Jefferson County Gets Extra Time to Comment on Rule Limiting Phosphorus in Black Warrior River Tributaries

Jefferson County will get more time to comment on proposed standards for the level of phosphorus that can be dumped into Locust Fork and Village Creek by its wastewater treatment plants.

Phosphorus levels in the two water bodies are linked to algae blooms, weeds and slimes in the water and may impair their use for such things as public drinking water, swimming and other recreational activities. Algae blooms are a nuisance primarily during the summer.

Commissioners said on June 21 that they had not been notified by the county’s Environmental Services Department in time to meet a July 10 deadline to comment on the proposal. In part, they are worried about the financial hit the rule could have on Jefferson County’s sewer costs, and its ratepayers, and wanted more time to study the situation. Read more.

Jeffco Commissioners Face Indigent Healthcare Sticker Shock – Again

Jefferson County commissioners are again wondering how to manage the creeping rise in healthcare costs for the poor.

Commissioners at a Tuesday committee meeting expressed concerns that the cost to provide in-patient care to the poor in the county has risen to an estimated $25 million a year.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the county had hoped it could keep the tab for indigent in-patient care, which is being provided by area hospitals, at about $15 million.

Commissioners expressed concerns that the rising costs could force the county to again dip into its general fund to foot the healthcare bill. Read more.

Former Rep. Oliver Robinson Agrees to Plead Guilty to Federal Bribery and Fraud Charges

Former Alabama Rep. Oliver Robinson has been charged with having accepted bribes from a Birmingham lawyer and an Alabama coal company executive in exchange for advocating against EPA actions in North Birmingham, acting U.S. Attorney Robert O. Posey announced today.

He also is charged with fraud in connection with campaign contributions made to him and contributions he solicited for events he sponsored. The final count in the information charges Robinson with tax evasion.

Robinson agreed to plead guilty to the charges and to never again seek elected office, according to a plea agreement released by prosecutors. He also agreed to pay restitution and submit to a forfeiture judgment.
Robinson, a 57-year-old Democrat, represented Alabama’s House District 58 from 1998 until he resigned Nov. 30, 2016.

“Mr. Robinson is charged with conspiracy, bribery and defrauding the people of Alabama and his constituents his honest services,” Posey said at a press conference.

“The gist of the charges is that Mr. Robinson accepted a valuable contract from a Birmingham law firm in exchange for using his position in the Alabama Legislature to advocate for the position of a coal company which was a client of the law firm.” Read more.

Citing Improved Finances, JeffCo Commission Debates Reinstating Road Maintenance

June 6, 2017 – Two matters on the Jefferson County Commission’s committee agenda Tuesday showed that the county is on better footing than it had been. Commissioners talked about reinstating agreements to provide service for through roads in some area cities and renewing a resolution for the county to again participate in the back-to-school sales tax holiday. “The county has turned the corner and we’ve established a new baseline for service within Jefferson County,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said. Read more.

As You Were: Federal Judge Stays Ruling, Allows Jefferson County System to Run Gardendale Schools While Appeals Play Out

The takeover of two elementary schools by the Gardendale Board of Education will not happen in the coming academic year, after a federal judge issued a stay of her original ruling in the city’s attempt to break away from the Jefferson County Schools.

U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala agreed to motions filed by both Gardendale officials and by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which represents the original plaintiffs in the landmark Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education case that resulted in racial desegregation of the county system in the early 1970s.

Both parties had asked Haikala to delay the ruling she issued on April 24 and amended a few days later. That order allowed Gardendale to do a partial takeover of the schools inside city limits; Snow Rogers and Gardendale elementary schools would have been under city control beginning this summer, while Gardendale High and Bragg Middle schools would have remained part of JefCoEd for at least three years, until Haikala was satisfied that Gardendale had made sufficient progress toward desegregation. Read more.

