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Alabama editorial roundup

August 28, 2019

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Aug. 28

The Opelika-Auburn News on the importance of the 2020 census for Alabama:

Leave it to a historian to remind us how important it is to participate in the next census.

America will be undergoing its next census count in 2020, with preparations and work already well under way. All of us should fully participate.

The census is important for a wide range of reasons, and despite most of the headlines being centered around political interests and arguments, the count goes far beyond that.

Politicians debate who should and shouldn’t be included in the census because of the fight for power and representation. Many of the arguments are worthy of debate, many aren’t.

However, an accurate count also influences many other fields of interest, such as determining where health care dollars might be better spent, where highway funding could make a greater impact, where new restaurants and retail stores might locate in growing metropolitan statistical areas, where retirees are trending with their lifestyles, and so much more.

Alabama’s very beginning depended on a positive census count.

Steve Murray, director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, explained that during Thursday morning’s monthly Business Over Breakfast organized by the Opelika Chamber of Commerce.

“The 1818 Census was important for statehood,” Murray said, as Congress set a mark that must be reached before it would move the territory into becoming a new state, which finally occurred in December 1819.

Alabama is celebrating its bicentennial throughout the year, with a climax event planned for Dec. 14, the actual anniversary date, in Montgomery.

Just as an accurate census was important then, it remains so today to better solicit federal dollars and numerous other benefits from both private and government resources.

So, when the census-takers come to you.make it count.

Online: https://www.oanow.com/

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Aug. 26

The Gadsden Times on an upcoming increase in the Alabama gas tax:

Sunday is T-Day for drivers in Alabama. That’s when the first (and largest single) installment of the 10-cent gasoline tax increase that was passed by the Legislature in March goes into effect.

The tax is expected to generate $32 million for each penny that’s in place, and the money is to be used for bringing Alabama’s infrastructure, its roads and bridges, into the 21st century. Gov. Kay Ivey has dubbed that plan Rebuild Alabama.

The grumbling over the notion of raising revenue and how the tax was passed — in a special session, with Ivey and her backers executing power politics in a way that conjures up memories of “the Johnson treatment” in the days when LBJ ran the U.S. Senate — really hasn’t eased since the bill was signed.

Expect it to again get louder and more forceful when the initial 6-cent hike becomes reality — even if, as the tax’s backers will be sure to point out, the actual impact at the pump isn’t going to be that dramatic.

According to AAA, Alabama’s average price of regular unleaded gasoline as of Monday morning ($2.236) was roughly 35 cents below the current national average and 30 percent below the state’s average price of a year ago. Toss on 6 cents, and we’ll still have some of the lowest fuel prices in the U.S. When the full increase is in place (there will be additional 2-cent hikes in 2020 and 2021), we’ll be no higher than mid-pack.

However, opponents will point out — as we did when the tax was passed, in one of our major concerns — that there’s no absolute guarantee gasoline will remain cheap. That’s the factor that has made fuel sales an inviting target for cities, states and the feds, all of whom are searching for additional revenue generators, particularly those that don’t come directly out of people’s paychecks.

God forbid they should happen, but we’ve seen what natural or man-made disasters or the vagaries of geopolitics, not just here but elsewhere on the planet, can do to gasoline prices.

Still, there’s no point in reviving the debate. The deed is done, for better or worse, and if people want to express their displeasure or gain retribution, they can do it at the polls in 2022.

We’re sure those who oppose new taxes for any reason — period, case closed, any potential benefits are irrelevant, if it means doing without to make government live within its means, so be it — plan to do just that. Such absolutists can’t be swayed.

The key to reaching others will be for Rebuild Alabama to show some actual progress, and for this particular tax money to go there and nowhere else. (Cue the “it’s just business as usual, they’ll spend the money on other things and people will line their pockets” comments.)

Alabama’s roads and bridges are a mess. The need is not an illusion created by people who just want to spend taxpayers’ money.

