1 month ago

New commission tasked with deciding what to do with the state’s soon-to-be-replaced prison facilities

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday created a new commission that will examine how to best utilize the state’s prison facilities, several of which will be emptied in upcoming years as the state constructs three new prisons.

The current plan to build three new men’s prisons was covered by Yellowhammer News in an in-depth report earlier in September.

Officially titled the Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission, the governor’s new group will be chaired by Neal Wade, an economic development official who has worked for the State of Alabama in the past.

“As our Alabama Prison Program moves forward in building three new prisons… we will simultaneously need to smartly and safely repurpose or decommission these outdated, aging prisons,” Ivey said in a statement on Tuesday.

The governor further explained that the new commission “will provide recommendations based on in-depth facility analysis considering both the impact on the state and local community as well the financial ramifications to potentially repurpose or decommission some of our current prison infrastructures.”

A release from the governor’s office says that some facilities may find another use within the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), while others may be best suited for a different public entity or the private sector.

Citizens will not see a report from the commission anytime soon. The governor has mandated a report be sent to state leaders by September 1, 2023, or 90 days after the Commissioner certifies to the Commission that construction on the final prison is complete.

The report is to include “recommendations for the future of each existing male prison facility.”

Members of the commission, per the governor’s office, are as follows:

Neal Wade (Chair) is the former director of the Alabama Development Office, the precursor to the Alabama Department of Commerce, and currently serves as the managing partner of Advanced Economic Development Leadership for the National Economic Development Education Program.

Sen. Greg Albritton is chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee and was elected to represent District 22 in the Alabama Senate, which includes Baldwin, Clarke, Escambia, Monroe and Washington Counties.

Ben Baxley currently serves as chief of the Opinions Division in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. He previously served as the deputy chief of the Criminal Division in the office of the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

Ted Clem is the director of Business Development for the Alabama Department of Commerce. Clem joined Commerce in February 2014 as a senior project manager and played a key role in two projects in Opelika that involved $340 million in capital investment and nearly 400 new jobs.

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison was elected to represent District 20 of the Alabama Senate, which includes Jefferson County. She previously served one term in the Alabama House of Representatives and three terms on the Birmingham City Council. She serves as the ranking minority member of both the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund and Governmental Affairs Committees.

Harold Crouch is currently the mayor of Chatom where he has served for 24 years. He was previously on the city council for two terms. He has also taught government, history and economics.

Darius Foster is the CEO and co-founder of H2T Digital. He received a BS in Business Administration from Miles College and a GC in Business Strategies for Social Impact from The Wharton School. He is a current member of the Board of Directors for the Business Council of Alabama as well as a former commissioner of the Alabama Commission of Higher Education.

Annette Funderburk is the President of Ingram State Technical College which serves a 100 percent incarcerated adult population that delivers career technical, GED and job skills training at six locations across Alabama. She previously served nearly 10 years within the Alabama Community College System where her most recent role was director of External Affairs.

Rep. Kelvin Lawrence was elected to represent District 69 of the Alabama House of Representatives which includes Autauga, Lowndes, Montgomery and Wilcox Counties. He serves on the Ways and Means General Fund and State Government Committees in the House of Representatives.

Merceria Ludgood currently serves as a Mobile County commissioner, District One, attorney and civic leader. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alabama, followed by a Master of Arts degree. She earned her law degree from the Antioch School of Law An avid supporter of higher education, Ludgood is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including being selected for Leadership Mobile, Leadership Alabama and the prestigious Kellogg National Leadership Fellowship.

Walter Givhan, Maj. Gen., USAF (Retired) currently serves as senior vice chancellor for Advancement and Economic Development at Troy University. He is also the commander of the Curtis E. LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education and vice commander of Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base. General Givhan, a native of Safford, Ala., graduated from Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala., and the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was a National Merit Scholar.

Allen G. Peck, Lt Gen., USAF (Retired) is an assistant professor in the Department of Airpower and General George Kenney Chair at the United States Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College (ACSC). He also serves as co-facilitator for the joint Air War College/ Air Command and Staff College Airpower Vistas Research Task Force joint elective. Peck served for 36 years on active duty in the USAF, flying the air-to-air and air-to-surface variants of the F-15.

Rep. Connie Rowe is the vice chair of the Majority Caucus in the House of Representatives. She also serves as vice chair of both the Rules Committee and Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Representative Rowe was elected to represent District 13 of the Alabama House of Representatives, which includes Blount and Walker Counties.

