4 years ago

Mobile Mayor’s Race Intensifies: Reformist vs the Man He Defeated

(News analysis by Quin Hillyer)

The rest of Alabama may want to watch to the race for mayor in Mobile, where fiscally responsible reformer Sandy Stimpson is trying to ward off a comeback attempt by liberal former mayor Sam Jones.

Stimpson, a leading timber executive with a long and varied record of local and state civic leadership, defeated Jones in a mild upset in 2013. Jones is a former Navy man who served for 16 years as a Mobile County commissioner before his two terms as mayor. Election day is August 22.

As County Commissioner, Jones built an image as a moderate-liberal, at least semi-friendly to business interests, who preferred building coalitions rather than making waves. Jones became Mobile’s first-ever black mayor in 2005 by defeating white Republican former city councilman John Peavy, when black voter registration still was less than 45 percent of the electorate. After a mostly uncontroversial first term, Jones was re-elected without opposition in 2009.

Jones’ second term, though, was marked by reports of sloth, mismanagement, lack of transparency, and some economic stagnation, along with the embarrassment of having lost a cruise-ship contract after the city had spent a fortune building a new ship terminal.

Jones also appointed or re-appointed leaders to the local public housing board who, in the words of publisher Rob Holbert of the moderate Lagniappe Weekly, “allowed this city’s public housing to disintegrate to such a degree that much of it looked like it belonged in the Third World.” The Mobile Housing Board now is under investigation by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – but that didn’t stop Jones from taking a job (after he left office) from longtime board chairman Clarence Ball, who oversaw the whole mess.

By the time Stimpson ran against Jones in 2013, Mobile’s black voter registration had exceeded 50 percent. But Stimpson, who has a winsome manner and exudes goodwill, carefully built a biracial coalition while pushing a unifying motto of “One Mobile.” Stimpson won comfortably, with 53.5 percent of the vote.

Since then, Mobile’s government has improved by almost every metric. Using figures provided by Stimpson’s administration (but not known to be controverted by anybody), the city’s debt (including bonded indebtedness, which most cities usually carry) has been cut by $72 million, after rising by $123 million during Jones’ first six years. (Jones added no bonded debt during his final two years.) Under Jones, Mobile had no reserve/rainy day fund (and indeed posted a $4.3 million operating deficit once bills were paid for 2013), but Stimpson now maintains a reserve fund of more than $20 million (with no new taxes or other new revenue sources).

When Jones left office, there was a backlog of “infrastructure” needs, with no money specifically dedicated to the purpose. Stimpson (and the City Council) now have dedicated $21 million annually for repavings, new sidewalks, and construction.

And both Moody’s and Standard & Poors have given Mobile better credit ratings (Moody’s had previously described a “negative outlook”), due largely to what S&P called “the city’s improved management practices” which (as Moody’s put it) “has improved the budgeting strategy.”

According to Paul Wesch, Stimpson’s budget director and acting chief of staff, the administration (again, sometimes needing the support of the City Council) achieved its tens of millions of dollars of savings, without cutting any services, through a number of means. The mayor used attrition (from retirements and ordinary turnover) to cut city employment from 2,501 to 2,277 by reassigning duties and increasing productivity. He also urged department heads to provide better oversight, so overtime hours (and pay) have been cut substantially.

“The way some of that is being achieved is through technology,” Wesch explained.  “One of [Stimpson’s] first initiatives was to replace aging, unconnected, multiple software systems with a new citywide software system.”

The administration also aggressively managed the city’s “rolling stock” – police, fire, and rescue vehicles. Wesch explained that under Jones, the city’s 500 police cars were being replaced at a pace that each cruiser would need to last an average of 18 years before being replaced. Police would be using old, beat-up cars, hideously expensive to maintain.

