOTERS MATTER)

The co-founder of an organization that is working to mobilize Black voters in Alabama and elsewhere used the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act on Thursday to call for a new federal agency to protect voting rights nationwide.

LaTosha Brown, a Selma native who co-founded Black Voters Matter, issued a statement saying that it is time to reimagine American democracy.

“The Voting Rights Act should be reinstated, but only as a temporary measure. I want and deserve better, as do more than 300 million of my fellow Americans,” Brown said.

The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the law in a 5-4 ruling in 2013, eliminating federal oversight that required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get approval before they changed voting rules.

“To ensure that the Voter’s Bill of Rights is enforced, we need a federal agency at the cabinet level, just like the Department of Defense,” Brown said. “A Department of Democracy would actively look at the patchwork of election systems across the 50 states and territories. With federal oversight, our nation can finally fix the lack of state accountability that currently prevails for failure to ensure our democratic right to vote.”

She cited excessively long lines, poll site closings and voter ID laws in the recent primaries in Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas as voter suppression techniques that disproportionately affect Black and other communities of color.

Brown said that the July 17 passing of Rep. John Lewis, who was nearly killed marching for voting rights in Selma in 1965, has amplified calls for the Voting Rights Act to be strengthened. That’s the right direction, she said, but it isn’t enough.

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“History happens in cycles, and we are in a particularly intense one. We have been fighting for the soul of democracy, kicking and screaming and marching and protesting its erosion for decades,” Brown said.

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Corruption

Arrest warrant issued for Rep. Will Dismukes for felony theft

Dismukes is charged with first-degree theft of property in connection with a theft that occurred at his place of employment between the years 2016 to 2018.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, has been accused of theft of property, a Class B felony. (WSFA)

An arrest warrant has been issued for Alabama State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, for felony theft from a business where he worked, Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey said Thursday.

Dismukes is charged with first-degree theft of property in connection with a theft that occurred at his place of employment between the years 2016 to 2018, Bailey said during a press conference.

Bailey said the charge is a Class B felony and levied when a person steals in excess of $2,500 and that “I will tell you that the alleged amount is a lot more than that.” 

“The warrant has just been signed, his attorney has been notified and we are giving him until late this afternoon to turn himself in,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the employer contacted the district attorney’s office with a complaint about the theft on May 20, and after reviewing bank records and interviewing witnesses, the decision was made to charge Dismukes with the theft. 

WSFA reported Thursday that the theft occurred at Dismukes’ former employer, Weiss Commercial Flooring Inc. in East Montgomery. Bailey did not provide any more specifics on the charge but said the employer signed the arrest warrant after countless hours of investigation on the part of the DA’s office.

While the charge stems from a complaint filed months ago, Dismukes been in the headlines recently and faced a torrent of calls for his resignation in recent weeks after posting to Facebook an image of himself attending a birthday celebration for the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

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The event was hosted by an individual with close ties to the League of the South, a hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In response, Dismukes stepped down from his post as a pastor at an Autauga County Baptist church but defiantly refused to step down from the Legislature.

If convicted of the felony, Dismukes would be immediately removed from his seat in the Alabama House, to which he was elected in 2018.

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In June, the Alabama Democratic Party called for his resignation over previous social media posts glorifying the Confederacy.

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