The Wire

  • Assistant U.S. attorney to replace Hart in leading Special Prosecutions Division

    Excerpt:

    Multiple sources have told Yellowhammer News that Anna “Clark” Morris, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, will take over the Special Prosecutions Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

    The announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday. Attorney General Steve Marshall accepted the resignation of Deputy Attorney General Matt Hart, who has led the division for years, on Monday morning.

    Morris served as the acting U.S. Attorney for Alabama’s middle district last year, in between President Donald Trump firing former USA George Beck in March of 2017 and now-USA Louis Franklin being confirmed that September.

  • EPA official resigns after indictment on Alabama ethics charges, replaced by Alabama native

    Excerpt:

    Even with Trey Glenn leaving his post as the EPA’s Region Four administrator, Alabama will still have strong ties to the leader of that office.

    According to The Hill, Mary Walker was named by EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler to fill the vacant role in an acting capacity after Glenn resigned on Monday following his indictment on ethics charges in Alabama.

    Walker is a native of the Yellowhammer State and had been serving as Glenn’s deputy.

  • Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine coming to Birmingham in 2019

    Excerpt:

    The Tim Tebow Foundation’s “Night to Shine,” a magical prom night experience for people with special needs, is coming to Birmingham.

    Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church will serve as one of the nearly 500 churches around the world to host Night to Shine on February 8, 2019.

    Night to Shine is an event for people 14 and older with special needs to receive royal treatment. Guests will enter the event on a red carpet filled with a crowd and paparazzi. Once they make it into the building, guests will be able to choose from an array of activities to partake in including hair and makeup stations, shoe shining areas and limousine rides. They can also choose their corsages and boutonnieres.

1 day ago

Exclusive — Speaker McCutcheon, House Majority Leader Ledbetter discuss priorities for 2019 legislative session

(Facebook)

Yellowhammer News sat down with Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) to discuss the “red wave” that resulted in the largest Republican supermajority ever in the Alabama House of Representatives, the major issues expected to be the focus of the 2019 legislative session and their respective leadership roles and styles.

In the second of this three-part series, we touch on a few of the legislative issues that the Alabama House Republican Caucus, led by McCutcheon and Ledbetter, will likely have to tackle this coming spring, including the hot-button topics of infrastructure, the lottery and ethics reform.

They also mentioned economic and workforce development, along with education reform and school safety as focuses moving forward.

If you missed it, you can read the first part here. Check Yellowhammer News in the coming days for part three. 

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Both McCutcheon and Ledbetter applauded the state of Alabama’s economy and the boom seen under recent Republican leadership in the state. However, they used this as a natural segue into talking about the major issues facing the legislature on Goat Hill come March, saying that with the success comes even more work needed to continue the positive trend and reach greater heights.

This was articulated especially well by McCutcheon’s new chief of staff Mark Tuggle, who decided not to run for re-election to a third term in the State House this election cycle.

“We have a record that we ran on [as a Republican House Caucus]. We had brand new people, good candidates, who ran on our record, our eight-year record. Voters, the constituents, are buying into this record. They have seen the successes. They’re seeing it in their wallet, they’re seeing it with some of their kids and their ability to have some de minimis parental choice in education and that’s a big deal,” Tuggle outlined.

“We’ve made generational changes, decisions that are going to impact this state for generations,” Tuggle added. “And we’re just in the infancy of seeing that [come to fruition]. But people are seeing it. And they’re buying into the narrative, they’re buying into our leadership and the Republican brand. And I say, going forward, we’ve got to govern to protect that brand and not take any of it for granted.”

McCutcheon said, “I tell people all the time – the best days are ahead in Alabama. And I really believe that.”

“I’m excited. As the Speaker said, I think our best days are ahead of us,” Ledbetter remarked.

He continued, “For me, in my lifetime, the growth in the economy going the way it is in Alabama, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it moving this strong. And I think what we’ve got to do as leaders, we’ve got to quit kicking the can down the road and solve problems.”

‘Our biggest issue’

While there will be several key items on the 2019 legislative agenda that cannot be kicked down the road, perhaps the “biggest issue” will be infrastructure.

Ledbetter advised, “The biggest problem we’ve got facing our state right now, for us to continue the economic growth that we’ve seen over the past two years, is we’ve got to fix our infrastructure.”

He continued, “You know, when we’ve got CEOs of companies – Mercedes stands up and says unless we get the infrastructure fixed, it’s going to be harder for us to expand because we can’t move our product from Tuscaloosa to the Port of Mobile – it gets tougher and tougher. So, I think infrastructure is our biggest issue.”

McCutcheon also emphasized the importance of the issue and the gravity of the task ahead for the legislature.

“One of the big issues we’re going to face early on in this next session is infrastructure, transportation. There’s no doubt about that the need is there, we’ve got to continue to educate the public – we’re working through all of the issues that are out there with previous infrastructure bills,” the speaker said.

This is an item that affects every Alabamian, and it hits where it matters most – not only the wallet, but road safety can quite literally be a life or death issue. It also might mean, metaphorically, life or death for the state’s economic surge.

“I think if we don’t step up to the plate and fix it, my fear is that growth that we’re seeing right now in our state’s economy is just going to hit a brick wall and stop, cease to continue. That’s how important it is,” Ledbetter advised.

While important, the infrastructure issue is also perhaps equally as complex, even though some people only equate it to raising revenue, as the last time that was done in the state was 1992.

“Some people want to just stop when you mention ‘gas tax,’ but this thing is bigger than that,” McCutcheon explained.

“It’s about funding formulas, how do you distribute money with counties and cities – we’re talking about road miles in each of our counties versus our cities. Looking at revenues coming in the populated areas, for example I-65, the major route north and south in our state that connects North Alabama to the docks in Mobile. All of these issues are important. And so because of that, the governor has said herself, as well as the Senate [leadership] and myself here in the House, that infrastructure is going to be a priority moving forward,” McCutcheon detailed.

He continued, “We’ve got to have some new revenue, there’s no doubt about that. Gas tax at the pump is going to be a part of the discussion. But also funding formulas, also maybe having some legislative [input] into how the money’s being spent on certain projects to help and assist ALDOT, looking at a growth product so it’s not another 26 years later and we’re sitting here struggling with this issue again, these are all things that are going to be a part of that bill.”

Changing technology is an interesting facet of the discussion, not just with the advances in fuel efficiency.

“Electric vehicles, too,” McCutcheon said. “When you look at the technology and you talk to some of the auto manufacturers, they’re talking about in 5-10 years a huge percentage of all vehicles on the road will be electric. Well, how do we maintain revenue for those vehicles? That’s got to be a part of this discussion and this bill.”

While some of these important details certainly require nuance in an eventual infrastructure proposal in 2019, Ledbetter wanted to remind readers that this comes down to the local level across the state, from rural areas to urban ones.

“My county, just in my county, which Dekalb is a rural county, the [local] superintendent [of education] got me some numbers for our buses, and our buses had to travel over 30,000 miles last year alone just to go around bad bridges. So, it’s also become a safety factor. And it’s been [26] years now since we increased the gasoline tax [in Alabama],” Ledbetter shared.

The legislators will need to hammer out all of the crucial details and a final proposed bill is still a ways off, but the majority leader framed this as not a political consideration, but as a policy necessity.

“I don’t know what the whole package will hold, but we’ll see going forward. I certainly think that infrastructure is a major, major issue for our state. And, you know, the thing about it is if we are truly public servants and not politicians, we need to fix the problems for the next generation and not the next election,” Ledbetter said.

How does Trump fit in?

McCutcheon and Ledbetter also stressed the importance of Alabama having the requisite matching funds if the Trump administration and Congress are able to pass federal infrastructure legislation in the coming year.

McCutcheon advised, “We can’t do all of the necessary things we need to do for our roads without some federal dollars coming in. Because of that, if we can get support from Washington, D.C., it’ll go a long way of helping us [in Alabama].”

While federal support is needed in Alabama, the state also will have to do its part to utilize that support.

“The last thing we want to see is for Washington, D.C. to pass some type of road/transportation funding that requires a match and then here we are in Alabama and we don’t have any money to match with and we lose out,” McCutcheon emphasized.

“That’s [another] problem we have right now,” Ledbetter added. “If the federal government were to pass an infrastructure package, and I do think we’ll see that bill coming, we couldn’t do anything with it right now. Because we don’t have the matching funds for it. There’s not going to be a federal infrastructure package that’s not going to call for matching monies. So, with our state’s situation right now as far as our roads and bridges, we don’t have the money to match. We’d lose billions and billions of dollars [in federal funding] if they were indeed to get that package passed through Congress if we don’t have something in place in Alabama.”

The speaker and the majority leader both think that President Donald Trump’s support for infrastructure funding, including a gasoline tax increase, could help Republican state representatives in Alabama, some of whom may be on the fence ahead of the session, get behind the issue, given the president’s approval ratings in the Yellowhammer State.

“I think certainly with his help and locally, the governor met with our Caucus and that was her primary focus when speaking with us – she said we’ve got to do something with our infrastructure, we’ve got to work on a bill that’s going to be productive for all our counties and cities and for the state,” Ledbetter shared.

He continued, “I certainly think [President Trump] getting behind it and then our governor getting behind it is going to help tremendously. And we’ve got lots of different folks in our state pushing it, too. Truckers, farmers, all these people see a need and they’re on board.”

Ledbetter also noted that the Caucus’ members are included in the large, diverse group of Alabamians who see the need for an infrastructure bill in 2019.

“I think that is the general sentiment [that there is a need] … I think, for the most part, we’ll have wide support for it, if it’s the right bill – we’ve got to get the right bill. And everybody’s got to have input for it. But once that happens, I think we have a really good chance, I really do,” Ledbetter added.

‘We’re just going to try and put a little more common sense into a good ethics bill’

The speaker had a few comments to frame the discussion around an anticipated ethics reform bill in 2019, with the Attorney General’s Office and the Ethics Commission, along with the Alabama Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission, set to play major roles in this debate.

“I think you’re going to see some discussion on possible ethics amendments,” McCutcheon advised. “We’re not trying to [redo] the ethics bill by any means, we have a good ethics bill in place, it’s doing its job – as it should. And I support that, it’s a strong ethics bill. But there are some little things in it that need to be amended and clarified. I like to say that we’re just going to try and put a little more common sense into a good ethics bill. So, you’ll see some discussion on ethics coming in 2019.”

‘They’re constantly calling me about the lottery’

Another interesting discussion will involve whether or not to allow Alabamians to vote on a constitutional amendment that would institute a lottery in the Yellowhammer State.

On this, McCutcheon shared some of his personal perspective.

The speaker said, “When you look at some districts that are on out state lines, on our state borders, every state around us has a lottery.”

“I’ll just use my district as an example, up there in north Alabama – constituents in my district, they’re constantly calling me about the lottery and talking about all the Alabama tags they see going across the Tennessee line to buy a lottery ticket. And they’ve said, ‘Representative McCutcheon, when are y’all going to address this issue in Alabama?’ So, I think the people are just slowly but surely educating themselves and they’re talking about it, so I think you should maybe see some good debate on a lottery bill this time,” McCutcheon added.

Both ethics reform and the lottery segued well into Ledbetter’s concluding sentiment.

“There’s a lot of talk about ethics reform. And there’s been a lot of talk about the lottery. And then there’s talk about the prison system and other issues. So we’ve had a lot of success, we really have and we’ve been blessed to see Alabama take the strides it has over the last few years. But, with that being said, we’ve got a lot to do,” Ledbetter remarked.

He concluded, “I think there’s tremendous opportunity for us to do good. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I know that with the group that we’ve got and the leadership that we’ve got, we’re willing to do it. And I think that’s good for our state.”

In Yellowhammer News’ third part of this interview series, we will provide insight into the respective leadership style and perspective of both McCutcheon and Ledbetter, explaining how they will lead the Caucus and see some of these issues solved through legislation.

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

4 days ago

Exclusive — House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter discuss midterm ‘red wave’ in Alabama

(Speaker McCutcheon, N. Ledbetter/Facebook)

Following a historic landslide election that resulted in the largest Republican supermajority ever in the Alabama House of Representatives, Yellowhammer News sat down with Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) to discuss this “red wave,” the major issues expected to be the focus of the 2019 legislative session and their respective leadership roles and styles.

In the first of this three-part series, we touch on the tremendous electoral success of the Alabama House Republican Caucus, led by McCutcheon and Ledbetter, along with the valued work of their political team.

Check Yellowhammer News in the coming days for parts two and three.

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The team

McCutcheon and Ledbetter were both effusive in their praise of the team that worked for months to achieve the 77-member supermajority, which is perhaps unsurprising in itself given the humble nature of the two top Republicans in the Alabama House. However, the full rundown and analysis of their work shows that the plaudits they have received are well-warranted.

Led by political veteran Steve Raby and campaign manager Scott Stone, who together formed the nucleus of the Caucus’ team, and boosted by the exemplary work of data guru Dalton Dismukes and the up-and-coming Rob Green, Alabama House Republicans virtually swept the competition.

Raby, who is a fixture on Yellowhammer Multimedia’s annual Power and Influence List, has a broad range of inside knowledge and relationships. He helped the Caucus secure the resources that were needed and worked diligently with the campaigns to make sure that those resources were allocated efficiently.

“He has so many contacts, he knew a lot of these people [involved in legislative races and state political fundraising] from previous work he had done,” McCutcheon said of Raby, applauding his leadership of the Caucus’ fundraising and with MACC PAC, the House GOP’s political apparatus.

Then there is Stone, who developed the Caucus’ political plan with McCutcheon and Ledbetter, while overseeing the logistics on a day-to-day basis.

“After Doug Jones’ election, everyone was talking about a blue wave, so we tried to get prepared and I think we went out and hired the best that we could find – Scott Stone’s group,” Ledbetter advised. “They did an outstanding job.”

Dismukes and Green joined the team closer to the June primary elections, with McCutcheon and Ledbetter praising their contributions as rising young political operatives, as well.

“We needed groundwork to be done, we needed some organizational work to be done, and that’s where Dalton Dismukes came in,” McCutcheon explained. “He became a very active part of the campaign. He became our statistician, he became the organizer of our door-to-door. He started going into the districts and working with the candidates.”

McCutcheon said that Green was integral in their grassroots efforts, including helping Dismukes with all of the numbers involved in door-to-door and phone banking operations.

“Rob became a very important part of our team,” the speaker added.