Stimpson’s team is now replacing 100 each year (again, using money from its administration-wide management savings), so each car will be expected to last about five years – much more reasonable considering the wear-and-tear endemic to policing. While the front-end outlay is high, almost the whole the cost is recouped on the back end: Instead of replacing transmissions or major parts to keep vehicles moving, mere oil changes suffice. Result: Garage costs are down, Wesch said, from about $10 million annually to about $6 million.

The new cars almost pay for themselves, and the cops are a lot safer.

Among other accomplishments during Stimpson’s first term:

  • • Attraction of a new cruise ship contract; a comprehensive new city land-use plan with copious public input; the start of a new 12-mile parkway/bikeway
  • • Attraction of major distribution centers for Wal-Mart and Amazon; new management for the troubled housing board
  • • An aggressive plan (and implementation thereof) to reduce blight, with blighted properties improved at a rate of about 90 per year instead of the prior 30-40)
  • • Insistence on performance-based contracting
  • • Creation of a new business “tech corridor”
  • • Three pay raises for firefighters and police
  • • A string of awards from various national good-government/good-management outfits

Against all this, Jones argues that the city still hasn’t “united” under Stimpson, and he has blasted the current mayor for spending some $80,000 for police overtime and other costs related to Donald Trump’s two famous visits to Mobile (one as a candidate, one as president-elect). The section of Jones’ website called “Achievements” is heavier on promises than on past accomplishments, but four of the six specific achievements listed harkens back to his time on the county commission rather than as mayor.

Lagniappe Weekly’s coverage of Jones’ candidacy announcement (I was unable to attend) indicated, with plenteous examples, that the event was heavy on appeals to racial solidarity, as it “hammered home to those in attendance the importance of strong voter turnout among the city’s black majority.” The lady who introduced Jones, Jessica Norwood, tying Stimpson to Donald Trump, warned of “a darkness moving around the country… [which] got invited into Mobile, and I’m here to say all we have to do is get it out.”

On the other hand, in tune with Jones’ earlier reputation on the county commission for stressing moderate themes rather than stressing racial differences, his web site has a section saying “government alone can’t teach our kids to learn – they know that parents have to teach, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”

In May, a WALA-TV poll found Stimpson with an overall approval rating of 73 percent, including 60 percent favorability among black voters.

“It would be terribly difficult for Stimpson to mess this up,” said local political consultant and analyst Jon Gray, who oversaw the TV station’s poll. “Can Sam win? Certainly, it is possible. But Sandy’s leadership, plus his having a million dollars in the bank, and the recent polling results, all indicate that would be very unlikely.”

Most local handicappers seem to agree: If he can continue his hard-won image as an inclusive, race-neutral unifier, despite any appeals to the contrary from the Jones camp, Stimpson will enter the home stretch as a somewhat, but not prohibitive, favorite.

Quin Hillyer, a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, lives in Mobile.

13 hours ago

College football overcomes the pandemic

Last year was unlike any other. January 2021, however, offered a familiar sight: Alabama won its sixth national title under coach Nick Saban. The 2020 Crimson Tide featured Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, many other award winners, and rank among the greatest teams in history.

Before we debate history and look forward to next season, we should celebrate the tremendous sacrifices required of players to play through COVID-19. Coaches and staff also went beyond the call of duty but were getting paid. Most players will never play professionally and deserve a big “Thank You.”

College football is always demanding, but in 2020, players faced impositions like repeated testing, contact tracing and quarantine rules. They had to navigate virtual meetings, social distancing and masks on the sidelines. Many programs basically isolated players in the athletic dorms upon their return to campus in June. Marshall’s players only left Huntington for road games; Army’s players did not see their parents after the start of June.

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In 2020, each conference decided how many games to play and four FBS conferences initially canceled their seasons. The SEC opted for a 10-game, conference-only schedule; the ACC and Big 12 allowed one nonconference game. Independents faced a nightmare, leading Notre Dame to play in a conference for the first time in the program’s history.

