3 months ago

Finis St. John, IV named chancellor of University of Alabama System

HUNTSVILLE — Finis E. “Fess” St. John, IV was unanimously confirmed as the chancellor of the University of Alabama System on Friday during a meeting of its board of trustees.

St. John, a longtime trustee himself, had been serving as chancellor in the interim without compensation since former Chancellor Ray Hayes’ retirement in the summer of 2018.

Trustees lauded St. John as the most prepared and most qualified person to serve as chancellor after they looked at internal and external options.

The board of trustees also named St. John as a trustee emeritus since he cannot simultaneously serve as an active trustee and as permanent chancellor. He is a lifelong resident of Cullman and has served as the board’s pro tem for three previous terms.

The resolution affirming his status as trustee emeritus said, “Fess St. John’s 17 years of impeccable service as a Trustee coincide with a time of unprecedented growth for UA, UAB, UAH and the UAB Health System, measured by benchmarks that include: a 200+ percent increase in total System revenues; more than $3 billion in capital projects approved by this board; a 200+ percent increase in the Pooled Endowment Fund; a 54 percent increase in total grant and contract awards; and a 200 percent increase in total student enrollment.”

The resolution also praised his service thus far as interim chancellor as “exemplary” and “reflective of his personal integrity, professional demeanor, and strength of character.”

The St. John family has a long history of public service to the citizens of the Yellowhammer State, which was also highlighted in the board’s resolution. Fess St. John’s father and grandfather served in the Alabama legislature. His grandfather was speaker pro tem of the Alabama House of Representatives and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Fess St. John’s father was president pro tem of the Alabama Senate. Fess St. John’s mother was the first woman attorney in Cullman. His great-grandfather arrived in Alabama in 1838 and at age 32 was elected to the Alabama General Assembly, which later became the legislature. During his term, the Assembly created Alabama’s first public education system.

St. John is a 1978 cum laude graduate of the University of Alabama, where he was inducted to Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa and Jasons. He received his law degree in 1982 from the University of Virginia School of Law and was chair of the Moot Court Board. He clerked for the Hon. Peter T. Fay, 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals after completing law school.

St. John and his wife are attorneys in Cullman. He has taken a leave of absence from the family firm, St. John & St. John, during his service as chancellor. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which is comprised of the best of the trial bar from the United States and Canada. Fellowship in the college is by invitation only. He is also a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates and has been recognized as an Alabama Super Lawyer since 2007. He is the long-time chairman of the board of First Community Bank of Cullman.

St. John was named to Yellowhammer Multimedia’s Power and Influence List in 2018.

‘We hear them’

This came during the same board of trustees meeting that St. John announced a historic system-wide tuition freeze proposal for all in-state students in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Speaking to Yellowhammer News after the meeting, St. John explained that the in-state tuition freeze emphasizes the system’s charter to serve as Alabama’s flagship higher education institution, serving its citizens and bettering the state for the greater good.

“Our system has students from every county and community in the state,” he said. “We want them to know that we understand how hard it is to go to college these days. We want what they learn to be worth what it costs. And we hear them about their needs.”

The chancellor also had a message to state legislators.

“We appreciate the work they’re doing to fund higher education … they’re drawing the funds from the same people we are. We’re all in this together, and I think we all want the same thing, so we do appreciate their commitment to us,” St. John stated.

‘Preeminent public system of higher education and health care in the United States’

During the meeting, the trustees also adopted a new statement of its mission, values and vision.

The new mission states, “The University of Alabama System, an institution of higher education created for learning, exists to improve the lives of everyone we affect through the teaching, research and service rendered by its component campuses and health system.”

The values are integrity, leadership, inclusion, diversity, respect and accountability.

The vision really stands out, with trustee Stancil Starnes remarking that achieving it would not be easy and would not happen overnight, but is well worth striving for and ultimately attainable.

“We will be the preeminent public system of higher education and health care in the United States,” the vision statement proclaims.

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

29 mins ago

Latest round of Alabama rural broadband grants announced — ‘Will open the way’

Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has awarded six grants totaling over $1.14 million to provide access to high-speed internet in several of the state’s rural communities.

The grants are the second round of awards presented by Ivey under the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund. In the latest round, some providers were awarded more than one grant to provide service in different areas.

“Alabama’s rural residents not only want, but need to be on a super highway when it comes to technology,” Ivey said in a statement.

