2 months ago

Alabama Ethics Commission could answer critical question for nonprofit board members

More than eight years after the Alabama legislature passed a major overhaul of the state’s ethics laws, some important aspects of it continue to get ironed out.

Among those are the requirements imposed on nonprofit board members.

The Alabama Ethics Commission, however, could provide some clarity for them when it issues an advisory opinion for the Birmingham Airport Authority at its meeting on Wednesday.

Under Alabama law, a principal is defined as “a person or business which employs, hires, or otherwise retains a lobbyist.”

Numerous restrictions and requirements accompany the designation.

For example, principals may not provide things of value to public officials or public employees. And principals are required to file quarterly reports with the Alabama Ethics Commission.

For legal experts, the lines have become “fuzzy” as to whether a principal is an organization or a person — or both.

In former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s appeal, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the determination of a lower court that a person working for a principal could also be a principal, themselves.

And, recently, a group representing nonprofits across the state sought further clarification on the reporting requirements of individual board members of organizations considered principals.

The Alabama Association of Nonprofits asked the Alabama Ethics Commission to confirm that individual board members of nonprofits that employ lobbyists did not have to file quarterly ethics reports.

The commission declined to address the question when it issued its advisory opinion.

Yellowhammer News has learned the Birmingham Airport Authority presented the same question — among several — to the commission in its own request for an advisory opinion.

Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, confirmed that the commission plans to issue an advisory opinion to the Birmingham Airport Authority as part of its agenda.

The potentially wide-ranging impact of the law on board members serving their communities on nonprofits, which also happen to employ lobbyists, is something one legal expert thinks has not drawn enough attention.

“This might seem like an inside baseball issue so why should anyone care?” asked Matt McDonald at a recent ethics forum. “Well, if you serve on the board of a trade association or a non-profit hospital board or you are a trustee of a small college, it may impact you.”

McDonald, a partner at the Jones Walker law firm, can foresee a host of unintended consequences if individual board members were considered principals.

“If you are in a chain of command on a board that interacts with a lobbyist, if that turns you into a principal, then that has a lot of ramifications that I think are unintended,” he pointed out. “Because you’re not just a principal for dealing with public officials or public employees for issues that might impact that non-profit board, you are a principal for every purpose. You are principal for the town you live in interacting with your city council person, planning commission. Every single action you have now with a public official or public employee becomes a regulated activity by the code of ethics.”

The lack of clarity in the law could have a chilling effect on the willingness of people to get involved with well-intended groups, according to McDonald.

“We want people to be involved in their communities and be involved in non-profits and things like that. So we don’t need to have this thing be so fuzzy that we’re going to deter people from being involved in their communities. We need to have good ethics laws, and we need to have good, qualified people who want to be public officials.”

Read Alabama Association of Nonprofits’ request for an advisory opinion:

Assn of Nonprofits Request for Ethics AO (1!11!2019) by Yellowhammer News on Scribd

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

28 mins ago

‘The American Taliban’ released early from federal prison over objections of Alabama officials, Spann family

John Walker Lindh, a.k.a. “The American Taliban,” on Thursday was released years early from federal prison, despite the objections of Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), President Donald Trump, the entirety of the Alabama legislature and the family of Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, who was an Alabamian and the first American known to be killed in “The War on Terror” in Afghanistan after 9/11.

After being captured in Afghanistan in 2001, Lindh pled guilty to serving as a soldier of the Taliban. He was sentenced to 20 years in a federal penitentiary in 2002 for his role in the death of Spann, a Winfield native and Auburn University alumnus then serving as a CIA officer.

Lindh was released prematurely from federal custody in Indiana on Thursday. As of a 2017 Foreign Policy article, Lindh still intended to spread terrorist ideology upon his release from prison.

CNN has reported that Lindh will live in Virginia under set restrictions.

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Alison Spann, the late Alabamian’s daughter, recently wrote a letter to the president calling Lindh’s early release “a slap in the face — not only to my father and my family but, but for every person killed on Sept. 11th, their families, the U.S. military, U.S. [intelligence] services, families who have lost loved ones to this war and the millions of Muslims worldwide who don’t support radical extremists.”

In an interview with Fox News, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Lindh’s early release as “unexplainable and unconscionable” and followed Shelby in calling for a review of prison system policies.

Restrictions placed on Lindh, according to the Associated Press, include that “Lindh’s internet devices must have monitoring software; his online communications must be conducted in English; he must undergo mental health counseling; he is forbidden to possess or view extremist material; and he cannot hold a passport or leave the U.S.”

His release came only a day after NBC reported that Lindh, in a letter to a producer from Los Angeles-based affiliate KNBC, wrote in 2015 that the Islamic State group is “doing a spectacular job” and “is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle.”

Yellowhammer News on Wednesday learned that Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) imminently will file legislation to ensure convicted terrorists like Lindh are never released early from federal custody in the future.

On Lindh, Byrne has tweeted, “This man was held responsible for the horrific death of an Alabama CIA officer, and now he is getting out of jail early for good behavior. This is just so wrong!”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Huntsville Hospital lets children drive toy cars into surgery, goes beyond medical care

Huntsville Hospital is helping kids with much more than their medical needs.

WHNT on Wednesday reported, “Hospitals can be a scary place for anyone, but especially for kids. Huntsville Hospital has child life specialists whose sole job is to help the children there beyond their medical needs. Making a trip to the hospital, not only bearable but even fun.”

One of the favorite features for young patients at Huntsville Hospital is that children are allowed to drive toy cars right into surgery.

