6 years ago

Bentley only uses a private email account; here’s why that’s a big deal, and why it’s not

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, right, and Attorney General Luther Strange listen to Alabama Ethics Commission Director Judge John Carroll during an ethics training session at the Capitol Auditorium in Montgomery, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, right, and Attorney General Luther Strange listen to Alabama Ethics Commission Director Judge John Carroll during an ethics training session at the Capitol Auditorium in Montgomery, Ala., Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

Alabama sports website and liberal political blog AL.com on Tuesday declared, “Gov. Robert Bentley has a Hillary Clinton problem.”

The provocative headline fueled a round of talk radio discussion surrounding revelations that Gov. Bentley has never maintained a state government email account, opting instead to correspond using a personal email account.

The article was penned by opinion columnist John Archibald. Mr. Archibald mentioned in the article that he made “an official records request for the governor’s emails,” but only received a reply from the governor’s IT administrator saying, “Governor Bentley does not have, nor has he ever had an email account with the State of Alabama.”

What Archibald did not mention in his column, however, is that he was also sent the records he requested: Text message and email correspondence for the year 2015 between Governor Bentley and his senior political advisor Rebekah Mason. This is a notable omission, one, because it exposes the author’s unstated motivation for making the initial open records request; and two, because it reveals his willingness to leave out pertinent details to advance a narrative.

On the first point, AL.com recently published a series of thinly sourced articles citing a Facebook post speculating that Governor Bentley had carried on an illicit affair with Mrs. Mason. The organization received intense criticism among journalists who questioned the ethics of using what the Montgomery Advertiser described as “some people are questioning” sourcing when they really want to report something but are missing verifiable proof. The blowback has presumably compelled Mr. Archibald and other AL.com writers to continue digging for vindication.

On the second point, once Mr. Archibald did not get what he was hoping for out of the open records request, he ignored his own findings while continuing to advance the narrative that the Bentley Administration is withholding information.

Yellowhammer News made the same request for records as Mr. Archibald and found that Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason have only corresponded via text and email this year on a handful of occasions.

The emails from Mrs. Mason to Gov. Bentley each included a link to a story with no additional comments.

The stories were as follows:
Bentley won’t retreat on taxes as budget stalemate continues | Dothan Eagle
Talladega Mayor Larry Barton describes beating; questions raised about sex tape | Al.com
Governor John Kasich speaks at the Iowa State Fair | C-Span

The text message correspondence between Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason was not much different.

Mrs. Mason sent the governor a link to one WAAYTV article titled “Alabama Governor Robert Bentley sits down for interview.”

The most interesting insight was from the morning of July 19th of this year when Gov. Bentley sent the following text to Mrs. Mason:

Need a briefing by perry smith 9am on Tuesday. About arming gaurd. I want a plant to arm!! Need you spencer perry and his people. Jennifer by phone for press. Or yas Rebekah for political. Others ? But probably enough.

The Governor followed up moments later with another text that said, “Sent to Seth,” presumably explaining that he had sent the previous text message to his chief of staff, Seth Hammett.

That same afternoon the story broke on Yellowhammer that Bentley had decided to arm the Alabama National Guard in the wake of shootings in Chattanooga, Tennessee in which five service members were killed by a radical Islamist at two separate military facilities.

This is not to say that Gov. Bentley and Mrs. Mason do not interact frequently — even constantly, on some days — only that their interaction is done in person or over the phone, rather than by text and email.

With all of that having been said, let’s dig into an important question that is worth considering, in spite of Mr. Archibald’s dishonest tactics: Is it a big deal that Governor Bentley does not maintain a state government email address, opting instead to correspond using a personal email account?

WHY IT’S A BIG DEAL

Transparency is important.

Trust in government is near an all-time low. Many Alabamians already question Gov. Bentley’s honesty after he drastically changed positions on tax increases after winning re-election. In that context, it is a particularly bad idea to fuel the perception of opaqueness by not maintaining a government email address.

