10 months ago

Before the City of Mobile gives the University of South Alabama $10 million for a stadium, a few questions…

It took 46 years for varsity football to become a reality at Mobile’s University of South Alabama.

For many of those years, from the institution’s founding in 1963 up until the kickoff of its first varsity football game in 2009, the school’s leadership treated not having football like it was a badge of honor.

In college football-rich Alabama, the University of South Alabama was different than the others. It would be known for Coach Eddie Stanky’s baseball success, and the occasional “Peanut Butter & Jelly” type run in college basketball’s NCAA tournament as a mid-major program.

For decades, USA’s hierarchy resisted overtures for varsity football. And every so often, the school would commission a blue-ribbon panel to deliberate about the feasibility of college football at the University of South Alabama. Then it would determine the proper course of action was for USA to drag its feet more on football.

I remember. I was there for some of this — both as a University of South Alabama student and resident of Mobile.

Some of that may have had to do with the late Mayer Mitchell. As a member of the school’s Board of Trustees, Mitchell had a prominent role within the leadership of this institution.

He died in 2007 but did a lot for the University of South Alabama. He gave copious amounts of money to the school, and his name is on the university’s iconic Mitchell Center and its Mitchell Cancer Institute.

He was also, however, a big backer of the University of Alabama’s football program. Mitchell, known as “Bubba” in the University of Alabama world, was friends with legendary Alabama head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

With dual allegiances to Alabama and South Alabama, Mitchell probably was not in a hurry to see the University of South Alabama have an NCAA Division I football program.

The politics of public education and college football are as dog-eat-dog as real politics in the state of Alabama.

Case in point: The UAB on-and-off again football debacle.

Mitchell’s presence and loyalty to Tuscaloosa are perhaps why it took so long for South Alabama to get football.

Given there was no rush for the University of South Alabama to start a football program, it is ironic to see the institution’s urgent need for an on-campus stadium.

Since launching the program, the University of South Alabama has been using Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium. The stadium opened in 1948 and has been a fixture in Mobile, serving as the site of the annual Senior Bowl and the city’s yearly revolving-sponsor bowl game.

It was also the site of two pre-presidential appearances from Donald Trump, the first of which, in 2015, showed that Trump was a legitimate contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

South Alabama and its fans have soured on Ladd-Peebles Stadium in recent years. It’s an aging facility and is on the other side of town from the University of South Alabama. Therefore, it makes sense for that university to want its own on-campus facility.

However, the school is also seeking financial help from the City of Mobile to build it.

In case you haven’t been following this mini-drama taking place in Alabama’s port city, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has proposed retiring Ladd-Peebles Stadium, or possibly converting it to a high school football-only facility given the cost to renovate. According to Mayor Stimpson, the cost would be significantly more than just going in with the University of South Alabama and starting from scratch in West Mobile.

This proposal also includes moving the Senior Bowl and the city’s bowl game to this proposed new stadium.

Therefore, the mayor has lobbied his city council to commit $10 million over 20 years for USA’s $70-million-plus stadium project.

Mobile’s city council has been reluctant to agree to this proposal despite the rush to get this funding secured, as evidenced by Stimpson’s remark’s to the council earlier on Tuesday.

“Windows of opportunity close,” Stimpson said according to a report from Alabama Media Group’s Lawrence Specker. “The one with USA will close, and we need to ask, are we going to be on the inside or the outside.”

For those unfamiliar with the geography of Mobile, it’s not balkanized like Birmingham and it’s surrounding communities are. It spreads from the Mobile Bay on the east side and comes within eight miles of the Alabama-Mississippi State Line on its west side.

Right down the middle is Interstate 65, which is thought of as the dividing line between Mobile and West Mobile for some. For Mobilians, there’s an almost tribal instinct as to which side of town you dwell, and going beyond that Airport Blvd. and I-65 intersection is seen as a special trip by those living on either side of it.

My first question for the town elders of Mobile: Do we think people downtown, midtown, etc. will make a trip to West Mobile to see the University of South Alabama Jaguars take on the Texas State Bobcats? In actuality, it might not be that far. But the location could be a deterrent for those who would be giving up watching Auburn or Alabama in front of their TV in their homes on a Saturday afternoon.

Next question: Is this stadium project thought to be a way to spur economic development in this part of Mobile? I would consider what happens when that is a motivating force behind these big construction projects.

One example — making Mobile’s Airport out at Bates Field on the edge of town.