Students Purportedly Wearing “Blackface” in Online Photos Rekindle Racial Allegations in Gardendale’s Bid to Form Its Own School System

Earlier Stories

Gardendale School Board Appeals Federal Court Ruling, Asks for Full Control of All Schools in the City Right Away

What’s Next? Residents Speak out About Next Steps for Gardendale’s New School System

Judge Stands with Order: Gardendale Can Take Steps Toward Separate School System
NAACP Asks Judge to Reconsider Allowing Gardendale to Start Its Own School System
NAACP Plans to Ask Judge to Reconsider Gardendale School Order; Ruling in Case Defies Conventional Procedure
Judge Haikala Is No Stranger to the Spotlight
Federal Judge Gives Gardendale Control Over City’s Elementary Schools, Lets JeffCo Keep Middle and High Schools for Now.
Read Haikala’s May 9 order
Read Hiakala’s initial ruling.

From Vacant Industrial Land to Puppy Palace? Residents Debate Use of Old Trinity Steel Land in Titusville

Sixty Titusville residents sat in the sweltering gymnasium of Memorial Park Recreation Center to consider giving their support for the old Trinity Steel property going to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

“It is so hot in here,” said Greater Birmingham Humane Society President and CEO Allison Black Cornelius, “but they stayed.”

When each side had made its case, 52 residents voted for the Humane Society to move to the long idle property from its Snow Drive location in Homewood. Eight voted no. Read more.

Briarwood Presbyterian Church Police Department Bill Awaits Action in Legislature

Updated May 7, 2017 – Briarwood Presbyterian Church may soon join the ranks of the Vatican and Washington National Cathedral as a religious institution with its own police department.

Critics of the bill to allow Briarwood to establish its own police department say the move is unconstitutional. But Briarwood representatives cite the increasing rate of mass shootings at churches, schools and commercial venues as reasons for bringing police officers on staff.

The House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved the legislation April 19, and it is pending before the Alabama House of Representatives. The Senate passed it April 11 on a vote of 24-2, so it’s now up to the House, and possibly the governor, to decide whether to allow the Vestavia Hills church to establish its own police department. Read more.

PARCA Survey: Most Alabamians Say State Officials Don’t Care What They Think

The divide between state government and its people is wide, and there’s no bridge in sight.

In a recent survey conducted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, more than two-thirds of those surveyed said state government officials don’t care what they think, and slightly less than two-thirds said they feel they have no say in what government does. Read more.

Bentley Resigns Amid Scandal; Kay Ivey to Become Governor

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has officially resigned from office and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey will be sworn in to take his place at 6 p.m.

The governor in a speech shortly after 5 p.m. said, “The time has come for me to look for new ways to serve the great people of our state. I’ve decided it’s time to step down as governor.”

Bentley said that although he would be leaving his office today, his administration would be working with Kay Ivey’s administration to provide any assistance needed for a smooth transition.

“Thank you, goodbye, and I love this state from the bottom of my heart,” Bentley concluded.

Operation Reveille: Sounding a New Day for Once-Homeless Veterans

Jimmy Moore’s hometown is Bessemer but for three years, the U.S. Air Force veteran’s home was his 2007 Ford Explorer.

Moore, a 1974 McAdory High School grad, worried that his possessions might be stolen when he was homeless. He feared someone might stab him to take what he had.

“You were always having to be awake, 24-7, sleep lightly,” the 61-year-old said, “trying to figure out where you’re going next.”

But Moore can rest easy. He doesn’t fear for his safety or his possessions. He has a roof over his head, thanks to Operation Reveille, a one-day one-stop-shop that took chronically homeless veterans off the street and into their own homes. Read more.

New West End Clinic Takes Health Care to the People, Jefferson County Commissioner Says

March 23, 2017 – Sandra Little Brown called Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting at Cahaba Medical Center “a crying moment.”

The District 7 Jefferson County Commission member said she had to defend herself against false claims that she had voted to end in-patient care at Cooper Green Mercy Hospital.

“We went through so much stress with the closing of in-patient care at Cooper Green,” Brown said during Thursday’s commission meeting. “So many people were against us. Now the people can say, ‘They took lemons and made lemonade.’”
Brown said she has worked since in-patient care at Cooper Green ended to create a hub-and-spoke system to take healthcare closer to where many people live.

Read more.