Gov. Bentley is not the first governor to exclusively use a private email account. In fact, two former staffers to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley told Yellowhammer Tuesday that they do not recall Riley utilizing a state email account, either.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush earlier this year released hundreds of thousands of emails from his time as the Sunshine State’s chief executive. Many of them were sent via a personal email account housed on a private server. This resulted in Bush being praised by some transparency advocates, and criticized by others who insisted that all correspondence should have been subject to archival by the government’s process, rather than by the elected official’s.

All politicians know the importance of perception. Why create the perception — if not the reality — of surreptitiousness for no good reason? Just use the government’s email system.

The administration has a legal obligation to archive its official correspondence.

In addition to the public relations issues, Gov. Bentley’s decision to forego a state government email account could pose a challenge for the administration’s legal obligation to archive its official correspondence.

The administration downplays those concerns, saying that any of the Governor’s official correspondence with state government officials has been captured by the other individual’s state government email, in spite of the Governor not using one himself.

“If email from a state account on state business is sent to the Governor’s personal account, that email communication is to be preserved by the employee sending the email communication in accordance with the Governor’s Office Records Retention Policy,” said Bentley’s communications director Jennifer Ardis.

When asked if the administration could say with complete confidence that there had never been an instance in which the Governor used his personal email account for official business and it was not captured and archived, Ms. Ardis said they could.

“The Governor’s Office takes its archival responsibility seriously—both from a legacy perspective and a legal perspective,” she said. “As files are closed and matters concluded, these are archived on a rolling basis in accordance with the Governor’s Office Records Retention and Archiving Policy.”

WHY IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL

There is not much to archive.

The governor is just plain old school when it comes to communication, conducting most of his business face-to-face or over the phone.

Numerous individuals who regularly interact with the Governor — some inside the Administration, some not — all told Yellowhammer the overwhelming majority of their interaction with Gov. Bentley is done in one of those two ways. Some of them said they had never received a single email during their years working with the Governor.

This has been my personal experience as well. The Governor has typically responded to my emails with a phone call or by having one of his staffers reply to set up a meeting or address my request or concern.

Gov. Bentley is not alone in his sparse use of email.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) raised eyebrows earlier this year for admitting he has never sent an email. Yellowhammer also asked Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) about his email habits.

“I have an iPhone and it belongs to the Senate and it’s all I use,” he said. “I have [sent emails]. Not a lot. The best thing is person-to-person like I’m talking to you. To my staff, talk to them on the phone but also notes. Hand notes. I write a lot. I’ve been here a while; I’m a little older than y’all.”

While it is unimaginable for those of us whose work and personal lives revolve around Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail that someone could go their entire day—much less their entire life—without sending a single email, electronic communication is simply not as important to every day life for previous generations.

This does not excuse Gov. Bentley’s decision to forego a state government email account in favor of a personal one, but the point is, it seems a little over-the-top to make a huge deal out of emails when the guy barely sends any of them.

He’s not dealing with matters of national security.

“Gov. Robert Bentley has a Hillary Clinton problem,” the clickbait headline of AL.com’s article on Gov. Bentley’s email practices, is absurd on its face.

The differences between these two individuals and their email issues are so obvious that I hesitate to insult your intelligence by explaining them, but just consider this.

Hillary Clinton’s private email server held classified information like spy satellite images tracking the movement of North Korea’s nuclear assets. That type of intel is typically handled within a special compartment called Talent-Keyhole. In layman’s terms, this is some of the most sensitive information in all of the intelligence community, sometimes even referred to as “above Top Secret.” This is the kind of sensitive intelligence that Russia, China and North Korea deploy armies of hackers to steal.

To compare the sensitive nature of the emails of a governor who’s worrying about state parks and driver’s license offices, to those of the U.S. Secretary of State, who is tackling geopolitical crises and diplomatic negotiations, is beyond ridiculous.

However, there are times when governors do have to deal with issues related to homeland security. For instance, portions of certain natural disaster response or preparedness plans could be classified because they contain information related to the power grid or other critical infrastructure. Yellowhammer asked the Governor’s office if he had ever discussed such issues via email.

“Classified and privileged information is shared and discussed with the Governor face-to-face only,” the Governor’s spokesperson said in response.