And, as McCutcheon and Ledbetter stressed, it was not just them and their political team that got the job done. It was their candidates getting out and working hard, while speaking about the issues that voters most care about, that could not have been replaced.

“For the members that have been elected now, it was a ‘we thing.’ We approached it from a team perspective. It was not ‘big I’s’ and ‘little you’s,’ it was all of us in this together,” McCutcheon emphasized.

Ledbetter added, “We had good candidates. First and foremost, you gotta have good people, and we did.”

Plus, these candidates had consultants of their own who played irreplaceable roles in the Caucus’ electoral success.

In an email, Stone commented, “As Speaker McCutcheon said, the success House Republicans enjoyed on election night was a team effort and that also includes the campaign consultants across the state that worked with the House campaigns. They did a great job and it was a pleasure to work with them. From the very beginning, in the fall of 2017, we started meeting with the consultants to make sure that lines of communication were open. Their input was taken seriously and incorporated into our effort. The Speaker’s team saw it as our mission to support the members’ campaigns and the work that their teams were doing. I thought we worked really well together. The consultants were essential to expanding our Republican majority and should be commended as well.”

The process

While the right people were in place, the House Republican Caucus also needed the right plan, as well as a good process to go about working the plan. This is where Stone’s leadership was especially essential, helping bridge the gap between strategy and execution. The biggest theme to note here is that every decision, every action item, was backed by hard data.

The plan that McCutcheon and Ledbetter identified early on was protecting their incumbents in primary races first. This came down to 17 contested primary races that they were involved with, and the results were resounding.

“If we had written a script, we couldn’t have written this any better,” Ledbetter shared.

McCutcheon and Ledbetter both highlighted that the team won 100 percent of these seventeen primary races.

“In the primary, we had some tight races there. Tight races that took a lot of work and we raised close to $1,000,000 to put into the primaries for our 17 House races,” McCutcheon said.

This primary success gave them momentum and experience that was crucial for the general election homestretch.

Using a tested process from the primary and data collected from digital media and polling, they then came up with their plan moving towards November.

From there, McCutcheon outlined, “We just set aside the races for November and went to work.”

A big part of their collective success was not only the amount of money raised (Ledbetter explained that on top of the $1,000,000 in the primary, the Caucus raised another $2,000,000 in the general), but how it was allocated. This is really where MACC PAC came in, with the political action committee paying for polling and social media advertising coordinated by Stone, taking advantage of bulk rates and saving money in the long run.

The PAC also distributed money to campaigns in notably tight races.

McCutcheon explained, “We were providing money as they had a need.”

He clarified that the contributions were not divided up by seniority or committee positions, but on who needed the help most to win.

“We managed the money well. Through that, it turned out to be very successful and we’re very thankful,” the speaker added.

Ledbetter echoed this, saying, “It was a team effort, and the members were good about that. The members understood if they were in good shape in the polling, that we would use the money somewhere where someone needed it more. That worked out well.”

The races

Besides campaign strategy and execution, McCutcheon and Ledbetter both spoke about how the booming economy under Governor Kay Ivey’s leadership, the national political climate and economy under President Donald Trump and other major issues of the day all benefited Republicans in the November House elections.

While both men stipulated that different districts’ data showed varying levels of interest in various issues, with some localized concerns popping up here and there, some of the nation’s biggest talking points drove Alabama voters to the polls.

“The Republican brand, what we’ve stood for – low unemployment, economic growth, pro-economic legislative work that we’ve done. I feel like some of the amendments on the ballot were good, because they represented a sense of moral values to the people of Alabama,” McCutcheon said, beginning to list major factors in the races.

He continued, “The pro-life amendment, Amendment Two, that was a help, because when I would go around and speak to people across the state, I would talk about the Ten Commandments, ‘In God We Trust,’ which was not an amendment but a piece of legislation we passed this year, and the pro-life amendment. I think these were things that resonated with the people. And it just reinforced the Republican brand that we had worked on.”

Voters did have D.C. on their minds as well, McCutcheon thinks.

“At the end of the day, in some areas, I think Washington helped us a little bit,” McCutcheon outlined. “With some of the circus that was going on up there during the campaign season, I think that was a benefit.”

“But people were responding to the issues we talked about, such as budget reform, looking at people’s tax dollars and how they’re being invested, people responded to that issue very well. And then if you tie that with a candidate that’s really worked their district, they’ve been in the community, they’ve tried to do good things for their community, I think all of those things linked together just resonated with the people powerfully and they turned out to vote,” McCutcheon added, before praising the statewide Republican ticket for constitutional offices led by Ivey.

“For the state as a whole, the economy certainly was an important issue. Protecting the borders was an important issue for the people of Alabama, as well,” Ledbetter further advised.

They also believe that the general election was a “referendum” on not only economy, but the overall positive direction of the state.

Ledbetter opined that the competitive June primary season in Alabama boosted Republican turnout in November, too.

“We had candidates [in June] in every pocket of the state that were putting out the word – the Republicans are thriving in power and we have the lowest unemployment rate the state’s ever had, we’ve got the best budget for education that the state’s ever put their money in, we’re putting money in the classrooms, we’re adding teachers, it was just a lot of great things happening for our state,” Ledbetter said.

With these positive sentiments lifting Republicans to an overwhelming victory on November 6, now comes four more years of the party governing in the Alabama Statehouse. In Yellowhammer News’ second part of this interview series, we will share what pressing issues McCutcheon and Ledbetter see coming up in the 2019 legislative session.

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

6 days ago

At least two dead, 44 injured in overturned tour bus traveling from Huntsville

(WSFA 12 News/Twitter)

According to a report by WMC Action News, a tour bus traveling from Huntsville crashed in northwestern Mississippi on Wednesday, resulting in two deaths and 44 injuries.

The local sheriff’s department explained that the bus overturned in DeSoto County, which is just outside of Memphis, TN, due to slick and dangerous highways that are covered by sleet.

“All 46 passengers on the bus sustained various injuries, and have been taken to various hospitals,” the report advised.

WAFF in north Alabama has added, “The bus is operated by Teague. The bus picked up passengers from Ashley Furniture off Memorial Parkway in Huntsville on Wednesday morning.”

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

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1 month ago

2018 POWER & INFLUENCE: 14 powerful and influential leaders in their regions

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politicsbusiness and state government – the men and women who shape the state.

There are also many others who drive politics and policy in their parts of the state. Today, we take a look at 14 people of power and influence in their respective regions.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, pro tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists.

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For more information on the event and to purchase tickets please click here.

North Alabama

David Reed, president, Whitaker Contracting

David Reed has a network of relationships throughout north Alabama that would be the envy of anyone in business and politics. Reed knows all the power players in the region. Or, put more appropriately, all the power players know Reed. An innovator in his industry, Reed has also demonstrated a sincere desire to see the state maximize its potential in education and workforce development. Alabama needs more local leaders like David Reed.

Dale Strong, chairman, Madison County Commission

Dale Strong is one of the most influential people in a part of the state that is growing more powerful year after year. As chairman of the Madison County Commission, Strong has helped set the region up for success by championing infrastructure improvements and streamlining government. Strong is a first-rate operator who continues to build his power base.

Daniel Wilson, shareholder, Maynard Cooper & Gale

One of the behind-the-scenes power players in the booming Huntsville economy, Daniel Wilson is north Alabama’s preeminent operator when it comes to government relations and commercial development. He is now managing shareholder of Maynard Cooper’s offices in Huntsville and Washington, D.C., reinforcing the strong synergy between successful businesses in North Alabama and federal entities in the nation’s capital.


Metro Birmingham

Mike Hale, sheriff, Jefferson County

Mike Hale has become something of an institution in Jefferson County government and politics. He has seen a lot of changes in his two decades as sheriff and has received recognition and numerous awards for his conduct of the office. The size of the county alone makes for significant law enforcement challenges. Hale has shown the type of leadership that helps keep his area of the state moving forward.

Randall Woodfin, mayor, City of Birmingham

Randall Woodfin has enjoyed a swift ascent to the heights of political power in the state’s largest city. Woodfin defeated an entrenched incumbent in 2017 and has not looked back. In fact, since that time, he has shown a remarkable awareness of which policy battles will help elevate his profile in Alabama and beyond. However, nothing amplifies one’s message quite like opposition. So it will be interesting to see if any conservative politicians in the state actively oppose him on any of his public policy positions. Such a scenario could be politically beneficial to both parties involved.

West Alabama

Carl Jamison, chairman, JamisonMoneyFarmer PC

A longtime executive board member and past chairman of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), Jamison’s power and influence extend far and wide. However, it is magnified in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, where the accounting firm started by his grandfather in 1920 has grown into one of the biggest in the region. Couple this with Jamison serving as treasurer for EDUPAC, which is the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees’ political arm, and you get one of West Alabama’s key cogs.

Cathy Randall, chairman, Pettus Randall Holdings, LLC

The epitome of her alma mater’s “Where Legends Are Made” campaign, Dr. Cathy Randall is a hallmark of the Tuscaloosa area, as well as an icon for female leaders throughout the state. Her incredible resume of service ranges from long-serving as the director of the University of Alabama’s computer-based honors program to advising some of Alabama’s corporate titans. Randall currently serves on the boards of directors for the Alabama Power Company and Mercedes Benz USI.


Montgomery Area

John Mazyck, principal, The Frazier Lanier Company

As the Business Council of Alabama’s Montgomery area district chairman, John Mazyck has a strong voice in who the state’s largest business group supports from his region. Mazyck is a principal in The Frazier Lanier Company and has been heavily involved in corporate and municipal finance deals. His influence only serves to rise given his elevated position on the BCA’s executive committee. Look for Mazyck to assume a position as a statewide player.

Dr. Quinton Ross, Jr., president, Alabama State University

Quinton Ross has been on the job for a little less than a year, and he has already received rave reviews from inside the Alabama State family and from key decision-makers and business leaders at the state level. Historically black colleges and universities are an important part of our state’s history and culture, and ASU is a central part of the community in the Montgomery area. Ross, a former state senator, has infused some much-needed leadership into an institution that had too often been a cauldron of controversy. Ross has put in motion a plan that will allow ASU to reach its potential and benefit all of Montgomery.


Wiregrass

Bill Carr, chairman and managing partner, Carr, Riggs & Ingram

Carr may just be an accountant on paper, but this money man has his hand in much, much more. For its relative size in the Wiregrass, Enterprise is gifted considerable pull, as Carr is one of the first phone calls that top-tier statewide candidates make when fundraising and seeking support. Besides the impressive feat of building one of the twenty biggest accounting firms in the nation out of southeast Alabama, his involvement in the road building industry and advising the likes of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) and the Community College System make him the unquestioned czar of Coffee County.

Mark Saliba, mayor, City of Dothan

The relatively new mayor of Dothan, Saliba is continuing a family legacy of public service and influence in Houston County. His father, Alfred Saliba, served two terms as mayor between 1989-1997 and now Mark, the president of the Alfred Saliba Corporation, is leading the Wiregrass’ largest city with a focus on economic and workforce development. Combined with his chairing of the Home Builders Association of Alabama’s heavy-hitting PAC, Saliba packs a punch from the Peanut Capital of the World.


Gulf Coast

Wiley Blankenship, president and CEO, Coastal Alabama Partnership

Having worked across the state in all areas of economic development since 1996, Wiley Blankenship is perfectly suited to help coalesce coastal Alabama’s diverse portfolio of leaders into one juggernaut of an organization. That is exactly what he is doing as head of the Coastal Alabama Partnership, which is becoming a major factor in local and statewide politics, besides its crucial civic and economic development work.

Angus Cooper, III, president, Cooper/T. Smith Corporation

The Cooper family is a staple of power and influence along the Gulf Coast, and Angus Cooper, III is taking the reins of this legacy in exemplary fashion. Now on the powerful board of the Alabama Power Company, Cooper has been active in the leadership of the Alabama Wildlife Federation and the State Port Authority, in addition to many civic organizations in Mobile. Look for this prominent corporate leader to keep rising.

Elliot Maisel, chairman and CEO, Gulf Distributing Company

Like the benign godfather of Mobile, Maisel sits in his well-appointed office above his beverage warehouse and pulls more strings than most know exist. Through his leadership in the Alabama Wholesale Beer Association, his power and influence are felt throughout the Yellowhammer State. But when it comes to Mobile, he truly is king of the castle, now serving as the powerful chairman of the Airport Authority to boot.

 

2 months ago

2018 POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential government officials

Today, we introduce the second segment of the 2018 Power & Influence 50 on Yellowhammer News.

Our team has spent weeks talking with key operatives and analyzing recent developments in public policy and politics. The intersection between business and politics in our state is undeniable, and our list is meant to provide you with an inside look at who wields the most power and influence in Alabama state politics.

The list is being released in three segments: business leaders, lobbyists and consultants and today’s segment, government officials.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, pro tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists.

For more information on the event and to purchase tickets please click here.

Thank you for being a loyal reader of Yellowhammer News.

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State Rep. Will Ainsworth

Those looking for the next generation among Alabama political figures, look no further than Will Ainsworth.

Ainsworth has already served a full term in the Alabama House of Representatives. Now, he stands ready to expand into a legitimate statewide power base.

Ainsworth is currently the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Having already received nearly 400,000 votes, his profile has quickly elevated across the state and in Montgomery. With only token opposition, Ainsworth is poised to become first in the line of succession to the governor’s office.

He is known for taking strong conservative stands which will continue to endear him to the conservative base in Alabama. He is a former youth pastor with a business background who will be lined up with the electorate on social and fiscal issues.

Ainsworth is forward thinking and has shown that he is not scared to step into the fray. So, expect him to cut out a role for himself in policy debates at the statehouse. This will only increase his power and influence.

State Rep. Steve Clouse, chairman, General Fund Budget Committee

While Steve Clouse hails from the small southeastern Alabama town of Ozark, this veteran state legislator oversees one of state government’s biggest annual headaches – the general fund – for the House. This budget funds the state’s most controversial functions, including Medicaid, prisons and mental health. With all of that thankless responsibility comes considerable power and influence.

Having served in the House since 1995, Clouse has achieved a statesman-like leadership status in the lower chamber. He also helps lead the Wiregrass’ delegation, which is steadily growing in influence with the help of Reps. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) and Paul Lee (R-Dothan). With Alabama’s General Fund Budget always a focal point of attention and political gamesmanship, Clouse figures to be an eminent political player for years to come.