Game postponements due to COVID-19 began immediately. Troy’s season opener on Labor Day weekend was one of the first contests postponed. The chaos extended to television; Alabama’s November 14 primetime game on CBS against LSU was postponed.

Postponements led to scheduling on the fly. California and UCLA played on November 15 (a Sunday) after their games that week were called off. BYU agreed on Thursday to play a nationally televised game at Coastal Carolina two days later. The ensuing battle of unbeatens was one of the year’s best games.

Athletics departments reduced seating, when local governments allowed fans at all. Concessions and stadium entrances were reconfigured for social distancing. The adjustments reduced revenue and increased costs.

The 2020 season offers valuable economic and life lessons. Perhaps the greatest is the virtue of flexibility. Perhaps nobody exhibited this more than Alabama’s coach Saban, known for trying to control everything around his program. As the coach said, “I’ve spent my whole life trying to keep everything in some kind of a controlled mechanism,” but he realized that, “this year that hasn’t been possible.”

People make life plans involving a career and where to live, but our economy does not always accommodate. Our market economy creates the enormous prosperity we enjoy today. We find a way to contribute within the division of labor and then invest in education and training. Yet businesses sometimes fail and new technology can eliminate the jobs we’ve trained for. A willingness to adapt serves us and the economy well.

Conferences and not the NCAA control FBS football. Each conference decided whether to play, as opposed to one decision by the NCAA. When six conferences showed by example football could be played safely, the others launched abbreviated seasons.

Federalism similarly decentralizes decision-making across the states. Georgia and Colorado showed economies could reopen safely; Alabama and others showed that students could safely attend school. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health officials have criticized America’s federalism. We should be glad that Washington could not shut our entire nation down.

Universities faced enormous criticism for playing this season. As Alan Dowd points out in a recent piece for the American Institute for Economic Research, challenges and uncertainty can be viewed in two ways: as obstacles to be overcome, or as reasons to quit. College football gave us an example of the former. Similarly, gyms, restaurants and retailers figured out how to operate safely when politicians allowed.

Entrepreneurs starting new businesses face long odds and innumerable obstacles requiring hard work, ingenuity, and courage. College football showed us that even a pandemic can be overcome.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

13 hours ago

VIDEO: Biden inaugurated, America First is over, Alabama in danger of losing a U.S. House seat and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Party Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Now that Joe Biden is president, what should Americans expect from his administration?

— Is former President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda over, and who benefits from the first actions taken by the new President of the United States?

— Will Alabama actually lose a U.S. House seat because of a Biden executive action that will allow illegal immigrants to be counted for apportionment?

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Jackson and Handback are joined by Alabama State House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) to discuss President Joe Biden, the upcoming legislative session and Daniels’ support for coronavirus lawsuit protection for Alabama businesses.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” at legislators who want to have a special session for gambling when they can get the job done during the session and give people a vote on this issue.

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

15 hours ago

South Alabama sophomore solves cold cases using DNA, forensic genealogy

From a Grand Bay bedroom decorated with posters from forensic TV shows such as “Bones” and “Dexter,” Olivia McCarter spends long hours on her laptop working to identify people and solve crimes.

Though just a sophomore at the University of South Alabama, where she’s studying anthropology and criminal justice, the 19-year-old is a senior intern with a Massachusetts company called Redgrave Research Forensic Services. Her team uses DNA analysis and online genealogy databases to match chromosomes, build family trees and identify suspects and victims.

Just in the last year, McCarter helped solve three cases.

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In April, she joined a Redgrave team that identified the body of a man found along the Missouri River back in 1979.

“That was Harry – Harry was my first forensic case,” she said. “We worked nonstop for three days and solved it on the fourth day, which is really fast. I basically did not go to sleep, because I didn’t want to miss anything. It was exciting because we had such great matches. We found this man and he was perfect. He fit into the tree so perfectly. We knew it had to be him.”