Alabama Supreme Court Clears the Way for Jefferson County to Refinance School Bonds

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens summed up an Alabama Supreme Court ruling during a press conference Friday afternoon.

“What’s it mean? It means it’s a great day for the citizens of Jefferson County, for all citizens of Jefferson County,” he said. “It enables Jefferson County to proceed in refinancing the county school tax warrants that is guaranteed by the 1 cent county sales tax.”

Commissioners sought a state law revising that county sales tax law so they could refinance the warrants at a lower price and divide the remaining money from the tax more broadly. A circuit judge struck down that law, but Friday the Alabama Supreme Court upheld it. Read more.

Historic Tax Credit Returns to the Legislature With Widespread Support – in Theory

The newly renovated Pizitz Building sits on 19th Street North in downtown Birmingham, its pristine, wedding cake white façade belying its 94 years.

It’s the latest among dozens of historic downtown Birmingham buildings that have been renovated in recent years. But many more of them haven’t been. They stand nearby, vacant or sparsely populated, with fading signs and sagging woodwork.

Three such buildings in Birmingham – a total of seven from around the state – are on a list at the Alabama Historic Commission, waiting to see whether the Legislature will renew tax credits for historic renovation.

The tax credit expired last year because of concerns about the cost of the program to the state. But bills to overhaul and reinstate the tax credit program have pulled much more support this year – at least in theory.

The tax credit this year has 87 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 29 co-sponsors in the Senate. “It’s huge for Birmingham,’’ said Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, who introduced the bill in the Senate this year. Read more.

Birmingham Council Clears Way to Become First Alabama City With a Healthy Food Incentive Program

The Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday to make Birmingham the first Alabama city with a Healthy Food Incentive Program, but not before a nearly hour-long debate with members of the city’s law department.

The program will cost $2 million, which will be allocated from the city’s general fund budget for fiscal 2018, and it is slated to begin Aug. 1. Essentially, the ordinance would allow qualified recipients to receive a food incentive card to be used toward the purchase of eligible foods at participating stores. The cards would have a value of up to $150 annually and take the form of either a debit card or voucher.

Before the vote, Councilor Lashunda Scales objected to the city’s law department having “gone week to week discussing the same thing,” referring to changes in the language and the proposed launch date of the program.

“We make plenty of time for economic development. When do we make the time to help the poor people?” Scales asked.
Read more

Heavy Turnout Spurs Long Lines but No Major Problems at the Polls

A contentious presidential race drove heavy turnout at the polls Tuesday, causing long lines at some polling places and periodic glitches with voting machines and routines.

As of late Tuesday night, almost 1.9 million ballots had been tallied, with 60 of 67 counties having reported their results, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s website. But the state had slightly higher turnout in 2008 and 2012. Almost 2.1 million people voted in each of those years.

A surge in voter registration teased election officials with the prospect of record voter turnout, but it was not to be.

Still, turnout was heavy Tuesday, and people from across the state reported having to stand in line for three hours or more to cast their ballots. Read more.

Hoover Fire Station No. 8 Malfunction

Janet Haines, lead poll official at Hoover Fire Station No. 8, said the ballots are in a locked portion of the machine and will be counted later. The machine malfunction caused a bit of a line at first, but it dissipated quickly, Haines said. The polling place now is using its one working box. This tip came originally from Electionland, a ProPublica project that will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from exercising their right to vote during the 2016 election.”

Keeping Watch on the Polls

BirminghamWatch is participating in ElectionLand, a nationwide project of the nonprofit news organization ProPublica that will cover access to the ballot and problems that prevent people from voting.  To sign up to take part in this effort, text ELECTIONLAND to 69866. Then on election day you will be asked about your voting experience. If you encounter delays or other problems at the polls, you also can notify BirminghamWatch directly by emailing or calling 205-595-2402. BirminghamWatch will be checking out reports of difficulties at the polls and posting information throughout the day.