7 hours ago

Gov. Kay Ivey signs bill into law allowing alcohol delivery in Alabama effective later this year

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey on Monday signed into law SB 126, which will legalize the home delivery of alcohol in the state of Alabama effective October 1, 2021.

Sponsored by Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) and Rep. Gil Isbell (R-Gadsden) in the respective chambers, SB 126 will create a licensing process that ultimately allows liquor, beer and wine sold at retailers to be delivered to residences, including by services such as Shipt, Instacart or DoorDash.

The new law contains limits on the amounts of each beverage that can be delivered, and deliveries can not be made to dry counties and dry cities.

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Deliveries of sealed alcoholic beverages under the law may occur from grocery stores, restaurants, breweries and other retail establishments licensed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Any alcohol delivered from a restaurant under the provisions of SB 126 must accompany a meal.

All delivery drivers carrying alcohol will be required to undergo a background check and must be at least 21 years old. The bill requires that a person age-21 or older must receive all deliveries of alcohol.

SB 126 received final passage by the legislature last week.

“Our legislation allows for alcohol delivery with strict, multiple layers of checks and balances in place. The legislation explicitly regulates that alcohol deliveries are made only to adults of legal drinking age,” Waggoner has said in a statement.

Isbell added, “Passing common sense rules for safe alcohol delivery in Alabama is smart all around – giving more options to consumers relying on delivery services while providing a boost to delivery workers and local retail businesses during a pivotal time.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

The Frontier Industrial Innovation Conference set for April 13-14

The past decade has brought tremendous changes to businesses in industrial and energy sectors. Taking advantage of those changes to uniquely position and empower each sector to shape the future industrial economy is the objective of The Frontier Conference. The two-day event is being held virtually this year from The Frontier‘s home in Birmingham.

The Frontier is the only conference of its kind to focus on emerging technologies for all key industrial subsectors. Its goal is to forge connections and collaboration among industrial innovation stakeholders. The conference will include an exciting mix of innovators, executives, entrepreneurs, investors and up-and-coming leaders of the industrial world to think, talk and hear about ideas and technologies that are shaping the future of industry.

“The Frontier Conference is about solution-seekers who are shaping the future of industrial innovation,” said The Frontier founder Hank Torbert. “Our goal is to contribute to that process and help companies succeed by sharing ideas and innovations across sectors. That also helps us stay focused on emerging development and trends and ensure that we continue to provide all who attend with valuable information, access and opportunities.”

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More than 200 people have registered for the conference, representing 130 organizations and 17 major industries from more than 20 states and five foreign countries. Attendees include business leaders seeking capital, partners, customers, new lines of business and innovative solutions for specific functions, such as economic development.

The 2021 conference is the first for The Frontier since its move from New Orleans to Birmingham in 2019. Torbert called Birmingham “the ideal home for The Frontier,” given the city’s industrial history and its emerging status as an epicenter for development of future industries.

“Throughout its history, Birmingham has been a city of pioneers, builders, innovators and entrepreneurs,” Torbert noted. “Today, it is a major epicenter of industrials, as is Alabama as a whole, whether you’re talking about automotive, chemicals, transportation, aerospace or manufacturing in general. That energy fits with our goal of building an industrial innovation community across all sectors that allows for the collaboration and expansion of emerging ideas and technologies.”

Torbert said Birmingham benefits from both private and public leadership that understands the economic evolution underway worldwide and is committed to an approach to economic growth that is diversified, innovative, strategic and collaborative. That’s a key factor in Birmingham’s emergence as a national leader in creating and attracting jobs of the future, he added – an assessment that is endorsed by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

“We understand that the industrial world is undergoing rapid transformation,” Woodfin said. “Birmingham’s commitment to innovation is part of our vision for helping our industrial sector remain competitive by transforming the ways they operate, compete and do business. We’re pleased to have The Frontier as a partner and a resource in our efforts.”

The growing energy for innovation in Birmingham extends to the rest of the state. Alabama continues to position itself for sustained success in the economy of the 21st century.