Her second case was the 1984 rape and murder of Christine Jessop, a 9-year-old girl from Queensville, Ontario. Years before, DNA evidence freed the man charged with her death in one of Canada’s most notorious wrongful conviction cases.

Redgrave researchers worked for months this summer before genealogy and DNA records pointed to Calvin Hoover, a man who had been a friend of the Jessop family, as the likely killer. Hoover committed suicide in 2015.

“I found his name at 2 a.m. one night,” McCarter said. “That genealogy was so hard, compared to Harry’s. All of these people had 12 kids, and their kids had 12 kids, and then I had to keep going until I found Calvin. I knew he had to be from these parents, but I could not find any kids until I found three, all at once. I found them through a voting record, because they all lived in the same household in Ontario.”

Her third case was the one that hit closer to home.

In 1982, the body of an 18-month-old girl was discovered in the Escatawpa River just across the state line in Mississippi. The girl became known as “Delta Dawn,” or “Baby Jane Doe,” but she was never identified and what happened to her remained a mystery.

When the case was reopened last year, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department turned to the Othram DNA laboratory, where a team of Redgrave forensic genetic genealogists worked. A fresh DNA sample and genealogy records led police to a child and mother reported missing from Joplin, Missouri. Family there said the mother had met a man and was moving to start a new life in Florida. She remains missing and her body has never been found. Her child was identified as Alisha Ann Heinrich.

While working to identify the girl, McCarter would visit her grave in Jackson County Memorial Park. She would clean the gravesite marked “Baby Jane, Known Only to God.” She would bring flowers.

“Somebody had to remember,” she said. “Until her name was returned to her.”

The “Delta Dawn” case helped her make contacts in Mississippi law enforcement. She met everyone from FBI agents to sheriff’s officers.

Lt. Eddie Clark, one of the Jackson County investigators, remembers when McCarter visited the department to explain what Redgrave Research had found and how they had found it.

“We were floored by her skill set and how deep she could dig,” Clark said. “Excellent job, she did an excellent job. It was crazy how they did this, how they went back and built a family tree. I didn’t think it was going to be a college-age student who broke this case. Thank God for her.”

“I didn’t think it was going to be a college-age student who broke this case. Thank God for her.”

The ‘Wizard’ and the Intern

McCarter was born in Texas but grew up in Alabama. Her parents own several feed stores near Grand Bay, where she works part-time and saves money to pay her own tuition at South.

Olivia – “Liv” to her friends – was home-schooled by her mother. Her independent study included genealogy and then forensics, though no one in the family expected her research to go so far and so fast.

“We’re extremely proud of our daughter,” said Tracy McCarter. “She showed an aptitude very early on. She’s an excellent online researcher. What’s she’s doing now is outside our experience, our areas of expertise, so we’re kind of learning right along with her.”

She describes Olivia as an introvert who goes her own way. After years of home school, the McCarters were worried that she might have trouble adjusting to college in Mobile. Instead, she thrived.

“It was very different,” she said. “I didn’t think I would acclimate, but I did. I met so many amazing professors, and I made a lot of friends.”

Dr. Philip Carr, professor of anthropology and the Chief Calvin McGhee Endowed Professor of Native American Studies, taught McCarter in several classes. She is quiet and unassuming, but often winds up leading her class team. Then she started telling him about her extracurricular work in forensic genealogy.

“That came as a complete surprise,” Carr said. “You don’t expect a student to already have these kinds of experiences. We hope that our students have an internship by their senior year.”

When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, McCarter began spending more time at home in Grand Bay. She studies, works at the feed store business and spends hour after hour online.

She likes to wear jeans, Air Jordans and a pink cap that says “SOUTH.” She has several tattoos on her left arm. She wears glasses that fog up behind a face mask decorated with pictures of cats.

McCarter talks with her forensic research colleagues almost every day. Her mentor, Anthony Redgrave, is a co-founder of the company and a pioneer in the field.

