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Opinion | Citizens should vote yes on appointed school board

Glenn Henry

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Gov. Kay Ivey is exactly right, the citizenry should vote yes on March 3, concerning the Appointed Education Board Amendment (SB397), legislatively referred constitutional amendment.

First, let’s discuss the many reasons we should support this measure. Currently, our elected state board of education members who have been voted into office for years, have had numerous opportunities to provide real solutions and implement prudent decisions. They have failed miserably. No one is trying to take away the voters right to choose their elected board members, as some detractors are claiming.

By using their own maligned logic and illogical current statements; voters elected them into office; and they are still sitting in their current positions by performing very poorly. Our state has been designated dead last nationally in math. Schools in many districts have remained on the failure lists for seven to ten years. Although some schools are under intervention they are still performing poorly academically.

Numerous Charter schools are being put in place to supposedly improve education. A virtually new Charter School in Mobile has already been placed on the failure list. In Montgomery, a new charter school is currently in chaos, facing lawsuits and turmoil.

Many families have thrown up their hands and they have starting cursing. Some families have placed their kids in private schools or home-schooling. More calls are coming from families to shut down the public schools; and provide the per student dollar amounts to each individual family so that they may decide their kid’s future. Many families who are home-schooling their children in safer environments, in many instances, are outperforming the public schools academically.

Although the Montgomery County Board of Education has been replaced by many new members; they are wrongly advising the citizenry that more money is needed, and local property taxes must be increased. Although for years the Education Trust Fund Committee leaders have advised the public that most education dollars come from sales taxes. Montgomery has one of the highest sales taxes in the country at ten cents per dollar.

As an Air Force retiree, I have taught school in six different districts. Sadly, in many instances, decisions made are not primarily based on what’s best for our country, state, county and city. In contrast, old and tired ideas and initiatives, are based on self- interests, such as contract renewal, job security protections and potential votes.

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Another real good example of poor leadership from our state and county elected education leaders. Just a short period ago Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base was experiencing problems in which more than 56 percent of Air War College Students were not bringing their families, due to a poorly performing local education system in Montgomery.  Maxwell-Gunter has an annual economic impact of over $2 billion dollars into the local economy.

Over the years, I have been working with our Governor in an unofficial capacity on many issues. The solutions and remedies to these critical education issues were provided by Gov. Ivey, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, former President and Commander of Air University Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford.

They averted numerous negative impact issues; which would have continued to have a degradation of Air Force mission accomplishment; and would have further provided limiting factors at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base.

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Most strikingly is that the top leaders who are currently working daily within the field of education were missing in action (MIA). No solutions and remedies were provided by the Alabama State Department of Education, State Board of Education nor the Montgomery County School Board and its leadership.

Very disappointing is that the solutions and remedies came from outside the education environment.By virtue of her position, the governor sits on the State School Board as the President. It doesn’t speak well for our education system when our state’s chief executive and top Air Force military leaders and our nation’s top Department of Defense leaders must take time from their busy schedules to fix the state and county education system that top education leaders are getting paid to do.  Remember, these are elected education officials who according to our state and federal constitutions are in superior positions with appointment authority powers to select the state and county-level superintendents. Unless the county superintendent is in an elected position.

Due to the superb, highly outstanding leadership and exceptional management skills of the aforementioned- persons providing the remedies and solutions; military children and base assigned instructors, professors and faculty kids may now attend schools out of their districts; regardless if they live on base or off base. Students may enroll in the tri county area schools including, Autauga, Elmore, Montgomery and Pike Road City Schools. Families living at the base family camp, within recreational vehicles and fifth wheels, may enroll their kids in the on base school.

All persons who provided the education remedies and solutions, have been recommended and they are being considered, at the highest decision levels in Washington, to receive the top Air Force and highest Department of Defense Recognition and Awards.  To let them know how much we appreciate them. Leaders and managers properly handle the toughest and most controversial issues—not avoid them.

By voting yes, the citizenry will have hope, opportunity to seek new ideas; gain better leadership and management, guidance, prudent decision making to move our education system forward. Most importantly to earn and gain the trust of the citizenry

A supportive yes vote would rename the State Board of Education the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education; requires members to be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. A yes vote would also change the name of the State Superintendent of Education to the Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, who would be selected by the Commission and confirmed by the Senate. Further, the Governor will be able to appoint a committee of persons to provide ideas, suggestions, input and recommendations, to assist the new State Education Commission.