The state ranks third nationally in auto exports and has a strong presence in the chemical industry, where over 200 companies employ a total of more than 10,000 people, with annual exports exceeding $2 billion. Alabama also ranks among the top 10 states in the growth of biotech research funding, led by major research facilities in Birmingham and Huntsville.

In just the past five years, Alabama’s biotech startups have attracted well over $100 million in venture capital. At both the state and local levels, public and private entities are investing in workforce development initiatives to ensure a well-educated labor pool for new and expanding industries.

“Increasingly, Alabama’s innovation community demonstrates its commitment to the idea that we are here to work, learn and grow together,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). “Collaboration is an essential ingredient in our overall success, and we’ve seen that The Frontier is committed to helping those partnerships flourish.”

Along with EDPA and 30 other corporate and organizational partners, Alabama Power is a sponsor of The Frontier Conference. The conference will provide benefits from connections made and information shared, in addition to promoting the benefits of doing business in Alabama.

“We are constantly identifying new initiatives, products and services to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” said John Smola, director of Business Transformation and Administration for Alabama Power. “The Frontier conference provides an opportunity for us to learn from, engage with and gain best practices from other industry peers focused on innovation and customer offerings.”

To learn more about The Frontier, or to register for The Frontier Conference, visit thefrontier.co.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 hours ago

Seven-ton elephant statue takes its place outside Bryant-Denny Stadium

Tuska, a 19-foot-tall, seven-ton bronze elephant statue, was installed Monday in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama.

The newly named Tuska Plaza is at the southeast corner of Tuscaloosa’s University Boulevard and Wallace Wade Avenue. The project includes new landscaping, a large pedestal for Tuska to stand on, sidewalks surrounding the statue and lighting elements for nighttime viewing, UA announced.

The statue was recently donated to UA by the Tuscaloosa-headquartered Westervelt Company, along with a generous gift from Bill and Mary Battle.

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The statue was sculpted by English artist Terry Mathews and has resided at nearby NorthRiver Yacht Club for the past 20 years.

Tuska’s installation comes just in time for Alabama football’s annual A-Day scrimmage, which will kick off at noon on Saturday, April 17.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

Regions lighting up Birmingham headquarters building for annual Regions Tradition golf tournament

Regions Bank, title sponsor of the Regions Tradition, will light up the Regions Center in downtown Birmingham with the image of a golfer in preparation for the upcoming golf tournament.

Starting on Monday night at 8:00 p.m. CT, all four sides of the Regions Center will be lit with images of a golfer, allowing a 360-degree view from anywhere near the building. The 20-story light display will be lit daily from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. and again from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. through May 9.

This year’s Regions Tradition will be held May 5-9 at Greystone Golf and County Club. Enhanced protocols will be in place related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The tournament – even last year when it was canceled due to coronavirus – continues to be a major generator of charitable support and donations. In fact, the total amount raised in 2020 represented the largest amount raised in one year in the history of the tournament. Children’s of Alabama is the primary beneficiary, and other area nonprofit organizations also significantly benefit.

Overall, the event generates an estimated annual economic impact of $25 million statewide.

The Regions Tradition remains one of the premier stops of the PGA TOUR Champions, which is the men’s professional senior golf tour for those aged 50 and older. In fact, it is one of five majors on the tour.

The event will once again feature Hall of Fame-caliber golfers, as well as a celebrity pro-am with some of the biggest names around.

On the professional side, this year’s lineup is slated to include the likes of Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, Bernhard Langer, John Daly and Vijay Singh.

Celebrities set to participate include Nick Saban, Bo Jackson and Kirby Smart.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

Allowing lottery purchases through a cellphone is a terrible idea but the Alabama Legislature might do it

Another week is here, and that means we are into another week of gambling conversation.

Many discussions have already been had about what type of gambling we will have in the state of Alabama and who will benefit.

Will it just be a lottery and nothing more? Will it be casino gaming? Will there be sports betting? Will I be able to bet on WrestleMania? Will the Poarch Band of Creek Indians be happy? Will illegal casino owners across the state be happy? Will out-of-state investors want to come to the state and build casinos? Will the money go to the General Fund? Will the money go to education? Will the money go to ISIS?

