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Ivey awards grants to provide high-speed internet to several communities

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has awarded more than $1.14 million in grants to provide access to high-speed internet in several Alabama communities.

The six grants are the second round of awards presented by Ivey under the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund. In the latest round, some providers were awarded more than one grant to provide service in different areas.

“Alabama’s rural residents not only want but need to be on a super highway when it comes to technology,” Ivey said. “Access to high-speed internet in our rural areas will open the way to improved educational opportunities, economic development projects and better health-care services. I am very proud to award these grants to expand access to affordable high-speed internet in these communities.”

The fund was created by the Alabama Legislature and signed into law by Ivey in March 2018, to provide high-speed internet in underserved communities.

The Broadband Accessibility Fund provides grants for service providers to supply high-speed internet services in unincorporated areas or communities with 25,000 people or less. Under the law, the awards cannot exceed 20 percent of the total cost of a project.

“Gov. Ivey has led the way to improve rural Alabama on many issues, none more important than connectivity to technology. Alabama is committed to improving our rural areas,” said Rep. Randall Shedd.

“Access to broadband is a request that almost every large-scale employer makes when choosing a site within our state,” said Economic developer Nicole Jones. “As a response to the growing need for connectivity, in March 2018, Gov. Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act into law, which authorized the creation of a broadband accessibility grant program. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Clay Scofield and Rep. Donnie Chesteen, created the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund. This is a great start to achieving the goal of accessibility in all areas of Alabama.”

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The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is responsible for administering the Broadband Accessibility Fund.

“Like public water and sewer services, high-speed internet is an important piece of infrastructure that people, especially in urban areas, can take for granted,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “Providing these services in rural communities improves lives, and ADECA is proud to be a part of this important process.”

“Many rural counties do not initially have the tax base or level of population to fund the infrastructure needed for high-speed internet,” Jones said. “The Broadband Accessibility Fund provides financial assistance in the form of grants for service providers to supply high-speed internet services in rural areas with 25,000 residents or less. Under the law, awards shall not exceed 20 percent of the total project cost.”

Roanoke Telephone Co. Inc. was awarded $79,239 for coverage in the Five Points community in Chambers County. The project will involve more than three square miles and will include 176 households.

R.M. Greene Inc. of Phenix City was awarded $4,320 for coverage in the Pittsview community and in Russell County. Twenty-three households are included in the coverage area.

R.M. Greene Inc. of Phenix City was awarded a second grant, this time for $50,712, to provide coverage in the Dixie area in Russell County. The area includes 215 residences, two businesses and a school.

Troy Cablevision Inc. received an award of $575,115 for connectivity in multiple areas in Houston County, near Cottonwood and Gordon and between Webb and Columbia, and Geneva County, near Slocomb, Coffee Springs, Geneva and Samson. The project will cover 79 miles and provide connectivity for 878 residences, 76 businesses and three community locations such as schools, libraries, fire stations and community centers.

Troy Cablevision Inc. also received $348,885 for service in Crenshaw County, near Rutledge and Luverne; Pike County, near Brundidge Banks and Goshen; and northeast Coffee County. The project will cover 52 miles and provide connectivity for 405 households, 33 businesses and two community and public safety locations.

Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative Inc. of Rainsville was awarded $88,668 to provide service in the Fabius and Maxwell communities near Stevenson in Jackson County, serving 47 households and one business.

“A team effort is needed to help achieve the goal of broadband accessibility, which includes state assistance for the infrastructure administered by ADECA, federal assistance through the USDA and private sector investments,” Jones said. “High-speed internet is needed for jobs, health care, public safety and education — all which are integral to Alabamians’ quality of life.”

The state passed legislation, carried by Shedd, during this past session to advance rural broadband, and more money was appropriated for the grants in the 2020 budget that goes into effect on Oct. 1.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Courts

Lawsuit claims governor ignored nomination process to appoint probate judge

Micah Danney

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James "Jim" Naftel II

A lawsuit filed Wednesday is challenging Gov. Kay Ivey’s appointment of Birmingham attorney James “Jim” Naftel II as Jefferson County probate judge place 1.