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“Access to high-speed internet in our rural areas will open the way to improved educational opportunities, economic development projects and better health-care services,” the governor concluded. “I am very proud to award these grants to expand access to affordable high-speed internet in these communities.”

Grants awarded and coverage areas as follows:

• Roanoke Telephone Co. Inc. – $79,239 for coverage in the Five Points community in Chambers County. The project will involve more than three square miles and will include 176 households.

• R.M. Greene Inc. of Phenix City – $4,320 for coverage in the Pittsview community and in Russell County. Twenty-three households are included in the coverage area.

• R.M. Greene Inc. of Phenix City – $50,712 to provide coverage in the Dixie area in Russell County. The area includes 215 residences, two businesses and a school.

• Troy Cablevision Inc. – $575,115 for connectivity in multiple areas in Houston County (near Cottonwood and Gordon; and between Webb and Columbia) and Geneva County (near Slocomb, Coffee Springs, Geneva and Samson). The project will cover 79 miles and provide connectivity for 878 residences, 76 businesses and three community locations (like schools, libraries, fire stations and community centers).

• Troy Cablevision Inc. – $348,885 for service in Crenshaw County (near Rutledge/Luverne), Pike County (near Brundidge, Banks and Goshen) and northeast Coffee County. The project will cover 52 miles and provide connectivity for 405 households, 33 businesses and two community and public safety locations.

• Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative Inc. of Rainsville – $88,668 to provide service in the Fabius and Maxwell communities near Stevenson in Jackson County, serving 47 households and one business.

The fund was created through legislation sponsored by State Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) and signed into law by Ivey during the Alabama Legislature’s 2018 regular session. The first round of grants was awarded earlier this year. The legislature then passed a bill updating the law during the 2019 regular session.

The Broadband Accessibility Fund provides grants for service providers to supply high-speed internet services in unincorporated areas or communities with 25,000 people or less. Under the law, grant awards cannot exceed 20 percent of the total cost of a project.

A separate major piece of broadband legislation was successfully championed by State Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Fairview) this year. He is also supportive of the Broadband Accessibility Fund.

“Governor Ivey has led the way to improve rural Alabama on many issues, none more important than connectivity to technology. Alabama is committed to improving our rural areas,” Shedd commented.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) is responsible for administering the Broadband Accessibility Fund.

“Like public water and sewer services, high-speed internet is an important piece of infrastructure that people, especially in urban areas, can take for granted,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell emphasized. “Providing these services in rural communities improves lives, and ADECA is proud to be a part of this important process.”

RELATED: 2019 Yellowhammer ‘News Shapers’ series continues with its rural broadband edition

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

2 hours ago

Alabama company encounters obstacles to creating jobs, renovating Fort McClellan buildings

A contentious legal dispute between the McClellan Development Authority (MDA) and defense contractor Xtreme Concepts has led to concerns that the MDA has allowed personal issues to distract them from their core mission to drive investment and economic growth for the local community, according to numerous Yellowhammer News sources involved in the dispute, including on the MDA board.

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Background:

In 2009, then-Alabama Governor Bob Riley authorized the creation of local “development authorities for the purpose of developing real and personal property of closed military installations” around the state. Among those installations was Fort McClellan, a famed, century-old military facility that was shuttered in 1999.

Since that time, the local area has struggled to find private sector suitors to fill parts of the property, including a large, concrete barracks facility known locally as the Starship. But in recent years, Xtreme Concepts, a defense contractor, leased the property with an option to buy. The property houses an Xtreme subsidiary called iK9 that trains dogs for military and law enforcement entities, including U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

Yellowhammer News previously reported on Xtreme CEO Landon Ash’s commitment that his company would make $1.4 million in improvements to the facility. Ash categorized the expenditure as a win for the community because, prior to Xtreme’s arrival, taxpayers were facing the likelihood of having to spend $3 million to tear down the buildings.

But in recent months, as Xtreme moved to purchase the property a stalemate emerged between the company and the McClellan Development Authority (MDA), ultimately resulting in the MDA rejecting Xtreme’s purchase agreement. The dispute spilled into the public, with the editorial board of the local paper urging the two sides to come together and patch up their differences. Roughly three-dozen local jobs hang in the balance after a nine-hour court hearing resulted in Circuit Court Judge Debra Jones allowing Xtreme to stay on the property as the court battle proceeds.

