8 months ago

2019 POWER & INFLUENCE 40: Numbers 21-30

Yellowhammer Multimedia on Wednesday released the second segment of the 2019 Power & Influence 40.

Our team has spent weeks talking with key operatives and analyzing recent developments in public policy and politics, and this list is meant to recognize the top individuals in government and politics who leverage their power and influence to better the Yellowhammer State.

The ranked list is being released in four segments, with 31-40 coming first and 1-10 finishing the week out.

Members of the Yellowhammer 15 and the Power & Influence 40 lists will be celebrated through the 5th annual Power of Service event, which will take place Thursday, October 17, in Montgomery.

Read more about the event here.

30. Ben Patterson

He’s “The Professor” in Montgomery.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more knowledgeable governmental affairs professional in Alabama than Ben Patterson. And there’s a good reason for this.

While most know him for his diligent work with his current firm, the powerful Fine Geddie & Associates, Patterson holds a doctorate and quite literally taught classes in state and local government, as well as American politics, at the University of Alabama.

His experience in both the public and private sectors lend to his library of knowledge, too.

Prior to joining Fine Geddie in 2004, he served as the state’s deputy finance director under two governors. Patterson also had a stint as the state’s chief information officer in the 1990s and worked in governmental affairs for both the BCA and the Alabama Bankers Association.

Already powerful and influential, Patterson is poised to soon play an even bigger role in the State House.

29. Paul Pinyan

The Alabama Farmers Federation made the first major move in Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate race by endorsing Tommy Tuberville over a handful of former and current elected officials last week.

Pinyan, as the organization’s executive director, finds himself right back in the thick of another heated statewide race. He was integral in the 2018 election cycle getting an incredible number of FarmPAC endorsed candidates over the finish line – and Tuberville will now hope that Pinyan’s hot streak continues.

With an impressive phone banking and polling operation, along with the best grassroots network in the state, Pinyan has the top tools at his disposal to continue increasing his power and influence.

With a team that includes the likes of rising star Matthew Durdin and former Secretary of State Beth Chapman, Pinyan is one of the most influential behind-the-scenes power players in Alabama.

28. Sommer Vaughn

Author Malcolm Gladwell asserts that the key to being successful at something is 10,000 hours of practice. We don’t know where Sommer Vaughn is on that timeline, but she must be close judging by the success she has enjoyed thus far.

Vaughn has hit her stride as a lobbyist who consistently delivers results for her clients. No issue is too big or too complex for her to handle. For some lobbyists, the House of Representatives can seem like a daunting body in which to work based on the outright numbers and the work it takes dealing with 105 members.

Not Vaughn. Her deep roots in the lower chamber have allowed her to flourish. She also works seamlessly across party lines and in multiple agencies and branches of government.

Vaughn is driven to be great. So the rest of Alabama’s political world is on notice as she continues to hone her craft hour by hour.

27. Dave Stewart

In the world of law firms, lobbying has long been thought of as merely a value-add in the service of existing clients. Heavy-lifting, it was thought, should be left to smaller firms dedicated solely to the practice.

Dave Stewart has laid out the blueprint for how a law firm’s lobbying practice can prosper and leverage influence in every corner of state government. In doing so, he has led his firm’s governmental affairs practice to entirely new heights.

Perhaps it is Stewart’s business background and his statewide contacts in the business community that have contributed significantly to the growth of the Bradley firm’s lobbying practice. Those things, combined with a relentless work ethic and his commitment to grow his business, matter.

It could also the product of someone who has a reputation for being trustworthy and possessing an uncanny grasp of the issues. Regardless, Stewart has earned his spot among Alabama’s most powerful and influential.

26. Mike Jones

The chairman of the House Rules Committee, Mike Jones carries a big stick in the State House.

His committee determines the order of bills taken up each legislative day, with the well-respected Jones having the ability to set legislative priorities. This enviable negotiating position puts Jones in a prime spot to best serve his constituents’ local priorities in south Alabama.

Firm but fair, Jones unquestionably has a strong hand on the lever of power as the House’s legislative gatekeeper.

If another ethics reform package is to come up in 2020, expect Jones to take a more proactive role this time around in what is sure to be one of the session’s most important debates.

However, there is a rumor going around that Jones could be in line for another gig soon. Right now, Jones clearly remains one of the House’s most influential members.

