Monthly Archives: October 2014

Joseph only candidate qualified to be auditor

2014 election endorsement

Joseph only candidate qualified to be auditor

Posted: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 12:00 am

The Issue

  • The state auditor position has narrow duties and little power. The one thing it requires is experience in auditing. Of the two candidates, only Miranda Joseph has such experience.
Miranda Joseph is a trained auditor. Her opponent in the race for the state auditor position is not. For that reason, we endorse Joseph for the position.

The reasons the state auditor is an elected position may have been clear when the state Constitution was ratified in 1901, but are no longer. While regular audits of state property make sense, they could more efficiently be handled by qualified appointees or by external auditing firms.

It falls to voters, therefore, to choose a qualified auditor when one runs for the position.

Joseph, a Democrat from Birmingham, is certified in internal auditing and in risk management. The 29-year-old received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She has worked as an internal auditor for a Birmingham bank and as an external auditor for several financial institutions.

Alabama’s state auditor has no power to do anything but perform constitutionally required audits. The auditor is responsible for the accounting of state personal property costing $500 or more. If state property is missing due to theft, the auditor has no authority to recover it. That job is left to the state Attorney General.

Unlike the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, the state auditor does not have significant oversight responsibilities for the accounts of entities receiving or disbursing public funds.

In short, the job of state auditor needs expertise in only one area: auditing. Only one candidate has that expertise.

Republican Jim Zeigler, a lawyer from Mobile, has no experience in auditing or accounting. He served one term on the Alabama Public Service Commission beginning 1974. Starting in 1982, Zeigler lost close races for state Supreme Court, state treasurer, civil appeals court and state auditor in 2002. Those close races earned the perpetual candidate the nickname “Mr. 49 Percent.”

Zeigler, 66, seeks to make up for his lack of experience with an abundance of enthusiasm. While acknowledging the state auditor has no power to retrieve stolen property, he promises he will bring lawsuits as a private citizen. This is a bad idea.

If he were to bring such suits, he would have to finance litigation costs out of his own pocket. Any time spent on such lawsuits would detract from the sole duty of the auditor, which is performing audits.

The Attorney General’s office — when it receives the support it needs from the state auditor — is well-equipped to bring lawsuits for recovery of state property, can prosecute crimes and already receives funding for the task.

Joseph and Zeigler are running for a job with narrow duties and little power. We would applaud Zeigler if he sought to amend the constitution to eliminate the requirement that the auditor be elected, but we foresee nothing but problems if he tries to turn the job into something it’s not.

Of the two candidates available, Joseph is the only one qualified to serve.

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Amendments would aid armories, schools

2014 Election Endorsement

Amendments would aid armories, schools

Posted: Monday, October 27, 2014 12:00 am

We recommend a vote in favor of Amendments 2 and 4, and against Amendments 1 and 3 on the Nov. 4 ballot. We have no recommendation on Amendment 5.

Amendment 1 is an example of the political posturing that has become commonplace in the constitutional amendments placed on the ballot in recent years. It is the equivalent of placing a yard sign in the state constitution, which already is the longest in the nation.

Amendment 1 prohibits Alabama courts from applying foreign law if doing so would violate rights guaranteed to Alabama citizens. Alabama courts, however, do not apply foreign law. They never have. Even if a court did seek to apply foreign law, it already is prohibited from applying it — or any other law — in a way that infringes on the constitutional rights of Alabama citizens.

If the Islamic caliphate makes inroads on Alabama’s borders and Sharia law starts popping up in decisions by Alabama’s elected judges, citizens may want to revisit the issue. In the meantime, the amendment should be recognized for what it is: a political stunt.

Amendment 2 merits support. The amendment authorizes the state to borrow up to $50 million for the construction and maintenance of Alabama National Guard armories. Combined with federal funds, it could benefit Decatur directly by helping to finance the relocation of National Guard training facilities to the vacant Lurleen B. Wallace Development Center.

The downside of the amendment is that the state will have to repay any bonds from the Alabama Trust Fund, which is funded by revenues generated from oil and gas wells in the Gulf. The payments would come from an already anemic state General Fund and would reduce distributions to local governments.

Amendment 3 is a reminder that no matter how many lawsuits the state loses and how much it wastes in legal fees, legislators cannot grasp the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Federal law trumps state law, even when the state law is in the form of a constitutional amendment.

