Editorial Roundup: Alabama
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
Decatur Daily on calls for transparency in a chemical contamination lawsuit:
The city of Decatur is a defendant in lawsuits involving the presence of industrial toxins in Wheeler Reservoir, in downstream water supplies, in groundwater and closed landfills. Called PFAS, for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, the chemicals that once served as a backbone for Decatur’s burgeoning riverfront industries are increasingly recognized for their toxic and possibly carcinogenic properties.
The temptation whenever lawyers get involved is to circle the wagons and keep the public at bay. State laws that generally require transparency carve out exceptions allowing governmental bodies to hold secretive meetings and to refrain from making documents public when they pertain to litigation.
That’s the out that many elected officials embrace. No law requires them to disclose information related to pending lawsuits, so they stonewall. “On the advice of my attorney,” they say, and then shroud themselves in secrecy.
But some council members took a stand Monday (Dec. 16), recognizing that no law requires secrecy, and that the pervasive contamination is an issue of great import to Decatur citizens.
The plan Monday was to hold an executive session updating council members on the pending environmental lawsuits filed against Decatur, 3M Co., Daikin America LLC and others. But Councilmen Billy Jackson and Charles Kirby balked. Jackson worried the meeting would stray into topics inappropriate for an executive session. Kirby doubted an executive session was needed at all.
“I suspect most of it isn’t super-secret stuff, and it’s stuff that the public already knows,” Kirby said. “It gives the public the impression we’re not doing our business in front of the public.”
The lawyers had planned to require each council member to sign a broad confidentiality agreement before they were updated on the lawsuits. While Council President Paige Bibbee did not object to the executive session, she refused to sign an agreement prohibiting her from communicating serious issues to her constituents.
“It’s my job to disseminate information to the public and other council members, and that (non-disclosure agreement) would limit my ability to do that,” Bibbee said.
She said the non-disclosure statement was too close to a gag order “that would cover everything up.”
The industrial chemicals once used for such products as Scotchgard and nonstick coatings are a huge issue for Decatur residents and others affected by the waste disposed of over the decades by Decatur chemical plants. Exposure to the chemicals has been linked to a wide variety of ailments, including kidney and testicular cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility and decreased birth weight. The chemicals have been detected in breast milk and umbilical cord blood.
Leaking from landfills and dumps, the chemicals end up in groundwater, creeks, Wheeler Reservoir and soil. They’ve been found at the old landfill that is buried beneath the former Brookhaven Middle School and the city-owned Aquadome Recreation Center. They contaminated drinking water downstream of Decatur.
Informing constituents on issues affecting their health and environment is central to the duties of Decatur elected officials. That duty does not disappear just because the risks are so extreme they end up in litigation.
Kudos to council members for embracing transparency over legal convenience. Officials’ solemn responsibility to the people they represent should not be conditioned on the preferred legal strategies of their lawyers.
The Times-News (Valley) on holiday travel:
The holiday season is not only a busy time for retail, but it is also a busy travel time. From driving to your favorite shopping center or visiting friends and family to taking an airline flight, traveling this time of year brings along with it its own set of challenges.
Those challenges often test our patience, whether it is sitting in traffic or longer commute times due to the increased volume.
AAA estimates 115.6 million travelers will be on the move this year — the most in 20 years since they began tracking these statistics in 2000.
Airlines are projected to see a 4.9 percent growth, the largest increase in travel during the year-end holidays.
To put those projections into a number, that is potentially just under 7 million Americans expected to fly.
Knowing that number, you can deduce that the number of people driving is well over 100 million from Dec. 21 through Jan. 1.
According to INRIX, a company that tracks traffic data, Dec. 26 and Dec. 27 are the “worst day to travel” in most of the country’s largest cities. ...
With several campaigns, including “Ho, Ho, No” and the ongoing initiatives to reduce traffic incidents related to impaired driving, speeding and texting while driving, our local law enforcement and ALEA are committed to making each of us safe this holiday season. ...
Plan accordingly and don’t rush to your destination.
Be cautious and don’t drink or text and drive. The last thing we want to do over the holiday is report on a local traffic fatality.
We hope you all have a safe and happy holiday.
Dothan Eagle on a bond revocation for a teenager accused of vehicular manslaughter in a fatal crash:
An Auburn teenager facing vehicular manslaughter charges in the deaths of Rod Bramblett, who was known as the “Voice of the Auburn Tigers,” and his wife, Paula, has had his bond revoked after receiving additional traffic citations for speeding and reckless driving in recent weeks.
It’s a fitting repercussion for the Johnston Edward Taylor, who was driving more than 30 mph over the speed limit and accelerating when his vehicle slammed into the Bramblett’s SUV, killing the couple. Police say Taylor was under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, at the time of the crash.
In hindsight, prosecutors might have sought the revocation after the teen’s first post-crash traffic citation for the safety of others on the road, for the perception of propriety and justice for the victims.
With the revocation of his bond, Taylor is now headed into rehabilitation, and will be returned to the Lee County detention facility until the matter is adjudicated. Taylor’s case has not been heard by a grand jury.
Taylor’s situation should be a cautionary tale for motorists, particularly young drivers. One exercise of poor judgment can result in the loss of life or irreversible injury or other mayhem, and will have repercussions that will follow one for the remainder of their days.
As we enter the holiday driving season, such a lesson is particularly fitting.