25. Ginger Avery-Buckner

Ginger Avery-Buckner possesses the traits one would expect from someone running one of the state’s largest legal organizations and representing it in front of state policy-makers. Her approach on behalf of the Alabama Association for Justice is highly organized and never strays from the best interest and mission of the group.

She has the strong support of her members which has allowed her to perfect the method of harnessing their grassroots support for the association’s agenda.

And then there are the times when she achieves results for her members through sheer will. Gifted with a friendly, engaging personality, she can flip to all-business mode in a hurry in front of someone whose issue contains the wrong color-code on her legislative spreadsheet.

This has resulted in the frequent practice of other legislators and other lobbyists – who don’t want to end up on the wrong side of her spreadsheet – proactively seeking Avery-Buckner out on issues that they think might affect her members.

That’s evidence of the type of power and influence that has landed Avery-Buckner on this list.

24. R.B. Walker

R.B. Walker’s ascension on Alabama’s ladder of power and influence has been an impressive watch for political observers – yet entirely predictable.

Walker’s profile could easily have been something drawn up in a lab. He is tenacious in pursuit of results, disciplined in his approach and never distracted by the noise that can often consume the energy of others in the world of state governmental affairs.

Walker does not just have relationships, he knows people well. And that is why he is a reservoir for everyone’s favorite political currency: information. All of which is a testament to his work ethic. It would not take much to convince us that Walker works 24 hours a day. He is seemingly “always-on,” while maintaining a fierce loyalty to his company and its objectives.

It is impossible in the business of politics to accurately measure what someone’s ceiling looks like until they actually hit it. But we’re pretty confident Walker’s ceiling is Sistine Chapel level stuff.

23. Steve Clouse

This veteran cat wrangler oversees one of state government’s biggest annual headaches – the general fund – for the House.

With all of that thankless responsibility comes overt power and influence.

This coming year, that responsibility will be even heavier – and his sway even greater – with funding of the state’s corrections system and CHIP as two of the biggest hurdles of the session.

Clouse will be in the spotlight – just as he was this spring when carrying Sen. Albritton’s clean lottery proposal.

Having served in the House since 1995, Clouse might need every ounce of his statesmanship to navigate the potential land mines of 2020.

He has been adept at doing so before and shows no sign of letting up.

22. Clay Ryan

The University of Alabama might soon need to make room for another star in its “Where Legends Are Made” lineup.

Clay Ryan, now the UA System’s vice chancellor for governmental affairs and economic/workforce development, has his finger on the pulse of Alabama politics like few others in recent memory, to go along with the exhaustive list of pressing policy issues that he covers.

From healthcare to workforce development to infrastructure, Ryan and the many unique strengths of the System’s three campuses have been integral recently in the major issues facing decision-makers in Montgomery.

Well-known for his relationship building, Ryan is near the very top of the list when candidates begin their fundraising calls.

He’s got the keys to the well-oiled juggernaut that is the System’s political operation, making him one of Alabama’s most sought after contacts. Ryan should be a fixture on this list for years to come.

21. Houston Smith

Every organization needs an individual who can maintain a full-view awareness of where it needs to go. In Houston Smith, Alabama Power Company has found that person.

Smith is equipped with a discerning vision for the direction his home state needs to go in order to become the best version of itself. A solver of big problems, he is skillful at utilizing contacts throughout the country to understand best practices that can be brought to Alabama on the major issues such as economic development, infrastructure and quality of life enhancement.

The Alabama legislature has taken on several large-scale initiatives in the past year, and Smith served as a field general for stakeholder involvement. On issues like Rebuild Alabama and rural broadband expansion, Smith managed the totality of the effort including public relations, lobbying and assessing the policy impact.

From his position on Yellowhammer’s Power and Influence 40, Smith can look up and see some of his predecessors. Given his ambition and rare intellect, he would be well-served to prepare for a similarly steep career trajectory.

Check back on Thursday for the next segment: 11-20.

9 hours ago

‘The Bama’ at KBC restaurant is one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama

KBC are the initials of Kelsey Bernard Clark, the winner of the 16th season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and the chef and owner of KBC restaurant in Dothan.

What began as a butcher shop and grocery evolved into a restaurant based largely on the popularity of the sandwiches Clark started serving customers.

