The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

4 days ago

State Rep. Wes Allen sponsors resolution calling for citizenship questions in 2020 census

(W. Allen, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services/Facebook)

As the Supreme Court of the United States considers whether the Trump administration may follow through with plans to ask about citizenship as part of the 2020 census, one Alabama state representative is leading the effort among state policymakers to support the requirement.

State Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy) has sponsored a resolution in the Alabama legislature urging the court to allow questions pertaining to citizenship status to be included on the upcoming 2020 census.

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“The census taking place in 2020 will help determine important issues like the number of seats each state will hold in the U.S. House of Representatives and the amount of population-based federal funding that will be awarded,” Allen said. “While Alabama has taken a hard stance against illegal immigration, liberal states like California, New York, and Massachusetts have thrown open their borders to those who break our laws with their simple presence. In essence, they stand to benefit by thumbing their noses at long-standing federal immigration law.”

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and Congressman Mo Brooks have both been part of the lawsuit as they seek to prevent illegal immigrants from counting toward the nation’s population.

Marshall recently spoke to “The Jeff Poor Show” about the negative effects of counting illegal immigrants and his reason for joining the lawsuit.

“It won’t surprise anybody that means that our electoral vote will go to the state of California,” Marshall said. “And I’m not willing to sit idly by and let that happen.”

Brooks has been out front on the issue for much the same reason.

“Congressional seats should be apportioned based on the population of American citizens, not illegal aliens,” Brooks explained. “After all, this is America, not the United Nations.”

Allen pointed out that the position of his caucus and the Trump administration is backed by long-standing precedent.

“Questions regarding citizenship have been included in the U.S. Census as far back as 1820, and Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are among the counties that routinely ask them,” he noted. “Including questions about citizenship on the census should be common sense, not controversial.”

Allen fears not asking about citizenship will end up rewarding areas of the country which ignore America’s immigration laws.

He warned that federal dollars and increased representation in Congress would go toward areas that harbor illegal immigrants.

The resolution has been adopted by the House Republican Caucus and will be sent to the court prior to oral arguments in the Department of Commerce v. New York case.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

6 days ago

Sara Williams is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(S. Williams/Contributed)

The state’s largest organization for lawyers, the Alabama State Bar, cites trust, integrity and service as the values which should guide the group and its members.

Sara Williams has excelled in her career as an attorney by embodying each of those ideals.

And others have taken notice.

In 2018, Williams received the Stetson University College of Law Edward D. Ohlbaum Professionalism Award, which is a national award that seeks to honor those “whose life and practice display sterling character and unquestioned integrity, along with an ongoing dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession and the rule of law.” The award is named for the late Professor Eddie Ohlbaum and is designed to recognize a trial team instructor “who exemplifies his commitment to practicing with a high degree of professionalism, integrity and competency.”

Williams is the managing attorney for Alexander Shunnarah Injury Lawyers, P.C. She is the first African-American woman to serve in that role for the firm.

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At the time of her award, Alexander Shunnarah, the firm’s president and CEO, remarked on her accomplishment.

“She never ceases to amaze me,” he said. “Her level of commitment and passion to her profession has been an added contribution to not only our law firm, but everyone in the legal community, including our clients, who always come first.”

A graduate of Florida State University and Cumberland School of Law, Williams saw a different path for herself, at first.

“I originally wanted to be a sports agent,” she noted. “So I applied and was accepted to programs at Tulane and Marquette that both have certificates in Sports Law. It was being involved in Cumberland’s trial advocacy program that solidified my desire to be a trial lawyer.”

She made a wise decision.

Williams has become one of the preeminent trial lawyers in Alabama.

She has litigated a multitude of cases, including premises liability, motor vehicle negligence, wrongful death and trucking cases.

While beginning her career as a civil defense lawyer, she has practiced as a plaintiffs’ attorney with Shunnarah since 2013. In December 2017, she secured a $12 million jury verdict representing a majority of the victims in a major bus accident in Birmingham.

Williams was peer-selected as one of Birmingham Magazine’s “Top Attorneys” for several years, named a “Rising Star” by Alabama Super Lawyers Magazine and chosen one of Birmingham Business Journal’s “Top 40 Under 40” in 2017

She is a frequent speaker in Alabama and around the country on issues regarding uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, social networking and litigation, as well as various issues relating to the transportation industry.

Even with her natural ability in the courtroom and zeal for advocating on behalf of clients, Williams accepted the challenge of firm management in 2017.

“The role of Managing Attorney has been an interesting challenge in terms of balancing all of the different personalities that comprise the lawyers at the firm,” she explained. “When you are litigating a case your interests are clearly in opposition to that of your opposing counsel, but when it comes to managing there is a need to balance the interests of the firm with the needs of the lawyers and staff.”

The firm described her role in the position of managing attorney as “the supporting pillar to the firm’s success, using her confidence and decisiveness to help strategize the firm’s next steps.”

And that success has been significant under Williams’ management.

The firm has grown to 17 offices in five states, with 70 lawyers and two hundred employees who handle approximately 15,000 cases.

Her skill in the position has helped Shunnarah recognize just how vital Williams is to the firm.

“She is the pillar of the firm,” he said in a recent interview. “It would be very difficult to do anything in this firm if I didn’t have the best attorney in the southeast at my side every day.”

Despite the commitments of managing a large firm, Williams has still found time to share her knowledge and enthusiasm for the law as an adjunct professor of Trial Advocacy at Cumberland School of Law. She also serves as a coach for Cumberland’s nationally ranked mock trial teams.

“I love meeting or hearing from law students that are inspired when they see me in this role,” she said. “When I was in law school there were not that many women lawyers in management.  It is important for these young women to know that there is potential to rise through the ranks.”

Her desire to open up opportunities for women is more than mere words. In 2017, she founded the Alexander Shunnarah Women’s Initiative, which seeks to empower female lawyers through networking events and community involvement.

Having gone from prospective sports agent to decorated litigator is a path which helps her provide wise counsel to women pursuing a career in the law.

“Keep an open mind,” she advised. “So many young people feel like they have to know exactly what they want to do when they go to law school or that the first job they have has to be their forever job. I’ve learned so much from every firm I worked for and built long lasting relationships and friendships that really shaped my career. Had I only focused on what I planned on doing after law school as a 22-year-old college graduate, I can’t imagine that I would be as happy with what I do for a living.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Sara Williams a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

7 days ago

Jody Singer is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(NASA/Contributed)

The father of modern rocketry and the first director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Wernher von Braun, famously said, “I have learned to use the word ‘impossible’ with the greatest caution.”

As the 15th director of Marshall Space Flight Center — and the first woman ever to serve in that position — Jody Singer recognizes that going beyond the limits of perceived possibilities is an essential aspect to leading the center.

“It’s an honor to lead Marshall Space Flight Center as we push the boundaries of human space exploration and shape America’s return to the Moon,” Singer said upon her appointment to director in 2018. “Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise that are critical to missions that will take humans deeper into the solar system than ever before.”

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While her love of science and space exploration led her into a career in the aerospace industry, the voice of one particular explorer who pushed beyond the limits resonated deeply.

“I remember when Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, hearing Neil Armstrong proclaim, ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,’ inspired me to follow in those pioneering footsteps,” Singer told Yellowhammer News.

Singer is the latest to fill the role in a long line of distinguished directors at a place with a storied history.

Founded in 1960, the center was named in honor of General George C. Marshall, who served as Army chief of staff during World War II and secretary of state under President Harry Truman.

With an approximately $2.8 billion budget, Marshall Space Flight Center has a well-documented legacy in rocket engineering and is charged with innovation and technical development for the nation’s space systems.

