Alabama editorial roundup

November 27, 2019

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Nov. 24

The Gadsden Times on a reality show series spotlighting an Alabama jail:

We’ll wager that some folks have thought or maybe even said — seriously or jokingly — that events in Gadsden or Etowah County “would make a good reality show.”

Congratulations, your wish came true. Whether that’s a positive or negative — what the fallout will be — remains to be seen.

A&E revealed last week that the Etowah County Detention Center will be spotlighted in the sixth season of “60 Days In,” a show in which volunteers are placed into jails as undercover prisoners, not in pursuit of any prize money but to assess, document and report illegalities that have escaped the scrutiny of the facility’s staff and surveillance systems. Guards, inmates and most jail officials are kept in the dark, and separate cameras are set up to film footage for the series.

The first two seasons focused on Clark County, Indiana; the next two on Fulton County, Georgia; and the fifth one on Pinal County, Arizona.

Now it’s Etowah County’s turn. Sheriff Jonathon Horton said he was contacted by the show’s producers before he took office, and that A&E’s crews have been in the jail since “day one” of his administration.

And if the network’s teasers are accurate, this series is going to cause a whopper of a stir.

Seven people were placed in the jail. A couple could be considered “experts” — a corrections officer and a police officer. The others, according to the network, were an ex-marine, an entrepreneur, a political science major, a faith-based operations manager and a teacher of at-risk youth.

Only three of them survived the full 60 days, which according to A&E’s website is an unprecedented “get me out of here” rate for participants in the series.

The network’s press release gives a good reason why, calling Etowah County’s jail “one of the worst facilities the series has ever seen.”

That’s not going to surprise anyone locally. The jail isn’t ancient — it’s less than 30 years old — but it’s overcrowded and understaffed, and the infrastructure has taken a beating. We’ve reported on the broken door locks, security cameras and windows, and the other repairs that are needed. We’ve reported on the frequent if not constant turnover in jail staff, as people get fed up with doing a dangerous, near impossible job given the circumstances.

But while we try our best, online or print reporting doesn’t always convey the gravity of a situation, and complaints about jail conditions are often dismissed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio fans whose ideal standard for incarcerating wrongdoers is medieval dungeons.

Seeing this play out on TV over multiple episodes (previous seasons have averaged about 14) is going to have an impact. It’s also going to revive some painful memories — and stir up some still smoldering political ashes — concerning how we got to this point. This jail already is on multiple radars, and expect the Google alerts for “beach house sheriff” and “jail food controversy” to start buzzing pretty quickly, and the blogs and Twittersphere to fire up, when the first episode is presented at 9 p.m. CST on Jan. 2.

There’s no escaping that past or removing the risk of a black eye from this series — a sheriff’s office employee, after the secret was revealed, said, “This makes us look so bad” — but this experience can be a positive moving forward.

Horton said it’s given him a baseline of how to correct issues at the jail. Six corrections officers were fired and 11 resigned; the information that cost them their jobs came from the undercover cameras and planted “inmates.”

Steps have been taken to reduce the amount of contraband that comes into the facility — a shakedown right after Horton took office uncovered more than two tons of illicit stuff; another earlier this month netted a relative pittance — and in the correction officers’ work schedules.

A lot of people will tune in Jan. 2 and beyond — the ratings in Etowah County should be quite high — to see dirt. So be it. Just remember that dirt can be cleaned up.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/


Nov. 24

The Decatur Daily on a guilty verdict for one of four suspects in a series of crimes that happened in an Alabama city:

The top headline on May 17, 2015, stung Decatur: “2 dead, rash of crimes reported.”

The initial disbelief that a series of violent, random acts could occur in a city where neighbors routinely help one another gave way briefly to fear when residents read the article beneath that Sunday morning headline 4 ½ years ago. The perpetrators behind a pair of shooting deaths, several reported robberies and two shootings into dwellings remained at large.

Fortunately for Decatur residents, police arrested the four suspects in the lawlessness that same day.

A guilty verdict last week against the only defendant yet to be sentenced in the crime rampage ended a major phase of its aftermath. Even though Cedric Cowan won’t be sentenced until February, and appeals remain an option, several conclusions can be drawn.

