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Alabama editorial roundup

May 15, 2019

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

May 14

The Dothan Eagle on a local pay raise:

Dave Sutton has served as sheriff of Coffee County since 2006, and has worked without a pay increase for almost 13 years.

That may change soon - sort of - assuming a bill in the Alabama Legislature that would give the sheriff an “expense allowance” of $12,000 per year finds its way to the governor’s desk and is signed.

The legislated stipend would expire at the end of the sheriff’s current term.

If you’re thinking this is no way to run a railroad, you’re not alone.

Blame the Coffee County Commission for its negligence in keeping its compensation for the sheriff’s position in line with comparable professional law enforcement jobs. But the bulk of the blame belongs to the lack of home rule.

Because state law prohibits changes in compensation for elected officials in the middle of a term of office, the county commission must have legislation introduced in the statehouse in order to put a little more money in the sheriff’s pay packet, and the proposal must be approved in both legislative chambers and signed by the governor.

Coffee County officials should begin research now to determine a figure for a reasonable salary for the office of sheriff in 2022, and adopt that officially to take effect with the next term of office.

A pay raise for an official’s neglected salary should not require the state version of “an act of Congress.”

Online: https://www.dothaneagle.com

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May 12

The Decatur Daily on policy reform efforts:

Institutionally, Alabama has what is considered a “weak governor” system. Governors are, for example, limited to two consecutive terms, and the Legislature can override their vetoes with simple majorities.

Some in the Legislature appear to be trying to change that, much to the pleasure of Alabama’s current governor, Kay Ivey. Other lawmakers have described it as a power grab, and they have a point.

Last week, the Alabama House of Representatives voted 73-27 to approve a measure giving the governor more control of the state parole board.

“Under the bill,” reported The Associated Press, “the governor would appoint the Parole Board director. It would also put into state law the sentence minimums that inmates must serve before becoming eligible for parole consideration.”

Attorney General Steve Marshall praised the bill, citing, as the bill’s supporters inevitably do, the case of a paroled inmate who killed three people.

“In one case, Jimmy O’Neal Spencer, a violent offender sentenced to life imprisonment, was released back into the public after the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles made the unconscionable decision to grant him parole,” Marshall said in a prepared statement after the House passed the bill.

“Months later, Spencer brutally murdered two women and a 7-year-old boy in their homes. This tragic failure of our justice system should have never happened — and cannot ever be allowed to happen again.”

We agree Spencer’s release was a “tragic failure of our justice system.” Indeed it is a failure that goes well beyond the state parole board. That makes a solution relying mostly on changing the Board of Pardons and Paroles seem suspicious. It all comes into stark focus, however, when we see reforming the parole board amounts in large part to giving the governor more power over it.

The rest, regarding sentence minimums, would lead to more prison overcrowding even as the state faces the threat of federal intervention over the deplorable condition of its prison system.

On an different front, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would give the governor far greater power over the state’s K-12 education system. The amendment would abolish the current elected school board and replace it with a commission appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

“We have been listed at the bottom of just about every education ranking you can find,” Ivey said in a statement in support of the amendment, which voters would have to approve. “We need education leaders and a structure that works in the best interest of our students. With this bold change, we will establish accountability and stability at the top, improving educational outcomes for all students across the state.”

The list of things wrong with education in the state of Alabama could fill this space, but we suspect having an elected state school board would be at the bottom of it, if it made the list at all. And we doubt making members appointees of the governor, who is, as we said above, term-limited, and regardless has a political agenda of his or her own, will improve either accountability or stability.

Alabama has many problems, but few if any will be solved by concentrating more power in the governor’s office.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com

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May 10

The Anniston Star on redeveloping Fort McClellan:

The Army closed Fort Devens, about an hour’s drive from Boston, in 1996. It closed Fort McClellan three years later. The unmistakable redevelopment differences that separate these two former military posts remain firmly in place. And the reasons are clear.

The main culprit: support, or lack of it.

Massachusetts politicians -- and the voters who elect them -- jump-started Devens’ redevelopment with $200 million of state funds used for demolition, environmental cleanup and construction. Alabama politicians didn’t do that when Anniston’s post closed.

There’s more to this story, for sure. But today, Devens, according to the editorial board of The Lowell (Mass.) Sun, “has become a business-friendly dynamo with more than 100 companies of all sizes operating within this self-contained community shared by the towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley.”

And who gets the credit? “The bold and prescient leadership of the state’s economic-development arm,” the editors wrote earlier this year.

In a sense, it’s a miracle that McClellan is as far along as it is, given that the state never considered its redevelopment a priority and one of its redevelopment arms, the ill-fated Joint Powers Authority, died an unceremonious legal death a decade ago. Much of the property’s reclamation has occurred under the McClellan Development Authority, which replaced the JPA.

McClellan today is home to a private school, college and university satellite campuses, athletic complexes, assisted-living facilities, light industries and residential neighborhoods -- and Consolidated Publishing Co., which owns The Star.

Roughly 3,000 people work at McClellan. But for all the success in cleaning up the Army’s leftover ordnance, issues like the imbroglio with a private security company over its use of the Starships barracks hinder the property’s future.

Back-and-force claims between the MDA and Xtreme Concepts revolve, in part, around accusations of late payments and dog excrement that is contaminating Cane Creek with E. coli. (The contractor trains security dogs.)

The MDA has tried to evict Xtreme Concepts, but the contractor’s attorney says it still plans to buy the former barracks. Circuit Court Judge Debra Jones has ruled that Xtreme Concepts, which has rented the Starships since 2015, can stay on site until further notice.

In fairness, even Devens has weathered hiccups. A Gillette factory closed in 2010. A state-backed solar company left Devens in 2012. But MassDevelopment, Massachusetts’ economic development arm, has continued a fast-track permitting process that prevents developers from hopscotching from one agency to another for the necessary paperwork.

The Starships -- demolished or reused -- have always been one of McClellan’s redevelopment keys. Few other locations there own such a large footprint. And finding someone willing to monetize a labyrinth of concrete buildings has been one of McClellan’s enduring headaches.

We firmly believe problems like these would have been handled earlier, and perhaps with less legal angst, had our state treated McClellan as a priority for northeast Alabama. And we also believe it behooves the MDA and Xtreme Concepts to resolve their argument in a manner that protects Cane Creek and keeps the Starships active instead of empty and unused.

Online: https://www.annistonstar.com

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