Amendment 3 reiterates the right to bear arms, a right already firmly entrenched in both the U.S. and Alabama constitutions. It then provides that any restriction on the right is subject to “strict scrutiny.” Even the most casual observer recognizes that the state Legislature has no inclination to restrict the right to bear arms; indeed, it routinely passes legislation purporting to broaden the right. The perceived threat comes not from Montgomery, but from Washington, D.C.

State constitutional amendments cannot defeat federal law. This would seem to merely make Amendment 3 irrelevant, but recent history in our state suggests otherwise. Rather than accept that the Supremacy Clause means what it says, our state Attorney General litigates everything to the bitter and inevitable end. He and the Legislature count on political points for their tenacity. The taxpayers get stuck with the bill.

Amendment 4 requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass laws that impose unfunded mandates of more than $50,000 on city or county boards of education. It does not apply to laws involving compensation, benefits or due process rights. The attack on public schools has been so relentless over the last four years that they need any protection they can get. We look forward to a time when the Legislature once again recognizes that well-funded and well-managed public schools are the solution to the state’s many ills, not the cause of them.

Amendment 5, coined the “Sportsperson’s Bill of Rights” and introduced at the recommendation of the National Rifle Association, is sufficiently vague that it is unlikely to have any effect. It states that, subject to reasonable regulations, Alabama citizens have a right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife using traditional methods. It would make hunting and fishing the preferred method of managing wildlife in the state.

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Elect Mark Bray to replace Mo Brooks

2014 Election Endorsement

Elect Mark Bray to replace Mo Brooks

Posted: Sunday, October 26, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 6:47 pm, Sun Oct 26, 2014.

The Issue

The rhetoric of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, has caused enough harm to Alabama and the Fifth District. Mark Bray, I-Huntsville, is a political newcomer, but he represents needed change.

North Alabama has endured the inflammatory rhetoric of U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks for too long. We endorse Mark Bray, I-Huntsville, for the Fifth District seat of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The contrast between incumbent Brooks and his predecessors is depressingly stark.

The template for past representatives provided huge benefits for north Alabama. Former Reps. Ronnie Flippo and Bud Cramer were behind-the-scenes players. They created alliances that benefited their districts while pushing legislation that their constituents favored.

What they did not do is make spectacles of themselves.

Like his predecessors, Brooks is an intelligent man. Unlike his predecessors, he devotes that intelligence to finding the spotlight. He is a darling of the national media, not because of his incisive commentary, but because of his inflammatory comments.

Not content to push for responsible immigration reform, Brooks attacked undocumented immigrants: “As your congressman on the House floor, I will do anything short of shooting them.”

During a congressional speech, Brooks accused House colleagues of being socialists, a remark he then withdrew from the House record.

Brooks, whose district has the highest frequency of tornadoes of any in the state and relies heavily on federal assistance when they hit, managed more headlines when voting against disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy struck New England. Taxpayers, he said, “should not have to fork out a nickel” to pay for property damage in areas historically vulnerable to storms.

In August, he entertained the national media by complaining about a “war on whites.” This from a representative of a state that still struggles to overcome the antics of another grandstanding politician who in 1963 sought the media spotlight on the steps of the University of Alabama. This from the representative of a state whose black citizens have a median household income of $29,210, compared to white citizens with a median household income $49,465.

Brooks’ voting record is at least as bad as his rhetoric. He advocated austerity in the face of recession, a formula that severely undermines the nation’s recovery. He joined forces with those who wanted to use the debt ceiling as an ideological tool, resulting in a government shutdown that hurt north Alabama and especially Redstone Arsenal more than almost any region of the nation.

Brooks has only one vote out of 435, so his voting record matters little. His “look at me!” style of leadership, however, has done great harm to his district and his state.

Alabama has made great strides in recent decades overcoming an international reputation for intolerance. Brooks’ actions help discourage national and international investment by dredging the past into the present,

Bray is a political unknown. He campaigns as a conservative, but he advocates practical solutions rather than ideological ones. As an engineer for NASA, he understands the importance of the federal government to north Alabama.

Maybe most important, Bray shows none of the self-aggrandizement that is at the core of Brooks’ political image. Bray sees common interests in the two parties, and as an independent he hopes to build bridges that will benefit the nation and his district.

Would Bray be successful in creating bipartisan political alliances that benefit his district, as were Flippo and Cramer? We don’t know. We do feel confident, however, that he will not engage in cheap political theater, and that he will not embarrass his district.