— This outbreak of violence remains a tragedy on multiple levels. Poor, reckless decisions made from May 13-16, 2015, by three defendants who were then teens and one who was 20 gave them futures in prison and left two other young men dead from gunshot wounds. Joshua Davis, whose body was found at Wilson Morgan Park the morning of May 16, 2015, was only 25. Antonio Hernandez-Lopez, shot in the carport of an Albert Street home on May 15, 2015, was 27. Families of the victims will continue to mourn. “We can now start to heal a little bit,” Renee Davis, Joshua Davis’ mother, said Thursday. Families of the four defendants also are forever scarred. The three defendants sentenced so far have all received life sentences, with parole a stated possibility for only one of them.

— The Decatur Police Department prevented the tragedy from worsening by quickly identifying suspects and getting them into custody. The four defendants were arrested less than two days after Hernandez-Lopez’s murder. The resolution of their cases indicates the police found the correct suspects: Separate juries found two defendants guilty, and two other defendants admitted their guilt. The Police Department deserves praise for quickly ending the crime rampage in 2015 and providing prosecutors enough witnesses and evidence to produce guilty pleas and convictions.

— The judicial system was fair to the defendants, and the Morgan County District Attorney’s Office presented ample evidence to produce convictions in the public’s interest. Jurors heard six days of testimony this month in Cedric Cowan’s case. The other trial in the rampage also lasted more than a week. The convictions and guilty pleas involved three capital murder charges for two defendants but two counts of felony murder for two other defendants, showing the court system took care to distinguish one defendant’s actions from another.

Although the pain of this case remains, Decatur can start to move past it. With prayers, police vigilance and guidance to young people from churches, schools and community leaders, let’s hope a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com/


Nov. 24

The TimesDaily (of Florence) on how decommissioning rules will impact Alabama communities near coal-fired power plants:

The Colbert Fossil Plant is one of five coal-fired power plants the Tennessee Valley Authority has closed in recent years, and more will be closed in years ahead.

In a Heritage Series article on its website, TVA attributes the closings to “changing technology, increased environmental regulations and economics,” developments that have forced the utility to shift toward cleaner sources of power.

But TVA rightly points out the shuttered powerhouses deserve recognition for the role they played in the development of the Valley — generating electricity, jobs and history.

The growing industrial demand tied to the United States entry into World War II, especially for aluminum, outpaced the amount of electricity the hydroelectric dams could produce. That spawned the push into a new kind of power generation using coal-fired plants.

At its height in 1985, TVA’s coal fleet numbered 12 plants. There were two of those plants in the Shoals area — the Wilson Steam Plant (1919 to 1966) and the Colbert Fossil Plant (1951 to 2016).

The Wilson Steam Plant in Muscle Shoals was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide power for two nitrate plants. The War Department transferred ownership from the Corps to TVA in 1933.

The plant was used intermittently during the 1940s and 1950s. The steam plant was retired in 1966 and demolished in 1968.

The Colbert plant was the sixth steam-electric project to be planned, designed and constructed by TVA. Units 1 to 4 were built between 1951 and 1955 with a fifth unit added in 1965.

The decommissioning of TVA’s coal-fired plants has raised many environmental concerns, and that’s true of the Colbert plant as well.

Opponents of the process are right to raise questions about the long-term impacts of the coal ash impoundments.

TVA has spent to date about $30 million in the restoration of the Colbert Fossil Plant, which includes closing and capping the two ash impoundments on site.

Only time will tell if those efforts will minimize groundwater contamination from the coal ash ponds.

TVA officials said Thursday (Nov. 21) it will take at least four more years to complete the restoration of the Colbert Fossil Plant. That includes up to two years of removing all hazardous materials, such as asbestos, lead-based paint and PCBs, from the site before starting demolition work on the towering smokestacks.

Once the property is returned to its natural state, TVA will market it for economic development.

The decommissioning process is not a perfect system. But we can be thankful for the stricter Environmental Protection Agency regulations of the past decade or so that have forced this level of compliance from TVA, and companies all across the U.S. that are closing their aged coal-fired plants.

Online: https://www.timesdaily.com/