“Some of the sandwiches on our menu are named after people and The Bama was actually named after my mother-in-law, who is known by her grandchildren as ‘Bama,’” Clark said.

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The Bama at KBC in Dothan is one of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Bama sports pimento cheese, thick slices of tomatoes and crispy bacon. It’s about as Southern a sandwich as you can get and is so delectable it has made its way onto the Alabama Tourism Department’s list of 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.

With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, KBC tried curbside service but Clark said it wasn’t as fulfilling as the experience of dining in the restaurant. So, KBC stopped doing curbside until the dining rooms were allowed to reopen under new guidelines. She said KBC is operating well and safely under the new rules and business is good again.

And The Bama is as popular as ever.

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

16 hours ago

Coach Bill Clark: UAB ready for football season preparations to start

UAB football coach Bill Clark is like many fans who are waiting for a clear sign that the college football season is on the horizon this year.

With less than 90 days until the start of the season, that sign will be next week when UAB players report for voluntary individual workouts and training. Clark said that will progress into the more familiar pre-season camp between now and August.

“I’m excited to get them back, even in small numbers right now,” Clark said.

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Coach Bill Clark: UAB ready for football season preparations from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

It’s been a challenging few months for everyone because of the COVID-19 pandemic and football was not immune. It eliminated the normal spring training and spring football scrimmages for all collegiate teams, and officials from all schools and conferences have been weighing whether and how to proceed with preparations for a season that at one time seemed uncertain.

Clark said he is confident the plan UAB has in place is a good one and he has one of the premier institutions to draw on for medical expertise.

“Rule No. 1 has always been athlete safety, so this is not something new for us,” Clark said. “Obviously, the COVID crisis was something new for us to deal with. The support of our athletic trainers obviously being at UAB with the medical school helps.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Hero German Shepherd from Alabama vies to be country’s top dog in American Humane contest

A mom’s reaction to being reunited with her lost child – found by Küsse, a German Shepherd rescue dog – was to smother both with kisses and hugs.

Indeed, the name Küsse – German for “kisses” – fits Corey Speegle’s rescue dog to a “T.” With her innate ability to find lost people, Küsse has earned huge praise during her short career.

Nearly half a million dog lovers across the country have cast their votes for Küsse, one of three semifinalists for the American Humane Hero Dog prize in the Search and Rescue category. Other categories include Therapy Dogs; Service Dogs; Military Dogs; Law Enforcement Dogs; Shelter Dogs; and Guide/Hearing Dogs.

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Küsse and Speegle live in Sheffield, Alabama, and she’s the only dog representing the Yellowhammer State. Supporters can vote for Küsse once a day through July 16.

Training the nation’s ‘top dog’ 

Speegle got Küsse as a pup and began training her at a year old. Küsse’s innate ability to find individuals has primed her to win the national contest this fall, which concludes with a gala and a two-hour special on the Hallmark Channel.

“Küsse is a beautiful dog, and she loves to serve and help find missing people,” said Speegle, state coordinator for the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons and a volunteer firefighter for Spring Valley and White Oak Volunteer Fire departments. “Her mother is a German Shepherd from the Czech Republic and the father is a second-generation explosives dog out of Fort Hood, Texas.”

Speegle has trained with the Federal Emergency Management Association, and he and Küsse have completed numerous search and rescue classes.

“I’ve taken advanced building search classes through detection services, and I’ve had boat training to locate bodies in the water,” Speegle said.

He’s accustomed to receiving calls for help from Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson. On March 4, Speegle and Küsse were called to work search and reconnaissance efforts in Cookeville, Tennessee, after a powerful EF4 tornado decimated the town in the early morning. Cookeville is the county seat of Putnam County, 79 miles east of Nashville.

“Küsse and I worked for hours on end to help find survivors and bring closure to families with missing loved ones,” said Speegle, who volunteers with the White Oak Volunteer Fire Department’s K-9 Search and Rescue crew. The team also uses highly trained cadaver dogs.

“It was like a bomb went off there,” he said. “We stayed until the last person was accounted for – it wasn’t pretty, as you can imagine.” Despite their round-the-clock search March 4-6, Küsse and Speegle found no survivors among the 27 people missing.

Speegle trained Küsse with the “recall/refind” method.