Kay Ivey, governor of Alabama

Governor Kay Ivey has demonstrated raw political power unseen in state politics in quite a while.

In the Republican primary, she received 56 percent of the vote and avoided a runoff in a field of four. To put in perspective how resounding a victory she achieved, her opponents collectively outraised her by nearly $200,000 and still did not come close to holding her under 50 percent.

However, if campaigns are supposed to provide voters with a window into how a prospective officer holder will govern, then Ivey has shown she is a focused, confident leader. She has never strayed from her message and, when confronted with controversy, she responds with a decisiveness and clarity that should be in campaign consulting textbooks.

And we have seen this discipline in her governance. Ivey concentrates on what matters and does not get caught up in meaningless debate.

The state’s economy is roaring under Ivey. She is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump.

And she has the power and influence of executive branch resources at her disposal. Those state agencies affect the lives of every Alabamian in every community.

Most importantly, Ivey connects with people. She connects naturally with people of all backgrounds, ages and geographic locations.

These components are the perfect recipe for success and place Kay Ivey in a truly special position of power and influence.

State Rep. Mike Jones, chairman, House Rules Committee

The chairmanship of the House Rules Committee brings with it substantial clout in the Alabama statehouse. Mike Jones has maximized that opportunity to become one of the building’s key political players.

As chairman of the committee that determines the order of bills taken up each legislative day, Jones has the ability to set legislative priorities, which in turn provides him substantial leverage in dealing with lobbyists as well as his own colleagues.

Jones is a political animal who enjoys the machinations of the statehouse.

He is also just as likely to dive into the details of legislation as he is the House political apparatus.

His chairmanship allows him to have control over the ebb and flow of the debate on the House floor. When legislation gets bogged down, Jones has tremendous leeway in determining its fate. He has a strong voice in whether to move on or fight through.

Jones is among those who may actually see his influence increase during the new term as new members enter the ranks. Look for him to stay on the list of Alabama’s power players.

Del Marsh, Senate president pro tem

Del Marsh is the kind of public servant for which the current electorate craves and our founding fathers envisioned. Marsh originally ran for office simply because his state senator was not responsive to the needs of small business.

Once elected, Marsh became a tireless advocate for smaller government. He is as comfortable in a tree stand as he is a committee room and feels as much at home in his machine shop fabricating gun parts as he does working in a boardroom.

Marsh has built a long record of seeking conservative solutions to the problems facing our state. He led the charge to provide education freedom to Alabama families; he formulated the largest reductions to the size of state government in history, and no one has cut taxes and red tape for small businesses quite like Marsh.

This approach has propelled Marsh into one of the most powerful and influential positions in Alabama politics. As Senate president pro tem, he oversees every aspect of the legislative process in the upper chamber. From committee assignments to legislative priorities to the time of adjournment, Marsh remains in control.

Del Marsh remains one of the most powerful and influential people in state politics for a reason.

 

Steve Marshall, attorney general of Alabama

After Marshall last year was appointed as the 48th attorney general of Alabama, Yellowhammer News wrote, “Marshall will likely meet some formidable opponents when he seeks his first state-wide election in 2018.  His ability to capitalize on the benefits of incumbency may prove he is one to watch in Alabama’s political future.”

Ever since Marshall’s first press conference as the state’s top law enforcement official, the former rural-county district attorney has handled the bright lights of Alabama’s political stage like a seasoned professional. With an even-keel demeanor and a genuinely warm personality, Marshall’s understated charisma is matched only by his legal intellect and political instincts.

Alabama has had a bevy of influential attorneys general in recent decades, with Marshall already making his own mark and then some. And his meteoric rise is not nearly over. He continues to get more and more involved with hot-button national issues such as immigration, abortion and oversight of tech companies, with his power and influence now extending beyond the Yellowhammer State’s borders thanks to a growing number of White House appearances.

 

Mac McCutcheon, speaker of the House

True leaders shine in times of chaos, and Mac McCutcheon’s rise to become Speaker of the House is bested in this department perhaps only by Governor Kay Ivey’s similar achievement in recent years.

One of the nice guys at the statehouse, McCutcheon has garnered power and influence even beyond his lofty position due to the sheer authenticity of his personality. With this comes the trust that legislators have in McCutcheon – if he promises something, you can take it to the bank. For his selfless, lifetime of service to Alabamians and significant contribution to the betterment of our state, McCutcheon this year will be presented with Yellowhammer’s Power of Service award.

With a new quadrennium on the horizon, McCutcheon will find himself in the political spotlight, as proposals regarding prickly issues like new infrastructure funding, the lottery and sports betting are all expected to come before the state legislature. Look for McCutcheon and the legislature’s leadership team to ably navigate several minefields in 2019.

 

State Rep. Bill Poole, chairman, Ways and Means Education Committee

Many refer to Bill Poole as a United States senator in waiting, and you can see why with a quick glance at his historic rise as a freshman legislator to chair the powerful committee in the House tasked with appropriations and revenue sources for the important Education Trust Fund – the state’s budget that handles K-12 and higher education funding.

Not only was his ascent impressive enough, but Poole has proven his merit and more since then, steering the education budget with such machine-like efficiency that you would miss what really sets him apart. When fellow legislators are asked about Poole’s talents, they cannot help but praise his intelligence, drive, vision and savviness. Yet, it’s that undefinable “it” factor that has political pundits and power brokers abuzz – Poole’s genuine, infectious likability.

Whether his future will continue to be in Montgomery or move to Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, Poole will undoubtedly be serving the people of Alabama in exemplary fashion for decades and decades to come.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman, Senate Education Budget Committee

Now in his fourth year as chairman of the Senate Education Budget Committee, Arthur Orr has carved out a particular place of power and influence in state government.

The education budget in Alabama is a $6 billion chunk of money. And those who have any measure of control over state funds have a chance to exercise considerable leverage over policy-making. Orr has seized the opportunity before him.

An exceptionally smart and engaging lawyer by trade, Orr has an attention to detail which allows him to know every single line of the budget and every nook and cranny of state government to which that money flows. Orr makes anyone advocating for even the smallest portion of dollars from the education budget justify the expense.

As a result, other members of the legislature are highly attentive to Orr’s own legislative priorities which, in turn, only expands Orr’s power and influence even further.

Steve Pelham, chief of staff to Governor Kay Ivey

The success of the Ivey administration is undeniable. Governor Ivey has been a commanding figure during the term she filled and will likely enjoy a full term starting in January. However, that type of success for any political figure is a team effort. And the person coordinating that team for Ivey is Steve Pelham.

Pelham is a natural fit for his role as chief of staff to the governor. He is loyal, focused and selfless in his approach. Even though he sits in a position of significant power and influence, Pelham is rarely the subject of interviews or publicity. He understands the need for one voice representing the administration and the distractions that occur when that is not the case.

And, yet, no one outside of Governor Ivey, herself, plays a bigger role in the day-to-day operations of the governor’s office and has a greater say in the long-term vision for the administration.

Pelham has shown near perfect execution of the duties and role of the governor’s chief of staff. The result will be even greater opportunities for him to expand his power and influence in the future.

Greg Reed, Senate majority leader

Leading a majority party in the Alabama legislature is no easy task. It seems with any issue or strategy there will be conflicting motives, ideas, geographical concerns and – yes – egos. Under these conditions, being able to move the body forward toward any objective would seem a nearly impossible task. Furthermore, any person leading that effort leaves themselves vulnerable.

Greg Reed, however, can pull it off. Reed possesses exceptional personal and organizational skills which have helped him keep his caucus on track and still remain a popular figure with his colleagues. Reed is also a dogged competitor who, once his caucus sets off toward an objective, will work tirelessly to see it across the finish line.

Reed’s political career has accelerated at a rapid pace. His skills are a natural fit for Senate leadership. With numerous new Republican senators taking office in the upcoming term, Reed stands to become an even more trusted and influential player in statehouse politics. Greg Reed’s stock is only going up.

State Sen. Jabo Waggoner, chairman, Senate Rules Committee

The road to success in the Alabama Senate travels through the office of Jabo Waggoner.

As chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, Waggoner sets the daily agenda for his chamber. He has the ability to move legislation forward at the timing of his choice. Or, he can stop a piece of legislation dead in its tracks if he so chooses.

And that is not the only source of his considerable clout.

Waggoner represents the conservative, business-minded district that occupies much of the territory in over-the-mountain Jefferson County. Many of the executives from Alabama’s largest employers live in Waggoner’s district. They are the type of power brokers for which other members of the legislature clamor to represent. And he has always been responsive to the needs of this constituency. A staffer at a large business organization once wrote in a pre-election assessment of Waggoner, “Send me more like Jabo Waggoner.”

The truth is, though, there are no others like Jabo Waggoner. His power, his influence and his legacy are unique in Alabama politics.

State Sen. Cam Ward, chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

Cam Ward was made for politics. He started his career as a congressional staffer before quickly moving on to bigger and better things.

Ward’s victory in a House of Representatives seat in 2002 marked the beginning of a noteworthy career in office. He has served in the Alabama Senate since 2010. His district includes a large part of the areas just south of Birmingham where he remains incredibly popular. Ward has faced very little opposition on the home front his entire time in office. Much of this is a result of his constant work on the local level and his attentiveness to his constituents.

In Montgomery, Ward chairs the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee, which is a committee that takes up more pieces of legislation than any other committee in the chamber. And Ward controls the throttle on all of it.

Ward is hard-working, ambitious and always mindful of every political angle. This, combined with the amount of legislation that falls within his control, makes him a real power player in state government.

4 months ago

Fair winds and following seas: Alabama woman embarks on sailing adventure from Germany to Gulf Shores

(M. Segrest)

Michelle Segrest is thinking a lot about trash these days.

“Trash and water,” she says. “Those have both been on my mind lately.”

And not in a save-the-environment and conserve-our-natural-resources kind of way. Segrest is all for that, but right now she’s talking about plain ol’, everyday trash and water – where to throw it away and how to drink it and bathe in it.

Segrest and her boyfriend/traveling companion, Maik Ulmschneider, have just a few days to figure it all out. That’s when they set sail from Ulmschneider’s home in northern Germany to Alabama’s Gulf Coast, where Segrest, a Decatur native and former Birmingham resident, lives now.

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It will be a 6,000-nautical-mile journey on the 43-foot Seefalke. The duo will hit at least 12 countries and eight bodies of water, including a 20 to 40 day trek across the Atlantic.

During that leg of the trip, fresh water will be limited, and trash … well, that’s still up in the air.

“We can’t carry huge garbage bags full of trash, because there’s just not room,” Segrest says. “We’re still trying to figure that one out.”

In the grand scheme of things, that’s a minor detail for Segrest and Ulmschneider, who will chronicle their six to eight month journey via their websiteFacebookYouTubeTwitter and Instagram. They’ve branded themselves as “Sailors & Seadogs.” Segrest and Ulmschneider are the sailors, and their beagles, Capt’n Jack Sparrow and Scout, will be along for the ride.

The voyage was set in motion five years ago, when Segrest, an Auburn University journalism graduate who was then editor of a pumps and systems magazine, met Ulmschneider, a pump engineer.

“I met him while working on an article in Germany,” Segrest says. “We became friends first, and more developed later. He loved to sail and wanted to take me sailing.”

Ulmschneider comes by his boating skills honestly, learning to sail more than 20 years ago in the German Navy. Segrest loves the water and grew up fishing with her father, but it wasn’t until she met Ulmschneider that she really learned to sail.

“He wanted to take me sailing because that was his passion, so my first big sailing experience was on the Baltic Sea,” she says. “This is not bikini-and-martini sailing. This is heavy wind, rough conditions, high waves, and it’s super, super cold.”

And Segrest loved it.

During the next few years, she started her own company, Navigate Content, moved down to Gulf Shores and bought her own boat, a 15-foot catboat she named Protagonist.

“I love the physical labor of sailing, and I love the art of sailing,” Segrest says. “You’re working in the conditions and the wind, and you’re not in control. You’re really just responding to the elements around you. There’s something really cool and adventurous about this. Some people just hate it – it’s too slow, or too hard, or they get sick. Or it just really becomes a part of you. You connect with the sea and the art, and you want more. And that’s me. I just fell in love with it.”

“I think lessons learned at sea are lessons learned for life,” Ulmschneider says.

“The boat is seaworthy, and the crew is fit,” he says. “We are equipped for the worst but hope for the best, so there are no particular worries or concerns. … If there is any concern it probably is how we are going to cope with our regular jobs while at sea. But I am sure we will figure that out, as well.”

The goal has always been to get the Seefalke – which is painted bright orange, a nice coincidence for the Auburn graduate – to Alabama.

“We have some ideas of some ways to use it as a business in Gulf Shores,” Segrest says. “We want it here also because we want to sail some waters that aren’t in Northern Europe.”

“There’s only so much space on the boat, and you need to use every square inch,” Segrest says. “There’s a great quote: ‘I never realized how little I needed until I went out to sea.’”

And with luck, she might just find out how to handle bags of trash.

Details on the couple’s trip can be found here and those who want to “join the crew” and follow the trip in real-time via GPS can go to the couple’s Patreon account.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 months ago

Early snapper closure due to more anglers, bigger fish

(David Rainer)

Honestly, I’m not surprised that Alabama saltwater anglers caught so many red snapper in six-plus weeks that the private recreational season had to close earlier than planned.

Thankfully, the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR), with its Red Snapper Jackpot, managed to squeeze in its final day of competition before the season ended Sunday, July 22. The season for the charter-for-hire boats fishing the rodeo ended at midnight on July 21.

The unbridled enthusiasm anglers exhibited for snapper fishing this year surpassed anything I’ve witnessed in my 26 years of covering the outdoors in Alabama.

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Alabama Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon said the angler effort surprised everyone.

“On the weekend of June 9, there were more people snapper fishing than I have seen in my 21 years with Marine Resources, including on rodeo weekend,” he said. “The effort was tremendous. Our Chief of Enforcement, Jason Downey, was on patrol, and he said there were 200 boats surrounding him on the Bridge Rubble.

“The number of people who went fishing this year has been phenomenal. And it’s good that people had the opportunity to fish.”

The motivation to catch snapper likely came from the dire situation that snapper anglers faced in the spring. Without some kind of relief from NOAA Fisheries, the possibility of even a short snapper season looked grim.