Pell City results

Pell City

Council, District 1

David Arnett           118

Jay Jenkins              170

Council, District 3

Blaine Henderson    163

Dot Wood 109

Council, District 4

Jason Mitcham            388

Sharon Thomas           230

Council, District 5

Jud Alverson             336

Terry Templin           193

Phil Roberson           143

Pell City Board of Education

District 5

Brenda Burrow              165

Sonia Dale                    181

Jeff Jones                    313

Wilsonville Results


Town Council:

Blake Ray                     294

Ricky Ray Morris        255

Richard B. Atchison   238

Melissa Rosetta           225

Larry Cohill                  213

Gordon Fluker   194

Ivan Greene                  182

Anne L. Phelps             170

Patricia “Pat” Johnson  161

Lane Ross                     156

Calvin Gill                      147

Terry Newman              109


Pinson Results



Richard “Joe” Cochran                   359

Hoyt Sanders                                  453

Council, Place 2     

Shannon Galamore                         459

Michael Brad Walker                      327

Adamsville Results



Christopher Allen James                  236

Pam Cairns Palmer                         411

District 3

Glenn Minyard                       85

Ricky L. Pierce                        41

District 5

Johnathan Charles Click     73

Reginald Crawford                  47

Clanton Results



Billy Joe Driver           1,090

Lee Helms                     665

Jason Pierce                 146

City Council:

District 1

Jeffrey “Doc” Price     415

Danny Carter                166

Charles Powell                       16

District 2

Bobby R. Cook          214

Lynn Bush Best         130

District 3

Sammy Wilson           258

Al Headley                   136

District 4

Awlahjaday “Day” Agee      136

Greg DeJarnett                      95

Mulga results



Wayne Jones                18

Joy Smith                       55

Lester Turner                 20

Keith Varner 129

City Council

District 1

Mike Oden 34

Gwen Higgins Powers 25



2016 Legislative Update

The long-anticipated rewrite of Alabama’s tenure and job evaluation law for teachers and school administrators was introduced in the Legislature last week. It would require regular evaluations of teachers and tie part of their performance rating to student growth. But it does not include the controversial proposal to tie teacher bonuses to student test scores, which was in the first draft of the bill. Also last week, a House committee passed an Education Trust Fund budget that would give up to 4 percent raises to education workers and that includes money to hire 475 more teachers and expand the states pre-K program. The Legislature is now dealing with more than 40 education-related measures.

Charles Todd Henderson (D)

District Attorney, 10th Circuit, Jefferson County

Name: Charles Todd Henderson

Date of birth: July 18, 1964; age 51

Residence: Pleasant Grove

Political experience: Ran for Jefferson County Sheriff, 2014; executive committee member, Jefferson County Democratic Party, 2014-present; member, Jefferson County Progressive Democratic Council. Professional experience: Private practice, 2003-present; accredited veterans attorney, 2013-present; special counsel to the Mayor of Brighton, 2014-2015; general counsel, Veterans Network Community, 2014-present; general counsel and secretary, FERS Group Inc., 2014- present; educator and coach, Jefferson County and Montgomery schools, 2009-2015; judicial law clerk, 18th Judicial Circuit, 2002; police officer, Lipscomb, 2002; deputy sheriff, Jefferson County, 2000-2001 and 1988-1993; agent, Drug Enforcement Administration, 1996-1998;  police officer/evidence tech, Fairfield Police Department, 1993-1996. Civic experience: Advisory board member, Village Creek Human and Environmental Justice Society, 2014-present; advisory board member, Vietnam Veterans & Associates Inc., 2015-present; Metropolitan Planning Organization-Transportation Citizens Committee member, 2016-present; member of several committees of Rev Birmingham; member, United Fellowship Breakfast Forum; National Eagle Scout Association. Education: Juris doctorate, Birmingham School of Law, 2002; teacher certification (9-12), East Carolina University, 2010; various legal training programs, 1991-1997; master’s in forensic science, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1991; bachelor’s Samford University, 1987. Top Contributors: Speed PAC, $7,500; Nathan H. Wilson, $1,500; J. Wayne Wilson, Robin A. Brungart, Church Transportation, R. Parker Griffith, Jared T. Henderson, Iron Workers Local Union No.

