Author: Lee Hedgepeth

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...

Read More

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...

Read More

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...

Read More

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...

Read More

Alabama executes second inmate in as many weeks

Last week the state of Alabama executed Robert Bryant Melson for the 1994 homicide of Tamika Collins, Nathaniel Baker and Darrell Collier, during the robbery of a Gadsden fast-food restaurant where the three victims worked. Melson’s execution was Alabama’s second in two weeks. In the two days leading up to his execution, Melson had been visited by his uncle, his brother, his cousin, his aunt and two lawyers. The day of the execution, Melson refused both breakfast and a final meal and made no special requests, according to prison officials. Prior to the scheduled 6 p.m. execution, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay, delaying the procedure while justices considered Melson’s last-minute legal challenges involving the use of midazolam in the lethal injection protocol. Experts say midazolam can fail to work in high-stress situations, and in the December execution of Ronald Bert Smith here in Alabama the inmate coughed and heaved for 13 minutes after being administered the drug. The Supreme Court lifted its stay at about 9:10 p.m. without comment, allowing the execution to move forward. At around 9:30 p.m., five members of the media, including a Lagniappe reporter, were moved by prison van from a nearby media center to a witness room just outside Holman Correctional Facility’s execution chamber. After a few minutes of waiting in the witness room, which was lit by one salmon-colored light,...

Read More

Spanish Fort rape case garners national attention

PHOTO COURTESY ABC | ABOVE: A woman at the center of a Spanish Fort High School rape case told her story to ABC’s “20/20” program last week. In a newly aired ABC “20/20” special, the survivor of an alleged rape by former Spanish Fort High School football player Cameron Harrison speaks out about the night in October 2015 that would eventually become the talk of the town. The girl, called “Savannah” by “20/20,” talks openly on camera about what she says happened to her and the effect it’s had on her life. Back in the fall of 2015, Spanish...

Read More

Boat protest aims at shortened red snapper season

Although turnout wasn’t quite what organizers had hoped for, participants in a floating protest on Perdido Pass got their point across — the federal red snapper season is too short, and many fishermen here on the Gulf Coast aren’t too happy about it. “I think we had a decent turnout,” Justin Fadalla with Saltwater Finaddicts, one of the organizers of the protest, told the press. “It wasn’t what we expected. We expected a few more boats … But we’re all fishermen. That’s what this is all about, to protect our fishing rights. That’s what we really needed.” A couple dozen boats, not the 200 predicted, descended on Perdido Pass last weekend for a floating protest aimed at the shortened federal red snapper season, which this year was only three days, June 1-3. Every year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s sustainable fisheries division uses reported fishing numbers, mathematical modeling and other data to calculate the length of the private fishing season, which is different from the commercial season. This year’s three-day season didn’t impress Gulf Coast fishermen or state and local officials, many of whom say the federal regulations are overbearing and unnecessary. “The next thing, they are going to tell us how to hold the pole, the rod and reel,” said Roy Moore, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice and current U.S. Senate candidate, of the shortened season....

Read More

Most recently delayed execution raises questions about lethal injection (updated)

UPDATE: Late Tuesday night, the US Supreme Court voted 6-3 to vacate the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal’s stay of Mr. Melson’s execution. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have left the stay in place. The execution will now go forward as scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 8, barring further court action, which is unlikely. Until last week, Alabama had already scheduled its second execution in less than a month, but a stay by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has delayed that move and instead brought to the surface many old — and...

Read More