2 months ago

Former Birmingham Water Works chair Sherry Lewis sentenced on two felony ethics charges

Former Birmingham Water Works Board Chairwoman Sherry Lewis on Thursday was sentenced for two felony ethics-law convictions. She will almost certainly avoid prison time if she satisfies the requirements of her sentence.

In a joint press release from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and FBI Birmingham special agent in charge Johnnie Sharp, it was outlined that Jefferson County Circuit Judge Clyde Jones sentenced Lewis under Alabama’s split sentence law to 10 years of imprisonment for both counts, to run concurrently, with a “reverse split” of two years in prison. However, under a reverse-split sentence, the term of imprisonment is not imposed until the end of the sentence — which in this case is three years of supervised probation.

Jones additionally ordered Lewis to pay a fine of $15,000 for each count, for a total of $30,000, and to complete a total of 400 hours of community service for charities or agencies that feed the elderly and homeless. If she completes these conditions and her probation period satisfactorily, the judge is expected to suspend the prison time involved in the sentence.

Lewis has been in county jail since being convicted in October but walked away Thursday as a free woman.

Her conviction followed a one and a half-week trial and involves Lewis having used her position as a director of the Birmingham Water Works Board to obtain personal gain for herself and her family, as well as having voted and participated in matters before the board involving issues about which she had a financial interest or gain.

The jury’s verdict was reportedly based on five days of testimony and hundreds of exhibits proving Lewis obtained three jobs for her son, tickets to the 2015 Cotton Bowl, trips and travel expenses and extravagant meals from a contractor performing work for the board.

This case was investigated by the special prosecution division of the Alabama attorney general’s office and the FBI. The state attorney general’s office prosecuted the case and specifically requested during sentencing that Lewis be required to perform a type of community service focused on charities or agencies that feed the elderly, needy and disadvantaged.

In a statement, Attorney General Marshall expressed his appreciation for the assistance of the FBI in this case.

“As first-vice chairperson of the Birmingham Water Works Board, Sherry Lewis advocated on behalf of, and voted for, compensation to pay a contractor three times their actual labor costs at the same time she was enjoying $63 a-la-carte steaks, $50 shellfish appetizers, and $70 bottles of wine bought for her by that contractor,” Marshall remarked. “Such abuse of public office is unacceptable. It is appropriate that she has been called to account and is being punished for this crime.”

The FBI’s Sharp added, “Lewis not only betrayed her community, but violated the law, and all in an effort to serve her own personal interests. Public officials entrusted to perform public service should do so legitimately and in the best interest of the community they represent. If not, they should expect the same outcome as Lewis had today, because the FBI and our partners will pursue you and hold you accountable for your actions.”

A contractor and a subcontractor have also been charged subsequent to this investigation and are awaiting trial in state and federal courts.

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

33 mins ago

VIDEO: Really exciting impeachment coverage, Doug Jones tries to thread the needle, suspended judges still get paid and more on Guerrilla Politics

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and political scientist Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Should people be swayed by what we have seen about impeachment thus far?

— Can U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) figure out a way to get reelected after he votes to remove the President of the United States from office?

— Should indicted elected officials, mostly judges, continue to receive their salaries when they can’t conduct the duties?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by Madison County GOP Chairman Brad Taylor to discuss the Trump era and its impact and Doug Jones’ chances at reelection.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at the “experts” who appear on television screens and continue to get every single issue wrong without any consequence of self-awareness.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

2 hours ago

State Rep. Easterbrook: No significant highway improvements from ALDOT in rural SW Alabama since 1983 — Calls for U.S. Hwy 45 widening

If you ever make a trip to Millry, Silas, Coffeeville, Grove Hill, or any of the other small towns that dot the map in rural southwestern Alabama, you’ll discover places that have gone largely unchanged for the past several decades.

While some may think that is a good thing, it is, in part, a product of being isolated from the rest of Alabama. That has come at the cost of a decline in various quality of life factors, including health care and education.

Those areas to the north of Mobile include Choctaw, Washington and Clarke Counties, which are cut off from the rest of the state except for three U.S. Highways, only one of which has seen a significant improvement in the last 50 years. U.S. Highways 43, 45 and 84 serve as the main thoroughfares for that region of the state and have all existed in some form or another since the 1930s.