The suit, filed the day Ivey announced the appointment, alleges she circumvented the Jefferson County Judicial Commission’s nominating process. She should have selected an appointee from a list of three nominees provided by the commission as the state’s Constitution requires, the suit says.

“Because Judge Naftel was not lawfully or properly appointed as Probate Judge of Jefferson County, he is currently usurping, intruding, and unlawfully holding that office,” the suit alleges.

Ivey’s office said she disagrees with the suit’s interpretation of the law. 

“The state constitution gives the governor the authority to fill this vacancy,” said Gina Maiola, Ivey’s press secretary. “Judge Naftel is highly qualified to serve as probate judge, and the governor looks forward to his many years of excellent public service to the people of Jefferson County and the state as a whole.”

Barry Ragsdale, an attorney with the firm Sirote & Permutt, P.C., said that he has no issue with who Ivey chose, only how she did it.

“I frankly have nothing but respect for Judge Naftel,” Ragsdale said. “I think he’ll make a great probate judge. I think he’s going to end up being the probate judge, but it’s about protecting a process that we’ve had in Jefferson County for 70 years.”

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Jefferson County was the first of six counties to create such a commission. It originally applied only to Jefferson County Circuit Court, but that was expanded in 1973 to include any judicial office, the suit says — including probate judges. 

Ragsdale said it is important because the process is meant to provide local input into whom potential judges are. Commissioners are local citizens who likely know the people they nominate, whereas a governor probably doesn’t. 

“That takes most of the politics out of it,” Ragsdale said. He noted that before the first commission was created in 1950, George Wallace appointed his relatives to the bench when vacancies opened. A local screening process prevents that, Ragsdale said.

“We have that, we fought for it, and we fought governors for decades to follow the process,” he said.

Ragsdale believes this is a case of a governor simply wanting to exercise power, he said.

“She’s absolutely wrong about what the law says, and we intend to prove that,” Ragsdale said.

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Economy

Ivey announces SiO2’s $163 million expansion in Auburn

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday that SiO2 Materials Science plans to invest $163 million in an expansion at its Auburn facility.

The announcement came just after securing a major contract to supply the federal government with vials to support the COVID-19 vaccine effort if and when an effective vaccine is developed. The project will create 220 jobs.

“It is exciting to know that SiO2 will be directly involved in providing a product essential to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, which will impact not only Alabamians but the entire country,” Ivey said. “This is a testament to the ingenuity of this great company and its growing Alabama workforce.”

Economic developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Vials produced by SiO2 Materials Science may be the critical component needed to ensure safety in the vaccine distribution process. The breakthrough technology developed by the Auburn-based company provides a glimmer of hope amidst challenging times and showcases how Alabamians are working diligently to craft solutions that will assist our nation and the world in the fight against COVID-19. In addition, the 220 new, high-skilled jobs housed in Auburn Technology Park West will bring economic benefits to Lee County as well as the entire state of Alabama.”

The expansion will allow SiO2 to increase its production capacity so that it can meet the expected demand for vials and syringes when a coronavirus vaccine is finally approved for mass use.

In June, SiO2 announced an $143 million contract with federal government agencies for a production scale-up of the company’s state-of-the-art packaging platform for storing novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) vaccines and therapeutics.

Bobby Abrams is the CEO of SiO2.

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“The pandemic presents an enormous challenge for all people,” Abrams said. “We are extremely grateful for Senator Shelby’s steadfast support and assistance, and we’re honored to collaborate with our government so a COVID-19 vaccine can be safely and quickly distributed. The State of Alabama and the City of Auburn for many years have been very supportive of SiO2 Materials Science during its research, development, commercialization, and now scale-up phases of the company.”

Over the last 10 years, SiO2 has developed its patented vial platform, which combines a plastic container with a microscopic, pure glass coating on the inside that is ideal for biological drugs and vaccines. The product, developed in Auburn with help from experts from four major U.S. research institutions, combines the benefits of both glass and plastic without drawbacks.

“There are problems with plastic, and there are problems with glass, and we resolve all of them,” Abrams said.

SiO2 will expand its existing facility at 2250 Riley Street and will invest in a new molding facility at 2425 Innovation Drive, both located in the Auburn Technology Park West.