Kyes Stevens is the founder and director of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project at Auburn University.  Starting in 2001, she has worked to design and build an innovative and sustainable outreach program that works with the underserved adult prison population in Alabama.

Willie Williams, Lt. Gen., USMC (Retired) is a senior consultant and owner/president of Williams Consulting, LLC based in Huntsville assisting the Department of Defense-supporting contractors and industries in strategic business development. Williams previously served as the chief of the Marine Corps Staff, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C.

“This process will allow both public officials as well as members of the general public to have a meaningful voice in the future of our existing prison infrastructure,” concluded Ivey.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

10 mins ago

Alabama Democrats fundraise off Republican COVID illnesses, lie about Ainsworth’s position on masks

A Friday morning email from Alabama Democratic Victory distorts Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth’s (R-AL) position on following health and safety protocols, while also fundraising off of Ainsworth’s current illness.

Ainsworth on Wednesday afternoon announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and as of Friday, he is still asymptomatic. However, Ainsworth’s wife, Kendall, has also tested positive and was exhibiting “mild symptoms” as of Friday.

Alabama Democratic Victory’s email was funded by its state-registered PAC, Alabama Democratic Victory Fund. Alabama Democratic Victory is the political arm of the Alabama House Democratic Caucus, which even shares the same public P.O. box disclosed at the bottom of Friday’s email.

With the subject line “GOP Lt. Gov. and COVID-19,” the email began by mentioning Ainsworth’s diagnosis, as well as saying a Republican state senator recently contracted coronavirus.

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“Indeed, we wish them a speedy and full recovery, but we must also point out the big ol’ elephant in the room, as they say,” the email’s first paragraph concluded (emphasis added in the email, not by Yellowhammer News).

The email then continued to mock Ainsworth’s opposition to a one-size-fits-all mask mandate while also completely fabricating his position on mask usage and social distancing.

“[H]e doesn’t believe in science and doesn’t understand that wearing a mask is about social responsibility and public safety,” the email incorrectly claimed.

Ainsworth has stressed that he personally wears a mask and social distances whenever possible; he has also encouraged others to voluntarily do so and modeled mask-wearing on his social media pages and in a PSA.

“I think everybody needs personal responsibility. … I think it is smart to wear a mask,” Ainsworth said on Thursday’s broadcast of FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show.”

This is not a new position for him, either. Ainsworth has been consistent for months on the issue.

“Wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing are among the best ways to slow the spread of COVID-19, and I have tried to set a public example in those regards,” the lieutenant governor said in July. “Masks should be worn to combat further outbreaks…”

Unfortunately, Alabama Democratic Victory’s fundraising email subsequently spouted even more falsehoods.

“Just like Trump, when confronted with hard facts that don’t fit his partisan narrative, Ainsworth doubled down after his diagnosis and said he stood by his original position,” the email said, ignoring what Ainsworth’s “original position” actually is. “This, as scientists are warning of an impending massive spike in cases and deaths. So, you have to ask yourself- is that sound leadership? Is that responsible? What kind of example does that set?”

It added, “This is why it’s time to break up the Republican Supermajority in Alabama and elect Democrats who believe in facts, science, truth, and are committed to doing everything it takes to protect people during a crisis. Republicans continue to mismanage the pandemic and think that downplaying the reality of the virus will benefit them politically. It’s time to send them packing.”

It should be noted that the state’s mask mandate — which the Democratic email touted — was put in place by Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, along with State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.

“Donate NOW to the Alabama Democratic Victory Fund and let’s elect leaders who will do the right thing and set an example for others to follow,” the email proclaimed. “The GOP will continue to suffer the consequences of it’s own hubris, but it should be abundantly clear to anyone paying attention that they are failing the people of Alabama.”

The bottom of the email concluded ironically by saying, “Facts and Science Matter,” and “#WeAreInThisTogether.”

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

1 hour ago

Hometown heroes: Bama, UAB, Troy, Jax State and more

Before anyone has even seen a single snap of Big Ten football, national sports media this week returned to its pandemic panic room and pronounced the conference’s season a failure.

Sports media argued tirelessly during the summer months that it was not cheering for football to get canceled. However, following Nick Saban’s false positive coronavirus test, it did exactly that here, here and here.