New Developments:

In recent weeks, Yellowhammer News has spoken to numerous individuals on both sides of the issue, including members of the MDA board, Xtreme Concepts and iK9 employees, as well as local officials and private citizens with first-hand knowledge of the ongoing dispute.

The MDA board has remained publicly unified in its intent to have Xtreme’s iK9 division removed from the property, but behind the scenes, some members of the board have grown weary of fighting a legal and PR battle that does not appear to have any upside for local taxpayers.

“Some folks got crossways with [Xtreme Concepts CEO] Landon [Ash] and decided they wanted to do something else with that land,” said one member of the MDA board on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. “Whether or not that’s the best thing for the community–it comes up in conversation but I don’t think that’s the primary concern. It’s just gotten personal.”

Another member of the board disputed that characterization and said there were legitimate concerns about Xtreme’s business operations on the land.

“They’ve done military-style simulations on the property and other things that were outside the terms of our agreement,” the second board member said. “They’ve been late on their rent payments. There are a lot of things going on here and it’s not as simple as us turning down millions of dollars and losing local jobs. There’s more to it than that.”

When asked about the military-style simulations during the court proceeding, Xtreme Concepts CEO Landon Ash testified that what they had done was the equivalent of a Hollywood movie set, allowing them to create an authentic-feeling combat simulation without actually blowing anything up. According to him, that would not run afoul of the agreement.

And a spokesperson for Xtreme said they only stopped making lease payments as they moved to purchase the property, per the terms of the agreement, which they never anticipated to take more than a couple of weeks.

For now, the dispute will continue to play out in court, with stakeholders and the community having to consider the risk of evicting a job-creator without any clear alternative.

3 hours ago

SEC media days kicks off in Hoover

Southeastern Conference media days begins at the event’s longtime home.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey kicks the four-day event off Monday with his annual media address about the state of the league and college football.

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Media days returns to the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, Alabama after one year in Atlanta.

The spotlight will be on LSU coach Ed Orgeron on Day 1, with Florida’s Dan Mullen and Missouri’s Barry Odom also taking the podium.

Some things have not changed: Alabama and Georgia remain the division favorites.

The Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban speaks Wednesday, a day after Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart has his turn.

All 14 teams will make the rounds, including star quarterbacks like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia’s Jake Fromm.

Every SEC head coach returns this season for the first time since 2006.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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3 hours ago

Defense expertise helping Huntsville’s Dynetics become space juggernaut

Since being founded in the Rocket City in 1974, Dynetics has spent the last 45 years becoming an unquestioned worldwide leader in the defense, intelligence and aerospace industries.

With the 50th anniversary of the famous Apollo 11 mission to the Moon being celebrated this week, it is especially fitting that Dynetics recently cemented its rise in the space sector, too.

This ascent has taken place quickly, really over the past decade. It all started in 2009, when Dynetics first expanded its state-of-the-art capabilities to include the space sector, shocking longtime industry leaders with the success of its Fast, Affordable, Scientific, SATellite (FASTSAT) small satellite.

From that initial milestone, Dynetics has built a reputation as an Alabama-based company that provides reliable, rapid and efficient space solutions.

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In a statement, Dynetics Vice President for Space Systems Kim Doering explained, “Dynetics has a rich heritage in defense and intelligence, and really what we needed to do in the last few years was translate what we’ve done for those government contractors into ‘NASA speak’ and demonstrate that the rigor that we place on weapons systems development and things we do for the warfighter, that those are mission critical systems, just like the systems that support astronauts.”

The company has done just that, continuing to build a reputation on such contracts as the NASA/Boeing Space Launch System (SLS) Core Stage Exhaust Gas Heat Exchanger, NASA/Radiance SLS Core Stage Pathfinder and NASA SLS Universal Stage Adapter.

Additionally, in the commercial sector, Dynetics has supported United Launch Alliance (ULA) to test the Vulcan.

Then, in November, Dynetics was also selected to develop small satellites for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (USASMDC/ARSTRAT) Technical Center program — Lonestar.

Now, Dynetics says their “next goal” is to “become the ‘go-to’ propulsion provider for partners in both government and industry.”

They are well on their way to doing just that, as three recent contract awards regarding lunar exploration architecture exemplify.

First, Dynetics was chosen to provide the propulsion system for Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander, which is scheduled to land on the Moon in 2020.