No one is more responsible for Alabama sustaining its place of importance in the country’s space program than Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). He recently commented to Yellowhammer News about the work Singer has performed as director.

“Jody Singer’s innate understanding of key NASA projects, along with her many years of experience at Marshall Space Flight Center, have allowed her to successfully step into the position of center director,” remarked Senator Shelby. “Her dedication to the role Marshall plays in furthering American space exploration has been highlighted and recognized by many, and I look forward to our continued efforts to ensure MSFC and Alabama remain in the forefront of our nation’s capabilities in space.”

A native of Hartselle, Alabama, and a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in industrial engineering, Singer has held numerous positions of increasing responsibility throughout her 32-year NASA career in the areas of human spaceflight, technology and science flight missions programs and projects.

From 2002 to 2007, she served as the first female project manager for the Reusable Solid Rocket Booster Project and led the team during the Columbia Return to Flight activities. From 2008 until the shuttle’s successful retirement in 2011, she served as the deputy manager in the Space Shuttle Propulsion Office.

From 2010 through 2012, she held deputy positions for three concurrent major programs: the Space Shuttle, Ares and the start-up of the Space Launch System (SLS). As the deputy program manager of the SLS at Marshall, she helped oversee nearly 3,000 civil servants and contractors involved in the developing and testing of the most powerful rocket ever built, one which has the ability to carry astronauts in NASA’s Orion spacecraft on deep space missions to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.

Among the numerous awards Singer has received during her NASA career are the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals and two Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive Awards, the highest honor for career federal employees. She also received the Silver Snoopy Award from the NASA astronaut corps for her dedication and commitment to excellence and achievement in support of the human space program.

Yet, there is one aspect of her job that draws her focus perhaps more than any other.

“For me, it’s always been about the people,” Singer stated. “I am amazed at all the talented, amazing and dedicated people who work in the aerospace industry.”

Marshall Space Flight Center is one of NASA’s largest field installations, with nearly 6,000 on-site and near-site civil service and contractor employees. Economic impact estimates say that the center is, directly and indirectly, responsible for more than 24,000 jobs across the region.

The magnitude of that impact, and the people and families it affects, is not lost on Singer.

“When I look at how the ‘Rocket City’ has played a part, and will continue to be a part of writing the chapters of human space exploration and discovery, I am proud to be from Alabama,” she explained. “It is wonderful to contribute to something bigger than myself and important to our nation. It is so rewarding to wake up every day and know that I contribute to a workforce dedicated to discovering the unknown, enabling human space exploration and making a difference in our everyday lives here on earth.”

While von Braun cautioned against using the word “impossible” in the context of science and space exploration, that same mindset could also describe Singer’s advice to women entering the aerospace industry.

“Reach for your dreams, work hard, and don’t give up — even if it gets hard,” she counseled. “Reflecting on my own career, I know I would not have gotten where I am today without the guidance of others. So I would also say to women, seek out mentors and peers to help you grow into the leaders they are destined to become! The sky is the limit­ – literally.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Jody Singer a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

1 week ago

Medical group offers polling data showing voters oppose loosening up eye surgery laws

(Wikicommons)

The Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology issued findings of a recent poll conducted by the group which shows voters do not support changing the current laws governing eye surgeries.

The medical group commissioned a statewide survey of 500 likely voter respondents. The poll found that 79.6 percent of those polled opposed the performance of surgery by individuals not trained as medical doctors or surgeons.

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The Alabama legislature is considering a bill this year to open up the range of procedures optometrists are allowed to perform as part of their practice. The legislation, generally, seeks to allow optometrists the ability to perform more invasive eye procedures like the eye surgeries conducted by ophthalmologists.

The distinction between ophthalmology and optometry can often be confused.

Ophthalmologists attend medical school followed by a one-year internship and a three-year residency. Their specialty usually centers around medical and surgical eye care. Ophthalmologists must have more than 17,000 hours training before they can independently treat and operate on patients, according to the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmologists.

Optometrists specialize in eye and vision care. Education requirements for optometrists include a college degree and four years in a professional program.

The Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology believes the distinction in education and training should control when regulating the performance of the more invasive eye surgeries.

“The medical community in Alabama is very concerned about allowing people who do not have a medical degree and the necessary surgical experience to operate on and around the eyes,” stated Stephen Kelly, M.D., president of the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology. “The margin of error when using needles, scalpels or lasers on the eye is so small, that a mistake of just one millimeter could have devastating results for the patient. The patient safety and quality surgical outcomes would be threatened if surgery were allowed by anyone who is not a medical doctor with proper training.”

Optometrists are supporting the bill because they claim it will give greater access to eye surgery for Alabamians.

Opponents counter with data showing 91 percent of Alabamians are within 30 minutes or less of a highly-trained ophthalmologist who has the medical education, surgical training and clinical experience to safely perform these delicate surgeries.

They claim access data shows 99.7 percent of Alabamians can access an ophthalmologist in about the same time, if not faster, then they can get to a Walmart Supercenter.

“The issue of inadequate patient access is simply not accurate,” said Kelly. “Alabamians have great access to eye surgery from highly trained ophthalmologists. There is no need for patients to risk permanent eye damage or loss of vision for convenience sake. As medical providers, our top priority is patient safety, and SB 114 would unnecessarily place patients at risk.”

Other findings in the poll include 85.6% of respondents desire a licensed medical doctor to perform surgery on their eye or eyelid. Only 2.4 percent prioritized the convenience of access over training.

Of the respondents, 98.7 percent said they would be concerned about a family member having eye surgery performed by someone who is not a medical doctor.

The survey was conducted April 1 to 3 with a random sample of 500 Alabama registered voters likely to participate in the 2020 general election. The margin of error is +/- 4.4 percent.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 weeks ago

Cindy Nafus is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(ULA/Contributed)

There is no such thing as a routine space launch.

Every successful launch is the end result of years of research, engineering and precision manufacturing. Each payload is of a highly-sensitive nature. And it is never cheap.

Cindy Nafus’ company has delivered more than 130 satellites to orbit for important purposes such as national security communications, severe weather tracking and GPS navigation. These payloads account for more than $70 billion in satellite assets.

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Nafus is vice president of Production Operations and Supply Chain for United Launch Alliance (ULA), and in this role she serves as the strategic leader responsible for the production of ULA’s Atlas V, Delta IV and Vulcan Centaur rockets.

Every launch is a massive undertaking, the enormity and significance of which is not lost on Nafus.

“Our rockets launch satellites that save lives, explore the universe, connect the world,” she said. “And soon we will launch astronauts from U.S soil. I am honored to be part of making history. Every launch I get goosebumps because what we do is so vitally important to so many.”

Her responsibilities are considerable leading the operation of the largest rocket factory in the western hemisphere — a factory that gets called on to propel those billions of dollars of critical assets into space.

As a key figure in a company with 100 percent mission success, Nafus has done her part in continuing Alabama’s prominence in the aerospace industry.

“Cindy embodies the criteria of a respected leader, advisor and mentor,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “She is integral to ULA’s mission success leading the operations in our Decatur rocket factory and serving our industry for more than 35 years. In 2019 alone, our Decatur factory is setting a record manufacturing year with more than 30 boosters in production. This would not be possible without Cindy’s strategic oversight and leadership.”

Nafus says she finds it “very gratifying” that her home state and region have become so integral to America’s space future and, in particular, its national security space missions.

“NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center is well known in Alabama, but I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they learn we build rockets in Decatur, Alabama!” she said. “I am amazed at how many people do not know we have a 1.5 million square foot rocket factory in North Alabama. But we do, and what we do is vital to national security space. Every employee that works in our factory and throughout ULA knows and never takes for granted how important what we do is to our country. It is humbling.”