Coming Monday: Constitutional amendments 

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McMillan deserves agriculture commissioner seat

2014 Election Endorsement

McMillan deserves agriculture commissioner seat

Posted: Friday, October 24, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 6:46 pm, Sun Oct 26, 2014.

THE ISSUE: John McMillan, the incumbent Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, performed well in his first term, despite budgetary challenges, harmful legislation and tornadoes. He deserves a second term.

The position of commissioner of state Agriculture and Industries is a low-profile job that rarely requires much attention from the politician who occupies the seat. The commissioner supervises an agency with responsibilities for food safety, animal and plant health, meat inspection, livestock markets and inspections of retail gasoline pumps.

Republican John McMillan won his first term in 2010, but the Legislature, Mother Nature and the economy conspired to complicate his job. McMillan was up to the task, and we endorse him for a second term.

The combination of a faltering economy and a state Legislature that lacks the backbone to implement tax reform meant McMillan, 73, faced unusual financial pressures. The Legislature’s 2011 passage of an ill-considered anti-immigration law — most of which has since collapsed under the weight of the U.S. Constitution — created unique problems for the state’s farmers. That problem, too, landed on McMillan’s plate, and he handled it with more candor than might be expected of an elected official.

McMillan’s first task was to trim his underfunded department. He cut the department’s workforce from 400 to 300 and outsourced two money-losing farmers markets to other operators. He also transferred management of a Montgomery coliseum to a community board.

By itself, the cut in employees would have undermined one of the primary responsibilities of the commissioner: inspecting gas pumps. Inspections were behind when McMillan entered office, and they quickly fell further behind with the cuts.

Rather than moan about his budget, McMillan came up with a plan. Beginning this month, gas stations will bring in private registered agents to conduct the annual inspections that state employees did before state budget cuts. Instead of inspecting all pumps, state employees will do spot checks to ensure accuracy.

In April 2011, McMillan’s job got tougher. Millions of chickens died in the tornadoes that ravaged Alabama, creating a risk of disease. McMillan coordinated the unpleasant task of quickly disposing of the animals.

As disastrous as the April 2011 tornadoes were for Alabama farmers, the fallout from the Legislature’s politically motivated immigration law may have been worse. Before federal courts could dissect the law, immigrants — both legal and undocumented — fled the state.

While we fault McMillan for not speaking against the legislation before it passed, he at least spoke with nonpartisan honesty about its devastating consequences. Vegetables were “rotting on the vine,” he said publicly, because legislators failed to understand how important immigrants were to the state’s farmers.

Farmers’ efforts to recruit non-immigrants for the back-breaking work of harvesting crops were a bust, and McMillan was not shy about describing their predicament.

Democrat Doug Smith, 79, is McMillan’s opponent. He has considerable governmental experience, including a stint as an aide to former Gov. Lurleen B. Wallace, when he was instrumental in establishing the Alabama Development Office to recruit industry. He went on to have a career in cable television, including serving as president of the Alabama Cable TV Association.

Smith said his focus would be less on agriculture than on recruiting industry. While he may have a knack for industrial recruitment, the state has plenty of officials who already perform the function.

McMillan, who previously served as a Baldwin County commissioner, state representative, state conservation commissioner and executive vice president of the Alabama Forestry Association, handled unusual challenges with finesse in his first term. He deserves a second term overseeing the Department of Agriculture and Industries. For his sake and the state’s, we hope his second term is fraught with fewer storms, both of the natural and legislative varieties.

Coming Sunday: U.S. House Fifth District

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City: Referendum is void

City: Referendum is void

Related Documents

Posted: Wednesday, October 8, 2014 9:45 pm | Updated: 10:02 pm, Wed Oct 8, 2014.

A 2010 referendum changing Decatur’s form of government is a “dead letter,” the city argued in a federal court motion last week, because the city failed to obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The city’s motion seeks to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Gary Voketz on the ground the council-manager form of government — required under state law by the referendum vote — could not be implemented unless the Justice Department ruled it was legal under the Voting Rights Act.

Because the city withdrew its request for such a ruling before the 2012 election, the brief argues, the referendum is void.

“The people of Decatur have a right under the Alabama Constitution to change their form of government,” said Voketz’s attorney, Carl Cole. “The people of Decatur voted to do that, and the leaders of Decatur are fighting tooth and nail to deprive the people of that right.

“I never in a million years thought these guys would undermine state law and hide behind the federal government to do it.”

Voketz has until Oct. 24 to respond to the city’s motion.