However, State Rep. Brett Easterbrook (R-Fruitdale) contends if rural economic development is a priority for Alabama’s policymakers, improvements must be made. During an appearance on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Easterbrook made that case and noted the last significant highway improvement for this region came in the 1980s under then-House Speaker Joe McCorquodale (D-Jackson) with the widening of U.S. Highway 43 from Mobile County to Thomasville in northern Clarke County.

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“My district, as you said, covers Choctaw, Clarke and Washington County,” Easterbrook said. “The only real state improvement — the last real state improvement in that district was when Joe McCorquodale was Speaker of the House in 1983. They four-laned Highway 43 — four-laned to Thomasville. It stopped there. So you really only have access headed south.”

Easterbrook explained the struggles of recruiting industry to his House district, which includes all of Washington County, most of Choctaw and Clarke Counties, and a portion of Marengo County, all adjacent to the Alabama-Mississippi state line.

“Industry follows infrastructure,” he added. “They like transportation. It’s a huge part of operating expenses. It’s killing rural Alabama — specifically Southwest Alabama. If you look at the map, there is no four-lane access from the Washington County — from I-65 in Mobile, all the way to I-20.”

According to Easterbrook, U.S. Highway 45 would be an ideal improvement for his district. U.S Highway 45 is four-laned from the Alabama-Mississippi state line north to Meridian, Miss., where it connects to Interstates 20 and 59, and then continues north as a major four-lane north-south thoroughfare in Mississippi.

“Highway 45 is one of those I’m highly interested in,” he said. “It’s the deadliest highway in the state. It’s four-laned from Chicago, Illinois all the way to the Washington County line. In 1992, when they passed the gas bill then, it was written into the law that Highway 45 would be four-laned. The next session, they opened it up and took it out. Highway 45, we had five deaths in December alone. Most of the accidents on Highway 45 were head-on collisions. It is a deadly highway … I think it is because of the highway conditions. If you bottleneck everything down from the four-lane coming all the way in, then the highway is hills and hollows and bad curves everywhere.”

Alabama Department of Transportation highway map, 2019
(ALDOT)

Easterbrook lamented the lack of encouragement he has received from the Ivey administration, noting that he had met with both Alabama Department of Transportation director John Cooper and Gov. Kay Ivey personally, but was informed that despite the public safety elements, those projects did not meet the criteria to be a priority.

“I have met with both,” he explained. “I have not seen the encouragement yet. I met with Mr. Cooper, they talk about a formula they use to choose which road comes first, and obviously, they rank congestion number one. Safety is not a high priority nor rural economic development. If it was, you’d see the money coming out to go to those sites. We don’t see it.”

Choctaw County is one of 12 counties in Alabama without four-lane highway access to the Interstate highway system. Clarke and the far eastern portion of Washington are served by U.S. Highway 43. Easterbrook noted that beyond U.S. Highway 43, West Alabama was grossly underserved.

“Just get a state map and look at it — there is not any four-lane access all the way from I-65 to I-20 in Tuscaloosa,” Easterbrook said. “It’s hard for me to imagine how one-fourth of the state does not have four-lane access. To me, it has to come down to votes. In that area, the population is not that high. So, it gets overlooked. And if we are really serious about rural economic development, then we have to have the four-lane access.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

4 hours ago

Jalen Hurts missed grandfather’s funeral for Senior Bowl practice — ‘Incredibly difficult’

Publicly this past week, it appeared that former University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was enjoying his return to the state as he prepared for Saturday’s Senior Bowl game.

However, under the surface, Hurts has also been hurting.

According to a report by NFL.com, Hurts’ maternal grandfather passed away on January 13. His funeral was Wednesday during a daily Senior Bowl Week practice.

Since Hurts had committed to play in the Senior Bowl before the funeral was scheduled and the week’s practices are integral to NFL scouts evaluating Hurts ahead of April’s NFL Draft, he missed the funeral to stay in Mobile this week.