“He’s basically a wizard,” she said. “I owe everything to him.”

Redgrave, who’s trained law enforcement officers, often works on cold cases with DNA samples provided by police departments across the country. He teaches his team members how to compare DNA records and genealogy records to triangulate relationships within a family tree. The latter has been made easier in recent years with commercial genealogy websites, along with organizations such as NamUs, an information clearinghouse and resource center for missing person cases.

McCarter was a quick study. He first met her on genealogy websites and forums, where he noticed that her hypotheses and educated guesses usually turned out to be correct.

“She just got it, you know?” he said. “She really fit the bill of exactly what we wanted in an intern.”

Redgrave has been impressed with her teamwork on investigations this year. She’s shown the patience and perseverance to see cases through. She’s taken the lead in some projects.

“Her memory and attention to detail really set her apart,” he said. “She’s really good at analyzing things off the cuff and then remembering something important from months ago.”

Unfinished Business

McCarter is looking forward to her next semester at South, where she’s a member of the Student Anthropological Society. She hopes to graduate in 2023. She’s already planning to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D in forensic anthropology.

“I don’t want to teach, though,” she said. “I want to work with law enforcement.”

McCarter is the kind of a dogged researcher who also has the people skills to talk with family members. She still keeps in touch with Harry’s children from her first case.

“I talk to them often,” she said. “They follow my genealogy stuff. I guess we’ll always be connected.”

At Redgrave Research, she remains the youngest intern, but has become a team leader. She says she still has a lot to learn. She’s looking forward to new cases.

“I get emotionally tired because of how terrible the cases are sometimes, but I don’t get tired of the puzzles,” she said. “I haven’t yet, at least.”

I get emotionally tired because of how terrible the cases are sometimes, but I don’t get tired of the puzzles.

In her bedroom, McCarter keeps a framed photograph of Alisha Ann Heinrich from the “Delta Dawn” case. She still visits the girl’s memorial in Jackson County Memorial Park.

Next to her plot is the grave of another baby girl whose body has never been identified. For McCarter, this is unfinished business.

“Definitely,” she said. “I won’t give up on that until it’s solved, too.”

(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)

16 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Carl dismisses calls for Mo Brooks censure, removal from office — ‘Mo Brooks is entitled to his opinion’

In recent days, there has been a movement afoot on Capitol Hill and among Alabama Democrats seeking the removal of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) from office for his outspoken approach in questioning the 2020 presidential election results.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) said he disagreed with those seeking to undermine Brooks.

On this week’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Carl told host Don Dailey such decisions should be left up to voters and not voices within a political party.

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“You’re talking about a party attacking someone for their opinion,” he said. “I think Mo Brooks is entitled to his opinion as much as I’m entitled to my opinion. The voters decide whether we’re censured or removed from or not — not a political party. I think that is totally wrong. I don’t always agree with every one of my colleagues. I don’t want to come across that way because I am independent. I have my own opinion on some of these issues. Mo Brooks is entitled to his opinion. The voters in that district will make that decision whether he should be impeached or put out of office. That is what the election system is for.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

17 hours ago

Alabama’s auto industry primes for growth milestones in 2021

Alabama’s auto industry is poised for a stellar year in 2021, with plans to add thousands of new jobs along with highly-anticipated new products as companies deepen their roots in communities across the state.

Automakers are in the midst of major new construction and expansions, including the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant in Huntsville and the electric vehicle manufacturing operation for Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa and Bibb counties.

The Alabama Department of Commerce estimates the state industry will add more than 6,000 jobs in the coming months, as recent years’ project announcements materialize. Last year alone, new and expanding auto industry projects topped 1,900 jobs and $1.1 billion in investment, based on public announcements tracked by the Alabama Department of Commerce.

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Production lineups are expanding, too. In 2021, Alabama’s auto plants will produce a mix of 15 different models, up from 11 last year.