At Yellowhammer, we are cheering for college football. More specifically, this week, we are mainly cheering for underdogs.

Let’s get to some picks.

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THE BASICS

Alabama (-22) at Tennessee: The largest margin of victory in this series was a 51-0 win by Alabama in 1906. Alabama’s current win streak over the Vols began a mere three years later (or at least that is what it feels like). Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt allegedly fired an assistant coach mid-game on Saturday. That is a bad start to what is, for some people, a favorite week of the year. Those people will not be disappointed.

The pick: Alabama 34, Tennessee 17

NC State at North Carolina (-14.5): North Carolina went into Tallahassee a double-digit favorite and lost. That may have had more to do with Florida State getting its first quality coaching since Jimbo Fisher’s national championship season. Mack Brown has a good team. Now it is a matter of them playing like it.

The pick: North Carolina 40, NC State 20

Texas State at BYU (-28.5): The Cougars have been a fun story this season amidst their mini-revival. They are physical along the lines of scrimmage, and quarterback Zach Wilson has worked his way up to No. 4 on ESPN’s Heisman Watch List. If this team remains undefeated in late November, we can all hope they handle the playoff talk a bit more graciously than UCF has in recent years.

The pick: BYU 30, Texas State 13

HOMETOWN HEROES

Louisiana (-2.5) at UAB: This is a game between two of the nation’s more underrated coaches, UAB’s Bill Clark and Louisiana’s Billy Napier. Do not be surprised to see both coaching in the SEC sooner rather than later. This will be an emotionally-charged game for Louisiana, as it will pay tribute to former assistant coach D.J. Looney, who passed away suddenly in August. The Ragin’ Cajuns plan to wear his name on the back of their jerseys. This could be as good a game as has been played at Legion Field in a while.

The pick: UAB 24, Louisiana 20

Georgia State at Troy (-2.5): The Trojans bring a two-game win streak into this Sun Belt matchup. Both teams have scored points freely so far this year. Georgia State is ninth in the country in rushing offense and 73rd in scoring defense.  Troy is a respectable 33rd in scoring defense and 31st in total offense. All signs point to a shootout.

The pick: Georgia State 42, Troy 35

Jacksonville State at Florida International (-10): This game was originally scheduled for September 2. Since its postponement, the Gamecocks have gone to Tallahassee where they gave Florida State a scare and won a couple of tight ball games against Mercer and North Alabama. It was good to see this one get back on the calendar because no one ever turns down a trip to Miami.

The pick: Florida International 38, Jacksonville State 30

BUYER BEWARE

Tulsa (-11.5) at South Florida: There was a time when the Thursday and Friday night college games meant something, and visiting favorites were constantly on upset alert. That has not been the case in a while. In late October, Tulsa has still only played two games, a close loss to No. 6 Oklahoma State and a win against Central Florida. South Florida is in rebuild mode under first-year head coach Jeff Scott, whose team has started to show just a glimmer of improvement the last few weeks. Anyone tuning in to watch this game should not expect to see a work of art.

The pick: South Florida 20, Tulsa 16

Last week: 4-1 straight up; 3-2 ATS
Season: 13-2 straight up; 9-6 ATS

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

1 hour ago

$37M in rural broadband funding coming to Alabama — ‘When rural America thrives, all of America thrives’

PRATTVILLE — Two Trump administration officials and U.S. Representative Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) gathered on Friday to announce a $37 million investment by the federal government in rural Alabama’s internet access.

The investment comes in the form of grants and loans to internet providers that make expanding high-speed service to more rural customers economically feasible.

According to the USDA, the investment announced Friday will provide high-speed internet to more than 28,000 people across over 11,100 households, including 432 farms.

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The two Trump administration officials present for the announcement on Friday were United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development Bette Brand and USDA Rural Development State Director Chris Beeker.

“When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” said Brand at the announcement, which was hosted by Central Alabama Electric Cooperative and emceed with efficiency by Beeker.

Six companies will split the $37 million, which will be distributed via both grants and loans. The customers receiving the upgraded internet service are in a 14-county stretch of central Alabama to the north and west of Montgomery.

The funding comes from the second round of the federal government’s ReConnect program, which was recently infused with an extra $100 billion under the CARES Act.

ReConnect is run by the USDA and is tasked with evaluating and selecting applications by rural broadband providers that want public funds to help allay the cost of providing high-speed service to more people.