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“He’s a team player,” Hurts’ mother told NFL.com on Friday. “Even though that was family, he’s worked all his life to get here and this is a critical time. He’s very, very family-oriented.”

Nicole Lynn, Hurts’ agent, reportedly described the two as very close.

“Jalen had an incredibly difficult decision to make after finding out his grandpa’s funeral would be during the Wednesday practice of the Senior Bowl,” Lynn said in a statement to NFL.com. “With a heavy heart, Jalen ultimately felt his grandpa would want him to keep his commitment and play in the game — so Jalen decided to play. I would be lying if I said this week has not been extremely difficult for Jalen considering the circumstance, but I admire his strength through it all.”

Incredibly, playing through the pain, Hurts shown bright during the Senior Bowl Week practices.

Teammates voted Hurts as the South Team Offensive Practice Player of the Week among the quarterbacks over the likes of Oregon’s Justin Herbert.

Hurts’ mother, citing his maturity and compassion, said “it’s hard for me to put into words” how proud she is of the former Tide star. Her comments came after the Senior Bowl Experience’s Meet the Players event, in which Hurts drew a huge crowd of fans trying to get his autograph and visit with the player.

“I’m in awe of the lives that he impacts, but just his character alone,” Hurts’ mother added. “It almost doesn’t feel real to me. Even today, all these people in line to see him with their Alabama gear on.”

In Saturday’s Senior Bowl game, Hurts went 6/13 passing for 58 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception.

The 2020 NFL Draft will be held April 23-25 in Las Vegas, NV.

RELATED: Hurts on Saban: ‘He’s been nothing but supportive’ — ‘It was great to see him’

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

4 hours ago

Auburn basketball to host ESPN’s College GameDay for first time

The basketball version of ESPN’s College GameDay is coming to Auburn for the first time ever on Saturday, February 1.

The national show is set to broadcast prior to Auburn’s upcoming top-20 matchup with Kentucky.

Host Rece Davis (an alumnus of the University of Alabama) and analysts Jay Bilas, LaPhonso Ellis and Seth Greenberg will be live from Auburn Arena, beginning at 10:00 a.m. CT on ESPN.

According to the university, this marks the first time Auburn has been featured on the show as a host or visiting team. Head coach Bruce Pearl has made four previous appearances on the show when he was coaching at Tennessee.

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The Tigers have split the last six meetings with the Wildcats, including winning two of the last three inside Auburn Arena.

Additionally, Countdown to GameDay Live will serve as the pregame show to the pregame show. Each week, ESPN’s Rece Davis, Jason Fitz and Christine Williamson will join a wide array of ESPN college basketball analysts and reporters. The show will premiere this Saturday across Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the ESPN App.

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

6 hours ago

Interview Day brings Alabama high schoolers together with employers

More than 250 high school seniors met with representatives from almost 30 companies at the Bessemer Civic Center for an Interview Day event designed to link those entering the workforce with those looking to hire.

The students were from 14 high schools across a six-county area (Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker).

Interview Day was the culmination of preparations the students made during the first semester of their senior year of school. From developing soft skills to working on resumes, the students came into the event prepared to put their best foot forward.

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Interview Day pairs Alabama high school seniors with companies from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The event was presented by Central Six AlabamaWorks and the Onin Group in cooperation with the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce58 Inc. and Central Alabama Partnership for Training and Employment.

Companies were from a wide range of industries, including automotive, distribution, construction and skills trades, health care and hospitality.

“The reason why this program is so successful is that we’re addressing a gap,” said Tiffany Bishop, regional workforce development manager with Onin Group. “We have students who are going into unemployment and then we have employers that are looking for good talent, and all we’re doing is trying to bridge the gap to help them find each other.”

The effort comes as Alabama announces it ended 2019 with record low unemployment of 2.7% in December.

“I’m so proud to be able to close out this decade with record-breaking economic measures,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “All year long, we’ve had good news to share, and to be able to end the year, and the decade, on such a positive note is wonderful. Earlier this year, Alabama had never reported an unemployment rate lower than 3%, and now we’ve had one for the last three months! Nearly 84,000 more people have jobs now than last year. I’m excited about the path that Alabama is on, and the positive impacts this news has on our people.”

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)