Author: Lee Hedgepeth

State ABC Board approves 5 percent tax increase

Come Nov. 1, Alabamians will pay 5 percent more for liquor — no matter where they shop — after the state’s Alcohol and Beverage Control Board approved a markup on spirits at its last meeting. The markup brings the state’s total to 35 percent over cost and was approved unanimously by the Board earlier this month after a preliminary approval in March and a period of public comment. ABC officials said the increase was necessary to level the playing field across the state given recent decisions in a couple of counties to increase their markup locally, driving up competition...

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Fairhope extends moratorium on residential expansion

The Fairhope City Council voted to extend its six-month moratorium on subdivisions and other multi-family structures for another 90 days, citing the need for officials to catch up with the “rapid and substantial” growth the coastal community has seen in recent years. The prohibition, first approved at the end of 2016 and set to end July 4, only applies to new projects, and so won’t halt any construction already underway. Minor projects are also excluded from the ordinance. Those are caveats Fairhope leaders emphasized when the ordinance originally passed, staving off criticism that officials are potentially stymying the city’s residential boom. “We have to become citizen-friendly,” Mayor Karin Wilson said. “We need a moratorium because we are in an emergency mode right now. We are not stopping development. We are taking the time we need to protect the citizens, those who voted us in several months ago.” One issue at the forefront of the 2016 campaign that led to Wilson’s and most of the current council’s rise to power was their predecessors’ approval of a controversial 240-unit housing complex in the city. Within the five-year period following 2010, Fairhope’s population ballooned from 15,228 to just under 19,000 — a 22 percent increase — making it one of the fastest growing municipalities in the state. City officials at the council meeting on June 12 said the extension of the moratorium...

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Feds say Alabama misrepresented past graduation rates

An audit just released by the federal Office of the Inspector General found Alabama officials disregarded federal educational standards, miscalculating and misreporting graduation rates as recently as the 2013-2014 school year and as early as 2010-2011. The 35-page audit report, which was released last Friday, says the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) lacked an accurate and effective method to ensure the validity of school systems’ graduation rates and “misreported” these figures to federal education officials. “We found that ALSDE’s system of internal control did not provide reasonable assurance that reported graduation rates were accurate and complete during our audit period,” the report says. “In addition, ALSDE misreported [graduation rate data].” The report was particularly critical of Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama’s former state superintendent, who federal officials say refused to accept that certain students who completed life skills-oriented and other non-diploma track programs could not be counted as having graduated. “The former State Superintendent decided to continue counting students who earned an alternative diploma after being advised by the department that those students could not be included as graduates in the ACGR [adjusted cohort graduation rate],” the audit found. Bice, also a former special education teacher, has said he believed the students should be counted as having graduated. “Why wouldn’t we count as graduates a group of students who have completed the coursework outlined in their IEP [Individualized Education...

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Allegation of mayoral mischief surfaces in meeting

Fairhope Mayor Karin Wilson has denied allegations she “spied” on city employees through the use of keylogging software, instead saying at Monday’s regularly scheduled city council meeting that “an extra level of security was placed” on computers by Fairhope’s IT department. Since Wilson’s election as mayor last year, tensions between the Fairhope City Council and the city executive have at times been fraught. The latest meeting of the city council, though, seemed to show a somewhat relieved relationship between Wilson and council members, but there is a wide, new divide between the mayor and a member of the local press, who Wilson called “biased.” Cliff McCollum, a reporter for The Courier, rose to speak during the time allotted for public comments before the council. McCollum asked the mayor and council to comment on reports published by The Courier alleging Wilson had keylogging spyware installed on the computers of seven city employees, including the finance and human resources directors. Mayor Wilson said the “monitoring system” is not “spyware,” but a precaution necessary to protect the city. “This is not spyware. It is a monitoring system, and I did put it in and quoted the policy manual. An extra level of security was placed on those computers because they needed more protection for the city and I explained that in so many words. But this is … can be done at...

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Full slate of candidates battle for Sessions’ seat

Voters will consider a full slate of 19 candidates — 11 Republicans and eight Democrats — when they head to the polls later this summer for the U.S. Senate special election primary for the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, now U.S. Attorney General. The seat is currently held by Luther Strange, a Republican who was appointed to replace Sessions by former Gov. Robert Bentley, who later resigned from his seat after pleading guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance violations. That reality cast a cloud over the appointment of Strange, who had been charged with overseeing the Bentley investigation. Now, Strange finds himself in a tight battle to protect his seat in the nation’s highest legislative body. Strange’s strongest opposition in the state’s GOP primary is likely to come from three relatively well-known Republicans: former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, U.S. House Rep. Mo Brooks and State Sen. Trip Pittman. As of late, Brooks and Strange have gotten into a back-and-forth endorsement competition, with Sen. Strange garnering more national, institutional support while Brooks has gotten the backing of both locals and representatives of the far-right base. For example, Strange has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and his campaign is being aided by the Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC supporting Republican senatorial incumbents. Brooks, on the other hand, has been endorsed by conservative voices such as Sean Hannity...

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