Author: Lee Hedgepeth

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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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,...

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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...

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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....

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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...

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Alabama carries out latest execution amid controversy

Last week, minutes before his death warrant was set to expire, the State of Alabama executed inmate Tommy Arthur for the 1982 contract killing of Troy Wicker in Colbert County. “I’m sorry I failed you as a father,” Arthur said when asked for his final remarks, according to those who were present. One of his children, daughter Sherrie Stone, watched from the witness room. “I love you more than anything on earth,” he finished, gesturing Stone a thumbs-up and again mouthing “I love you.” Arthur, age 75, maintained his innocence in the 1982 murder that landed him a place...

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Trump budget ‘shortchanges’ Mobile-based LCS program

For the second time since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has drawn the ire of political leaders here on the Gulf Coast. Less than a year after an initial draft of the administration’s priority transportation projects excluded the much-needed Interstate 10 bridge in Mobile, another federal budget proposal has local officials on edge. While Trump’s budget, released just over a week ago, calls for a sizable overall increase in military spending, the Mobile-based Littoral Combat Ship program is not one of the clear beneficiaries of the funding bump — a reality Port City politicos are already working to correct. As originally released just over a week ago, the budget — titled “A new foundation for American greatness” — contains funding for only one additional LCS, the same number scheduled under former President Barack Obama’s last plan. “Like President Trump, I want to see us rebuild our nation’s military, but this budget proposal shortchanges our national defense,” U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne said. “Specifically, the budget does not get us any closer to building up a 350 ship Navy fleet, and it lacks the full funding necessary to reverse our military readiness crisis.” Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump emphasized not just his support for defense, but for creating jobs, saying he would be “the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” Austal USA, the Mobile company that would benefit from an...

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State lawmakers end historic annual meeting

State lawmakers have headed back home to their districts after ending what was one of Alabama’s most historic regular legislative sessions. Beginning in February, the annual meeting of legislators considered not just the typical bills, but also unprecedented measures such as the potential impeachment of now former Gov. Robert Bentley. Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, a Republican, acknowledged this in his remarks concluding this year’s State House meeting. “As I move into the next session as speaker, I hope that it’s more dealing with legislative issues than all of the outside stuff, if you will, that we’ve had to deal with,” he said. “I think that has added a lot of stress and pressure to the members that this Legislature normally doesn’t have to contend with.” In the meeting’s final days, lawmakers scrambled to pass a bill mandating insurers cover a particular type of autism therapy. While the legislation eventually passed, singular opposition by Sen. Trip Pittman of Baldwin County led to the adoption of an age cap, leaving those over 18 without such required coverage. Another major sticking point of the session was a bill redrawing many of the state’s electoral districts. After a federal court struck down the Legislature’s previous plan as having unconstitutionally diluted African-American voting power, state lawmakers were forced this session to remedy the issue, charged with drawing boundaries that wouldn’t produce similar...

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Bill ending crawfish crackdown to become law

After more than a year of back and forth between local businesses and state health officials over the legality of the events, a bill explicitly permitting crawfish boils and other food-related cultural events on sidewalks in Mobile will soon become law. The legislation, originally sponsored by Rep. Margie Wilcox, exempts from state health department regulations “a regional celebration, tradition or cultural event that is designated as such by the city of Mobile,” and specifically says that exempted groups, which will have to apply for the status with the Mobile County Department of Health, “may boil whole crawfish, for public consumption, outside on the premises of the establishment.” Last year state health officials cracked down on crawfish boils in Mobile, and businesses such as The Merry Widow, Hayley’s and Saddle Up Saloon announced they’d been required to cancel events because of the strict regulations, which prohibited cooking food outside in the open. “There must be a compromise,” The Merry Widow’s Roy Clark told Lagniappe at the time. “More than anything, I’m saddened that one of the most unique and anticipated traditions of Gulf Coast culture — people of all walks coming together at a watering hole around a boiling pot, being a community — might be purged from our lives because of arbitrary restrictions.” The new legislation will prevent that purge by giving Mobile County health officials — instead of...

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