Instead, the five Gulf states came together to request an exempted fishing permit (EFP) that would allow each state to set its season under an approved system that allowed each state to catch a certain quota of snapper.

The Alabama Marine Resources Division’s mandatory Red Snapper Reporting System, better known as Snapper Check, allows Marine Resources officials to monitor the harvest on a near real-time basis, one of the reasons NOAA Fisheries approved the EFP for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Marine Resources based its proposed 47-day season on the data gathered from last year’s snapper season. That data included daily catch rate, size of the fish and the amount of angler effort (man-days fishing for snapper).

When the 2018 season was set, Bannon repeatedly used the word “potential” when discussing the length of the season. It could be longer or shorter, depending on the daily catch rate and weather.

The weather turned out to be a factor, but not because it was bad. It was so good that anglers only had a couple of days with rough seas during the 28 days of the private recreational season.

“Without the EFP, there may not have been a federal fishing season,” Bannon said. “The individual state seasons could have consumed all of the total allowable catch.”

Based on the 2017 daily harvest rate of red snapper, Bannon said Marine Resources considered a 50-day season, but reduced it to 47 days because they anticipated a “little bit” of increased effort to catch Alabama’s quota of 984,291 pounds of red snapper.

Bannon said when the snapper harvest numbers for June were published, he knew the season would have to be closed before Labor Day.

With the unparalleled artificial reef habitat off the Alabama coast and good weather, anglers of all skill levels were able to enjoy great snapper fishing. Huge red snapper were posted on social media every day during the season.

Last year, the data indicated an average of 1,770 anglers fished for snapper per day. In 2018, preliminary data showed that the average anglers per day was much higher than in 2017. The increased number of anglers, along with an increase in size of the fish being landed, resulted in higher daily landings for the 2018 season.

“We don’t like working with pounds,” Bannon said. “We’ve seen with the evolution of the snapper seasons that with larger fish you obviously reach the total allowable catch quicker. The product of our management efforts in the Alabama reef zone is the increased abundance and size of fish being caught.”

Bannon said the downside of the 2018 season is anglers have not fully embraced the benefits of reporting their catches through Snapper Check. He said the 2018 reporting rate is between 35 and 36 percent, up from last year’s 30 percent, but still disappointingly low.

“I still feel that people don’t fully understand how much better data we could get if we have a higher compliance rate with Snapper Check,” he said. “Real numbers make a difference in the landings estimate. With the state programs, we can maintain greater awareness on the fishing effort and landings allowing us to maximize the days of fishing.”

“The purpose of the EFP is to show that states can manage their fishery to a quota, and that we would manage it effectively to prevent overfishing and set seasons that work for our anglers and are guaranteed a certain amount of fish. If you just open a federal season, it’s a free-for-all across the Gulf. If the weather was bad in our part of the Gulf we lose those days while others are fishing.”

The weather was so good that one charter-for-hire captain told Bannon that he had never been able to fish the entire month of June before this year.

“The positives we see are, one, we had an allocation higher than what we caught last year.  And, two, we saw an increase in the number of people who were able to fish,” Bannon said. “We opened for a season we thought would benefit the largest number of people, and the data shows a lot of people went fishing.”

Dr. Sean Powers, head of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama and one of the ADSFR judges last weekend, said the good news is the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico continues to get better.

“About five years ago, the Gulf Council removed the overfishing (catch rate too high) status from red snapper,” Powers said. “Just recently, the Council removed the overfished status. Based on the numbers in the stock we are not in an overfished status, meaning the biomass is no longer below the threshold we think jeopardizes the stock. Although we want to rebuild the stocks a little further, it is no longer overfished.

“That means the seasons and bag limits will stay relatively constant for a while. The (computer) models show an increase in the number of fish over the next couple of years. The stock is very healthy right now, especially off Alabama. Every year we seem to get good recruitment (juvenile fish entering the fishery), and those recruits have that artificial reef habitat. Plus, there is a lot of natural habitat in the deeper water that acts as a reserve, because people don’t have to go that far to catch their limit of snapper.”

Bannon said if the red snapper fishery continues to be managed by the states it will reduce the chances that overfishing will become a problem again.

“The takeaway is we had 28 days of incredible red snapper fishing that a tremendous number of people took advantage of,” Bannon said. “And we have shown that the states can responsibly manage the red snapper fishery.  The sustainable management of this red snapper season will go a long way to ensuring continued and expanded state control of this fishery.

“But folks need to know there are a lot of other fish in the Gulf to catch now that red snapper season is closed. You can catch beeliners (vermilion snapper), king mackerel and Spanish mackerel, and the triggerfish and amberjack seasons open back up the first of August.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

5 months ago

Bill ‘Bubba’ Bussey receives heart stent, shares special moment with Alabama nurse

(Bussey/Instagram)

Bill “Bubba” Bussey, beloved radio co-host of the Birmingham-based and wildly popular “Rick and Bubba Show,” said his Friday morning procedure went well and was all smiles in an Instagram photo he shared after a successful heart stent placement.

“We are out! All good, now just a lot of recover time and being very very still. Your prayers have been heard and felt!!!” he wrote on Instagram.

Bussey, in his early 50s, was on his feet Friday, writing on Instagram that “Bubba seems to be feeling better,” sharing a playful moment with an “unnamed nurse” he helped with her “volley.”

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Early this morning, Bussey said in an Instagram post with the St. Vincent’s East location stamp that he shared a special moment with a retiring nurse:

“So many people to thank for the great care I got this weekend… but this lady ‘Miss Sandra’ was retiring after 30 plus years of nursing. I was her last patient, of her last shift!! She checked my pulse on the way out the door! Happy retirement Sandra! Thanks for letting me be a part of this special moment.”

From all of us at Yellowhammer News, get well soon, Bubba!

5 months ago

In new book, Alabama’s Victoria Hallman reminisces about time as Hee Haw Honey

(Photo Courtesy Victoria Hallman)

Victoria Hallman and Diana Goodman were in attorney Bruce Phillips’ office one day reminiscing – Goodman about her time dating Elvis Presley, Hallman about her relationship with Buck Owens, both about their time as Hee Haw Honeys on the long-running television variety show “Hee Haw.”

“We sat in his office and talked it up and started telling stories,” recalls Hallman, an Alabama native and longtime fixture on the Birmingham music scene before she headed to Hollywood. “Bruce said, ‘You two sound just like this show my wife watches, “Sex and the City,” except yours is true.’ We thought about it and decided we should write a book.”

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That was 2010, and this week, “Hollywood Lights, Nashville Nights: Two Hee Haw Honeys Dish Life, Love, Elvis, Buck & Good Times in the Kornfield” was published.

The book includes both women’s stories, both written by Hallman, who has done freelance writing for Flower magazine and her own blog.

“I wrote as Diana, and I wrote as Victoria,” Hallman says. “I called her every Monday night, and we did about an hour’s worth of conversation each time. The next day, I would sit down and write as Diana, using her words as much as possible.”

It’s almost two books in one, with sections labeled “Diana” and “Victoria.”

“I told Diana her life is so interesting, many of the Elvis fans will probably just skip over my part and go to her part, and my fans may skip to my parts,” Hallman says. “It was purposefully written to be like that.”

Hallman’s early years in Birmingham included stints with bands like the Ramblers, Bob Cain the Cain Breakers and the Bachelors. She was a big draw during the 1970s at the popular Bachelor’s Showboat on Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham.

Eventually, Hallman went to Hollywood to work with Bob Hope, whom she met when she was an opening act for him at a Homecoming performance at the University of Alabama.

Hallman’s section of the new book begins with her meeting Owens, one of country’s biggest stars, while she was performing with Hope. She began performing on the road with Owens and his Buckaroos, and a relationship developed.

“There’s just a magic about creating music that’s … very intimate,” Hallman says of the romantic relationship developing. “There’s a creative process that ‘s very sexy. We were together for awhile. It wasn’t a secret.”

In 1979, Hallman joined the cast of “Hee Haw,” the TV series Owens had hosted for a decade with Roy Clark. The show featured some of country’s biggest stars performing their music, as well as comedy segments with the cast, including Minnie Pearl and young women known as the Hee Haw Honeys. Many of the comedy bits took place in the “Kornfield.”

The Hee Haw Honeys included Hallman, Goodman, Linda Thompson (who would marry Bruce Jenner), Gunilla Hutton, Barbi Benton, Misty Rowe and Lulu Roman, among others.

Hallman has fond memories of her time on “Hee Haw,” which lasted until 1990. In the book, she talks about working with guest stars such as Ed McMahon, Kathy Mattea, Naomi Judd, Ray Charles and others. In addition, she talks about the camaraderie among the Hee Haw Honeys.

“We’re still great pals,” she says. “Misty Rowe and Lulu and I and Barbie sometimes have been performing in a Hee Haw Honey reunion stage show. We stay in constant contact. We were members of a sisterhood that has stayed intact all these years.”

Although there was a downside to her long run as a Hee Haw Honey, Hallman wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“’Hee Haw Honey’ kind of eclipsed everything else, and it was hard to be taken as a serious actress or singer, but it was apparently the way my career was supposed to happen,” she says. “George Lindsey would tell you that happened with him and Goober, but he finally came to terms with it, and so have I. It’s great. I have to be glad of it.”

“Hollywood Lights, Nashville Nights,” which is available on Amazon, details Hallman’s first marriage to (and divorce from) Jim Halper. She has been married to Franklin Traver for 25 years, and they live in Nashville.

Hallman still has family in Alabama and has returned to Birmingham to perform from time to time, including at the final City Stages music festival and, in 2012, when she was inducted into the Birmingham Record Collectors Hall of Fame.

“No town has ever held my heart like Birmingham,” she says. “Any success I’ve had is because of Birmingham. The more I’m in Birmingham, the happier I am.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Bilateral lung transplant gives Montgomery teen chance to graduate, better future

(UAB)

Quintarius Daniels has had a hard road to travel in his 17 years of life, but thanks to University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine surgeons, he now has a bright and less complicated future ahead.

On Oct. 17, 2017, Daniels, a Montgomery, Alabama, native, had a bilateral lung transplant at UAB Hospital after years of battling pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that had ravaged his lungs and compromised their function. On May 18, Daniels walked across the stage at Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School, having earned his high school diploma – not to mention ditching his oxygen tank and being crowned prom king in the past seven months.

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“I’m so excited to be where I am today,” Daniels said. “Before I had my transplant, things were hard, because I couldn’t do things other kids could do.”

Daniels was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis as a child. Pulmonary fibrosis is a scarring of the lung tissue that causes permanent damage to the lungs. As the scar tissue builds up and thickens, it prevents the lungs from transferring oxygen to the blood supply and diminishes the supply of healthy, oxygen-infused blood to the heart, brain and other organs.

The reduced lung function makes it increasingly hard to breathe. While the condition may develop slowly over time, many patients diagnosed die within the first three to four years following diagnosis. There is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis, but certain medicines and therapies can help manage the disease.

Lashunda Harris, Daniels’ mom, noticed he was very sick one morning when he was about 2 years old. She quickly rushed him to the hospital, and he was later transferred to Children’s of Alabama, where he was diagnosed. For the past 15 years, Daniels has lived with an oxygen tank, which can hinder a child looking for a normal life.

“He was very limited as a child,” Harris said. “It was hard for him during P.E. at school to be able to do things every other kid could.”

In October 2017, Harris arrived at Brewbaker Tech to pick up Daniels from school. When she arrived, the school nurse brought him to the car in a wheelchair, which was unusual.

“The nurse said he wasn’t feeling good and his chest was hurting,” she said. “We went straight to Children’s.”

After a week’s stay at Children’s, Daniels was transferred to the cardiac intensive care unit at UAB Hospital. It was there they met Charles W. Hoopes, M.D., director of Lung Transplantation in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, who told them that Daniels had been placed on the waiting list to receive a lung transplant.

After more than a week on a temporary mechanical support system to help his other organs rest and recover, and five days of being on the list, Daniels received a double lung, or bilateral, transplant.

“Dr. Hoopes is a wonderful person,” Harris said. “He’s like another parent.”

Daniels says he was excited – and maybe a little scared – for the transplant, but he knew that it would mean things might start to be a little easier for him.

“I was excited and scared because I didn’t know how it would feel to have a new set of lungs,” Daniels said.

After the transplant, Harris says, Daniels is much more of a free spirit. This spring, he was able to run for the first time and often races with his sister. Daniels was also crowned his high school’s prom king, and he’s been able to enjoy time with his friends without having to worry about an oxygen tank.

“I’m very happy that I can live a more normal life as a teenager,” he said. “After the transplant, I’m now able to do more.”

Daniels was thrilled to walk across the stage without the cumbersome oxygen tank to receive his high school diploma. He plans to enroll with the University of Phoenixand later become a video game designer.

“I’ve cried a lot since this transplant,” Harris said. “They’ve been happy tears. We still have a long way to go, but I am so happy he made it through.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Ray Perkins returns to Tuscaloosa but it’s his daughter working for Nick Saban

(Paul W. Bryant Museum)

Ray Perkins, who caught touchdown passes from Steve Sloan, Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler, is back in Tuscaloosa where his daughter now works for Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

The man who once said he would “walk to Tuscaloosa” to follow Paul “Bear” Bryant as coach of the Crimson Tide told Alabama NewsCenter he has bought a house and moved in.

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Rachel Perkins, who studies at the university on a Bear Bryant scholarship, helps Saban in football as a recruiting student assistant.

Perkins had nice things to say about scholarships that Bryant set up for former players and their sons and daughters.

“Coach Bryant had already made a list of people from Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama and asked them to start raising money to pay for scholarships to the sons and daughters of his players,” Perkins said. “Now who else would have thought to do that?”

Alabama won two national championships and three SEC championships when Perkins played in 1964, ‘65 and ‘66. Freshman were not eligible to play on the varsity then.

Perkins was coach of the NFL’s New York Giants when he left to coach the Crimson Tide.

What does the man who played for and succeeded arguably the best coach of all time think about the coach many believe has surpassed the legend?

“I think he takes advantage of every little thing,” Perkins said of Saban.

“Here’s where I’m coming from: I’ve always been of the opinion that my job as a coach was to help the guys who play the game.”

Perkins, now 76 years old, said he enjoyed his years in football, playing and coaching the game.

He was a team captain and an All-American in 1966 and a draft choice of the Baltimore Colts, where he joined another outstanding quarterback in Johnny Unitas.