“I say, ‘show me,’ and she will return to me and lead me to the person,” he said. “When she finds somebody, she gets her purple kong wubba, her favorite toy in the whole world.”

“The new thinking is you don’t want the dog to bark at someone and scare them, so she’s trained to find them and, depending on the distance, she returns to me and makes me know she found them,” he said.

Speegle uses a handheld detection module linked to Küsse’s GPS-monitored collar, which can track her up to 9 miles.

“Occasionally, with small children, the dog won’t leave the child,” he said. “It will lay down and stay with the subject, so we can still track where the dog is.

“She also does scent article finds,” Speegle said. “Küsse locates a person using a scent article – a sock, hat or shirt, for instance.

“Küsse will work on- or off-lead,” he said. “If you have someone lost in a national forest, she can use that scent to find them.”

Küsse recently helped in the search for a 20-year-old marathon runner from Colbert County near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, whose family reported him missing.

“He’d gone running in the evening and it had stormed all night,” Speegle said. “We tracked him 200 to 300 yards but Küsse lost his scent because of the rain. But she assisted law enforcement to go in the right direction to find him.”

Using video, the sheriff tracked the man’s run. The marathoner had been caught in the storm and sheltered overnight in the field house at Muscle Shoals High School. He borrowed a phone the next morning to call his parents.

Honoring the past at LaGrange Cemetery

Colbert County Commissioner Darol Bendall asked Speegle to locate unmarked historic graves at the historic LaGrange Cemetery in Leighton, Alabama. He and Küsse volunteered a weekend in April.

“The descendants would like to know where they’re at – it’s rough terrain,” said Speegle, who assisted other members of the LaGrange Living History Association. “There are probably 100 graves that are unaccounted for, some of which date to 1815.”

The project was an excellent training opportunity. Speegle, Küsse and his other dogs located nine lost gravesites. During the years, headstones for a man and his wife, dating to the 1800s, had been moved about 50 yards from their resting place. Volunteers reset the headstones properly. Other graves were found outside the cemetery.

“My cadaver dog found an unmarked grave in a wooded area,” he said.

During the work, a volunteer’s child went missing.

“This little 6-year-old girl had wandered off 200 to 300 yards,” Speegle said. “Küsse found her at the back of the cemetery, at the wood line. It was a little scary for all of us.”

Speegle finds a lot of satisfaction in helping others.

“There was no happy ending in Tennessee, but finding the little girl was a good one,” he said. “Küsse is at the beginning of her career. I hope she serves her community well. If she wins in her overall category, I will be one proud daddy.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

17 hours ago

Florists decorate Birmingham Rotary Trail in an act of beauty and healing

Flowers bring joy, and they can heal the soul.

On Friday morning about 25 florists joined in decorating the Rotary Trail in Birmingham. As a beautiful start to the weekend, said Cameron Pappas, florists swathed the trail in greenery, roses and colorful blooms of all sorts. People even brought flowers from their yards.

The effort was to bring “light and joy” to Birmingham residents. And the 46-foot-tall sign with the words “Rotary Trail in the Magic City” was the perfect place to begin.

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“I was laying in bed Sunday night, watching these scenes unfold where Birmingham was in chaos. Seeing this was so sad,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist in Birmingham.

When Carolyn Chen called Pappas later, an idea was born. The owner of Wild Things Flowers & Curiosities in Homewood, Chen thought that decorating the entrance of the Rotary Trail could be a start to bringing emotional healing to the Magic City.

Area florists put Birmingham’s Rotary Trail in full bloom from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Random acts of botany

“Carolyn wanted to figure out how to help the city heal after this past weekend and the coronavirus,” said Pappas, owner of Norton’s Florist for more than four years. Between the two, giving flowers in a difficult time is a natural response: “Flowers bring joy. Whether it’s a sad time like a funeral or a happy occasion like a birthday, flowers bring happiness,” he said.

Pappas and Chen invited more than 50 florists from a 40-mile area around the city to help. Three wholesale flower distributors in Birmingham – DavisR&W Wholesale Inc. and Hall’s Birmingham Wholesale Florist – donated flowers and greenery.

“It’s cool to have everyone in an industry come together,” he said. “We want to make people happy, and give them something to look at besides broken glass and boarded up windows.”