Ten Stories from 2015

Miss important stories from BirminghamWatch this year? Want a refresher on subjects likely to make news in 2016? Here are ten BirminghamWatch stories from 2015 to check out or read again.

Alabama Teacher of the Year Leaves Classroom. Here’s Her Story.

“No Guarantee” for Future Tax Breaks to Help Rescue Historic Birmingham Buildings

Fall Behind, Pay the Price: Remediation Rate Story

Alabama Cities Act Quickly, End Deals with Company Criticized for Collection Tactics

Sound Familiar? Jeffco’s $5Million-plus Financial Software Not Working Right

Study: Alabama’s Government Integrity Ranks Among Best in a Bad Lot

Jim Williams, PARCA and a Scorecard on Improving Alabama Government

Assignment Birmingham: Build on City’s Assets to Create Innovation Powerhouse

At UAB, Carly’s Law Leads to Trial of Cnnabinoid Drug to Treat People Suffering from Seizures

At Hueytown Elementary School, Love and Data Tackle Alabama’s Education Problems

A Birmingham View

Photographer Walt Stricklin has helped us see our city for much of the past two decades, first at The Birmingham News, now often at art shows, and recently as a contributor to BirminghamWatch.

It’s Walt Stricklin’s work that greets all of us on, with his city skyline view in the site logo.

This holiday week, please join BirminghamWatch in enjoying his distinctive photographs of places that define Birmingham, for ourselves and others.

High-Stakes Dealing Down South

By CODY OWENS, WELD FOR BIRMINGHAM: The man’s phone rang. Someone on the other end wanted to buy a gram of hashish from him (hashish is a condensed product of cannabis with a high concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as THC). The man said it’s good.

Meet AIIJ’s Board of Directors

The Board is the policy-making and oversight body of AIIJ. Members are Brett Blackledge, Brant Houston, Mark Kelly, Jerome Lanning, Carol Nunnelley, Emily Jones Rushing, and Odessa Woolfolk.  
Brett Blackledge
Government and Investigations Editor at The Naples Daily News in Florida, won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting while working with The Birmingham News in 2007. His Pulitzer Prize-winning work detailed nepotism and cronyism in Alabama’s two-year college system. The series also earned Blackledge a national public service award from Associated Press Media Editors.

Meet the people behind BirminghamWatch

The journey to creating Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism and BirminghamWatch is a story about many things. It’s about Birmingham’s need for news that asks important questions and searches for trustworthy answers. It’s about pushing against a tide, and putting more reporters to work covering school boards, digging through data, and informing voters. It’s about working with other Birmingham news organizations that share this mission.

Today, I want to tell our story in a personal way, by introducing people behind it. AIIJ’s directors share a common passion for good journalism. They stepped up to do hard work in founding a nonprofit news organization.

A Message from AIIJ Founders

Why are we doing this? What can our fledgling non-profit news organization contribute to journalism for Birmingham and Alabama?

Those may be your first two questions if you are meeting BirminghamWatch, and its sponsor Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism, for the first time.


The photographs throughout this initial edition of are the work of Walt Stricklin, generously donated by him for use on the website. BirminghamWatch and Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism gratefully acknowledge all the support and volunteer contributions during the project’s development.

Donor Policy

Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism and BirminghamWatch recognize that the value of their work depends on commitment to journalistic values and the editorial independence of its editors and reporters. In seeking and accepting financial support, Alabama Initiative will follow practices that protect these values.

Ethics Statement

Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, be accountable and transparent. These are the anchors of Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Journalists working with BirminghamWatch and Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism will be guided by the SPJ Code of Ethics. Read the complete Code of Ethics here.

About The Board

The Board  is the policy-making and oversight body of AIIJ. Members are Brett Blackledge, Brant Houston, Mark Kelly, Jerome Lanning, Carol Nunnelley, Emily Jones Rushing, and Odessa Woolfolk. Brant Houston, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting in the department of journalism at the University of Illinois. Prior to becoming the Knight Chair in 2007, he served for more than a decade as the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors and a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Before joining IRE, he was an award-winning investigative reporter at daily newspapers.