Nafus began her career with the McDonnell Douglas Corporation where she worked in a quality support role on both the Spacelab and SPACEHAB Programs.

She can, however, draw a clear line between that start in the industry and her motivation for entering it.

“My dad started with Douglas Aircraft back in the late 1950s,” Nafus explained. “As I grew older my dad was transferred with McDonnell Douglas to Huntsville, Alabama to work on the Spacelab Program. After getting over the initial shock of moving from California to Alabama, I learned more about the aerospace industry through my dad and how much he loved what he did for a living.

After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in business from Athens State University, it was time to pursue her dreams.

“In 1983, I applied at McDonnell Douglas so that I could follow in my dad’s footsteps, and almost 36 years later I can honestly say I have the best job in the world.”

She joined the Decatur, Alabama, operations team in 1999, after which she held several positions of increasing responsibility with The Boeing Company and then ULA, including director of Production Operations and vice president of Quality, Safety and Mission Success.

She has served in numerous positions of leadership in the community including board of director positions at the Decatur/Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and the Morgan County Economic Development Association and on the United Way Women’s Leadership Council. In 2016, Nafus was honored as a 2016 North Alabama Girl Scouts Woman of Distinction Award recipient.

Finally, Nafus had some encouraging words for any women looking at the aerospace industry as a career option.

“Aerospace is exciting, rewarding and fun!” she pointed out. “What used to be a male dominant industry, is no more. The executive vice president of Boeing is a woman, Lockheed Martin’s CEO is a woman and ULA’s Vice President of Operations is a woman. Come join us!”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Cindy Nafus a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 weeks ago

Katherine Robertson is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(K. Robertson/Contributed)

Some people would prefer not to contend with the robust issues of public policy which are so important to the maintenance of our free society.

Criminal justice, constitutional law, ethics and national security are issues of critical importance and the gravity of which can seem overwhelming for most people.

Katherine Robertson is not most people.

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She entered public service with the specific intent of taking part in the debate and crafting of policy on the tough issues.

Robertson serves as chief counsel to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. In her current role, she is the attorney general’s point person on policy at the state and federal levels.

Upon her appointment to the position, Marshall recognized Robertson’s experience and dedication to her state.

“Katherine possesses significant experience in public policy both in Washington and Montgomery, combined with a solid grounding in the law and an appreciation for the essential work that we do in protecting the public interest,” Marshall remarked.

With a political science degree from Auburn University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Alabama School of Law, she began her career at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison where she assisted in fostering relationships between the department and state and local law enforcement.

Eager to further her career in ways she knew would be impactful, Robertson went on to serve as legislative counsel for Senator Jeff Sessions on the Senate Judiciary Committee. There she worked on legislation and policy relating to crime, drugs and national security. This experience also instilled in her a passion for constitutional and criminal law.

Her experience in those areas helped prepare her for a brief return to Washington in 2017 to serve Sessions throughout the process of his confirmation to become attorney general of the United States.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work on some of the most pressing issues facing our nation and our state,” Robertson told Yellowhammer News. “In doing so, I’ve been in the trenches with Attorney General Sessions, Congressman Palmer and Attorney General Marshall—principled leaders who have displayed fortitude in the face of significant adversity. Each of them has invested in me and inspired me to stick with it.”

There is little doubt Robertson has left her mark on Alabama public policy in recent years.

Marshall considers her “an invaluable member” of his leadership team.

And her reputation in the law and public policy proceeds her.

“Prior to meeting her, I was aware of her insightful and compelling writing on the issues of poverty and education and was extremely pleased that she decided to join our office,” Marshall noted. “Katherine has a keen grasp of policy, is a gifted strategic thinker and helps shape the vision for what we want to accomplish at the Attorney General’s Office.”

There is one person, however, whom Robertson regards as having influenced her career the most.

“My father played a huge role in my entering the legal profession,” she said. “He’s an attorney, but he also pointed me in the direction of public service going back to my high school days when he sponsored my delegation each year at Alabama Youth Legislature. His encouragement and my involvement in that program laid the foundation for the work I do today.”

She has carried a sense of service every step of the way.

Robertson serves on the Board of Directors for Cornerstone Schools of Alabama, a private Christian school serving 600 students in inner-city Birmingham, and she was recently recognized as the school’s Volunteer of the Year. She was also appointed by Governor Kay Ivey to serve on the Fair Ballot Commission and the Alabama Women’s Commission.

The impact of her service has been significant and evident to those with whom she works most closely.

“I am grateful that she has decided to use her talents in public service, and the State of Alabama is better off because of her commitment to serving others,” said Marshall.

So it’s not surprising that Robertson’s advice for those entering a career in the law or in the policy arena involves one particular path.

“Consider serving your state,” Robertson concluded. “While I will always relish my stints in Washington, there’s something special about working more directly for the people of Alabama and seeing the tangible results of your work.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Katherine Robertson a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 weeks ago

Brooks fighting to keep national security space launch program on track

(M. Brooks/Facebook, ULA/Contributed)

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) is planning to petition Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson to maintain the military’s commitment to its national security space launch program.

Fearing derailment of the Air Force’s plan to implement the second phase of the established program, Brooks has penned a letter to Wilson urging her to continue as previously planned, according to one congressional source.

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He cites the threat from massive investments in space by Russia and China as a primary need for the program and expressed concerns that delays and changes to the process could hinder the nation’s ability to complete future missions, Yellowhammer News has learned.

State and federal leaders have positioned Alabama as a key player in the national security space race.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Redstone Arsenal and many manufacturers and suppliers located in Alabama have elevated the state’s role in the effort.

An industry source noted that Brooks’ stance helps solidify the state’s position even further because of the amount of investments that members of its own industry have already made in the program.

The program, called Launch Services Agreement (LSA), awarded three companies the opportunity to develop launch vehicles for use in national security space missions under public-private partnerships.

News of the award to carry national security payloads brought praise from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and others.

The companies entered into LSA with the understanding that certain performance requirements were necessary to participate in a second phase of the program where the Air Force would only call on the top two providers.

As a result, companies became incentivized to make substantial investments for the opportunity to participate in the second phase.

Not proceeding as planned has some in the industry concerned that companies who fell behind, or were not willing to invest the necessary resources, could end up getting rewarded.

“It is important that the Air Force pick two providers and continue upon the path for LSA that they have begun,” an industry source stated.

A source told Yellowhammer News that Brooks plans to ask other members of Alabama’s congressional delegation to sign onto the letter in support of the state’s aerospace industry before he sends it to Wilson.

Brooks gained reappointment this year to the influential Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has jurisdiction over all NASA programs.

Brooks is now the second most senior Republican on the committee.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 weeks ago

USDA’s Chris Beeker: Broadband program, workshop an opportunity for ‘game-changing investments’

(C. Beeker/Contributed, YHN)

The aim of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) broadband program is to bolster economic development in rural areas.

And, now, Alabama will be one of only five states in the country to host a technical workshop to help stakeholders better understand the fundamental aspects of the program.

Under USDA’s ReConnect Program, this regional workshop will outline the process for obtaining grants, loans and grant/loan combinations available to stakeholders.

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Chris Beeker, USDA state director for rural development, sees the workshop as an important part of the path toward increased economic growth in rural areas.

“We want to ensure applicants from Alabama, and the region, have the best shot at being successful when applying for these ReConnect funds,” he told Yellowhammer News. “I am glad we are able to host this event, and given the importance of broadband in rural Alabama, this is a great opportunity for some game-changing investments in our communities.”