What started as a simple gesture bloomed into something memorable. Several of the participating florists were livestreaming to Facebook. Several people from outside of Birmingham saw the videos and posts on social media, and came to take their own pictures.

Pappas said that seeing people join together to help was an amazing sight.

“People were cutting flowers, using their talents to help,” he said. “Everyone was busy beautifying the Rotary Trail with one thought: We love Birmingham. We love this city and our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

18 hours ago

Auburn University expert discusses COVID-19’s impact on sales projections, consumer costs

Brian Gibson, the Wilson Family Professor and executive director of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation in Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business, recently commented on the impact of coronavirus on sales projections for retailers and suppliers, how supply chains are adapting and how consumer costs will be affected.

Gibson leads multiple industry studies, including the Logistics 2030 project, the annual State of the Retail Supply Chain Report and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ talent management project. He has published numerous articles in supply chain journals, co-wrote “The Definitive Guide to Integrated Supply Chain Management” and co-produces the “Supply Chain Essentials” video series.

Q: How is coronavirus affecting sales projections for retailers and suppliers?

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Gibson: The COVID-19 pandemic has created quite the challenge in the retail sector. U.S. retail sales plunged nearly 9 percent in March as shoppers began to follow shelter-in-place measures. The situation has created a “Tale of Two Cities” scenario. For many retailers it has been the worst of times, with all stores closed due to state government emergency orders. Small retailers lacking the resources to support online selling, and large discounters like TJ Maxx and Ross Stores with minimal e-commerce operations are generating no sales. Retailers with a large online presence are generating e-commerce sales, but it is not enough to make up the loss of in-store revenues. Only the small group of retailers selling essential products like groceries and household goods items are in the best-of-times category, relatively speaking. In March, Kroger and Walmart experienced double-digit growth of same-store sales due to consumers stocking up on essentials. AmazonCostcoTarget and other select retailers also generated higher revenues.

The situation is much the same for suppliers. It all depends on the type of product being produced. Manufacturers of essential food, paper and cleaning products are working overtime to handle demand surges. In contrast, the apparel and automobile industries are largely shut down due to lack of demand, key parts or available labor. Some of these companies are now making personal protective equipment, ventilators and other necessary products that are in short supply.

Q: How have coronavirus-affected supply chains adapted to this situation?

Gibson: The news headlines and stories certainly paint a bleak picture of a broken supply chain that is plagued by product shortages. The reality is that there is no single supply chain. Products flow through different channels from their raw material sources to manufacturers to retailers and distributors. As consumption patterns for certain products have spiked to historic highs, there have been temporary shortages while companies work to restock their inventories. It is an ongoing challenge. If a meat processor shuts down for two weeks, that link in the supply chain is broken temporarily, but the whole supply chain is not broken.

Supply chains are resilient; they bend but typically don’t break. Adjustments are being made by companies to continue serving demand. Distribution centers and grocery stores are working overtime to fulfill orders. Product is being redirected from commercial channels to consumer channels. Production lines are being modified and alternate sources of supply are being tapped to alleviate inventory shortages. Collectively, these solutions from organizations along the supply chain will bring supply and demand back into sync.

Q: Will supply chain costs increase and, thus, increase the cost of consumer goods?

Gibson: Without question, supply chain costs are rising. Retailers are paying front-line store and distribution center associates an hourly wage premium. It costs more to fill and deliver an e-commerce order than to have consumers do their own shopping. Facilities are going through expensive deep-cleaning protocols on a regular basis. And the cost of some commodities is rising. It’s logical to expect that some of these costs will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher product prices. How much they will go up and for how long is the tricky question.

Q: Will we see changes in supply chains and will this actually help certain companies?

Gibson: In the wake of COVID-19 disruptions, “Massive Shifts in Supply Chains Forthcoming” is a popular headline but one that is almost clickbait status. Change will happen, but in a more methodical and incremental fashion than is currently being predicted by pundits. Production will continue to shift from China to other low-cost countries. We will possibly see more domestic production with flexible capacity built in. Some companies will increase safety stock inventories of key materials. And companies will likely cultivate additional strategic supplier relationships. Companies that succeed with these initiatives will achieve greater supply chain agility and resiliency without dramatically increasing their costs. They will be the ultimate winners.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)