The value of the real estate along Airport Blvd. beyond I-65 did increase from the airport being there and not downtown. But after a few decades of a 13-mile inconvenience from downtown, there is a serious effort underway to move Mobile’s primary airport back downtown.

Add to that the fate of Hank Aaron Stadium. The team currently known as the Bay Bears are headed north to Madison County. The loss of minor league baseball in Mobile has some questioning if Hank Aaron Stadium, located at the intersection of Government Blvd. and I-65, should have been built closer to Mobile’s downtown.

Also: Am I the only one who thinks it is perverse for this to be the University of South Alabama’s primary focus? Some city council meetings as of late have turned into miniature pep rallies for the Jaguars, given the school has encouraged a show of support at meetings. Students and boosters have come to meetings wearing the USA “South in Your Mouth” gear.

Every other year, the University of South Alabama is instituting some fee or tuition increase.

The university’s belligerent endowment, the University of South Alabama Foundation, scoffed at the suggestion of contributing to a new stadium. (The relationship between USA and its endowment is a soap opera that warrants its own column someday.)

Lastly, why is there a lack of nostalgia for Ladd-Peebles Stadium from the people pushing the USA on-campus option? It’s a stadium that has hosted football games for Alabama, Auburn and Southern Miss over the years. Perhaps it has seen better days, but there is something to say about a historic city like Mobile having an iconic historical stadium.

One might think Mobile would have learned its lesson of completely abandoning historic for modern after building the monstrosity known as Government Plaza downtown. The failed spaceship look plagued with leaks doesn’t really scream 316-year-old city.

It is entirely legitimate to question the wisdom of the City of Mobile going in with $10 million of taxpayer money on an on-campus stadium, given all the other ailments of which the city is suffering. Opposing it doesn’t make you a troglodyte thwarting progress.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University (and the University of South Alabama) and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

6 hours ago

Tuberville backs Alabama legislator’s bill making murder of on-duty first responder a capital offense

Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville is backing HB 59, the bill passed by the Alabama Senate on Thursday that would make killing an on-duty first responder a capital offense.

The bill as amended and passed by the Senate names the proposed law in honor of slain Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner, who was shot and killed in the line of duty on Sunday night.

Sponsored by State Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), HB 59 passed the House previously. The amended version goes back to the chamber for expected concurrence next week.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Tuberville applauded the legislature for the bill, especially thanking the Senate for the amendment in Buechner’s memory, which was put onto the legislation by State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn).

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“I commend the Alabama Senate on their bill which makes the murder of an on-duty first responder a capital offense,” Tuberville said. “Murdering a first responder in Alabama should be classified as a capital offense. Not just police officers are covered in this bill all first responders are covered!”

The bill adds on-duty first responders to the list of murder victims that constitutes a capital offense. State law already makes the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer or prison guard a capital offense.

Note the difference between a Class A felony murder charge and a capital murder charge: capital offenses in Alabama are punishable (unless the defendant was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime) by life in prison without the possibility of parole or death. Class A felonies are punishable by 10-99 years in prison, with stricter guidelines for offenders with prior criminal convictions.

Sells’ bill would also add on-duty law enforcement officers, prison guards and first responders as victims in the list of aggravating circumstances to a capital offense. This would make the death penalty more likely in the sentencing phase of this kind of capital offense.

In HB 59, first responders are defined as emergency medical services personnel licensed by the Alabama Department of Public Health and firefighters and volunteer firefighters as defined by existing state law.

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes has said he will seek the death penalty if the man charged with Buechner’s death is convicted on a capital murder charge.

Tuberville’s vocal support for the bill came the same day as Buechner’s funeral.

“Today, as Officer William Buechner is laid to rest, we celebrate his heroic life and the ultimate sacrifice he made to protect our citizens,” Tuberville emphasized.

On Friday, Tuberville also visited Auburn Police Department Officer Webb Sistrunk, who was critically wounded in the shooting that killed Buechner.

(T. Tuberville/Facebook)

“It was such an honor for me to visit with Webb Sistrunk, one of the brave Auburn police officers who was shot earlier this week,” Tuberville shared.

Tuberville with Mark Sistrunk, the officer’s father (Contributed)

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

6 hours ago

‘Our hero’: Slain Auburn officer’s neighborhood lights up blue to honor him

Neighbors of murdered Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner are backing the blue in a very visible way, honoring the fallen hero’s life of selfless service.

As reported by WSFA, the Opelika subdivision that Buechner and his family lived in is showing their solidarity en masse.