The two-day workshop will take place in Auburn on May 8 and 9. The USDA has set up a registration website for those wishing to attend.

The goal of the ReConnect Program is to spur economic development for rural areas by bringing high-speed broadband to rural areas lacking in sufficient access.

The department envisions delivery of broadband connection to result in improvements in precision agriculture, education and health care.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 weeks ago

Cliff Sims joins digital marketing firm in Birmingham

(Contributed)

Former Trump aide and Yellowhammer News founder Cliff Sims has announced his next move. Sims announced Monday that he would be joining Birmingham’s Telegraph Creative as partner and president of the firm.

Yellowhammer News first mentioned Sims’ imminent move in its Rumors and Rumblings feature last month.

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Telegraph CEO Kevin McLendon pointed to Sims’ experience on major issues of national relevance in welcoming him to the firm.

“Cliff has led successful communications, messaging and branding campaigns at the highest level, with the highest stakes, and has a long track record of delivering results,” said Telegraph Creative CEO Kevin McLendon. “He is also a successful entrepreneur and has a deep understanding of the trends that will define the future of communications and technology. Bringing him in as a partner further positions Telegraph as one of the top strategy and solutions firms in the country.”

For his part, Sims believes Telegraph’s approach to branding fits well with companies in highly competitive markets.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the Telegraph team,” said Sims. “Kevin has been a friend of mine for a long time and I’ve always respected the quality of work that Telegraph produces. Whether it’s helping companies improve their products, services or processes through digital transformation initiatives, or empowering them to grow market and mindshare through innovative branding, marketing and PR strategies, Telegraph is the ideal partner for brands who are playing to win. I’m excited to become a part of that.”

Founded in 2011, Telegraph Creative focuses on its role as a digital transformation and brand strategy agency. By deploying subject matter experts in creativity and technology, Telegraph partners with brands to help them connect with their consumers in a digital world.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 weeks ago

State’s leaders positioning Alabama at forefront of national security space race

(ULA, Army, YHN)

When Vice President Mike Pence gathered the National Space Council last month to announce the Trump administration’s goal of a lunar mission within five years, it was no coincidence the meeting took place in Alabama.

Home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Redstone Arsenal and countless manufacturers and suppliers to the aerospace industry, Alabama will serve a vital role as the nation sharpens its focus on space.

“Alabama has such a rich history in space and tremendous capabilities here,” Tory Bruno recently told Yellowhammer News. “There is a very good reason why the vice president chose to have the council meeting here and to talk so much about Marshall.”

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As CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA), Bruno leads a company which has made a large investment in Alabama and bolsters America’s national security space missions from its plant in Decatur.

Bruno and Governor Kay Ivey are both members of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group (UAG), and both serve on the council’s Economic Development and Industrial Base Subcommittee.

“Decatur is the biggest rocket factory in the western hemisphere,” Bruno said of his company’s Alabama plant. “And new industry is coming here all the time. What Governor Ivey does for us in our subcommittee is she helps the team understand and connect those tremendous resources that Alabama brings to this problem. It is about her saying, ‘here is your path to success, this is what can be done and what can’t be done’ and that just naturally makes Alabama the center of that conversation.”

A large part of the conversation for the UAG involves national security space priorities. In fact, its charter specifically charges the group with providing advice and recommendations on that critical area of America’s space program.

Missions similar to last month’s launch of a high-priority national security satellite will see more emphasis. That particular mission — powered by a ULA rocket — enhanced the ability of U.S. forces to communicate anywhere in the world.

“The United States is uniquely dependent upon and advantaged by space for how we conduct war and how we keep the peace,” explained Bruno. “And so we are going to have to now contend with the fact that other nations have developed the capabilities to take that away from us – to either dazzle, disable or destroy our vital assets in orbit.”

For a nation asserting itself in space to protect its global interests, and a rocket builder looking to do its part, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has proven to be a tireless advocate, according to Bruno.

“Anyone who has the voice that Senator Shelby has is great to have in a place, where he really appreciates your team and what you do for the country,” he stated. “He has been to our factory many times; he understands what we do; he understands the reliability that we bring to the critical missions that we perform for the country.”

Congressman Mo Brooks’ (AL-5) reappointment to the influential Science, Space and Technology Committee, which has jurisdiction over all NASA programs, has improved Alabama’s position even more.

Brooks is now the second most senior Republican on the committee.

Upon his reappointment to the committee earlier this year, Brooks highlighted the economic impact of the industry on the state.

“According to NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center is directly or indirectly responsible for more than 24,500 Tennessee Valley jobs that contribute roughly $82 million in state and local taxes.” Brooks said. “Some of the most committed engineers, scientists and technology professionals in the nation reside in the Tennessee Valley and play an essential role in the advancement of space exploration and discovery.”

And, as Bruno explained, the quality of jobs created by the aerospace industry has a multiplying effect across the region. He says industry estimates are that every aerospace job results in ten more jobs throughout the community.

Bruno’s company, ULA, has calculated its annual economic impact to the state at approximately $285 million.

He also sees ULA’s economic impact on the state increasing.

That’s because of the Air Force’s award to ULA to develop the cutting-edge Vulcan rocket needed for American national security space missions.

The award, under the Launch Services Agreement, elevates the importance of ULA’s Alabama operation even higher.

“It’s a big shot in the arm, an increase in our confidence to know that we’re developing the right rocket that the national security community and the Air Force want to carry out the mission,” said Bruno. “They tell us that unambiguously when they make the award to us. And so we have plowed ahead. We have invested heavily in the Decatur factory bringing it all up to state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques.”

The Vulcan rocket will afford Alabamians the opportunity to leave an indelible mark on America’s national security effort for years to come.

“Vulcan is really purpose built for that set of missions that are going to be needed for national security space in the future,” Bruno said.

He added that Vulcan represents a “giant leap up in performance.”

For rocket enthusiasts, Bruno offered some interesting insight.

As part of its strategy to lower risk and increase chances of success on its first flight, the company has already started bringing major parts of Vulcan into its Atlas program.

Vulcan’s payload faring, solid rocket boosters, avionics and computer systems will all fly on Atlas, first. Only the Blue Origin BE-4 engines will be new when Vulcan launches.

“When Vulcan flies for the first time, it’s not really flying for the first time,” he said.

And, yet, “Made in Alabama” can appropriately be affixed to Vulcan when it gets called into service.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

3 weeks ago

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh is a 2019 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

(T. Cavanaugh/Facebook)

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh’s political career began in high school, continued through college and then took off for good not long after she graduated from Auburn University.

Cavanaugh is close to finishing her second term as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, and, yet, the story of her impact on the state continues to be written.

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She ran for class office numerous times as a student at Jeff Davis High School in Montgomery and worked as a volunteer on George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign during college.

According to those who knew her then, she was a natural at it.

After one year of teaching ninth grade science and computer programming, she packed up her things and moved to Washington, D.C. for a job answering phones at the Republican National Committee.

Her early foray into politics was driven by a desire to be involved and enjoyment of the energy and excitement surrounding political organizations.

Now, 14 years after having been elected as the first female chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, Cavanaugh sees her participation in the process in a completely different way.

One of those ways is doing her part to create more efficiency in state government.

Cavanaugh has put that approach to work in her own agency.

During her time at the Public Service Commission, she cut staff by 38% through reorganization and attrition. She reduced the number of state cars in use by 59%, including refusing a state car for herself. She reduced her own office space by 2/3.