Additionally, the hospital waiting room has become more like a game room, with interactive games projected onto the floor for kids to play with while waiting.

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“So this is kind of one of those things that keeps their mind off everything before they have to go back,” Haley Franks, a pediatric ER registered nurse, told WHNT. “Especially if they have any kind of procedures or anything they are able to kind of play out here in the lobby and have some fun while they’re waiting.”

This incredible child life department has been in Huntsville Hospital for over two decades.

“There are some kids that are excited to be here. There are some kids that are really really scared and don’t even want to come in the door, stand on the scale, put on a bracelet,” Michelle Barksdale, a child life specialist, said. “We have all developmental ages and ranges of emotions.”

Specialists like Barksdale are trained in child psychology and development to know how to meet the needs of every individual child.

She said the needs of kids are very different than adults. She said a lot of kids are concrete thinkers they need to see what the surgery room will look like, not just be told.

Barksdale explained that the famous toy car rides even come complete with a unique driver’s license for each child.

“That car is a transition piece from parents who they know, where they’re safe, to people who they don’t know in scrubs,” she added.

For the pediatric staff at Huntsville Hospital, this is a labor of love for those kids. Not only are they working to heal them, the staff truly cares about making kids feel better, too.

“It makes it easier on that transition for the parent as well as the child. Because they know the child is not scared, they’re not crying, they’re not leaving them in a fearful state,” Amanda Rochowiak, a pre-op coordinator, said.

Watch below or here:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Watch: Mobile’s WKRG anchor Mel Showers signs off for the last time after 50-year run

On Wednesday, long-time Mobile television personality Mel Showers anchored his newscast after a 50-year tenure at WKRG, the market’s CBS affiliate.

Back in March, Showers marked his 50th anniversary with WKRG.

Showers was joined by his family as he signed off Wednesday’s 10 p.m. newscast.

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“Well, I would like to take just a few moments of your time tonight to say thank you,” Showers said. “I want to thank you for allowing me into your homes for the past five decades — first as a booth announcer, where you heard my voice more than you saw my face, then as a reporter and now as a news anchor. I was honored earlier today by the management and staff of Nexstar in a luncheon. Later today, my son and grandsons flew in from Dallas, Texas. It was a big surprise, and tonight, I want you all to see my family gathered here. I have sisters. I have nephews. I have nieces. I have granddaughters. I have their friends. And I have my WKRG family as well, as you can see them.”

“So, there’s a lot of love here involved in this studio,” he added. “And I want to thank you for tolerating me all these many years. Along with thanking you, I want to thank my family and my friends and my WKRG family, of course, many of whom are here tonight as you see. I will miss you. I love you and may God continue to bless all of you, every one of you. Look at that beautiful family.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

Episode 7: Surviving and thriving with photos and Frosties

Marshall and I share about a plane crash we survived; the characteristics that did or did not draw us to each other; our crazy engagement story; how important it is to communicate – always; how phases are not forever, but marriage is; and how sitting down to stare at your early relationship photos can save your marriage.

>Challenge today: Why did you fall in love in the first place? Have some fun together reminiscing about the great moments in your relationship and never stop learning about the wonderful parts of your partner!

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3 hours ago

State Sen. Chris Elliott: ALDOT Mobile I-10 Bridge $6 toll proposal ‘politically unfeasible,’ Project scope could be reduced

Wednesday during an appearance on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5’s “Mobile Mornings,” State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) said there could be changes ahead to the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposal for a new I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge, which as of now has toll that could be as high as $6 each way for vehicles.

Elliott said unless money came from other sources, be it the state or federal government, considerations to narrow the scope of the project could be underway.

He called the current ALDOT “politically unfeasible” and said the target for the toll is in the $2 range.

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“I think they are hearing the rancor from the proposal from the State Department of Transportation garnered and understand that the current proposal – that six-plus-dollar toll each way is just completely politically unfeasible. And they get that. And through my conversations with them, I think they have taken a step back. They are getting actively involved in what heretofore was a process being almost exclusively led by ALDOT, and saying, ‘OK, look guys – this isn’t going to work. We’re going to have to come up with another solution, and that’s where we are right now.”

Elliott offered a couple of options, one of which was increasing the public subsidy for the toll “significantly,” which would be in the amount of “hundreds of millions,” which he said would be gas tax revenue that would be bonded out into the future.

“The other, and I think perfectly valid way to look at it is, look at project scope – what parts can we simply afford and what parts can we just do without?” Elliott said. “Do we need to look at not doing the Bayway portion? Do we need to look at augmenting the Causeway and just doing the bridge? What parts do we need to do and what parts do we not need to do?”

“Then the other is continuing to work with our federal partners to see what, if any, help is there,” he added. “Mayor [Sandy] Stimpson and I have been in conversation about that recently. You know, we got this infrastructure grant that’s pending right now. There’s talk of an infrastructure bill in Washington.”

The Baldwin County Republican explained how the federal portion was only 7%, assuming the feds came through with the entire requested grant, which is not guaranteed he said. He said two of the distinct options were not building anything at all or accepting the entire proposed, neither which he said were options.

“I’m for trying to get something done that is palatable and reasonable,” Elliott said. “And I think the governor’s office, from what I’m hearing in our discussions with them, they’re up for that as well. It’s time to take a step back and say, ‘Look ALDOT, the proposal you have on the table is completely unreasonable. And we need to rein it in and figure out what can we do and what can we afford.”

Elliott said he expected the “tolerable number” for a toll would be in the “$2 range.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.