The company is also a key player in NASA’s Artemis Program, which is the United States’ plan to return human beings to the Moon by 2024. Dynetics was one of eleven companies selected to study and build five descent stage prototypes for a new human lunar lander.

And, as reported by Yellowhammer News last week, Dynetics is now playing a key role in Maxar’s plan for NASA’s Lunar Gateway, a space station that will orbit the Moon and serve as a vital part of Artemis’ success, as well as future expeditions to Mars. Dynetics will provide support for the power and propulsion element of Gateway and aid establishment of a sustainable lunar presence.

So, as humankind fondly looks backwards upon one of history’s greatest accomplishments this week, Alabamians should be proud to know that the future of space exploration is in good hands, with Marshall Space Flight Center and companies like Dynetics helping turn dreams into reality.

“At Dynetics, we love challenges, and there is a spirit of tackling anything that comes in,” Doering concluded. “It’s an exciting time to be here.”

View a detailed timeline of Dynetics’ rise in the space sector over the last decade here.

RELATED: Alabama: The ‘backbone of national security space launch’

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

4 hours ago

7 Things: Immigration raids have started, Trump tweet gives Democrats a reprieve, Doug Jones advocates for Obamacare and more …

7. Support for impeachment craters 

  • The support for impeaching President Donald Trump has fallen to new lows with only 21% of the nation agreeing it should move forward, while 18% of independents, and, more surprisingly, only 39% of Democrats are on board.
  • The poll shows that the American people do not believe the president committed an impeachable offense, that the Russian investigation came up empty and a new report finds another much-ballyhooed investigation into the Trump Organization will lead to no charges.

6. Facebook is getting fined

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  • Facebook is getting fined $5 billion for privacy violations. The fine was approved by a 3-2 vote from the FTC.
  • This was the settlement to the long debate over the Cambridge Analytica debacle that started over a year ago. Facebook later admitted to giving Amazon and Yahoo access to users’ personal data, as well as collecting call and text data from phones on Google’s Android system in 2015.

5. More tolls for Alabama

  • State Senator Chris Elliot (R-Daphne) has said that tolls coming to help build the $2.1 billion Mobile Bay Bridge could open the opportunity for more tolls coming to additional roads in Alabama.
  • Elliot warned that this could be the first case it will be used, but it will not be the last, stating, “And that toll authority legislation, while it is probably going to be rolled out for the first time in coastal Alabama, could be used in other parts of the state as well, which is why I think it ultimately passed both houses and had the governor’s signature on it because the next time it gets used is going to be in Birmingham, or it’s going to be in Huntsville between Huntsville and Decatur, or some other area like that.”

4. Chaos and terrorism at detention centers across the country

  • Talk of mistreatment, child separation, “concentration camps” on the southern border and new immigration raids have led to an escalation in rhetoric, calls for immediate action and protests to end the practice of detaining people who enter the country illegally.
  • This weekend, the American flag was ripped down in Colorado so the protestors could fly a Mexican flag, and more seriously, a domestic terrorist attack a Tacoma, Washington detention facility with “incendiary devices” and firearms by Willem Van Spronsen who sent a manifesto laying out his reasoning for his attack.

3. Doug Jones wants to keep Obamacare

  • In New Orleans, the federal appeals court heard arguments over a lawsuit that says the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Alabama is included in the lawsuit, but U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) wants you to know that the Affordable Care Act is essential to Alabama.
  • Jones said that for people with pre-existing conditions or those who rely on their health care coverage for mediations and treatment, getting rid of the Affordable Care Act “could literally be a life or death matter” and Alabama apparently “has the most to lose.” Jones also claimed that the lawsuit is just another “attempt to take healthcare away from folks.”

2. Trump tweets give the media and their Democrats a common enemy

  • As the Democrat civil war escalated, President Donald Trump decided to unify them by tweeting that U.S. Representatives Ayanna Presley (D-MA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) should “go back to and help the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” amid the four congresswomen being critical of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
  • The tweet was roundly criticized with some calling it racist. Others pointed out that it was a foolish thing for the president to do while the Democratic Party was engaging in open infighting and their more vocal members were becoming wildly unpopular.

1. The raids have started

  • As promised, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun immigration raids across the country. Acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli has kept most of the details quiet, including not saying whether families will be separated in the raids, which happens every-single-day in America.
  • What Cuccinelli did say is that 1 million people have removal orders. He didn’t confirm that raids have started, but according to Fox News, a senior administration official said that they began on Saturday evening.