Over the past seven years, she has “rightsized” the PSC and reduced overall spending by 30%. This has saved taxpayers over $50 million and will continue to save Alabama over $10 million annually. In 2017, the PSC returned a record $13 million to the state general fund.

And, yet, a sense of service has most decidedly marked her time in office.

“Serving in public office has allowed me to help people in ways I never knew I could,” explained Cavanaugh. “But it has also presented me with opportunities to do other things important to me.”

What is important to Cavanaugh is her faith and her family.

“So many doors have opened for me to share my faith in ways I never would have been able to had I not been serving in public office,” she said. “We have all been put into our unique situations for a reason. I know, now, that all the traveling around Alabama I have done, people from all over that I have met campaigning, being able to do all those things has allowed me to be a light for Christ.”

And that’s why she wants to continue serving her native state, whether in office or as a private citizen far into the future.

“People need help,” remarked Cavanaugh. “When we’re helping storm victims or helping small businesses get started or there’s someone who wants the opportunity for a good job, when we’re doing that, we’re helping people.”

Being able to help people spiritually is just as meaningful for her.

“We all need help spiritually, too,” she added. “When I have visited storm sites and seen how lives have been changed or been to coal mines and met miners worried for their jobs, it means as much to me to be able to love them and pray for them. Being able to help people with both parts of their lives has been a tremendous blessing for me.”

Running for office and serving as president of the Public Service Commission has also provided her with the ability to show her own daughter what opportunities are out there for women.

“There were times when my daughter didn’t quite understand what I did, and that made it tough as a mom,” said Cavanaugh. “I can remember a time when I volunteered at her school, and she wanted me to change out of my suit so I could be dressed more like some of her friends’ moms. Then, as she got older, she became one of my biggest cheerleaders. Now she knows a career is out there for her in whatever she sets her mind to.”

She often speaks to women’s groups and offers whatever advice she can.

“I tell women to think bigger and more broadly to achieve their goals,” she advised. “There is rarely a direct path to where you want to go.”

She points toward the fact that she taught school for a year so she could save up and move to Washington where she got a job as the lowest ranking employee in her division.

“It is never going to be easy,” Cavanaugh remarked. “The key is to make stumbling blocks into stepping stones.”

The rigors of a campaign and elected office can be tough to handle. The scrutiny can be intense.

Cavanaugh’s faith is what guides her and at the same time is the reason why she thinks no one should let fear of that scrutiny stand in the way of running.

“No one is perfect – not any one of us,” she said. “That’s why we can find comfort in God’s grace. So no one should be discouraged from serving and putting themselves out there to be part of making our state and our country better.”

Yellowhammer News is proud to announce Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh as a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

3 weeks ago

Alabama Ethics Commission: One nonprofit’s board members don’t have to file quarterly reports — for now

(Alabama Ethics Commission/Contributed)

At its meeting this week, the Alabama Ethics Commission gave the board members of one nonprofit a reprieve from having to file quarterly reports – at least until June.

The commission granted the board members of the Birmingham Airport Authority an extension from having to file quarterly reports required of those designated as principals under Alabama ethics laws.

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The commission granted a similar extension to the airport’s board members on the requirement they file statements of economic interests. Statements of economic interests are annual disclosures required of certain public officials and public employees.

Attorney Mark White spoke in front of the commission on behalf of his client, the Birmingham Airport Authority. He presented several issues which remain unclear for nonprofits and their board members.

White outlined that he sought a formal opinion based on the commission’s own recommendation.

“In fact, part of the reason we are asking this is when the commission staff did the training for the Birmingham Airport Authority in December, they were told – three brand new board members, by the way – they were told the only way you could really be sure about something was to get a formal opinion,” White told the commission. “Frankly, I think that’s good advice.”

Earlier this year, the Alabama Association of Nonprofits asked the commission to issue a formal opinion confirming that individual board members of nonprofits did not have to file quarterly reports with the commission if that nonprofit had hired a lobbyist.

The commission did not answer that question when it issued an opinion to the association.

One legal expert has expressed concern that the uncertainty in the law could harm nonprofits and charitable causes.

“We want people to be involved in their communities and be involved in non-profits and things like that,” said attorney Matt McDonald. “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.”

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

3 weeks ago

Xtreme Concepts Racing rides into victory lane again

(@NASCAR_Xfinity/Twitter)

Alabama-based NASCAR team Xtreme Concepts Racing saw Kyle Busch drive the iK9 No. 18 into victory lane at Texas Motor Speedway.

Busch took the checkered flag in the Xfinity Series race on Saturday.

It was Busch’s 95th overall win in the series and third this year in the iK9 car.

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An exuberant Busch jumped out of his car in victory lane, thanked iK9, a division of Xtreme Concepts, and then gave an honest assessment of an up and down day on the track in Fort Worth.

“This Toyota Supra was awesome today,” Busch said. “It was really fast on the long run I could just never get people away from me on the front side of the run to get settled into my rhythm and be able to go. Every time I got to the outside, people would just drive by me on the bottom. Then when I’d get to the inside, somebody would bust it on the outside on me and make me loose.”

Busch ended up getting out of it what he needed.

“A fast race car once I could get rolling,” he described.

The alliance between Xtreme Concepts and Joe Gibbs Racing has paid off well, with wins in Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The Xfinity Series heads to Tennessee this week for racing in close quarters at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

3 weeks ago

Alabama Ethics Commission could answer critical question for nonprofit board members

(Alabama Ethics Commission)

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.

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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

3 weeks ago

State rep. filing bill to help Alabama job recruiting — ‘It’s about eliminating unnecessary red tape’

(W.Miller/YHN)

A bill viewed as essential to keeping Alabama competitive with other states in recruiting jobs will be introduced in the Alabama legislature this week, according to the bill’s sponsor.

Representative Alan Baker (R-Brewton) told Yellowhammer News he intends to file legislation aimed at “clarifying the process” for professionals who help locate sites to build and expand business operations in Alabama.

Baker is filing the bill with one goal in mind.

“To keep Alabama competitive in the economic development market,” he said.

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Baker wants to clear things up for site selectors and economic developers whose business is geared toward helping companies choose the best locations to build.

“Their activities are not lobbying activities,” explained Baker.

His bill would alleviate some of what he calls “the constraints” of mandatory disclosures and guarantees Alabama can offer the same environment as other competing states.

For one economic developer, the benefits of Baker’s bill are evident.

“It’s about eliminating unnecessary red tape that creates more access to do business in the state,” said Josh Carpenter, director of economic development for the city of Birmingham.

Carpenter believes action by the Alabama legislature is critical to the state keeping pace.

“Unless action is taken, we will be on an uneven playing field with other states that we regularly compete with to bring quality jobs to our residents,” he added. “That competitive disadvantage in an already hyper-competitive market is not a sustainable path. That’s what it comes down to.”

A south Alabama mayor who has been involved in economic development for more than 20 years supports Baker’s effort at “clarifying the process.”

“It is an opportunity for us to keep the process clear and easy and bring jobs,” explained Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon.

“People think it’s just real easy to go out and get a company, but one little thing goes the wrong way then you have other states waiting on the same thing,” he said. “So you can’t let something like this get in the way.”

What McLendon does not want to “get in the way” are burdensome disclosure and registration requirements for professionals.

“We’ve got too much red tape and this is some more red tape,” he said.

For economic developers, the registration process is akin to turning over the playbook to an opposing team.

“One of the key factors of the economic development process is being able to maintain the confidentiality of the companies that are considering investing in the state,” explained Jim Searcy, executive director of the Economic Development Association of Alabama. “The reason you maintain confidentiality is the company needs to conduct their search without their competitors knowing, and internally they want to be able to manage the decision-making process.”

