3 months ago

Ivey: We’re working to fix prisons

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey says the state is working on solutions after the Department of Justice issued scathing findings about Alabama prisons.

Ivey said Wednesday morning that federal investigators “identified many of the same areas of concern that we have discussed publicly for some time.”The Justice Department said Wednesday that Alabama’s prison system has been violating the Constitution by failing to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse.

Ivey said her administration will be working with the department to address the concerns.

Ivey has previously proposed building three large regional prisons for men.

The Alabama Department of Corrections is seeking legislative funding this year to add 500 correctional officers.

That is just a fraction of the number a federal judge said the state should add.

The Justice Department says Alabama’s prison system has been violating the Constitution by failing to protect inmates from violence and sexual abuse.

The federal government’s findings were disclosed in a scathing letter reviewed Wednesday by The Associated Press.

The letter described the problems as “severe” and “systemic.”

The Justice Department also warned that it may sue the state within the next two months if Alabama does not fix the problems.

The findings are the result of an investigation opened in 2016 at the end of the Obama administration.

The report is the latest blow to the troubled Alabama prison system, which has been criticized for overcrowding, violence and a high suicide rate.

A federal judge ruled in 2017 that the state has provided “horrendously inadequate” care to mentally ill inmates.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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47 mins ago

Lake Jordan’s Dixie Art Colony offered inspiration and haven for artists in ’30s and ’40s

Martha Moon Kracke remembers them as a bunch of friends having fun painting what they saw while roaming the rural countryside around Lake Jordan. But those men and women were actually shaping history and would become leaders of the Southeastern art world.

It has been 71 years since Kracke traveled with her dad, Florala self-taught artist Carlos “Shiney” Moon, to visit the Dixie Art Colony (DAC) on Lake Jordan. But her memories of those visits with that eclectic band of artists are as vivid as if they happened yesterday.

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“Daddy and I were so close, and we liked all the same things,” said Kracke, who spent time at the DAC as a 13-year-old. “To be at a place where he liked to be with all of his friends was important to me. It was a very special place where these people gathered to paint, carry on and play jokes on each other.”

Two area artists, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Warree Carmichael LeBron, founded the colony, the first of its kind in Alabama and one of the first in the Southeast, in 1933.

The idea came from Fitzpatrick, who had returned from World War I with scars on his face from shrapnel wounds and on his heart after seeing many of his comrades killed in combat.

“When he got back home, Kelly said all he wanted to do for the rest of his life was what he loved, and that was painting and teaching,” said Mark Harris, founder of the Dixie Art Colony Foundation.

Fitzpatrick, LeBron and the other artists met for the first time at a Boy Scouts camp on Lake Martin and then in various homes for the next few years. They finally settled in 1937 on what they called their “semi-permanent” home, a site owned by LeBron’s mother, Sallie B. Carmichael, at Nobles Ferry in Deatsville on Lake Jordan.

The colony was a rustic, quiet spot where artists from across Alabama met for short stays, mostly during the summer, to pursue their passion for painting and hone their skills. Along with a central lodge that housed their studio and kitchen, there were several small, one-room cabins used as sleeping quarters for the men and a dormitory for the women.

The lodge, dormitory and cabins were powered by electricity. But otherwise, conditions were primitive, with outdoor showers and an outhouse, and no running water, except in the kitchen.

“It was a kind of escape from the workaday world of the 1930s and 1940s,” said Sally LeBron Holland, who grew up visiting the colony with her mother and grandmother, LeBron and Carmichael.

Holland said it was “awesome to see those free spirits” at work.

“Every day, the artists would pile into cars and drive out into the countryside and the little community of Deatsville,” Holland said. “They would be dropped off in different places and would paint the world around them. In the evenings, they would display what they had painted outside in the yard on a wooden wall with an overhanging tin roof, and Kelly would critique their work. It was a wonderful experience.”

The artists mostly created watercolor paintings of rural scenes and landscapes, including farms, barnyards, cottonfields and old country stores, Harris said. Their works were created outdoors and were referred to as plein air, or open-air, paintings.

“It was very informal,” Harris said. “They would put their finished paintings on the walls of the studio and hang them from the rafters.”

There were several instructors over the years, including Fitzpatrick, Moon and Genevieve Southerland, an artist from Mobile. They worked with the artists individually, offering feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Art was the focus. But the artists also loved to play and pull pranks, like throwing rocks on the roof of the lodge to rouse Fitzpatrick from sleep. Because they were not together at Christmastime, they celebrated the holiday with a Yuletide costume party on July 4.

The artists continued to meet at the Nobles Ferry site until 1948, when Carmichael became ill and could no longer serve as the colony’s “hostess.” After the demise of the colony at Nobles Ferry, they met on the Alabama Gulf Coast near Bayou La Batre and Coden through 1953. LeBron tried to revive the DAC and opened her Rockford home in Coosa County to the artists for several years during the late 1950s.

Documents show that 142 artists visited the DAC at one time or another from 1933 to 1948, Harris said. Although most of them were considered “Sunday painters,” many left a real legacy.

“These artists really became movers and shakers in the art world, not just in Alabama but throughout the Southeast,” Harris said. “Many became educators on both the primary and secondary levels, while others were instrumental in starting the Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile and Jackson, Mississippi, museums.”

Fitzpatrick, who helped found the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the Alabama Art League, was, of course, among the most notable of the group. Another standout colonist was Frank Applebee, who founded the art department at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), and acquired the pieces that became the core collection of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn.

True love, as well as friendship, blossomed at the colony. Two prominent portrait painters, Karl Wolfe and Mildred Nungester, met at the DAC and later married.

A rotating exhibit of many of the original pieces created by the artists and other memorabilia from those years can be seen at the Dixie Art Colony Museum and Gallery in downtown Wetumpka. Visitors can also step back in time by touring the old colony site at Nobles Ferry (now owned by Chrys and Robert Bowden) and see where the artists wielded their paintbrushes.

Kracke and Holland agree that the colony was almost like another world.

“Nothing was like the Dixie and nothing will ever be like the Dixie,” Kracke said. “It’s a time long gone. It was an experience like no other at the time, and I will never have an experience like it again.”

For more information about the DAC Foundation and its programs, visit dixieartcolony.org/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 hour 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

3 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.

4 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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4 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