In a moving tribute, many of the neighborhood’s homes have replaced their regular porch lights with blue lights, shining proudly in Buechner’s memory.

Tracy McDaniel is among those neighbors paying tribute to the officer and beloved community member.

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Tracy McDaniel’s home, as contributed by her. (Sally Pitts/Facebook)

McDaniels’ home is far from the exception. One photo shows an entire street the neighborhood turned blue to honor the fallen officer.

Photo by Samantha Xaysombath Smith (WSFA/Twitter)

“William was a lot of great things. A great man, friend, husband, and father, police officer, neighbor, the list goes on,” Smith explained. “His son will grow up to learn that his daddy was a hero, and we will forever remember that he was our hero too.”

Another woman in the neighborhood, who asked to remain anonymous when speaking with WSFA, said she was aware of at least 15 homes participating in the special tribute but expected that number to increase.

“We all have rallied to find each other more lightbulbs,” the woman said, “and contact those who have been out of town or may need assistance reaching their fixtures. It’s been a true team effort.”

The lights are reportedly expected to remain on at least through Saturday, the day after Buechner’s funeral.

Buechner is survived by his wife of three years, Sara; son, Henry; and step-daughter, McKenna.

“This village we speak of, he knows we will take care of Sara and the family,” Smith added. “After all, it does take a village. We back the blue.”

There has been a GoFundMe set up for Buechner’s family.

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

7 hours ago

Palmer introduces bill to stop federal funding of anti-ICE ‘sanctuary airports’

Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) is taking a major stand against airports in liberal strongholds that try to subvert federal law.

Palmer’s office on Thursday announced that the Birmingham-area congressman has introduced the PLANE Act, the Prohibiting Local Airports from Neglecting Enforcement Act (H.R. 2955).

In April, an airport in Seattle, Washington, banned flights known collectively as “ICE Air,” which included flights that deported illegal immigrants or transported detainees to the appropriate detention center.

If passed, the PLANE Act would withhold federal grants from airports that violate grant agreements by attempting similar action, such as imposing unreasonable conditions or restrictions on airplanes operating under ICE or other contracted government agencies.

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“Airports that refuse to cooperate with ICE should not receive federal grants,” Palmer said in a statement.

“The rule of law must not be thwarted by so-called ‘sanctuary airports,’ especially when they potentially delay the removal of people accused of crimes like human trafficking and rape,” he added. “Political posturing cannot be permitted when an airport has agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in exchange for federal funds.”

Palmer is now serving as the chair the Republican Policy Committee, which is the fifth highest ranking leadership role amongst Republicans in the United States House of Representatives.

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

8 hours ago

Rumors and Rumblings, 2nd Ed. Vol. VIII

“Rumors and Rumblings” is a regular feature on Yellowhammer News. It is a compilation of the bits and pieces of information that we glean from conversations throughout the week.

Enjoy.

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1. Hey Arnold! State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) caused a bit of a stir this week when he introduced a request to censure State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) for comments Rogers made during the chamber’s debate of the abortion bill. Numerous GOP House members were upset by the move, not so much for the substance of the request as much as for the timing — and the perceived motivation behind it.

The request came as the body was attempting to address a “ten-minute” calendar of bills. The aim of a ten-minute calendar is to quickly dispose of some of the more mundane pieces of legislation with the idea being that each member gets ten minutes to pass their bill or else the House moves on to the next item. As soon as Mooney introduced his letter of censure, the environment in the chamber became hostile, resulting in an adjournment and the end of the calendar. Dozens of members lost the opportunity, at that point at least, to pass their individual pieces of legislation, including an anti-human trafficking bill and legislation to help feed needy children in the state.

Some members wondered why Mooney waited nine days to introduce his letter. His letter was dated May 13 and not introduced until May 22. This event came on the heels of Mooney previously sending out a campaign letter to supporters questioning the ideological bearings of his fellow Republican legislators. When asked if Mooney had expressed any of these concerns to the GOP caucus at-large prior to his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, one member responded, “No. He had not.”

2. A tale of two cities. As Mooney spent the week trying to burnish the type of outsider credentials attractive to Club for Growth, another one of his colleagues spent his week in D.C. trying, presumably, to lay a similar foundation. State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) was boots on the ground in the nation’s capital this week. Dismukes has let it be known that he was contemplating his own run for the U.S. Senate. He has done a fair job of keeping those cards close to the vest, although his trip to Washington would lend to the notion that he continues to have interest in a federal office.