Industry activity stretches beyond the major automaker projects into surrounding areas as large supplier networks take shape. Such projects launched in 2020 accounted for more than 1,400 jobs and over $220 million in investment of the auto industry totals, based on those public announcements.

One Alabama automaker already has grabbed the spotlight in the new year. Last week, the redesigned Hyundai Elantra sedan, which is assembled at the company’s Montgomery factory, was named the 2021 North American Car of the Year.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

The year 2020 was one of upheaval for everyone amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and Alabama automakers initially faced extended shutdowns and limited production capacity like the rest of the global industry.

However, they resumed operations with stringent safety measures and also redeployed their resources to supply face masks, face shields and other protective gear to hospitals and healthcare workers nationwide.

“2020 was a year like none of us have ever seen, but Alabama’s auto industry persevered while also providing critical support to communities in need,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “This year, they are not only back on track, but also forging ahead with expansions of their workforces and production lines.

“The new technologies and products that are driving these expansions show Alabama’s auto workers continue to play a leading role in the industry worldwide.”

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama is adding two new vehicles to its Montgomery assembly lines this year: the Tucson SUV, which is the automaker’s best-selling U.S. model, and the Santa Cruz crossover.

The moves come during a period of growth for HMMA, which in 2019 announced a $410 million expansion to prepare for the Santa Cruz, a project that is creating 200 jobs.

Along with the new models, HMMA continues to produce the Elantra and Sonata sedans and the Santa Fe SUV.

The Elantra’s big win last week wasn’t the first time it has captured the coveted North American Car of the Year title, which is awarded by an automotive media panel. It also won in 2012.

Jurors tested more than 40 new vehicles before selecting winners in the car, truck and utility categories. The 2021 Elantra, which features a sportier design than its predecessors and the model’s first-ever hybrid vehicle technology, beat out two other finalists for the Car of the Year award: the Nissan Sentra and the Genesis G80.

“Elantra is a symbol of our blend of dynamic design, advanced technology and great fuel economy,” said José Muñoz, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor North America. “Elantra customers are going to experience all of the hard work and dedication that went into making this class-leading car.”

GROWING PRODUCTION LINEUPS

New products are also rolling out of the Honda Manufacturing of Alabama plant in Talladega County.

Workers are building the redesigned 2021 Ridgeline, which is expected to arrive on dealer lots next month. The next-generation pickup has a more rugged look with a wider stance and boxier front-end styling. It leads the segment in interior space for passengers and gear, has updated safety and entertainment systems and carries on Honda’s trademark versatility with features like the in-bed trunk.

The new Ridgeline is built alongside the Odyssey minivan and Pilot and Passport SUVs at the Lincoln plant. HMA’s advanced engine facility, which started up in 2015, registered a major milestone last year with the completion of its 2 millionth engine.

Meanwhile, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, a joint venture automotive plant between Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., continues to ramp up its operations in Huntsville.

The $2.3 billion facility, projected to ultimately employ 4,000 workers, is expected to begin production this year.

Initial hiring began a year ago, and in November, the company kicked off its second wave of production hiring, expected to include about 3,000 positions.

AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, is assisting MTM with the hiring process. Wages for production team members start at $17 per hour with a top-out rate of $23 per hour, plus a shift premium and overtime.

Other open positions include multi-skilled maintenance team members, tool & die team members and facilities maintenance jobs, with wages that range from $23.50 to $33 per hour.

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, which started the modern auto industry era in Alabama more than 25 years ago, is still pioneering in the state.

The automaker is set to begin producing luxury electric SUVs in Tuscaloosa County in 2022, a plan that will involve a major rollout of new vehicle technology.

MBUSI announced the plan three years ago, along with a $1 billion investment in Alabama. The project includes a battery pack assembly plant in Bibb County and additional investment in the Vance plant.

Mercedes is expected to ramp up the hiring process as the new facilities and technology progress throughout this year.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)