Perkins caught a 68-yard touchdown from “Johnny U” in the 1970 American Football Conference championship game as the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders to earn a berth in the Super Bowl.

Perkins had quite a career in the NFL as coach of the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots, Raidersand Chargers.

He grew up in Petal, Mississippi, and most recently was head football coach at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi.

Now that he is back in Alabama, Perkins has a house in the town where he is remembered for national championships, touchdown passes and his days playing for the Bear.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Birmingham’s top 4 best chicken salad spots (plus a recipe!)

(Julie Tucker/Birmingham Mom's Blog)

My love affair with chicken salad began my freshman year at the University of Alabama. Anyone remember the chicken salad at the (now-closed) Crimson Cafe on the strip??

{A moment of silence, please, as we mourn the loss of their perfectly-proportioned, not-to-mayonnaise-y chicken concoction filled with crisp Granny Smith apple chunks and walnuts. The consummate mixture of flavors and textures. Sigh…}

I know some prefer plain, “vanilla” chicken salad — the kind without all the fun mix-ins. Not me. The more chunks, the better. This brings me to the first of my Birmingham recommendations.

Chicken Salad Chick

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Originally started in Auburn, Alabama, franchises are popping up all over the Southeast, including four Birmingham-area locations (Homewood, Southside, Riverchase, and Lee Branch). There’s bound to be one convenient to your office or home.

What I love about Chicken Salad Chick is the variety of chicken salads: their menu offers twelve — you read that right, TWELVE — variations on this Southern staple. They offer everything from savory (think mix-ins such as onions, bacon, basil) to fruity (cranberries, grapes, apples, pineapples) to spicy (Sriracha, jalapeños, buffalo sauce).

Not in the mood for any fun mix-ins? The Classic Carol (simply chicken, mayo, celery and seasoning) is always a winner. My personal favorite, which just happens to share the name with my daughter’s favorite story-book character, is the Fancy Nancy. The Fancy Nancy has crunchy pecans, grapes and apples. Order it with or without bread or crackers, and voila — an easy gluten-free meal option!

Ashley Mac’s

If you’ve ever been to Ashley Mac’s, you know what I’m talking about. We first fell in love with her food, but then we fell in love with her heart and mission. As if we couldn’t love this restaurant more than we already do, Ashley Mac’s is always supporting local schools, fundraisers, and events.

With three Birmingham-area locations (Cahaba Heights, Inverness, and Riverchase), Ashley Mac’s offers a menu full of delicious options (don’t get me started on the melt-in-your mouth sour cream biscuits, strawberry cake, or the poppyseed chicken casserole), and their chicken salad is one of the best. It’s simple, yet hearty. It’s nut-free for all those who don’t care for a nutty chicken salad: it features celery, spices, and grapes. Order a heaping scoop atop a crisp green salad or enjoy it on a buttery croissant roll.

O’Carr’s

No Birmingham-area chicken salad blog post would be complete without mentioning O’Carr’sam I right?! O’Carr’s has two Birmingham locations (Homewood and Downtown) and is the gold-standard of everything chicken salad.

Their chicken is finely chopped (I’m assuming in a food processor) with just the right amount of mayonnaise, pecans and sweetness. I always order my chicken salad with their fabulous “eat by color” fruit salad side. I always admire the placement of the rainbow assortment of fresh fruit and the crackers so artfully wedged into the chicken salad scoop — it’s almost too pretty to eat! Almost.

Homewood Gourmet

If you’ve never been to Homewood Gourmet in Homewood (in the TCBY shopping center), stop what you are doing right now and GO!

The owners used to work for Emeril Lagasse in New Orleans and came to Birmingham after Hurricane Katrina. Everything on their menu is absolutely superb (do NOT miss their signature Baby Bleu Salad), and their chicken salad is my husband’s and my go-to favorite. One bite, and you’ll realize their chicken salad is as fresh as it gets — it tastes made-to-order— the celery is incredibly crisp and it has the perfect chicken-to-mayonnaise ratio.

A Twist on a Classic

In closing, Birmingham has amazing choices for all things chicken salad.  I’ll leave you with one of my favorite comfort food casseroles my mom used to make for us growing up. Enjoy!

Hot Chicken Salad Casserole:

– Chicken breasts, cooked and chopped

– 1 C chopped celery

– 1 C chopped walnuts

– 1 T minced onion

– 1 C mayonnaise

– 3 T lemon juice

– Salt and pepper

– 1 sleeve of Ritz cracker crumbs

– Butter

Directions: 1. Mix all the ingredients except the last two. 2. Top with cracker crumbs and drizzle with melted butter. 3. Bake in a greased baking dish at 350º for 15-20 minutes.

(Courtesy Birmingham Moms Blog)

Julie Tucker is a mom to two toddlers, an Etsy Shop owner, and a contributing writer for Birmingham Moms Blog

5 months ago

Tiger Cage Accelerator helps turn new business concepts into business startups

(Auburn University)

“It’s a tour guide into the business world.”

That’s how Matthew Hanks, a doctoral candidate in kinesiology, described the new Tiger Cage Summer Accelerator Program for Auburn University student-led startups. “It’s assuming you know very little about starting your own business, then guiding you through it,” said Hanks, one of 12 students from eight business startups involved in the first-year program.

The Tiger Cage Accelerator and Incubator — located in the Auburn University Research Park — is operated and managed by the Harbert College of Business. The eight-week crash course welcomes students into the world of startups by teaching:

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–How to protect intellectual properties
–Pricing strategies
–Marketing and sales strategies
–Competitor analysis
–Product development
–Communications skills
–And, of course, how to make the perfect pitch to investors

“The purpose is to accelerate their business ideas and turn them into business startups,” said Harbert College Director of Entrepreneurship Strategy Lou Bifano, former vice president for business development at IBM. “In eight weeks, we compress the amount of time it takes to provide them with a set of learning experiences to try to minimize the mistakes they might make and to increase the probability that they are going to be successful in launching a business.”

Bifano isn’t alone in this adventure. The Tiger Cage Accelerator has brought on three long-time business professionals as Entrepreneurs in Residence who serve as mentors for student startups.

“What’s so exciting is the infrastructure of this program is really coming into place and this is not just a Harbert College of Business initiative,” said Entrepreneur in Residence Scott McGlon, who has helped build and manage startups for the past 20 years. “This a university-wide initiative to build an entrepreneurship ecosystem.”

McGlon joins Kevin Sandlin, who specializes in helping startups in the Atlanta area, and Zilliant CFO Phil Fraher, who brings venture capital expertise.

“We bring in the real-life scenarios that these startups will go through,” McGlon added. “We are trying to prepare them for what’s going to be taking place and keep them on track with milestones we outlined for them. Really, it’s all the way through execution. Whether it’s a marketing plan, a social media plan, customer discovery – everything that you could imagine that a startup is going to go through.”

The summer program received a boost from a $1 million permanent endowment established by 1982 Harbert College alum Benny M. LaRussa and his wife, Lynn.

“We piloted the program last summer. It is great to have the resources and assistance to scale it up,” said LaKami Baker, Managing Director of the Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship.

The program format is a set of interactive lectures each morning with periods in the afternoons for business plan and communications skills work. “A cornerstone is being able to communicate verbally, communicate in writing, and being able to inspire people that this is a great business idea,” Bifano said.

For example, Michael Knotts, a doctoral student in industrial engineering, credited the accelerator for vastly improving his communications skills with would-be clients. “We’re learning to conduct what we call problem interviews,” said Knotts, who claimed his method of metal-additive manufacturing is less expensive and faster than existing products. “We’ve already gone out to different industries where we think that there’s a problem, or a need, where our product fits. We’ve gotten fantastic feedback.”

McGlon is excited to see the fruits of the accelerator already beginning to pay off. “Three businesses have a high probability of securing patents,” he said. “We’ve discovered that over the past few months, one has already generated revenue and has great momentum.”

Three of this year’s Tiger Cage business pitch competition finalists received spots in the accelerator. ESCAPE Therapy, a specially-fitted electrotherapy garment, won the Tiger Cage competition and $50,000 in funding and services to help launch the business. Hanks, a member of the ESCAPE Therapy team, is already seeing the benefits.

“None of us were business-minded individuals as our concept was founded on our passions,” he said. “The next hurdle for us was trying to figure out the nuances into getting this thing to actually take off.”

Dawn Michaelson, a doctoral student in consumer and design sciences and fellow ESCAPE Therapy team member, explained how that happened. “We’ve been taken through the process of making sure that our experiences and the people that we have talked to for our product are actually part of a larger customer segment,” she said. “There really are a lot of injured patients with the same experiences (need), so we know that our product will be viable in the marketplace.

“The Accelerator has shown us what we need to plan for next. On Fridays, we are asked, ‘Where are you with your company?’ ‘How are you progressing?’ ‘Where do you need help?’ The program is helping us structure our company with our product, but it’s also helping us with the company formation. We’re getting help on both angles.”

Olivia Cook, doctoral student in public administration and public policy, and co-founder of Snippety-Snap, a camera phone stand and integrated mobile app, said, “We are getting a better understanding of how to go out there and figure out who our customers are. With this – it’s helping us fine-tune our ideas and our product that we’re trying to bring into this big world.”

(Courtesy of Auburn University)

5 months ago

4 tips for saving money on a vacation for Alabama families

(Pixabay)

My family and I love to travel, but we realize how expensive travel can be for some families. Luckily, Birmingham is equidistant from a lot of fabulous locations like the beach and the mountains.

We also have a great airport, and it’s not too far of a drive to Atlanta if we need access to something bigger. So, how does my family afford to travel so much? We keep it simple, really. I’ve got four great tips I want to share with you in hopes of encouraging you that you can go on a vacation without breaking the bank.

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Think Locally
We have so many fantastic resources for “day” or “long weekend” trips. DeSoto Caverns near Fort Payne, Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, and the Civil Rights Memorial & Center in Montgomery are just a few places I thought of off the top of my head. When thinking about local travel, it’s important to think seasonally too. We have wonderful farms nearby, like Old Baker Farm, that host seasonal events, or you could take your family to see the Barons play baseball on an “away game” weekend. Short trips over a few hours or a long weekend help scratch the wanderlust itch without costing serious cash.

Bring a Friend (or Two)

One of my favorite ways to travel is with family or friends. Splitting costs with other group members allows everyone to have fun while spending less. When traveling with friends, a big bonus is having children who are similar ages that will entertain one another. If you bring the grandparents along, they can have a fun evening with the kids (or maybe even a low-key one) while you and your spouse enjoy some one-on-one time. Sometimes there’s a lot of truth in the saying, “the more the merrier”!

Eat In

I love going to the beach, but vacationing during peak season makes maximizing our budget trickier. Condos are usually more expensive than hotel rooms, but they come with great upgrades like a full kitchen and, usually, washers and dryers. Having a full kitchen means that some meals can be eaten in, which saves on the overall cost of the trip. Washing clothes before you pack up to head home also makes less work for Mom in the long run (winning)!

Plan Ahead

Last-minute trips can be fun and exhilarating, but they don’t leave much room for saving and planning. Some vacations require a little more forethought. Certain destinations, like the Disney Parks or Disney Cruise Lines, have apps or websites that allow you to determine the cost of your vacation before you book, and they break down the savings by weeks or months so you know exactly how much you need to set aside for your trip. Talk about convenience! Planning ahead is often a great way to start saving money on a family vacation.

These are just a few of my tried and true tips for maximizing our vacation fund, but I’m sure there are plenty of other great ones out there.

What are some of your best tips for saving money on a family vacation? 

(Courtesy Birmingham Moms Blog)

Sarah Gilliland lives in Birmingham, is the mom of fraternal twin girls, and is a contributing writer at Birmingham Moms Blog

5 months ago

Huntsville non-profit leader determined to ‘beat the odds’

BTO Team, Dominique Mallory is 3rd from left (Photo: Matthew Walker)

Dominique Mallory said he may not have grown up in the best environment in Memphis, Tenn., and he may have made mistakes like doing drugs and going to jail for fighting, but he is intent on “beating the odds” of a bleak future — and helping other young men do the same through his Huntsville non-profit, B3ating Th3 Oddz.

The organization celebrates four years of growth this week with inaugural “Homecoming” events beginning Monday, June 11 at the Calvary Hills Teen Center in Huntsville.

“A lot of people did not come from a good background,” said Mallory, 27. “A lot of people had to grow up by themselves, or take on full responsibility at a young age. But we knew there was something on the inside of us that was bigger than how we were raised, or bigger than what our culture was growing up.

“When people said we aren’t going to be successful, or that we weren’t going to be fathers, or we weren’t going to be community leaders, it’s like – NO – there’s nothing that is impossible. So we’re beating the odds, and that’s where we got the name.”

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BTO, as it’s called, began in 2014 as a Bible study with Mallory and couple of guys at the Alabama A&M University Health and Wellness Center bowling alley.

Mallory said, through consistency, the group grew and that, at first, it was “a culture shock” to get young men together from all different races and backgrounds and realize they “could actually come together and talk about something other than [ourselves], which is Christ.”

Since then, Mallory said the organization has “touched the lives” of more than 650 young men through its three programs: BTO Life Night – a men’s Bible study that meets 7 p.m. every 2nd and 4th Monday at A&M’s Wellness Center, BTO Fitness – an hour-long workout session with a certified personal trainer every 2nd and 4th Saturday at 10 a.m. at the A&M Wellness Center, and BTO Mentoring – after-school sessions, community projects and outreach programs for boys 6-18 years old.

B3ating Th3 Oddz became a 501(c)3 in October of 2017.

As the organization grew, Mallory formed a team and developed a purpose statement: “Preparing men to live life on mission.” He said much of what BTO does is focused on mindset change.

“First we’ve got to be able to know that we are somebody and that we mean a lot, not only to our families, but we mean a lot to God,” he said. “We are valuable and when we start realizing that, we’ll start having confidence in ourselves and we’ll stop making so many bad decisions and we won’t get caught up with doing the wrong thing, and we’ll stick with doing what’s right.”

Mallory said he was inspired to launch BTO when he got into trouble and his then-employer and mentor gave him a second chance.

“I made a few mistakes and a few bad decisions, and Mr. Daniel Kasambira gave me a chance and an opportunity when he actually had the opportunity to fire me,” Mallory said. “That’s how all this came about — I wanted to create something positive for young males. There is no specific [race being served], I just knew there was a crisis on the inside of me that I was introduced to, and I wanted to expose that light to other young men that helped transform my life.”