Alabama received the fourth-most funding of any state in round one of the program, a big portion of which was announced in Hamilton in late 2019.

The USDA detailed each new investment it is making as follows:

  • Central Alabama Electric Cooperative will use a $8.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 13,853 people, 149 farms, 77 businesses and one fire station to high-speed broadband internet in Bibb, Chilton, Perry, Autauga, Talladega, Elmore and Coosa counties in Alabama.
  • Millry Telephone Company Inc. will use a $8.3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 4,444 people, 84 farms, 46 businesses, four fire stations and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Choctaw and Washington counties in Alabama.
  • Pine Belt Telephone Company Inc. will use a $6.5 million ReConnect grant and a $6.5 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 5,799 people, 143 farms, 83 businesses, five fire stations, five educational facilities and four post offices to high-speed broadband internet in Perry, Hale and Marengo counties in Alabama.
  • Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative Inc. will use a $5.8 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 2,546 people, 36 farms, 19 businesses and three fire stations to high-speed broadband internet in Crenshaw, Lowndes and Montgomery counties in Alabama.
  • Hayneville Telephone Company Inc. will use a $1.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,481 people, 19 farms, nine businesses, and four educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Lowndes County, Alabama.
  • Moundville Telephone Co. Inc. will use a $166,000 ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 111 people and a farm to high-speed broadband internet in Hale County, Alabama.

Palmer, who has constituents that will be provided better internet because of the announced grants, spoke at the event on Friday.

“Having grown up in rural Alabama, I know how important this is,” he remarked.

Palmer was raised in Hackleburg, current population of 1,466, a small town in Marion County.

“We have a chance to revitalize rural economies, especially around small towns,” he added about the impact of investing in rural broadband.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate echoed that sentiment after the event, telling reporters that quality internet gives communities such as his home of Lowndes County a shot at cutting down on the population loss that affects so many rural areas.

“Connectivity is critically important for families, businesses, farms, and public safety and community services – particularly during a time when remote access is paramount,” said U.S. Senator Shelby (R-AL) in a statement on Friday.

He added, “These USDA grants will help provide high-speed internet access to thousands of Alabamians in rural areas. I am proud that the Administration has awarded this $37 million investment to our state and look forward to the benefits it will bring to 14 counties in central Alabama.”

Beeker, in his remarks, praised the “great partnerships and incredible teamwork” that was necessary to pull off such a large project.

“A lot of work has gone into all of this; these are good programs. What Bette says, it really means a lot when you stop and think about it. When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” Beeker concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Following the money on Alabama New South Coalition’s $6-per-early-vote operation

Yellowhammer News earlier this week broke the story about a group supporting the respective campaigns of U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden offering Black Belt pastors $6 “per person” they get to vote early ahead of November 3’s general election.

Now, newly filed federal campaign finance reports shed light on where the funding for this group, the Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC), is coming from.

Yellowhammer News examined FEC reports filed this week after the original story broke.

Senator Jones’ campaign reported transferring $1,100,000 to the federal account of the State Democratic Executive Committee of Alabama — the Alabama Democratic Party — on October 2.

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The Party’s FEC filings reported that they received the same sum from Jones’ principal campaign committee that day. A separate FEC filing by the Party this week shows that they also received $87,300 from the Jones Victory Fund on September 29. The Jones Victory Fund is the official joint fundraising committee for Jones’ campaign.

Five days after the October 2 transfer, the Party reported sending $75,000 to “New South Alliance, LLC” for “GOTV” — which is short for “get out the vote.” The Alabama New South Alliance is the ANSC’s political arm and has endorsed Jones’ and Biden’s respective campaigns this cycle.

The same day, on October 7, the Party also sent $10,000 to the local Jefferson County chapter of the Alliance. This expense was simply listed as a “contribution” rather than being for GOTV. That local chapter’s Facebook page shows that it is distributing sample ballots simply advising people to vote the straight Democratic ticket.

Seven days later, ANSC on October 14 ran an advertisement in a local Choctaw County newspaper advertising its $6-per-ballot operation. At the bottom of the advertisement, ANSC disclosed that it had indeed paid for the ad, listing an address in Montgomery in the disclosure. That exact same address was listed in the Party’s FEC filing for the Alliance expenditure.

