Alabama editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Dothan Eagle on industries in Alabama facing a shortage of workers:
Many students go through school with an eye on a lofty goal — heading off to college for four years of study and occasional episodes of poor judgment. For some, that goal won’t materialize at all. Others may get into school only to drop out before graduation. And then there is the cost — the price of a college degree has skyrocketed in recent years, and there’s little expectation that will change.
Many who leave college today do so with a diploma wrapped in promissory notes, burdened with a hefty college loan debt before they even enter the workforce. It’s become an economic crisis, and some prognosticators have suggested that the next economic catastrophe will be centered on student loan debt. There’s a lot of talk about free college tuition from some presidential candidates, but many people are skeptical of how “free” is defined.
It’s enough to make a rising senior’s head swim. But here’s a thought — there are options beyond a four-year degree, many of which can be quite lucrative. They’ll involve training, of course, and the preparation can be difficult. But there are shortages in several fields that are so significant that employers are taking dramatic steps to fill jobs. For instance, a nursing shortage prompted Southeast Health to offer sign-on bonuses of up to $15,000 to nurses who join the hospital team.
Recently, a survey of Alabama construction firms suggests a labor shortage throughout various disciplines in the building arts.
It appears to be a buyer’s market, so to speak, in which a newly minted nurse or craftsman could have an array of employment options, likely without a yoke of crippling student debt.
The Tuscaloosa News on the city council’s nationwide search for a developer to potentially revitalize McFarland Mall:
When Stan Pate bought McFarland Mall in 2009, it had been in decline for a decade and had lost two anchor tenants — Dillard’s and Goody’s department stores — within the previous year, in the midst of the Great Recession.
Although the mall, which opened in 1969, still had several major tenants, the future of retail was uncertain, to say the least. Pate acknowledged as much, calling the purchase one of the biggest risks of his career. Nonetheless, the location of the nearly 40-acre mall site at the intersection of McFarland and Skyland boulevards, near the interstate, made it an attractive investment opportunity, he said.
In the intervening years, Pate demolished part of the mall and announced plans for a $75 million retail development on the site that would be called Encore Tuscaloosa, saying he had commitments from nationally-known retailers and restaurants. Yet by 2016 nothing had materialized. Pate said then he still intended to redevelop the site but no longer had concrete plans for it. Indeed, nothing has happened to the site since. Nothing good, anyway. Ten years after Pate bought it, the mall remains half torn down, the vast parking lot has deteriorated and weeds are growing through the concrete slab that once was the foundation for Dillard’s.
Now, Pate wants to sell the property to the city. We don’t blame him for trying, but we’re shocked that the City Council is actually considering buying it along with other Pate properties adjacent to the mall site and the Rice Mine Road Loop — more than 70 acres in all at a cost of $28 million. This makes no sense, particularly with regard to the mall site since the idea, apparently, would be to turn around and sell it, part of it, at least, to another developer or developers. Pate could do that — couldn’t he? — and taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for $28 million.
At least an argument could be made for buying the 7-acre Rice Mine site, given its proximity to the future path of the city’s Riverwalk. The city has an interest in ensuring that development there would be compatible with the Riverwalk, although it has the power to do that without actually buying Pate’s property.
For a decade, however, Pate — for whatever reason — has not redeveloped the mall site. Why would the city take it off his hands? Concern that the property has become an eyesore doesn’t justify it. If the city can threaten residents of west Tuscaloosa with fines, even jail, if they don’t paint their shutters — as happened earlier this summer — then it can — and should — require Pate to clean up his property.
Blight was a reason included in a council resolution to buy the mall property that was tabled on July 30 in favor of a 45-day due diligence agreement with Pate. That agreement gave the city exclusive rights to the mall and Rice Mine properties while considering its options. The city immediately issued requests for proposals to more than 400 developers around the country but received only two by the Aug. 27 deadline. That doesn’t bode well.
The mall site might have potential for some sort of public-use development, but the city doesn’t have to be in a hurry to buy it. The property isn’t going anywhere unless Pate sells it to another developer, which would be even better — it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.
The Gadsden Times on a judicial building now named after a longtime circuit judge:
Think about how often complete surprise is achieved. It’s really kind of rare, given that keeping secrets defies human nature.
Think about how often complete unanimity is achieved. That’s also kind of rare, given how difficult it is to get people who see the world through individual prisms to agree on even inconsequential things.
However, both scenarios played out last week at 801 Forrest Ave., as one of Etowah County’s most beloved and respected jurists was deservedly honored.
William H. Rhea III retired as circuit judge earlier this year after not seeking re-election in 2018. He had been on the bench for 32 years, after being appointed by former Gov. George Wallace in the waning days of his administration and being elected without opposition to five successive 6-year terms.
Rhea is part of a true legal family. His father, Clarence, was a general in the Army National Guard (the armory at the Northeast Alabama Regional Airport bears his name) and Attalla’s longtime city attorney. His brothers, Donald and Richard, also are lawyers.
Rhea was involved in high-profile cases, not just locally but elsewhere. He was appointed in 1996 to preside over the state trial in Jefferson County of mail bomber Walter L. Moody, and levied the death sentence against Moody that finally was carried out last year.
He also was the judge in various other civil, criminal, domestic relations and workman’s compensation cases that may not have created massive headlines, but were massively important to those involved.
The reputation for dedication, fairness and integrity Rhea built during those three decades-plus on the bench was reflected in the reaction to the idea his former colleagues came up with to honor him. Everyone was on board — courthouse personnel, local attorneys, county officials and even some of the state’s top legal brass. The desire to make it something special — and a true surprise — also overcame the human propensity to gossip we mentioned earlier.
So even though Rhea suspected something was up — “I was told to put on a suit and get in the car,” he said later — he had no idea that the “special presentation” in his former courtroom would be to name the Etowah County Judicial Building in his honor.
A plaque will be installed on the building’s first floor that reads in part, ”... He will forever be beloved by the Bench and the Bar and the citizens of Etowah County for his impact upon the law, our state, and our local community ... .”
Rhea modestly gave credit to his colleagues on the bench, the local attorneys who practiced in the courtroom, personnel at the circuit’s clerk office and his former staff members, calling the latter “the ones who ran the office.”
They also had a pretty good man to work for. We’ll add our unanimous consent to his recognition.