In October 2011, the city submitted a plan for changing to a council-manager form of government to the Justice Department for preclearance.

“Preclearance” was a procedure in which the Justice Department ruled in advance that election changes were legal under the Voting Rights Act. In January 2012, before the Justice Department issued a ruling, the city withdrew the submission. At the time it withdrew the request, the City Council passed a resolution stating it had no information that “will justify preclearance of the submitted plan.”

“This withdrawal of the manager-council submission … had the same prohibitory effect as would have had a formal (Justice Department) objection to preclearance,” the city argued in its brief. “As a matter of federal law, the council-manager form of government and method of election were unenforceable.”

The referendum triggered the state Council-Manager Act. Under that law, the city would have to hire a city manager and drop from five to three council districts. One of two at-large council members would serve as the mayor, but the appointed city manager would serve as the chief executive.

According to the city, the drop to three districts would require eliminating a district with a black majority, which the city argued would violate the Voting Rights Act.

The October 2012 city elections — for a mayor and five council members — proceeded as if the referendum had not taken place.

The City Council had another chance to seek Justice Department approval when Mayor Don Kyle, honoring a campaign pledge, requested a council vote to seek preclearance of the change in government from the Justice Department. In a March 2013 meeting, Council President Gary Hammon and Councilman Chuck Ard voted to re-submit the three-district plan to the Justice Department. The resolution failed when councilmen Billy Jackson, Charles Kirby and Roger Anders opposed it.

Last month, the city and Voketz reached a settlement in which Voketz agreed to dismiss the portion of his lawsuit that alleged the mayor and each City Council member are serving illegally, a claim that had blocked the city from borrowing money or issuing bonds since Voketz filed the lawsuit in February. In return for the dismissal, the city agreed to pay Voketz’s attorney fees if he wins the case.

After the settlement, Voketz filed an amended complaint that claims the city is required to hold elections that conform to the Council-Manager Act. Even if the law violates the Voting Rights Act, the complaint said, the court has authority to amend the act to include five districts and thus preserve a black minority in one district.

There is no inconsistency in the city arguing its own failure to obtain preclearance nullified the referendum, according to the city’s attorney, because the city was correct in its judgment that the Justice Department would not have precleared the change to a council-manager form of government.

“It was clearly in violation of the Voting Rights Act,” said George Royer, of Huntsville. “It was withdrawn from preclearance because it was clear there was no way it would not violate the Voting Rights Act, and there was no way it could be precleared. This is not an inconsistent position. If the referendum is unenforceable because it wasn’t precleared, then that’s the end of the case.”

In the city’s brief, Royer argued it was not just the drop from five to three districts that required preclearance. The change from a mayor to a city manager as the chief executive also required Justice Department approval.

It is too late for the city to obtain Justice Department approval. A June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court involving Shelby County ended the preclearance procedure. Moreover, the city argued in its brief, the Council-Manager Act imposed a deadline for implementing the change in government that the city did not meet.

“Because the change to a council-manager form of government did not receive preclearance before its statutory implementation date in 2012, the 2010 referendum now is a dead letter,” the city argued in its brief. “Neither the change to a city manager nor the change in electing council members is enforceable today, as a matter of federal law.”

Royer said the city would be placed in an untenable position if Voketz won the lawsuit and the federal court forced a change to a council-manager form of government, even if the new government had five districts and maintained a black majority in one.

“It would leave the city in the position of having someone else come along who opposes a council-manager form of government and saying, ‘No, you can’t do that, because the council-manager form of government was never precleared,’ ” Royer said. “The city would still be open to subsequent litigation by people who are opposed to the notion of a city manager.

“This motion seeks to resolve that issue once and for all at the outset, so two years down the road you don’t have to confront this issue.”

A decision by the Birmingham federal court would not protect the city, according to the city’s brief, because the court has no authority to preclear election changes under the Voting Rights Act. Only the Justice Department and the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia had that authority, and it ended with the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision.

“They now say that because the Council-Manager Act wasn’t implemented in October 2012, it can never be implemented,” Cole said. “They ignore the fact that the reason it wasn’t implemented, and the reason we never had an answer from the Justice Department, was because those same people with a vested interest withdrew it, saying there was no way it could be precleared by the Justice Department.”

Eric Fleischauer can be reached at 256-340-2435 or eric@decaturdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @DD_Fleischauer.

http://www.decaturdaily.com/news/local/city-referendum-is-void/article_0aa317f2-4f5e-11e4-b683-001a4bcf6878.html

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