Most people of the state of Alabama don’t really care about the particulars here. They don’t know that the Alabama Senate is about to substitute a “simple” lottery bill by Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) while Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has a more complicated and comprehensive bill that would open up gambling in the state of Alabama.

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Personally, I don’t think the votes are there for any of this. There are too many competing factions that will not allow gambling legislation to move forward unless their side benefits, but at the same time they don’t want the other sides to benefit. This is why we are in a never-ending stalemate.

But missing in all of this is a very bad idea wrapped in a very vanilla idea.

No one is really concerned about the lottery. Over 70% of the people in the state appear to want a lottery of some kind, and support for other types of gaming is less but still there.

Most people view the lottery as a relatively benign thing. They want to be able to buy lottery tickets at their local grocery store and gas station while picking up other items. The average person will buy whatever they need at the store and then plop down a couple of one-dollar bills on chances to win a couple million in return. It’s a long shot, but it is simple fun and generally harmless.

Unless it is not.

The Alabama legislation, as currently proposed, would allow Alabama residents to purchase lottery tickets through their phones. While this seems generally harmless, I will remind you that to purchase lottery tickets this way you will need a credit card, a debit card or a direct link to your bank account.

So what?

What is the difference if I buy a lottery ticket with a $5 bill at the grocery store or if I do it via a smartphone app?

Good question with a simple answer.

If you allow people to buy lottery tickets on credit, people will buy lottery tickets on credit.

If you make it easy for people to drain their bank accounts to buy lottery tickets, people will drain their bank account to buy lottery tickets.

It is just human nature. No one in their right mind would go down to their local convenience store to buy $1,500 worth of lottery tickets, but if you allow them to do that by entering a passcode on their phone, they will do it.

Use of the transaction, the lack of the shame that is created by bringing in hundreds of dollars to risk on a pick 6 and the ability to do it all in the dark, make it far more likely.

This is a terrible feature of all the lottery legislation that has been proposed.

And conversations with McClendon and others make it clear that this feature — it is a feature and not a bug — will stay in the bills.

McClendon laid this out during a recent radio interview on WVNN in Huntsville.

Partial transcript as follows:

We have an entire generation that does life on their phone. They order lunch on their phone, they get their plane ticket on their phone, they call their Uber on their phone, they meet their girlfriend or boyfriend on the phone. This generation of people, they’re not going to stand in line at the “handy mart” to buy a ticket. And this business of buying an iPhone like lottery ticket is very common throughout the rest of the country, that is no big deal and it’s pretty sophisticated too…You download your charge card.

So simple, so easy, so … bad.

Our neighboring states, which we love to talk about because they already have the lottery, ban this practice.

In fact, of the 45 lottery states in the United States, only 21 allow this stuff to be done over the phone. This means that 24 states understand this to be an issue.

To make this even more clear, some merchants won’t allow this practice at their locations even if the state does.

It is because this is such a bad idea. Think about it — faceless corporations heard they could make money off of lottery tickets by accepting credit cards for them and said, “No, that’s a little sketchy and not good for the customer.”

There is a message here.

The lottery has been called “a tax on stupid people,” but that doesn’t mean we should allow the state to take advantage of them.

I know, I know, personal responsibility and all that. If someone wants to get a new credit card and max it out on Mega Millions, let him. After all, it is his money and his problem, right?

Kinda. But we should do all we can to help people make less disastrous decisions.

Look at it this way: We build roads on mountains and tell people that they need to go slower and be cautious because the risk is greater as we drive near the edge. The risk is yours if you head up there, so be careful.

But, we also put guardrails on the more treacherous parts of the path.

They operate as protection for both the dummies who want to whip around the roads for a thrill and for the Johnson family of five out for a weekend drive whose dad takes his eyes off the road to tell Timmy to stop hitting his sister. We don’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “Sorry, Timmy, you’re dead.”

For that reason, part of the bill needs to be tweaked in whatever form gambling takes in Alabama to put those guardrails up.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.