Mallory, who received his master’s degree in social work from Alabama A&M, works full-time as a social worker for Decatur Youth Services, helping people find jobs, managing cases, and teaching parenting skills programs, including a fatherhood program at the Morgan County Jail.

He said he speaks, teaches and mentors in BTO using what he has learned through observation, research and his own life experiences.

“I try to first build a relationship with young men who come to the programs and let them know – hey, I’m a human just like you,” Mallory said. “I’ve done that, I’ve made mistakes, and there are still things I’m struggling with and trying to work on, to get better in every area of my life. So I don’t want you to feel like the decision you made or what you’re going through right now, that you got to stay stuck there.”

Mallory, who attends All Nations Worship Assembly in Huntsville, said he is humbled by BTO’s growth and influence and that he “has a heart filled with gratitude” that God is allowing him the “opportunity” to influence other young men.

“The reason I probably have the determination I do to try and do better is because growing up, I was always overlooked, I was always the underdog,” he said. “I always knew I could have a great life and do things, and God had a purpose in me, but I had people laugh at me and talk about me and things like that, and it almost messed me up in a way, where I walked around with a chip on my shoulder, but now it’s like God is showing me, Dominique, if you just trust me with your life, I will make sure you live an effective life, and that’s all I care about — to have the opportunity to introduce men to Christ and to help take care of them with these programs. It’s an amazing opportunity.”

More information about this week’s BTO Homecoming activities:

— Monday, June 11from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: All Men’s Life Group (Praise worship & Bible study) with guest speakers Adrian Davis & Jeremy Kelsey.

— Tuesday, June 12from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Fitness & Nutrition Seminar with Certified Fitness Trainers Brenson Crenshaw & Jon Howell

— Wednesday, June 13from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Mental Health Panel

— Thursday, June  14, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Financial Education Seminar with guest speaker Christopher Cunningham- Financial Specialist Wells Fargo Corporate Office

— Friday, June 15 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Poetry Night

— Saturday, June 16: BTO Day Party

The Life group, Fitness & Nutrition Awareness Seminar, Mental Health Panel, & Financial Education Seminar events are for men only. The poetry night & day party is for everyone.

All events will be held at Calvary Hills Teen Center 2900 Fairbanks St NW Huntsville AL 35810.

Learn more about B3ating Th3 Oddz at their website, and through social media:

Instagram: @b3atingth3oddz

Facebook: @B3ating Th3 Oddz

Twitter: @b3atingth3oddz

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News

5 months ago

Alabama student’s drive and determination to graduate garner national attention

(Alabama NewsCenter)

Determination can yield great results. Just ask 19-year-old Corey Patrick.

The recent Tarrant High School graduate conquered many obstacles to earn his diploma, so much so that his story has garnered national attention.

For one, he would get up at 4 a.m. daily to ride the bus to school from the West End community in Birmingham to Tarrant High.

For his trip, there was no such thing as a straight shot. He had to make several transfers to get to school and, according to his mother, it wasn’t unusual for him to return home after 6 p.m. weeknights.

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But one photo changed it all. Members of the community have stepped up to help after seeing Patrick walking in his graduation uniform after getting off the bus. MAX transit driver DeJuanna Beasley said she posted the picture because she was inspired by him, and to date, nearly 40,000 people have liked her photo.

One person who “liked” the story and was moved to action is Birmingham resident Michael Nabors, a retired University of Alabama employee. Nabors said he was motivated by the young man’s grit and was determined to find him and mentor him. And he did.

Nabors has helped arrange local and national interviews for the recent grad, while being a source of encouragement and family support.

In addition to a number of local and national news outlets, Patrick’s story also caught the attention of nationally known comedian Rickey Smiley, a Birmingham native.

Smiley recently interviewed Patrick on the Rickey Smiley Morning Show. Smiley also gifted the young man a car at the studio of radio station 95.7 Jamz recently.

Patrick will be using that car to get to his new job this summer as he was recently hired by Golden Flake.

Jacksonville State University recently offered a full scholarship. Patrick has said he is interested in studying computer science.

We recently caught up with Nabors, Patrick and his family at church services at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Pratt City, where graduates were honored.

The soft-spoken Patrick expressed gratitude for all of the support.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

5 months ago

Andrew Zimmern: Birmingham the ‘hottest small food city in America right now’

(E. Harney/Alabama NewsCenter)

Andrew Zimmern knows about eating. And at this moment in America, he says Birmingham’s the place to do it.

“I think if you’re not eating in Birmingham these days, you’re missing out on something really unique and special,” the noted chef and TV food personality said in an exclusive interview with Alabama NewsCenter. “I think Birmingham has solidified itself as the hottest small food city in America right now.”

Zimmern spoke to Alabama NewsCenter after strolling the food and vegetable stalls at Pepper Place with local chef Frank Stitt, whose Highlands Bar & Grill was named the outstanding restaurant in America last month by the James Beard Foundation. Not only that – the same night, the Beard Foundation named Highlands’ Dolester Miles the nation’s outstanding pastry chef. Last week, Miles was featured in a full-page spread in The New York Times. Another of this year’s Beard winners – South Carolina barbecue pitmaster Rodney Scott, best chef Southeast – has announced plans to open a restaurant in downtown Birmingham.

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Highlands was a finalist for 10 years running, which Zimmern said is far more significant than the restaurant ultimately taking home the top prize.

“I think to be nominated is its own reward. Because when you’re nominated for restaurant of the year, in America, and there’s four or five other nominees, that’s amazing,” Zimmern said.

“The way I look at it is the inverse: Frank and Pardis were nominated umpteen times for that award,” he said, recognizing the team of Stitt and his wife, Pardis, who manages the operation. “That says more than the people who were nominated once or twice. To be that relevant for so many years, everyone knew – at least I knew – that eventually they were going to win that thing.”

Zimmern admitted he’s become “kinda addicted” to Birmingham. It was his third trip to the city to tape episodes for his TV empire. But this time he made the most of it, taping for two separate shows – The Zimmern List, broadcast on the Travel Channel, and a yet-to-be-named show coming this fall to the Food Network. It will focus on food entrepreneurs aspiring for culinary greatness. Three Alabama enterprises were interviewed in Birmingham for the new show: Chubbfathers, which has a food truck as well as a bricks-and-mortar place in Alabaster; Granny’s Fish ‘N Grits, a food truck usually found near Birmingham Daiquiris on Ninth Street North at Third Avenue North, and Highway Kabobery, a Huntsville-based food truck. It’s the first time Zimmern has filmed two shows for two separate networks at the same time in one city.

Zimmern was downright gushy about Birmingham and the hospitality it shows every time he’s in town. He went so far as to proclaim that the people of Birmingham are on par – possibly even nicer – than folks in his hometown of Minneapolis, who are known for their welcoming ways.

He tweeted his affection for the Magic City: “I’m on the road, 230 days a year at minimum, 40/50 cities in USA. I never get as nice a welcome as I do in Birmingham. People stop their cars, pause on the street or use social and actually say ‘nice to have you back.’ It’s amazing. Love the B’ham people! Thank you for the love.”

Nor did Zimmern temper his deep affection for the Stitts, longtime friends whose restaurants have spawned numerous chefs who have launched their own restaurants in Birmingham, and beyond.

“Birmingham is extremely blessed to have someone who is as talented as Frank. But more importantly, who is as inclusive, gracious and as civic-minded as Frank is.

“Frank is a great chef. Pardis is an incredible businesswoman and hostess. But they’re better people,’’ Zimmern said.

“I think when you look at the history of restaurants in America, 50 years from now, Highlands is going to be written about. It’s 35 years old, and it’s better now than it’s ever been. I mean, how many restaurants can say that?”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Uninsured in Alabama — and what we did about it

(Laura Wilder/Birmingham Mom's Blog)

Hi, we’re an uninsured American family. Ok, we do have homeowner’s insurance and car insurance and life insurance, so we’re not totally living on the edge. But no, we do not have traditional health insurance.

Our Story

Health insurance has always confused me. What exactly am I paying for? For us, 2013 was a fairly uneventful year, medically. By October of that year we were deciding which health insurance plan to use for 2014. I crunched some numbers and realized we actually would have come out cheaper that year had we not had insurance at all, but had just paid out-of-pocket for the few needs we had. I called our insurance company and asked for a refund.

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The girl on the phone was confused. I explained that we ended up paying more due to having insurance than if we hadn’t had it at all, so would they refund me the difference? Obviously, the answer was no, but what concerned me more was that she didn’t understand why I was asking for a refund. I explained we paid our monthly premiums, which, in part, pays the insurance company to negotiate our bills for us. However, they had apparently done a poor job as we would have come out cheaper NOT paying them at all and just paying the healthcare providers up front. She still wasn’t tracking.

By the end of October, my husband sustained a foot injury which required a lot of attention and then in November we found out I was expecting our second baby. So by the end of 2013, we broke even. However, I was still concerned with how much we were paying between premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. It didn’t seem like we were getting a deal.

In the summer of 2014, our second baby boy was born and we were thrilled. Unfortunately, at just three weeks old he was admitted to Children’s of Alabama for an 18-day stay to treat an infection. It was all very scary and stressful. Thankfully, he came through it all fine. However, between his birth and his additional hospital stay, we were left with thousands of dollars of medical bills. Again, how was insurance benefiting us? My pediatrician assured me we would’ve been crippled with the dollar amount if we hadn’t been insured.

I requested a line item bill from the hospital so I could see for myself. I was stunned at the markup. A standard pack of diapers was $36. A bag of saline and a needle for his PICC line was over $10. Every single, even seemingly-small, item used or requested in a healthcare facility is tracked and billed. But here’s the thing, your insurance company certainly isn’t paying full price for those diapers or that bag of saline. That’s why the hospital is placing such an exorbitant charge on it in the first place. They know the insurance company will negotiate it down. But are they negotiating it down to a truly fair price? Are their negotiations worth what you’re paying them every year?

Thankfully, we finished out 2014 with no more major medical issues and went into 2015, which was also uneventful medically. By the end of 2015, when we were once again deciding which health insurance plan to use, I came across a Facebook post in my homeschool curriculum group, of all places. A mother was asking for advice on health shares. It was a fascinating conversation. What in the world was a health share? I looked it up and was amazed at what I found. It seemed too good to be true.

Here was an alternative to traditional health insurance, that didn’t leave people vulnerable to crippling debt that can come without having coverage of any kind. It was a way to truly be in control, not only of our medical bills, but also our overall health.

The Switch

My husband and I talked it over. He was leery at first. After all, all we had ever known was traditional insurance. This seemed like a big risk, especially with two young children to consider. We watched some moving testimonial videos of people who had made the switch. Almost every single person talked about how nervous they had been leaving the norm. We sought wise counsel on the matter. We talked with those who did not participate with a health share but who could consider what we were looking at and give us guidance objectively. In the end, we made the plunge. We did not sign up for health insurance for 2016.

I was anxious. Had we made a huge mistake? I kept reminding myself, if it didn’t work out, we could always re-enroll in traditional health insurance in the fall. It was basically an experiment for just one year. I was also excited. Our health share certainly didn’t have a “network”. We could see whichever healthcare provider we wanted. Our health share also encouraged lots of natural healthcare alternatives.

Now, I’ll quickly break down how our health share works. Anything under $300, we pay for. Well visits, sick visits, minor injuries, chiropractic care, etc. Anything that costs more than $300, we submit to our health share and the cost is covered by the members. Let’s say we have an ER visit and all bills total $1,000. We would pay the initial $300 then the remaining $700 would be covered by our health share members. Again, this is a very basic breakdown of how it works.

And so January 2016, our uninsured journey began. The year was mostly uneventful, until the very end. I had my first miscarriage after Christmas and ended up in the hospital. I came home December 31, 2016.

When I received my hospital bill for my 14-hour hospital visit it was around $47,000. They had automatically given me a “discount” so the final bill was $25,000. This “discounted” amount still seemed exorbitant for 14 hours, especially since it did not include the ultrasound, anesthesiologist’s fee, nor my doctor’s fee. I called the hospital and ended up being able to negotiate it down to $5,000. When it was all said and done, the whole ordeal was around $7,000. We submitted our bills to our health share and began receiving the money to pay for it.

But along with the money, we received cards, notes, and letters from these members. Some empathizing with the deep pain we were walking through, almost all praying for us. It was truly touching and humbling. I have saved almost every single note, card, and letter we received. Strangers praying for us and writing out Scripture, sharing stories.

We have since had lots of expensive medical needs. We’ve even had to seek help from a fertility specialist. Being part of a health share has been a comfort.

Yes, it is expensive at times since we come out-of-pocket up front. There have been times when we’ve had to decide which non-urgent medical need takes priority.

However, one way we have been able to off-set upfront costs is to take advantage of using a flex card. We’re able to put pre-tax dollars in this account via my husband’s employer, and we use that for random sick visits or planned check ups. We estimate how much we’ll need for the coming year and go from there. Participating with a health share has given us more peace of mind than any insurance company ever has. We know exactly what we’re paying for, and typically we know exactly how much we’ll have to pay. We don’t wait around to see if or what the insurance company decides to cover.

I will admit one frustration of being self-pay is the shocking lack of knowledge most doctor’s offices have in regards to charges. Whenever I have called a doctor’s office ahead of time to ask how much a visit or procedure will be, they do not know. They either have to call their central billing office, ask their office manager, or give me a vague “range”. I’ve said before that if I’m going to a salon to get my haircut, I would never set up an appointment without knowing if it was going to cost me $50 or $500. Why would I walk in blindly to a healthcare facility to receive a service? Yet this is what often happens — especially with insurance. One of the major downfalls of the majority of our society being insured is that they do not realize how much healthcare costs. People have no idea if they’re getting a good deal or not. And mostly, they’re not.

Systemic Healthcare Issues

I do not propose to offer a solution to our country’s healthcare crisis. I have learned over these past few years that the problem is not just with insurance companies and their executives. Certainly, they are part of the problem. But other parts of the problem are with healthcare facilities, “boards” who run these facilities, and doctors who have no business sense or do not know how much their services cost or if their rates are comparable. Medical supply companies and pharmaceutical companies are another part of the problem. What they charge a pharmacy to purchase their medications is outrageous. I’m certainly not anti-profit. However, a drug I’m currently on would cost me $2200/month if I purchased it from a big-box pharmacy. But I’m able to purchase it for $267/month from a local pharmacy. At first I was very upset that the big-box pharmacy would place such a high markup on that drug. But I learned from an employee that the pharmaceutical company sells it to the big-box pharmacy for a much higher price than they sell it to local pharmacies, because they know the bigger companies will pay. The greed is astounding.