The competition between companies, and between Alabama and other states, is what makes this issue so important to Searcy and others.

“Economic development is a highly competitive undertaking,” said Searcy.

Disclosing projects being worked on now and in the future weakens Alabama’s position among states, according to Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association.

“It puts us at a tremendous disadvantage to our neighboring states and states throughout the country that don’t have to disclose their confidential projects,” he said.

Searcy seems certain he knows the fate of potential job creation projects should the registration and disclosure requirements remain in place.

“What would happen is they would not consider Alabama as an option,” he stated.

McLendon takes a more philosophical approach to the question, while arriving at much the same conclusion.

“Will it jeopardize mine? I sure don’t want to give it a chance,” he said.

His support of Baker’s bill comes down to making sure Alabama capitalizes on the opportunity in front of it.

“It’s an opportunity for us to grow the state of Alabama,” McLendon concluded. “This is a no-brainer. You don’t mess with jobs.”

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

4 weeks ago

ULA’s Tory Bruno: Missions to the moon allow U.S. ‘to be a beacon for freedom in the world’

(ULA/Contributed)

With Vice President Mike Pence announcing earlier this week that the Trump administration wants to return American astronauts to the moon within five years, the CEO of an Alabama rocket builder feels certain this new era of space exploration will put the nation’s might on full display.

United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno sat down with Yellowhammer News following the most recent National Space Council meeting in Huntsville.

Bruno leads a company slated to power NASA’s next manned space mission, the first since 2011, with rockets built in Decatur.

The news of a lunar mission elicited a predictable reaction from someone who has been building rockets for more than 35 years.

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“We are going to be boots in the regolith – as they say – we are going to be on the surface of the moon in five years or less,” he said. “That’s pretty darn exciting.”

Bruno senses the United States is harnessing the same type of strength it did at the height of its space program decades ago.

“It feels like we are harkening back to the days of Apollo, and Apollo was more than just exploration,” he pointed out.

Apollo was the set of American missions which ran from the early 1960s until 1972 and included six lunar landings.

For Bruno, the fact that the stakes were so high helped demonstrate the rationale for manned spaceflight and why it is still important today.

“It was also about showing the world the prowess, the might and the capability of the United States and what free people could do in an open system to innovate and accomplish amazing things that no one in the world could even dream to do,” he said. “And so it allowed us to be a beacon for freedom in the world.”

Another reason he believes manned space missions are critical to the nation’s future is because of what exists beyond the earth’s atmosphere.

“There are tremendous natural resources between here and the moon,” stated Bruno. “It defies imagination. There are about 17,000 asteroids between here and the moon, and together they contain one thousand years of last year’s entire planetary production in industrial metals. More gold and silver than humankind has ever extracted from the earth in all of human history, and it’s all right there about a week away.”

That commercial potential is difficult to ignore, he added.

“This is another very exciting thing about the current era is that we’re starting to see real potential for a vastly expanded commercial set of activities between here and the moon and on the moon itself,” Bruno said.

According to Bruno, the ability to harvest those resources exists as part of the resources themselves.

“We have also discovered that water exists just about everywhere we go,” revealed Bruno. “That’s important because it is rocket fuel. And so we have the basis and the capability now, the potential, to create a transportation system in space that can tap those resources and when we do that it is going to change everything about what it means to be living here on earth.”

Part of Pence’s charge to the National Space Council User Advisory Group (UAG), of which Bruno is a member, is a call for a renewed commitment to space exploration.

Pence’s call for renewed leadership in space is an appropriate one, and timely given the amount resources and focus currently devoted to exploration by other countries, Bruno explained.

“Space was taken for granted,” he said. “We had such tremendous success as a nation in space and of course we are the world’s leader beginning with the Apollo program right through decades afterwards – it was unquestioned. An era came to be when other nations were excited about space and were investing in it, and we were not. The word renew is in there because there is a real feeling that we’ve lost a little bit of ground in terms of our stature and our true leadership of the world in space, and it’s about time that we renew that.”

Pence has also emphasized taking steps to increase innovation and advancement throughout the aerospace industry.

This is an area in which Alabamians will likely serve a vital role, one essential to the Trump administration’s goal of touching down on the surface of the moon within five years.

“There are new things to be done and innovation will be key to getting things done in the timeframe we’re talking about,” Bruno concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

4 weeks ago

Nick’s Kids, The Malzahn Family Foundation among charities left in limbo by Alabama Ethics Commission

(Nick's Kids Foundation, Facebook, K. Malzahn/Twitter)

A panelist at a recent discussion on ethics reform at Cumberland School of Law mentioned that he saw value in “leaving some of the lines a little bit fuzzy” when it comes to how the law applies.

The Alabama Ethics Commission may have adopted the same approach when it comes to charities and non-profit organizations which bear the name of a public official or public employee.

A commission opinion stated that the activities of any non-profit organization named for a public official or public employee face a higher level of legal scrutiny than others.

What that means for the operation of those groups remains uncertain.

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A frequently overlooked fact is that Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn are considered public employees under Alabama’s ethics law.

All of the legal and regulatory requirements imposed upon public officials, public employees and their families also apply to Saban and Malzahn.

Both are required to file an annual Statement of Economic Interests with the Alabama Ethics Commission.

And, in this instance, their respective charities fall under the kind identified by the commission as “a nonprofit” which “bears the name of a public official or employee.”

The opinion, issued unanimously by the Alabama Ethics Commission at its last meeting, was in response to a request from the Alabama Association of Nonprofits for clarification on fundraising limitations for certain nonprofit board members.

As part of that opinion, the commission also concluded that the activities of this particular class of charities required closer examination.

The commission stated the following:

The risk of corruption increases when the official or family member is compensated for service on the board. Likewise, when a nonprofit bears the name of a public official or employee, there is such a close connection with the public servant that fundraising for those nonprofits should be examined on a case by case basis.

Numerous nonprofits bear the name of people classified as public officials or public employees under Alabama’s ethics law, so Saban and Malzahn’s situation is not unique to them.

Tom Albritton, executive director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, told Yellowhammer News it is a permissible structure but there are reasons the commission makes its distinction.

“There’s nothing wrong with non-profits that bear the name of a public official or employee, but the fact that it does bear their name creates a direct connection between that public servant and the nonprofit organization and its mission,” said Albritton. “As you’ll note from the opinion itself, the Commission specifically said that it was not taking a position one way or the other on that very specific issue.”

And the decision to not elaborate on what limitations exist for this class of charities could place them and their board members (who in many cases are members of their families) in awkward positions of uncertainty.

Matt McDonald, a partner at the Jones Walker law firm and panelist at the Cumberland School of Law forum, told Yellowhammer News that he would have some specific advice for any nonprofits among the group singled out by the commission.

“Uncertainty exists,” concluded McDonald. “I would advise them to go get a formal ethics opinion. Fundraising is what seems to be drawing the scrutiny.”

The commission’s opinion outlined that public officials, employees and family members may serve on nonprofit boards and may participate in fundraising so long as it is not for personal gain, no official resources are used and no solicitations are made to lobbyists.

Yet the commission wrote that different rules may apply to public employee-named organizations.

According to Albritton, the commission specifically carved out these groups from its opinion.

“The point of putting that language in the opinion, however, was simply to isolate its application to the facts presented,” he said. “Advisory Opinions provide protection from prosecution, and given the broad nature of the question asked, but more than that the broad diversity reflected within the Association requesting the opinion, the Commission felt it was appropriate to limit its application.”

When discussing changes to the ethics law as part of the Cumberland panel, chairman of the Alabama Ethics Commission Jerry Fielding charged the Alabama legislature with taking an approach geared toward “simplification and clarification.”