Multiple projects already have been announced (including the four-laning of U.S. Highway 411 from Turkeytown to Cherokee County Road 20, which will complete four-lane access from Centre to Interstate 59 in Gadsden) and others are promised. No one expects work of that scale to be finished in a few weeks; some of it may very well not be done in 2022.

People just need to see and know that there’s more than talk and promises going on — that they’re going to benefit from the payoff, and it won’t be business as usual.

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

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Aug. 24

The News Courier on the arrest of an Alabama sheriff:

We were as surprised as anyone to learn (Limestone County) Sheriff Mike Blakely had been indicted on ethics and theft charges Thursday (Aug. 22) in a case presented by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office.

The indictment accuses 68-year-old Blakely of taking money from his own campaign fund and from the pistol permit fund, identified in the indictment as the “Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.” He’s also accused of taking money, earmarked for inmates, from a safe and then using his position to obtain no-interest loans to repay the money.

The allegations are shocking, and if Blakely is found guilty, it will be a sad end to his long legacy of public service.

The gravity of the situation was made worse by an arrogant statement to the media, delivered by Sheriff’s Office spokesman Stephen Young, who seemingly downplayed the significance of the 13-count indictment. He even recited a phrase Blakely uses about how a grand jury would indict “a ham sandwich.”

When most people think of Limestone County, they think of Sheriff Blakely as its mascot. First elected in 1982, Blakely is a larger-than-life figure. As one of only three remaining Democratic officeholders, he’s also a reminder of how Limestone County once was when it was virtually all rural and a Democratic stronghold.

He’s also well-known as a lawman. In January 2017, Blakely received the Bobby Timmons Sheriff of the Year Award from the Alabama Sheriff’s Association.

Things haven’t been smooth sailing for the sheriff as of late, however.

In January, Blakely and Chief Deputy Fred Sloss were sued by a female investigator who claims she was assaulted by Sloss and was then promised a promotion if she consented to his advances. The suit also claims Blakely demoted the investigator after she reported the incident.

In February, the Limestone County Commission agreed to pay $49,968.52 over U.S. Department of Labor wage and hour law violations concerning the Sheriff’s Office. According to the complaint, Sheriff’s Office employees were required to work at the annual Limestone Sheriff’s Rodeo without pay. The other infraction involved requiring deputies to come in after their scheduled shifts — without compensation — to fill out arrest warrants.

Those two incidents occurred not long after an ethics complaint was filed against Blakely. That complaint was ultimately referred by the Alabama Ethics Commission to the Attorney General’s Office for further investigation.

When we cast our vote for a public official, most of us want to believe the person who receives our vote is honest and has integrity. There are also those who cast a vote for an incumbent based on the premise: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

People aren’t infallible. They have moral — and sometimes ethical — lapses. Sometimes, those lapses bubble to the surface.

Blakely’s indictment is just the latest shocking headline concerning elected sheriffs in Alabama. Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin opted not to seek re-election after an investigation revealed she invested $150,000 from the inmate food fund in a failed car dealership. In December, she pleaded guilty for failing to file a federal tax return.

Former Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin lost in the 2018 Republican primary after records showed he used $750,000 in inmate food money to purchase a $740,000 beach house in Orange Beach.

Most recently, Pickens County Sheriff David Abston was arrested in June and charged with fraud. He is accused of pocketing federal money used to feed inmates.

This week, Pickens County’s Chief Deputy Jonathan Gann was arrested on charges of second-degree theft and misdemeanor evidence-tampering.

It would seem some of the state’s top law enforcement officers believe they are above the law. They are not.

We will certainly cover the Blakely case and trial as it unfolds. We anticipate the state’s allegations against the sheriff will be met with a vigorous defense. Mark McDaniel, one of Blakely’s three defense attorneys, told reporters he would begin filing motions attacking the state’s existing ethics law.

Blakely, usually never one to shy away from a camera or microphone, has been silent about the indictment. We don’t anticipate that will change, either.

Whether or not Blakely is guilty of those things will be decided by a jury of 12. Finding someone in Limestone County who doesn’t have an opinion about the veteran sheriff may prove to be a significant challenge.

Online: https://www.enewscourier.com/

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