Construction is already under way to expand the facility on Innovation Drive. The completed approximately 70,000-square-foot facility will increase the production capacity of SiO2’s injection molding operation.

“We’re proud to have some of the world’s leading scientists and product developers working in our community,” Auburn Mayor Ron Anders said. “With the presence of these companies and Auburn University’s outstanding medical and engineering programs, we believe we’ll see significant growth in the biotech industry right here in Auburn. On top of that, the well-paying jobs created through this project will result in significant economic opportunities for our local businesses.”

Greg Canfield, the secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said that SiO2’s expansion project in Auburn will help ensure that the nation’s health authorities have an ample supply of vials and syringes to administer a vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as it is developed.

“Having a steady supply of SiO2’s innovative vials will represent a key strategic advantage for federal agencies wanting to act rapidly once a vaccine is available to counter the coronavirus,” Canfield said.

Robert S. Langer is a professor at the David H. Koch Institute at MIT and a company adviser.

A key element of SiO2’s product is enhanced safety for healthcare providers and for patients, who are at a lower risk of adverse side effects. A combination of plastic and a microscopic layer of glass also means vials and syringes won’t break, shatter or crack. SiO2 ships its products worldwide.

“Many drug development and drug formulation innovations can be limited due to variables associated with traditional glass vials and syringes,” Langer said. “The SiO2 vials and syringes eliminate these variables and allow drug development partners to bring their innovations to life.”

SiO2 is a privately-owned company based in Auburn, where it has around 200 employees. The Retirement Systems of Alabama provided early financial support for the company.

517,464 people have already died from the COVID-19 global pandemic, including 130,602 Americans.

 

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Governor

Governor appoints Barbara Cooper as secretary of Department of Early Childhood Education

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced the appointment of Barbara Cooper as secretary of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

“Dr. Barbara Cooper has spent her professional career dedicated to helping students achieve their greatest potential. She and I share the same goal, and that is to make Alabama a better place, which begins with our youngest citizens,” Ivey said. “With her vast experience in various administrative positions, Dr. Cooper is more than qualified, and I have no doubt that she will continue the impressive work of the Department of Early Childhood Education. I am confident that Alabama will continue leading the nation with the best early childhood education system.”

Cooper has over 30 years of education experience and most recently served in DECE since 2018. She previously served as the department’s director of the Office of School Readiness and the Birth to Grade 12 advisor for the Alabama Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation.

She was appointed by the Alabama State Board of Education to serve as the chief administrative officer during the Montgomery Public Schools Intervention where she worked to improve leadership and governance.

Cooper is currently in the process of earning a certificate in Early Education Leadership from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

She also received a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and Innovation and a Master of Science in Administration, Supervision & Curriculum Development from the University of Colorado at Denver and a Bachelor of Science in Education from Western Illinois University.

“Education is the greatest profession and the work we do in our calling as educators will last beyond our lifetime,” Cooper said. “I look forward to serving Alabama’s children and families for many years to come. I appreciate Governor Ivey’s confidence in selecting me to serve in this new capacity and I look forward to hitting the ground running.”

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Cooper’s administrative experience is vast as she has served as Deputy State Superintendent/Chief Academic Officer of the Alabama State Department of Education, Deputy Superintendent of Huntsville City Schools, Chief Equity and Engagement Officer of Aurora Public Schools (Colorado) and a Principal with Denver Public Schools. She has teaching experience ranging from elementary to teacher instruction.

The governor’s appointment is effective immediately.

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Governor

Governor appoints Jim Naftel as Jefferson County probate judge

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday appointed Birmingham attorney James “Jim” Naftel II as Jefferson County probate judge place 1.

Ivey spoke to Naftel Wednesday afternoon to inform him of her decision, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

“As one of my appointees, you will be making important decisions that directly affect the citizens of Alabama. I have made honesty and integrity a priority in my Administration, and I know that you will embody these two virtues while serving the people of Alabama,” Ivey wrote in a letter to Naftel on Wednesday. 

Naftel will replace Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King, who was first elected to the judgeship in November 2000, and who retired in May after 19 years of service. King’s wife was killed just more than a year before his retirement in a hit-and-run in Denver. 

Naftel has been an attorney with the law firm Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. since 1998, and is a 1998 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law.

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