“We need the law, but we need some way to make it more clear and more simplified,” Fielding said.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

4 weeks ago

Legal experts agree on need for ethics reform, not on what it should look like

(YHN)

The “Conversation About Ethics Reform” held Friday at Cumberland School of Law involved a respectful dialogue among four experts in the field of ethics law.

It also demonstrated the challenge which lies ahead for policymakers.

While generally agreeing on the areas of the law most in need of a rewrite, panelists at the event disagreed on solutions to fixing those problem areas.

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Recent findings of the Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission drove most of the discussion.

The event’s moderator John Carroll, a former acting director of the Alabama Ethics Commission and 14-year federal judge, called the commission’s work “a good basis” for the discussion.

“The commission’s report is an incredible contribution to this whole dialogue,” Carroll said. “It’s well-done and reflects very thoughtful consideration of many, many serious issues.”

Trying to understand and define exactly who is a principal consumed the largest part of the conversation.

Carroll mentioned that the commission engaged in a lengthy examination of what it means to be a principal.

“There was significant discussion about what this definition ought to be,” he noted. “It’s a very important issue because of all the legal ramifications of how you define ‘principal’. The interaction between someone designated a principal and public officials and public employees is significantly limited.”

Katherine Robertson, chief counsel to Alabama’s attorney general, served on the commission, and she estimated debate on the principal issue amounted to 60-percent of their work.

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

That definition could end up at the center of former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. In upholding 11 of the 12 criminal counts upon which Hubbard was convicted, the Court of Criminal Appeals wrote, “[W]e strongly encourage the legislature to consider amending the law to better circumscribe the class of persons defined as principals.”

According to Jefferson County Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker, the definition needs to be changed.

“The definition is flawed,” he said. “It uses two terms, ‘a person or a business,’ which are not helpful in defining what a principal is.”

He said it is too difficult to determine which person within a business is considered a principal, if that business is a principal.

“How big of a group of employees are we talking about?” Boohaker asked.

Boohaker instead outlined what he thinks would be a good rule.

“The person who can hire, fire or direct the activities of a lobbyist would be the person within the entity that is the principal from whom you may not accept a thing of value,” he said.

Boohaker’s definition would place Alabama in a unique position because no other state extends the definition of a principal beyond the business or entity.

He favors Alabama being alone in that category.

“I think it would be something good,” he said.

Boohaker exerted some effort to explain why he believes there should remain some vagueness in the ethics law.

“The Alabama Ethics Act is a criminal statute, and one of the constitutional requirements is that a person of ordinary understanding should be able to read it and know what it is that’s prohibited and what is not prohibited,” he said.

According to him, though, some lack of clarity will help keep people in line.

“There is some value in the Ethics Act to leaving some of the lines a little bit fuzzy because then it creates a deterrent so that the public official is not really sure if this is legal or not,” Boohaker said. “Then they will err on the side of ‘well, I’m just not going to deal with it’ because it might not just be a civil penalty but it might be a crime. But that creates another problem because if you have fuzzy lines in criminal statutes, well, criminal statutes are not supposed to have fuzzy lines. There’s supposed to be some degree of certainty.”

Boohaker joked that he had found an old U.S. Supreme Court case which said that “fuzzy is ok.”

Matt McDonald, a partner at the Jones Walker law firm and whose practice includes ethics issues, disagreed with the need to maintain a lack of clarity in the law.

“We don’t have to fuzzy up the definition of a principal to regulate that kind of conduct,” McDonald said. “That conduct is already regulated under [another place in the law] which says you can’t give anything for the purpose of corruptly influencing an official action of a public official or public employee. A public official or a public employee cannot use their office for personal gain. So there are other statutory provisions that regulate that.”

McDonald pointed out that there are implications to this section of the law for people merely looking to serve their communities on the boards of non-profits or small colleges.

“We want people to be involved in their communities and be involved in non-profits and things like that,” he said. “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.”

Robertson detailed a proposal by the attorney general which she said could be more easily applied in “often fact-specific situations.”

“What we proposed did draw some pretty clear lines,” she added.

The chairman of the Alabama Ethics Commission, Jerry Fielding, hopes the Alabama legislature will emphasize “simplification and clarification.”

“We need the law, but we need some way to make it more clear and more simplified,” he concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

1 month ago

Cumberland School of Law hosts ‘Conversation About Ethics Reform’

(W.Miller/YHN)

With state ethics reform anticipated as a major legislative agenda item this year, Cumberland School of Law is hosting an event to discuss the issue on Friday.

John Carroll, a former acting director of the Alabama Ethics Commission and 14-year federal judge, is serving as the event’s host for the law school.

Carroll told Yellowhammer News his hope for the event is to “give a sense of where some of the difficult issues in ethics reform are and encourage a respectful dialogue about those issues.”

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The Cumberland forum is taking place on the heels of this month’s final report from the Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission, a report Carroll called “a great step in beginning the respectful dialogue I hope we can have.”

“We will be discussing some of the suggestions from the report as they relate to our topics,” he added.

Carroll envisions the group covering the definition of a principal, gift provisions, conflict of interest provisions, the intent requirement and the use of state time and property by public officials and public employees, among other topics.

The issue of what exactly constitutes a principal under the state ethics law could end up at the center of former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. In upholding 11 of the 12 criminal counts upon which Hubbard was convicted, the Court of Criminal Appeals wrote, “[W]e strongly encourage the legislature to consider amending the law to better circumscribe the class of persons defined as principals.”

At this point, Carroll believes the key to engaging in a constructive conversation “is to be willing to listen to folks who have a different view than you do and be willing to reconsider that view based on what they have to say.”

The event is scheduled from 2:00-4:00pm in Cumberland School of Law’s John L. Carroll Moot Court Room.

Panelists will include:

Matthew C. McDonald, partner, Jones Walker LLP in Mobile, Alabama

Katherine Robertson, chief counsel to Alabama’s attorney general

Judge Joseph Boohaker, Jefferson County Circuit Court judge

Judge Jerry L. Fielding, chair of the Alabama Ethics Commission

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

1 month ago

Four key events leading to passage of ‘Rebuild Alabama’

(YHN, Pixabay)

Most big legislative battles involve a series of significant events taking place in the days, months and years leading up to the vote.

It can be one event or several events, independent or interconnected. Sometimes there is an important election, a federal mandate, a court decision or a natural disaster to which the legislature needs to respond. For example, the Deepwater Horizon accident and the subsequent federal response brought about a years-long legislative battle on how to distribute the settlement funds.

Other times there exists seemingly routine events no less essential to the legislative process.

Here are four key events leading to the passage of the Rebuild Alabama Act, which included a ten cent per gallon gas tax increase.

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Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh assembles an infrastructure study committee

On November 8, 2017, Marsh brought together a myriad of stakeholders to begin assessing where Alabama stood with its infrastructure revenue and needs. Among those he brought into the discussion were groups representing small businesses, farmers, technology companies, truckers, the fuel industry and many others.

Through a series of open forums occurring throughout the following year, Marsh sought to arm members of the legislature with input from those groups, as well as data and information from the University of Alabama and Auburn University.

Not everyone who participated ended up supporting the measure, but there were few secrets left by the time the bill came up for debate.

President Donald Trump endorses increased funding for infrastructure

Trump’s endorsement of a 25-cent per gallon gas tax increase did not exactly win resounding praise from around the country. In fact, the “Never Trump” crowd seized on it as a way to try to cut into Trump’s popularity with the conservative base. However, it did have the effect of removing radioactivity from Republican conversations about funding for infrastructure.