The Party’s most recent FEC filing also showed a bevy of other related spending for GOTV efforts, as well as “contributions” to civic organizations in the Black Belt and Birmingham. In total, this spending amounted to $1,104,531.36. Combined with the two ANSC expenditures, that total rises to $1,189,531.36 — almost a perfect match for the recent influx of Jones campaign money into the Party’s account.

This included sending $40,000 as a “contribution” to the Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention, which is comprised of historically and predominantly Black churches across the state.

Another “GOTV’ expense by the Party that stuck out was $3,000 to “Gray Family Limited Partnership” in Tuskegee.

As reported by Yellowhammer News this week, under the leadership of Chairman Fred Gray, Jr., the Macon County Democratic Party has paid for and is distributing signs that proclaim, “Racism is on the ballot.” This text is displayed over a Confederate flag and Trump campaign flag.

“Vote the straight Democratic ticket on Nov 3 and make a difference,” the signs add.

These FEC filings come after Yellowhammer News reported how little Jones’ reelection campaign had spent directly with Black-owned businesses and other organizations through the second quarter of this year.

Jones’ campaign has still not responded to separate requests for comment on the three Yellowhammer News stories from earlier this week referenced in this article.

Background

Looking back at the ANSC’s financial ties to Democratic campaigns and political entities, it should be noted that the respective campaigns of Jones and Biden have directly given the group and its political arm at least $296,200 combined, starting with Jones’ 2017 special election victory.

Each campaign reported giving the Alliance $25,000 this spring for “printing & distributing sample ballots.”

In 2017, Jones paid the Alliance $49,000 for serving as a “consultant.” His campaign that cycle also paid the Alliance $192,000 for “canvassing.”

On the state level, the group has received funds from the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee and the Alabama AFL-CIO. Democratic gubernatorial Walt Maddox’s campaign paid the Alliance a total of $102,400 in the 2018 cycle. While $50,000 of that total was purportedly for “GOTV” (get out the vote), $35,000 was labeled for “consultants/polling” and $15,000 was designated as being for “advertising.”

A difference between the ANSC and Alliance between that 2017 Jones cycle and the current one comes down to transparency. During the 2017 and 2018 cycles, Alabama New South Alliance was registered as a federal “Super PAC,” technically known as an independent expenditure-only committee. It thus had to report federally related expenditures. The group terminated its FEC registration in summer 2019, so it is unclear exactly how all of its money — or how much — is being spent this time around.

The ANSC website says the organization has local chapters in 40 Alabama counties.

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

5 hours ago

Sec. of Interior Bernhardt adds handicap accessible path in Cheaha State Park to National Trails System

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt has added the Bald Rock Boardwalk in Alabama’s Cheaha State Park to the National Trail System.

The Department of the Interior made the announcement Thursday in a press release. The Bald Rock Boardwalk, also known as the Doug Ghee accessible trail, is one of several dozen additions to the National Trails System made public this week.

“I encourage Americans to get outside, enjoy our incredible public lands and visit a nearby national recreation trail. Spanning more than 83,000 miles, larger than the interstate highway system, the National Trails System provides easy access to a wide variety of outdoor experiences,” Bernhardt said in a release.

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The Trump administration has now added 49 trails to the national system, totaling 1,645 miles of space for Americans to enjoy the outdoors.

The National Trails System was created by Congress in 1968. It aims to establish “trails in both urban and rural settings for people of all ages, interests, skills, and physical abilities,” according to its website.

“American Hiking Society welcomes the designation of 30 new National Recreation Trails that will create enhanced recreational opportunities for hikers and all types of trail users,” remarked American Hiking Society executive director Kate Van Waes in a statement.

“Each trail selected to receive this honor must support a diversity of users, reflect its region, and be among America’s best trails, all qualities that benefit the hiking community,” she added.

The Department of the Interior described the newly designated Alabama trail as:

Located in Cheaha State Park, the Doug Ghee Accessible Trail (Bald Rock Boardwalk) is a 0.3-mile boardwalk trail that allows users of all abilities to journey through the enchanted hardwood forested foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Interpretive signs along the accessible boardwalk unfold the history, culture, and natural history of Cheaha Mountain. This unique boardwalk invites and enables all guest to embrace the natural wonder and beauty of the Bald Rock Overlook located at the end of the boardwalk.

The official state website for Cheaha state park and its offerings for hikers can be accessed here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.