Alabama editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Dothan Eagle on the “golden parachute” for Auburn University’s former president, Steven Leath:
Former Auburn University president Steven Leath parted ways with the university with a gag order, forbidden to disclose information the university deems confidential, or disparage the school in any way.
That should be easy to adhere to; Leath should be too busy laughing all the way to the bank to badmouth anyone.
Besides, it’s the university board of trustees who should answer for the golden parachute extended to Leath. The former president had three years left on his five-year, $625,000 annual contract. Rather than buy out the contract for $1.875 million, the trustees are paying him almost three times that — $1.5 million per year for three years.
That raises a lot of uncomfortable questions that the university hasn’t answered. In fact, the separation agreement with Leath was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Opelika-Auburn News, not provided as a news release from University Relations.
Auburn University is a public entity funded in part by taxpayer dollars. Tuition hikes have been routine over the past several years, pushing the cost of attending to almost $32,000 per year for Alabama students, and close to $50,000 per year for out-of-staters.
Both Alabama taxpayers and Auburn students deserve to know how Auburn trustees can justify paying Leath almost three times his salary to not be the university’s president.
The Cullman Times on the hazards that can contribute to house fires:
A report from the Hanceville Fire Department Thursday (July 11) raises concern about the lack of codes for certain dwellings in unincorporated areas.
Hanceville Assistant Fire Chief Bart Absher was providing the mayor and city council a report on how emergency calls for the department are on the rise. But his report was particularly worrisome based on information he gathered from the Alabama Fire Marshall’s Office.
Alabama has documented 47 fatalities related to fires, with Cullman and Blount counties among the top 10 in the state. Absher said a growing problem is the number residents living in structures that are not properly wired.
For example, some residents are living in small campers, outdated mobile homes and other makeshift dwellings. Factor in the financial conditions, many of the residents do not have smoke detectors or fire extinguishers, and the electrical work may be improper.
Absher said many of the fire department’s responses have been to rural dwellings that wouldn’t meet with approval under most cities’ zoning departments.
The situation presents a complexity that needs to be solved at the local level.
Income issues are responsible for many of the structures being inhabited, and understandably people who are desperate for a place to live resort to using the only affordable way to have shelter.
Nonetheless, the Cullman County Commission should look into this matter and determine reasonable means to ensure the residents are not living in unsafe structures, and work with other agencies to provide assistance for those unable to live safely.
The TimesDaily on the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and 3M:
We have certain expectations of our neighbors — including our industrial neighbors. We don’t want our residential neighbors throwing garbage over the fence and into our yard rather than dispose of it properly. And we don’t want our industrial neighbors dumping pollutants into the Tennessee River.
Maplewood, Minnesota-based 3M has operated a plant in north Alabama since 1961. It has provided good-paying jobs, and donated funds to many worthy projects, but it hasn’t always been a model neighbor.
For years Tennessee Valley Media’s papers have reported on chemicals used by 3M and other industries along the waterfront that have made their way into the Tennessee River, area landfills and the water supplied to customers of the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority.
Those chemicals have been phased out of use, but they persist in the environment. Since then, other chemicals in use at 3M have come under scrutiny for possible adverse health effects.
The company reported earlier this year in a letter to regulators that a self-investigation determined it had released the chemical “FBSA and may have released FBSEE from its manufacturing operations to the Tennessee River. ... Due to these concerns, 3M has ceased both its FBSA and FBSEE manufacturing operations at its Decatur plant as well as any associated waste stream releases from those operations.”
All of this has led to questions about the state’s environmental cop, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Over the years, ADEM’s failure to act against 3M after reports of the pollution surfaced is unacceptable.
Citizens count on ADEM to make sure environmental rules are followed. Unfortunately, ADEM has a long reputation for, at best, being asleep at the wheel, and at worst putting the interests of industry and polluters over the interests of average residents.
Responding to reports that 3M had released pollution for years without state intervention or disclosure, Gov. Kay Ivey said last week that ADEM needs to present solutions to the problem.
“I have a lot of respect for ADEM authority, but this case needs solutions on the table, and I’m not seeing many of those solutions,” Ivey said on Wednesday (July 10) while in Huntsville. “And while I have a lot of respect for the ADEM and their operations ... I look forward to having some real solutions offered to address the concerns of those citizens.”
Residents of north Alabama who depend on the Tennessee River for their drinking water and their livelihoods expect more than that. Maybe it’s just her temperament, but Ivey, with all her talk of “respect for ADEM,” doesn’t seem to be taking the issue seriously enough. She should be angry.
We’re not sure solutions to this can come from within ADEM. After all, the state doesn’t actually control the agency, which is overseen by a seven-member commission.
However, the members of the commission are appointed by governors. So perhaps the governor and the Legislature need to look closely at the commission to see if its members are committed to doing a better job of monitoring and enforcing the state’s environmental laws.
If not, Ivey and lawmakers should initiate efforts to change the makeup of the ADEM commission.