If you were going to purchase diapers and Walmart charged $10/pack and Target charged $50/pack, where would you go? Also, companies keep their prices competitive for obvious reasons. Why don’t pharmacies or other healthcare services? I would guess it’s because they don’t have to because most people don’t know they’re being ripped off.

As I said, I’m not proposing a solution as the problem is complicated. What I am proposing is an alternative. If your family is paying too much in monthly premiums and not getting enough coverage, consider a health share. There are several out there. I realize this is not a solution for every family, but it is a viable solution for a lot of people, and sadly, a lot of people have no idea they exist. I’m always happy to share what I know and to share our personal experiences. Feel free to reach out to me to ask questions if this is something your family is considering.

There’s no perfect way to tackle healthcare, but I do believe some ways are better than others and for our family, a health share has been the better way.

(Courtesy Birmingham Moms Blog)

Laura Wilder lives in Leeds, homeschools her two sons (a daughter is on the way), and is a contributing writer for Birmingham Moms Blog.

 

6 months ago

Bringing kids to Starbucks: A complete guide from a former barista

(Pixabay)

Here’s the skinny on bringing kids to Starbucks . . . Starbucks can be a bit overwhelming, and ordering for your child can be risky business. I had the privilege of working there for four years and have experienced serving the youngest customers of them all! I’ve served them drinks that are horrible for them and the parents will regret within 20 minutes, but I’ve also helped parents make okay-ish choices when it comes to choosing a beverage.

Before we get to the part about what drinks to order for your kids, let me chat with the moms out there with older babies who are fully capable of ordering their own drinks. Make sure they aren’t terrorizing your friendly neighborhood baristas!

It might not be all that surprising that as a barista I was treated poorly by customers on multiple occasions. Some of the worst incidents were caused by teenagers being teenagers with their friends. I ask that you talk to your children about treating baristas with respect.

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And if you really feel empowered to help your teenager get a grasp on life, help them apply for a job at Starbucks. Starbucks taught me so much, including the “proper” way to sweep and mop. (Mom bonus!) It taught me about career ladders and hourly employment in a (mostly) fun environment. You get the privilege of working with a variety of people and an opportunity to make lifelong friends.

On the note of your older babies ordering drinks, LET THEM ORDER FOR THEMSELVES. Maybe it is because I am an extreme extrovert and have been since the moment I was born, but I do not understand parents ordering for children if they are above 10 years old and know what they want. I have asked kids, “And what would you like?” Then I’ve watched them lean over to the parent and whisper the order.

Here’s the deal: Typically, your12-year-old has not provided enough details, so the barista is going to have follow-up questions. Prevent yourself from being the unnecessary translator. Encourage your child to have basic dialogue with the barista. As a mom to a child who is at risk for social-emotional development delays, I acknowledge that this isn’t easy for everyone. But if your child is fully capable of ordering for him or herself, please encourage them to do so.

This simple interaction is such a teaching opportunity for your child. Your child is learning how to communicate with an adult in a customer service interaction. In one Starbucks visit, you can reinforce basic manners such as “please” and “thank you” or more advanced manners such as how to politely request customization of food/beverages or cleaning up after themselves. I have watched kids (teenagers!!!) smash coffee cake into leather seats for fun. I’ve also had a teenager purposely spill a drink and then walk away. Do not raise those children. Teaching your children to have respect for a barista or anyone in a customer service role prevents your children from becoming coffee cake-smashing teenagers.

If you stop yourself from raising coffee-cake smashers, as your children get older, a coffee shop stop might be something special for you to do together. I always enjoyed stopping by the Cahaba Heights store on my way to work in the morning and watching the families go through the line together. They would sit in the café and review homework before starting their days.

What to order when bringing kids to Starbucks

Now, for the moms ordering drinks for the little ones, here’s my drink advice to you! Once you get past the mom-judgement of having a toddler with a Starbucks cup, here’s what to order:

— Steamed* Milk or Cold Milk with A Flavor
Starbucks has expanded beyond the basic milk types that existed when I was a barista. When I was a barista I left work each day covered in soy, non-fat, 2%, and whole milk. It was a lovely smell . . . Fast forward to 2018, and there are plenty of milk options including coconut and almond milk! So for the kiddos, find your milk of choice and decide if they would like it hot or cold. After that, pick a flavor! Remember that some flavors come in sugar-free options and some do not.

How I would order it: I would like a kid’s-size vanilla crème with sugar-free vanilla at kid temperature.

— Steamed* or Cold Apple Juice
As a 27-year-old woman, I have an unhealthy obsession with apple juice. When working the late shift at Starbucks, I sometimes enjoyed my giant sized “partner beverage” of apple juice before going home. You can ask for steamed or cold apple juice or purchase a box of good ol’ AJ. Remember to specify if you would like the drink hot or iced. If you order it iced . . . you will get ice in the actual cup. I realize that might be obvious to some of you, but my barista experience would tell you, it is not for some folks.

How I would order it: I would like a tall cup of apple juice with no ice.

— Lemonade
Admittedly, I don’t love the Starbucks lemonade. But if your child loves lemonade and is feeling the Starbucks fury while waiting in line . . . you order that lemonade, Girl.

How I would order it: I would like a tall cup of lemonade with ice.

— Blended Strawberry Lemonade

There are 51 grams of sugar in a tall-sized blended strawberry lemonade, so I would not order this ever. However, if you are a bold and daring parent and are brave enough to fight the sugar high, you do you.

How I would order it: I’ll take a glass of water instead.

Steamed* Or Cold Milk or Chocolate Milk
This is basically the same as #1; however, it is worth saying that there is a difference between syrups and sauces at Starbucks. Syrups include things like vanilla, hazelnut, or raspberry. Sauces include mocha, white mocha, and the beloved pumpkin spice. In Starbucks lingo mocha = chocolate. Milk + mocha = chocolate milk. Make sense?

How I would order it: I would like a tall coconut milk with one pump of mocha added.

— Smoothies
I realize I beat up the blended strawberry lemonade over sugar, but I’m not going to beat up the smoothies over it. One, the strawberry smoothie is a tad bit better, and the chocolate smoothie is better regarding grams of sugar per ounce. Secondly, the smoothies have a whole banana in them that has approximately 14 grams of sugar by itself. Overall, I don’t dislike the smoothies. Be aware that there is whey protein and fiber in the smoothies. One time a momma-to-be called my store and yelled at me for letting her drink whey protein. I took the verbal beating and gently reminded myself that telling a pregnant woman what to eat has never gone over well and now was not the time to start. Also, it is important to know that this only comes in a grande size.

How I would order it: I would like a strawberry smoothie with coconut milk.

— Iced Passion Tea / Herbal Tea+
Starbucks herbal teas do not have caffeine. Let me share with you what isn’t an herbal tea: chai tea, black tea, green tea, and matcha. I know matcha is all the rage these days, but beware the beautiful green substance if you are limiting your child’s caffeine intake. Instead, try the passion iced tea or one of the hot herbal teas.

How I would order it: I would like a grande iced passion tea lemonade unsweetened.

— Hot Chocolate*
Is this the same as #5 and #1? Basically. But it is worth noting that Starbucks hot chocolates have both syrup and sauce. This is something to consider if you’re trying to provide a sweet treat without sending your sweet babe into a sugar daze. These chocolatey delights have vanilla and mocha in them. And when the fall rolls around and you want to enjoy a salted caramel hot chocolate . . . you guessed it, there is even more syrup. These fall time drinks have vanilla, mocha, AND toffee nut included. Don’t forget that all hot chocolates come with whipped cream and a mocha drizzle. Admittedly, I left off the drizzle most days. It was a bad barista habit I failed to break.

How I would order it: Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t. But if I had to . . . I would like a kid’s hot chocolate with one pump of mocha instead of two and no whipped cream.

— Caramel Apple Spice*
THESE ARE SO GOOD BUT ARE ALSO FULL OF SUGAR. I’ve already expressed my love for apple juice. This drink is apple juice, cinnamon dolce syrup, whipped cream, and caramel drizzle. For the kiddos, I’d avoid this one. But if you’re going to enjoy a warm drink of #treatyoself, enjoy this!

How I would order it: I would like a tall caramel apple spice with half the pumps of cinnamon dolce.

— Evolution Fresh Juice
I’m a big fan of the evolution fresh juices. I like cold-pressed juice in general, and I really love their orange juice. These juices only come in a bottle and I have watched a six-year-old have a breakdown because he didn’t have a Starbucks cup. Simple solution: ask your friendly barista for a cup and a straw! Healthy juice + cup/straw = happy kid.

How I would order it: You won’t really order this. But if you don’t see many flavors available in the front case, ask the barista if there are other options in the back.

In case you can’t tell, most of these drinks are full of sugar. It really is a “picking your poison” type of situation. Always remember if your baby just wants the cup, ask for an extra cup or order a glass of water.

One last recommendation . . . take a look at the Starbucks app! If you create a beverage to order, you can check calorie, sugar, and caffeine content there.

*Be sure to ask for this drink to be at kid temperature!

+ For hot teas it is tough to control the temperature of the hot water, so be careful!

(Courtesy Birmingham Moms Blog)

Alyson Stemas lives in Homewood and is a contributing writer at Birmingham Moms Blog

6 months ago

Former Miss Alabama sees daughters competing for Miss Alabama, Tony Award

(Walker Family)

Like mother, like daughter. Like other daughter.

That’s the way the old saying goes for the family of Angela Tower Walker. Angela was Miss Alabama 1986 and came close to winning Miss America.

Now, three decades later, Angela has her eyes on two competitions this week: Saturday night’s Miss Alabama Pageant, in which daughter Callie is trying to follow in her mother’s footsteps; and Sunday’s Tony Awards, in which daughter Scarlett, making her Broadway debut in “Carousel,” just may see her show take home theater’s top award for Best Revival of a Musical.

“I’m super proud of them, obviously,” says Angela, whose trek to the Miss Alabama crown started when she was a freshman at Birmingham-Southern College and was invited to enter a preliminary.

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“I had no idea what I was doing,” she says. “But I ended up winning the pageant and going on to the Miss Alabama Pageant in 1978. I was quite clueless when I was competing, and I was second runner-up. I was completely surprised.”

That first year piqued Angela’s interest, so she continued to compete both in Texas (she’s a native Texan) and in Alabama. She was first runner-up to Miss Alabama Tammy Little in 1984, and in 1985, she won the title, becoming Miss Alabama 1986.

“I thoroughly enjoyed being on the road and making appearances as Miss Alabama, and competing in Miss America was very exciting,” she says. After the national pageant, where she finished as fourth runner-up, Angela went to see David Letterman’s late-night show in New York, and she appeared in a small segment with him.

After her reign as Miss Alabama, Angela owned a dance studio in Birmingham for a number of years and has been teaching ballet and coaching other contestants for more than 30 years.

She married Mike Walker in 1993, and they have three children: Scarlett, 23; and twins Callie and Michael, 20.

Broadway Bound

Angela’s two daughters, both singers and dancers, followed her into the pageant system.

Scarlett won both Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen (in 2010) and Alabama’s Distinguished Young Woman (in 2012), finishing as first runner-up nationally in both programs. She had appeared early on in a production of “Annie,” but after her pageant years, she left performing behind to study broadcast journalism.

“My mom knew I was lost without the arts,” Scarlett recalls. “She said, ‘You know, I really think you would be good at theater.’ … That conversation changed my life forever.”

Scarlett became a musical theater major at the University of Alabama and appeared in productions of “Bye, Bye Birdie,” “42nd Street,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Little Shop of Horrors” in Tuscaloosa. In Birmingham, she appeared in Red Mountain Theatre Company’s “Les Miserables” and “La Cage Aux Folles.”

In 2016, Scarlett made the move to New York. “I knew this was where I had to be to fulfill my dream,” she says.

She worked at a couple of respected regional theaters, and then, in July of last year, she auditioned for the Broadway revival of “Carousel.”

Her mom got the news, fittingly, on the dance floor, where she was teaching a ballet class.

“She called from the subway and asked if I was on speaker phone,” Angela recalls. “She announced to me and my students that she was going to be on Broadway.”

Scarlett had been cast in the ensemble of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, and she also was understudying the major role of Carrie Pipperidge, best friend to Julie Jordan, the heroine.

“Opening night was a ‘dream come true’ moment for me,” Scarlett says. “My parents were there, and the atmosphere in the theater was unreal.”

But there was more to come.

On May 27, two hours before curtain, Scarlett found out she was going on as Carrie Pipperidge.

“Those were the fastest two hours of my life,” Scarlett says. “I was nervous, elated, focused, overjoyed, grateful and very, very calm. … One of the greatest honors of the day was making my Broadway principle debut while holding the hand of one of my idols, Tony Award winner Jessie Mueller. … Also, singing one of my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, ‘Mister Snow,’ on a Broadway stage with a 25-piece orchestra is the stuff dreams are made of.”

Following in Mom’s, sister’s footsteps

Scarlett plans to watch Sunday’s Tony Awards at a cast member’s watch party, but she’ll be rooting for sister Callie on Saturday night.

While Scarlett was honing her theater skills, Callie, too, was making a name for herself on stage.

She was crowned Miss Alabama’s Outstanding Teen in 2012, and in 2015 began competing in the Miss Alabama Pageant. She is believed to be the first daughter of a former winner to compete.

The past two years, she has been first runner-up to Miss Alabama, and she’s ready to win.

“I truly want to be the next Miss Alabama,” she says. “I have competed for four years in this organization, and I have never felt more ready or prepared to travel this state and promote the Miss America Organization and its empowerment of women.”

She, like Scarlett, is studying musical theater at the University of Alabama, appearing in shows such as “A Chorus Line” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

“I am looking to follow in my sister’s footsteps,” Callie says. “Seeing her journey with ‘Carousel,’ I have already seen that a career on Broadway is not easy. It takes hard work and dedication.”

Hard work and dedication – and a love for music — are not lacking in the Walker family.