Voters must honestly and truthfully ask themselves, should we continue to do the same things? Top state elected education officials, whom for years voters have elected them to office, must ask, why is our state consistently on the bottom of all national education lists? Obviously, constantly voting top educators into office is not working, and today it’s not the right thing to do. A yes vote will provide a reliable North Star and accurate guidance systems that will place our Great State on the right road and proper direction.

Glenn Henry is retired from the U.S. Air Force. He has been a high school teacher and university adjunct professor. He has earned numerous IT Cisco certifications. He is a Certified Professional Ethical Hacker. He lives in Montgomery with his wife Teresa.

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Opinion | On the Nov. 3 ballot, vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1

Chris Christie

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(STOCK PHOTO)

On Nov. 3, 2020, all Alabama voters should vote “no” on proposed Amendment 1. Vote no on Amendment 1 because it could allow state law changes to disenfranchise citizens whom the Legislature does not want to vote. Because Amendment 1 has no practical purpose and because it opens the door to mischief, all voters are urged to vote no.

Currently, the Alabama Constitution provides that “Every citizen of the United States…” has the right to vote in the county where the voter resides. Amendment 1 would delete the word “every” before citizen and replace it with “only a” citizen.

In Alabama, the only United States citizens who cannot vote today are most citizens who have been convicted of a felony of moral turpitude. These felonies are specifically identified in Ala. Code 17-3-30.1.

Without Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution now says who can vote: every citizen. If voters approve Amendment 1, the Alabama Constitution would only identify a group who cannot vote. With Amendment 1, we, the citizens of the United States in Alabama, thus would lose the state constitutional protection of our voting rights.

In Alabama, no individual who is not a United States citizens can vote in a governmental election. So, Amendment 1 has no impact on non-citizens in Alabama.

Perhaps the purpose of Amendment 1 could be to drive voter turnout of those who mistakenly fear non-citizens can vote. The only other purpose for Amendment 1 would be allowing future Alabama state legislation to disenfranchise groups of Alabama citizens whom a majority of the legislature does not want to vote.

In 2020, the ballots in Florida and Colorado have similar amendments on the ballots. As in Alabama, Citizens Voters, Inc., claims it is responsible for putting these amendments on the ballots in those states. While Citizens Voters’ name sounds like it is a good nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), it has secret political donors. One cannot know who funds Citizen Voters and thus who is behind pushing these amendments with more than $8 million in dark money.

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According to Citizen Voter’s website, the stated reason for Amendment 1 is that some cities in several other states allow non-citizens to vote. My understanding is that such measures are rare and only apply to voting for local school boards.

And why would a local government’s deciding that non-citizens can vote for local school boards be a state constitutional problem? Isn’t the good government practice to allow local control of local issues? And again, this issue does not even exist in Alabama.

The bigger question, which makes Amendment 1’s danger plain to see, is why eliminate the language protectingevery citizen’s right to vote? For example, Amendment 1 could have proposed “Every citizen and only a citizen” instead of deleting “every” when adding “only a” citizen. Why not leave the every citizen language in the Alabama Constitution?

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Amendment 1 could allow Alabama new state legislation to disenfranchise some Alabama citizens. Such a change would probably violate federal law. But Alabama has often had voting laws that violated federal law until a lawsuit forced the state of Alabama not to enforce the illegal state voting law.  

The most recent similar law in Alabama might be 2011’s HB56, the anti-immigrant law. Both HB56 and Amendment 1 are Alabama state laws that out-of-state interests pushed on us. And HB56 has been largely blocked by federal courts after expensive lawsuits.

Alabama’s Nov. 3, 2020, ballot will have six constitutional amendments. On almost all ballots, Amendment 1 will be at the bottom right on the first page (front) of the ballot or will be at the top left on the second page (back) of the ballot.

Let’s keep in our state constitution our protection of every voters’ right to vote.

Based on Amendment 1’s having no practical benefit and its opening many opportunities for mischief, all Alabama voters are strongly urged to vote “no” on Amendment 1.

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Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution

Gerald Johnson and John Cochran

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.

A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.

The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.

In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.

While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.

Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.

Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.

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On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.

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Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color

Elizabeth Huntley and James Pratt

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Auburn University's Student Center (VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY)

The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.

This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.

Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.

These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.

We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.

Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.

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In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.

We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.

In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.

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Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.

Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”

Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.

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Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing

Paul DeMarco

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.

Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.

To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.

Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.

There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.

The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.

State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.

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We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.

In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.

The state is depending on it.

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