Trump’s effort to participate in the conversation and at least propose an outline of a plan brought the issue to the forefront in a new and credible way.

The Business Council of Alabama gets a rebuild of its own

On June 18, 2018, Alabama Power’s Mark Crosswhite notified the state’s largest business organization that his company was withdrawing its membership. Crosswhite was demanding change for an organization which had seen its influence and effectiveness diminish significantly.

A one-page letter sent in June 2018 caused a seismic shift throughout Alabama’s business community and brought about a series of actions reordering the business power structure.

Less than six months later, the BCA named Katie Boyd Britt as its new president and Crosswhite’s effort to unite the business community and strengthen its advocacy network was complete. With so many subdivisions of the business community affected by the different elements of the infrastructure package, it is doubtful passage would have been possible had the business community remained in a fractured state.

Governor Kay Ivey grabs hold of the issue — and doesn’t let go

Ivey had frequently spoken about the need to fund infrastructure improvements. However, speculation had centered around the extent to which she would exert her influence to make it happen.

On February 27, Ivey held a press conference on a dilapidated road in Chilton County and declared that her plan to increase the gas tax and “Rebuild Alabama” was her number one priority. She spent the better part of the next two weeks promoting her plan and petitioning lawmakers for their support.

A common theme heard from policy makers was how much time and work Ivey devoted to the issue. Meetings and phone calls with members are said to have been constant. She made it her issue and was relentless in pursuit of its passage.

Ivey ultimately won big.

Honorable mention: Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson endorses the legislation

This event falls squarely within the category of essential symbolism. Stimpson went along with several other mayors in announcing their support for Ivey’s plan. He went so far as to call the plan a “generational opportunity.”

Stimpson’s background is a bit unique as a mayor of a large city, particularly when speaking about legislation involving a tax increase. He is a former chairman of the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. He is also a longtime member and leader within the Alabama Forestry Association. Both of those groups voiced opposition to Ivey’s plan in the form in which it passed.

So in certain circles Stimpson’s endorsement had added meaning.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

1 month ago

Air Force launches high-priority national security satellite atop Alabama-made ULA rocket

(ULA/Contributed)

The ability of U.S. forces to communicate anywhere in the world got stronger last night, and Alabamians did their part to make it happen.

The U.S. Air Force sent into space one of its WGS satellites on top of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket made at the company’s Decatur facility.

The ULA Delta IV launched the 10th Air Force mission for the WGS program.

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“We are very proud to deliver this critical asset to orbit in support of the U.S. and Allied warfighters deployed around the world defending our national security,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “Thank you to the entire ULA team and mission partners for their outstanding teamwork and dedication to mission success.”

The satellite powered into space on Friday evening will strengthen one of the military’s most vital space-based communications networks. The Air Force called it “the backbone of the U.S. military’s global satellite communications.”

The 218-foot tall Delta IV rocket has served these type of high-priority national security missions since entering service in 2002.

After facing a mere two hour launch window, Delta IV lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida with more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust.

This is the second-to-last launch of the “single-stick” Delta IV while ULA will continue to employ its Delta IV Heavy rocket. The Delta IV Heavy powered last year’s historic Parker Solar Probe launch.

ULA has maintained 100 percent mission success with this, the company’s 133rd launch.

WATCH LAUNCH HIGHLIGHTS:

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

1 month ago

Hot streak: Alabama NASCAR team on a roll after two straight wins

(Xtreme Concepts/Contributed)

For Alabama’s Xtreme Concepts Racing Team, heavy are the trophies when they start running out of hands to hold them.

That was the enviable problem for team owner Landon Ash when he went back to victory lane for the second week in a row in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series.

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Ash’s iK9 car driven by Kyle Busch had pulled into victory lane at the same race where Ash’s company was the title sponsor.

This presented a dilemma for Ash.

He had duties as both the owner of the company whose name was on the car — and on the race.

“We got to walk up there and present the trophy to Kyle Busch,” said Ash. “And it was great to be there with Kyle while he got his 198th win.”

That is when Ash realized the trophy was too heavy for him to hold in one hand while he held an iK9 dog in the other.

“They came up to me and handed me this big trophy,” explained Ash. “I’ve got the trophy in one hand, the dog in the other. So I said, ‘Ford, you have to help me, man. I can’t work the dog and hold this huge, heavy trophy with just one hand.”

So Xtreme Concepts team member Ford Brown got called on to present the trophy to Busch.

The opportunity to serve as title sponsor came up once the original sponsor backed out.

Ash jumped at the chance to have his iK9 brand sponsor the race.

“We worked something out to raise awareness for service dogs and name it the iK9 Service Dog 200,” he said. “We have a good relationship with the group that owns all those tracks, including Talladega where we are doing a partnership for the race coming up with veterans and first-responders.”

To take home the checkered flag in a race sharing the same name was a rare occurrence.

“It was great to have our car win a race and also be the main sponsor of the race,” said Ash. “We talked to a few people at Joe Gibbs Racing, and they didn’t remember the last time that ever happened.”

With Busch getting his 199th win the next day in the Cup race, Ash hopes his team can be part of history.

“We might be his 200th win in California,” he added.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

1 month ago

AL Supreme Court stymies sue-and-stall tactics employed by school choice opponents

(Wikicommons)

The Alabama Supreme Court has dealt school choice opponents a significant blow in their efforts to keep charter schools out of the state.

In an opinion with a wide-ranging impact released on Friday, the court cleared the way for the opening of the first charter school within Montgomery County.

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The ruling came as a result of an appeal in a lawsuit brought by the Alabama Education Association (AEA) against the Alabama Public Charter School Commission (APCSC) and a foundation seeking to open a charter school in Montgomery County.

Why it matters to Alabama: The thoughtful and well-written opinion by Associate Justice Mike Bolin clarified for the first time key provisions within the state’s charter school law. As a result, charter schools throughout Alabama can now apply for authorization, execute contracts and operate with a greater degree of confidence.

Key findings: One of the things the court made clear was that opponents should not be able to file suit as a way of simply forcing a charter school to miss its statutorily imposed deadlines. This takes away the use of what the court called “legal maneuvering” as a means of running out the clock. It should help limit some of the interference charter schools can run into when simply trying to execute a contract.

The court also provided guidance as to exactly how many votes are needed for the APCSC to approve an application and the circumstances under which local school systems should participate in the authorization process.

What it means for Montgomery County: Children in Montgomery finally have more options to obtain a quality education. Montgomery has long been one of the worst-performing school districts in the state with no end in sight. Financial mismanagement and dysfunctional leadership have crippled the system’s ability to operate. A total of eleven schools in Montgomery County appeared on the state department of education’s failing schools list.

What it means for the AEA: Even as recently as ten years ago, the AEA resembled the Rock of Gibraltar. It was a massive structure seemingly impossible to break apart. However, after a decade of blasting by conservatives committed to school choice and education reform, the rock now lays strewn across the landscape in much smaller pieces. And more blasting took place the day the court issued this opinion. This ruling impairs the AEA’s ability to block charter schools in districts desperately in need of better options, thereby weakening the whole of the organization even more.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News

2 months ago

Must-watch response to racist viral video: ‘That’s not the same Alabama I know and love’

(Ron Brown/Contributed)

The man who called moving to Alabama “the single greatest decision” of his life offered up some advice for the teenagers seen in the recent viral video of high school students from the Hoover area making racist remarks, as well as the rest of Alabama.

Hoover lawyer Ron Brown, who moved to Alabama from Chicago, said what he saw in the video is “not the same Alabama” he has come to know.

Watch:

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