“It’s kind of not surprising to see the trajectories they’ve taken,” Angela says, adding that son, Michael, is also in the arts, as an aspiring choral director. “My husband is a big music fan, and when they were little and he was toting them around in the car, he’d play music, and it was anything from Elvis to John Denver to Barbra Streisand. You name it, Mike exposed them to it.

“It has been rewarding seeing their drive and determination and see them reach their goals,” Angela adds.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Oprah chooses Alabamian’s ‘The Sun Does Shine’ as latest book club selection

(OWN/YouTube)

The Alabama Legislature for three years running has refused to approve reparations to Anthony Ray Hinton, the Jefferson County man who spent almost 30 years on death row before prosecutors dropped all charges against him. Tuesday, Oprah Winfrey announced a decision that could help Hinton financially.

Winfrey Tuesday morning revealed that Hinton’s memoir “The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row,” is her latest Oprah’s Book Club selection. Oprah’s Book Club’s popularity is credited with increasing sales of the books she selects, often driving obscure titles to best-seller status.

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“Over the years, I’ve chosen many great novels – very few memoirs for my book club,” Winfrey said in a video posted on www.oprah.com. “But this story reads like an epic novel, and it is all true.”

Hinton was convicted of two counts of murder in the shooting deaths of two Birmingham-area fast-food restaurant managers. A restaurant manager in Bessemer who later survived a similar attack identified Hinton from a photo lineup, even though Hinton was working in a secured warehouse 15 miles away on the night of the crime. Hinton passed a lie detector test before the trial and maintained his innocence – something on which he never wavered.

Hinton was convicted based largely on state forensics experts’ testimony that a rusty .38-caliber pistol recovered from Hinton’s mother’s home had fired the bullets that killed the two men. Hinton’s “expert,” a civil engineer by training, was such a disaster on the stand that Hinton said he knew he was doomed.

For almost 30 years, Hinton tried to survive Alabama’s death row while a series of lawyers handled his appeals. His break came after a dozen years on death row when acclaimed lawyer Bryan Stevenson took Hinton’s case. “Today is the day that God opened up my case,” Hinton wrote of that moment.

Even with Stevenson’s expertise – he had won a MacArthur “Genius” Grant for freeing an innocent man from Alabama’s death row – Hinton remained on death row for more than 15 more years and suffered through crushing legal defeats. In 2014, though, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Hinton had not received a fair trial and vacated the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals’ ruling upholding the state court verdict. The appeals court sent the case back to Jefferson County, where prosecutors dropped all charges against Hinton rather than trying a case with new testing on Hinton’s gun that couldn’t prove it fired the crime scene bullets.

“Mr. Hinton was falsely convicted of murder and spent 30 years on death row before he was finally released,” Winfrey said. “It’s unimaginable. And you will throughout the book try to imagine yourself falsely accused and in a 5-by-7 (-foot) cell for 30 years. He is a remarkable storyteller and when you read it, you will be swept away into this unbelievable, dramatic true story.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Fritz Brothers Guitars is an Alabama Maker making strings sing

(M. Sandlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

Roger Fritz used a sheet of plywood and a three-color crayon to make his first guitar.

“My father wanted me to take up the trumpet, but I wanted to play guitar,” Fritz said. “When he wouldn’t buy me one, I built my own when I was 13.”

Now more than 50 years later, Fritz is still crafting and caring for stringed instruments. He’s designed and built acoustic and electric guitars and basses for the Gibson and Rose guitar companies in Tennessee, for Kay Guitars in California – and continues his music-making skills at a wood-filled workshop in Fairhope. His satisfied customers have included guitar heroes such as George Harrison, Keith Richards and Roy Buchanan, as well as hundreds of other professional and amateur musicians all over the world.

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“My father worked for the FBI, so we moved around a lot,” Fritz said. “We ended up in Mobile when I was 15. I later attended Marion Institute and Samford University, where I took music lessons from a priest. My dad eventually bought me an acoustic guitar, but by then I was playing in a rock band. That became my on-the-job training.”

The young musician continued his tuneful training by working in music stores around Birmingham. He moved to Nashville in 1978, handcrafting bluegrass guitars and mandolins for Gibson, and later migrated to northern California to open his own shop and design instruments for Kay Guitars. “I met my wife, Christy, in California, and we stayed out there for about 18 years,” Fritz said. “We came back to Mobile to care for my mother – and that’s when my brother, John, and I formed Fritz Brothers Guitars.”

The company – as well as Roger, Christy and their two children, Emerson and Greta – moved to Fairhope a few years ago. Although John left the company, Fritz kept “Brothers” as part of its name. “I’d always wanted to start my own guitar business, but after we formed Fritz Brothers, Gibson offered me my own division to run,” he said.

“So we put our company in mothballs for a while. Now I guess you could say I’m semi-retired.”

The master luthier may have slowed down a bit, but not much. He continues to craft custom-made semi-solid and hollow-body electric guitars and basses, as well as acoustic instruments.

“I also do a lot of repair work,” Fritz explained. “I usually have 10 to 15 broken guitars sitting around the shop at any one time. I’ve been doing this for so long that I really don’t have to advertise – most of my jobs come from our Facebook page that Christy does, or by word of mouth.”

He still strums a few tunes now and then. And these days, his teenage kids are playing as well.

“Both of them are musically inclined, and pretty good on the guitar and piano,” Fritz said.

And fortunately – if they ever need a guitar – they won’t have to build one from a piece of plywood.


The Product: Handcrafted electric guitars, basses and acoustic guitars, as well as guitar repair.

Fritz Brothers Guitars, 707-937-6060

http://fritzbrothersguitars.com/

www.facebook.com/Fritz-Brothers-Guitars-140960833956/

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

Alabama WWII veteran inspires others to live active, purposeful lives

(K. Shamsi-Basha/Alabama NewsCenter)

Millard “Bo” Carwyle is a World War II veteran but, at age 91, he’s known by another designation: Senior Olympian.

In 1944, one of the final decisive battles of WWII had ended and Carwyle, an Army information specialist, was in the unit responsible for wrapping things up in and around Dachau, Germany.

“I was in Germany in World War II. I came to Dachau after the Battle of the Bulge, when things were cooling down and we helped get things organized,” Carwyle said at the Alabama Senior Olympics qualifying rounds recently in Birmingham.

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After his return from Germany, Carwyle worked as a homebuilder and got involved in athletics. When his wife died in 2010, his children wanted him to remain active. His daughter is a runner and invited him to the Senior Olympics in Mississippi. Carwyle was reinvigorated.

“This year at the Alabama Senior Olympics, I’ll be doing the javelin, shot put, discus, long jump and hammer throw,” Carwyle said, “Excuse me for a minute. They just called my name.”

Carwyle stepped up and grabbed a discus, then placed it on his chest and under his chin, then twirled around and launched it many meters. Those watching cheered for the oldest competitor in the games.

His preparation for the Senior Olympics would be challenging for someone half his age.

“I prepare by lifting weights every day and walking lots of miles every week. I’m on the board of the Alabama Senior Olympics and the Governor’s Commission on (Physical) Fitness and Sports, so I help out with these events all over the state, which helps keep me busy,” Carwyle said.

Carwyle just returned from Indiana, where he won three gold medals.

“Age is only a number,” Carwyle said with a laugh. “I love seeing veterans and other seniors coming to events like these. It keeps me young, that’s for sure.”

Next, Carwyle participated in the javelin. He ran and tossed the spear into the air and it landed a great distance away. All the people watching cheered and he gave them high fives like he had just won the gold medal.

For Carwyle, it’s about more than cheers.

“This is important to me because I want to see as many Senior Olympics as possible,” he said. “I’ve been on the Earth this long and I feel like I’m supposed to help others live as long as they can by staying active and healthy.”

When Carwyle heard his name called for the long jump, he ran off and took his place in line.

At his age and with his accomplishments, it would be understandable if Carwyle wanted to spend his last years in leisure and comfort.

For Carwyle, the comfort is in knowing that he inspires others.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 months ago

How to host a neighborhood block party

(Ericka Jackson/Birmingham Mom's Blog)

When we got ready to buy a house a few years ago, the biggest thing that drew us to Crestwood was the incredible sense of community. Our neighbors are known to put together fun events like Easter egg hunts, water balloon fights, Mardi Gras parades, and alley parties. So when we bought our lovely little 1950’s home, we knew we wanted to be a part of encouraging that feeling of “community” on our street! Thanks to my husband’s brilliant idea to host a summer block party, you can find us hanging out with around a hundred neighbors in our yard one Saturday a year!

We’ve continued the tradition for five years now, and every year we have so much fun. It’s become a staple on our street – and something we all look forward to summer after summer! We’ve made some wonderful memories with our adult neighbors, and the kids on our street literally count down to this event all year long! We love knowing that we’re creating cherished childhood memories for them too.

If right now you’re thinking, “My neighborhood needs a block party!” – then keep reading! After five years, we’ve pretty much perfected our plan – and we would love to see it replicated in your neighborhood, too!

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These days we all spend way too much time hiding behind smartphones and computer screens, and not enough time getting to know (and love) our neighbors. So here are just a few easy tips to create a fun and memorable block party that your community will enjoy year after year!

Choose a few neighbors to help co-host.

If you don’t know any of your neighbors yet, don’t let this first step deter you! You can always start small the first year and host a potluck style party for your street by yourself. However, if you have a few community-minded neighbors who don’t mind pitching in, it’s a great way to ensure an awesome event!

Our little block hosts our party each year, and we have at least 5-7 families that pitch in to make it possible. We start by choosing an early date (due to the Alabama heat, we host ours in late May or early June). Once we’ve found a Saturday where most of our co-hosts are available, we divvy up responsibilities. Everyone invites their friends throughout the neighborhood, and each family provides $30-50 worth of items so that no one is burdened with a big cost. Then they drop it all off at our house around lunchtime on party day!

Free food always brings a crowd!

As the party hosts, the neighbors on our street provide the main food and drinks each year. We grill hot dogs, get cases of individual bags of assorted chips from Sam’s (so leftovers don’t get stale), and provide condiments, paper plates, napkins, cutlery, and cups. All the neighbors bring their personal coolers over, and we fill them up with bottled water, juice boxes for the kids, canned cokes, and beer. Small chalkboards are used to label what’s in each cooler, and three borrowed tables are set up in the shade to hold the food. Then we ask the other neighbors who attend to bring a side or dessert to share!

Neighbors on our street who have their own table and chairs usually pull them to their front yard for the evening, along with extra bag chairs and blankets on the lawns. Those who don’t live on our street mill around to find a comfortable place to sit, eat, and get to know each other. We’ve had people ask about providing “tips” to offset the cost of the party – so we set out a tip jar and split the total at the end of the night. It helps those who aren’t hosting be a part of keeping the party going!

*Don’t forget to recycle! We designate one trashcan with a sign as the “recycle” spot for plastic bottles and aluminum cans. It helps reduce the waste from the event!

Music makes any event more fun!

If free food isn’t enough to draw a crowd . . . music will certainly help! As a singer myself, I knew that live music would make this party a lot more fun. We’re lucky enough to have some awesome musicians in Crestwood (like J. Patrick Reed, pictured below) and almost every year we’ve had a neighbor play and sing for the party. Our next-door neighbor also helped found Birmingham Mountain Radio – so between sets we blast some tunes from BMR on our speakers!

Don’t have a speaker? You probably know someone who does (so ask around to see if you can borrow one!) I’d recommend setting up under a tailgating tent to keep the sound system safe from rain and sun. Just don’t forget to be aware of noise ordinances and be sensitive to a cutoff time for the music that night. We’re lucky to have great neighbors and have never had a complaint. We have actually had some neighbors post online about enjoying the music from their backyards!

Provide activities for the children.

I’m not sure about your neighborhood, but in ours, we have A LOT of children! We actually have 13 kids just on our block (with two more on the way!) We want the kids to enjoy the party as much as the parents, so we make sure to have some special things for them each year.

One neighbor borrows a “bouncy house” from their church, another buys fun things like bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and glowsticks for a small “kids’ table,” and then we set up at least one yard full of kiddie pools and sprinklers for the little ones to enjoy. We also try to have a few bowls of water set out for any neighbors who bring their pets along.

Don’t forget to spread the word!

If no one knows about your event, then no one will come! You have to do a little prep work to make sure it’s a success. Our neighborhood uses the Nextdoor app that keeps us all connected, and posting there is a great way to spread the word! The app also includes a template to print off event flyers, so we drop a few of those off at nearby houses and post one at the local coffee shop. You should also text the neighbors whose numbers you have, and post to your neighborhood Facebook page (if you have one). No Nextdoor app or Facebook page? Then try a yard sign! A simple sign that reads, Block Party This Saturday! You’re Invited, Neighbor! will get the attention of any neighbors driving by. Just be sure to put it out a week in advance!

The day of our event, we tie balloons up at both ends of our street to help people spot the party. This year I think we’re going to add some signs that read Block Party! Welcome, Neighbors! so that new neighbors understand it’s not a private event and they’re invited too.

Be prepared to stay up late!

This is totally an “optional” tip to take – but it’s one I would highly recommend! We typically start our party around 4:30 or 5:00 on a Saturday afternoon and have the hot dogs ready at 5:30 or 6:00. Most neighbors stay and enjoy the music until about 9:00. But it’s after the main party that some of our best memories have been made!

Once the crowd is gone — our street stays up. The kids all know it’s the one night of the year when they get to stay up “super late” (which they love!) They run around playing until they wind down, and then they usually end up piled together watching a movie or telling ghost stories. We grown-ups circle up our chairs in someone’s yard, light the tiki torches, and listen to “oldies” while we tell stories and laugh until our sides hurt. Some of my favorite block party memories are made in those late night circles. You don’t really know your neighbors well until you hear that sweet mom on your street exclaim, “Let’s listen to some Snoop Dogg!” at 1:00 a.m.! Ha! It feels a little like we’re back in college – if only for a night.

When we can’t hold our eyes open any longer, we divvy up the leftovers, put away the party supplies, and head to bed. We complain every year on the “day after the block party” when we all are exhausted from staying up too late . . . but it’s totally worth it for the memories we make!

Does your neighborhood have an annual block party? If not, consider starting one, Mama!

(Courtesy Birmingham Moms Blog)

Ericka Jackson is an Auburn graduate, contributor to Birmingham Moms Blog, and co-founder (with her husband) of The Sound of Hope, which provides holistic care to vulnerable children around the world.