The mathematical side effect of Dismukes’ absence nearly reached a heightened level of consequence. Consideration of any legislation prior to the passage of both budgets requires a 3/5 vote of those in the body voting. The lottery failed this week because it did not receive the required 3/5 threshold of those voting. In Dismukes’ absence from the state, someone voted his machine on his behalf as an abstention rather than simply not voting at all. He was the only legislator to vote to abstain. This still raises the threshold of required votes.

There were 90 total members that voted — which means the lottery needed 54 votes to proceed. It only received 53. Had someone not voted Dismukes’ machine and 89 members had voted, the lottery would still have needed 54 votes but by a much slimmer margin since 3/5 of 89 equals 53.4. That’s how close the lottery came to advancing to full consideration by the House.

3. Is broadband really a priority for members of the Alabama House? While the state legislature’s budget negotiations have been relatively smooth so far this session, there is one major issue that has seemingly popped up at the last minute.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Senate Finance and Taxation Education Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) put $30 million in the Senate-passed Education Trust Fund Budget for the state’s rural broadband grant program established last year by State Senator Clay Scofield’s (R-Guntersville) landmark legislation.

As the legislature continues to work on beefing up last year’s legislation through Scofield’s SB 90 this year, the House is now seemingly set to slash the broadband funding approved by the Senate. The House Ways and Means Education Committee this week approved an education budget that cut the broadband funding by 73%, dragging the total down from $30 million to only $8 million.

Proponents of the larger number have said that there is not a better use of one-time money than to expand broadband services across the state. Will Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) and the House at-large work with the Senate and restore the important broadband funding?

4. Art of the Deal. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) once again proved his master negotiating skills this week, securing a crucial disaster relief package deal against seemingly insurmountable differences between the increasingly polarized factions in Washington, D.C.

This package will provide much-needed aid to many in the Yellowhammer State, including those in southeast Alabama devastated by Hurricane Michael.

Shelby bridged the gap between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, while even managing to get President Donald Trump to drop his demands to include non-disaster related earmarks in the package — a concession that was key to getting enough votes in the Senate and House. The legislation quickly passed the Senate 85-8 Thursday before a lone House member objected to its unanimous passage on Friday. The House can take the legislation up after Memorial Day on Tuesday, when it is expected to overwhelmingly pass that chamber and then be signed into law.

One keen observer told Yellowhammer News that this type of achievement will not make nearly the number of headlines it should back at home, but once again Shelby has delivered for his state as he continues to cement his legacy as “Alabama’s greatest statesman.”

8 hours ago

Alabama legislature passes bill to ensure accuracy in meat labeling

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday took steps to ensure that the definition of “meat” when applied to food labeling should only apply to products sourced from livestock on farms and ranches and harvested through processing; the bill clarifies that laboratory-grown products may not be labeled as meat, protecting Yellowhammer State consumers from potentially misleading packaging.

In a unanimous vote, the Senators passed HB 518, sponsored by State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens) and State Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay). The bill was previously passed by the House 97-2 and now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

“This is proactive legislation to ensure clarity in food labeling. Around the country, there are more and more companies trying to market lab-grown products as meat, which is misleading since they aren’t derived from actual livestock production,” Sessions said in a statement.

Sessions pointed out that the nutritional and safety risks of foods developed in labs from animal cell cultures are still unknown.

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“These new lab-produced foods are, at best, synthetic meats, and their nutritional effects are unknown right now. Let’s see how the science develops through further research, and make a clear distinction between meat that is farm-raised on the one hand, and lab-based products on the other,” he advised.

The beef cattle industry represents a $2.5 billion industry in Alabama and is the number two agricultural commodity in the Yellowhammer State, with over 20,000 cattle farms. Beef continues to be a favorite protein among consumers worldwide, with exports of American beef representing an $8 billion industry by itself.

“The Alabama Cattlemen’s Association represents over 10,000 members across the state. As alternative proteins enter the marketplace in coming years, we think it is imperative that the integrity of all meat labels are protected and clear for consumers when they go to the meat case,” Erin Beasley, executive vice president of the Alabama Cattleman’s Association, commented.

She concluded, “The passage of this bill is a win-win for the consumers who love to buy beef, and the cattlemen who work hard to produce a high-quality product. We would like to thank the Alabama Legislature for the support of this bill, and especially Senator David Sessions and Representative Danny Crawford for carrying the bill.”

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