Greene County Commission and Sheriff Benison reach temporary solution on support for 11 additional employees

The Greene County Commission and Sheriff Jonathan Benison have reached a temporary solution regarding the suspended pay for the 11 additional employees in the sheriff’s department.
Immediately following the Greene County Commission’s work session on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, Commission Chairperson Allen Turner, Jr. and Commissioner Roshanda Summerville met with Sheriff Benison to discuss the funds needed for the 11 employees from the Sheriff’s department and other requirements. Attorney Hank Sanders advised Chairperson Turner, mainly by telephone.
As the commissioners and the sheriff deliberated, the session did get heated. Emotions were high. They could be heard by those waiting outside the conference room.
According to an earlier signed agreement between the commission and the sheriff, additional bingo funds from the sheriff would be provided to the county to support the additional 11 employees the sheriff wanted for his department and other requirements. To that date, no additional funds from the sheriff for this purpose had been provided to the commission during this fiscal year which began Oct. 1, 2020.
For the first three months of the fiscal year, the commission transferred funds from other line items of the Sheriff’s department budget to support his additional employees. According to commission records, the sheriff’s county budget does not have funds for any additional transfers. Approximately $153,000 was necessary to meet the payroll of the 11 employees plus overtime and other requirements due for January.
According to the county commission’s records, at the Feb. 5 meeting, the sheriff offered the county a partial payment of $26,666. The commissioners responded that this was unacceptable and following more discussions, the Sheriff added another payment of $18,342 and assured the commission that the balance to make up the $153,000 would be given to the county by Friday, Feb. 7.
The commission, seemingly trusting the Sheriff, released the payroll to the 11 employees, many of whom had gathered awaiting the solution from this session. At the close of business day on Friday, Feb. 7, the county had not received any more bingo funds from the sheriff.
On Monday afternoon, Feb. 10, the county commission received two separate payments from the sheriff’s bingo funds, one for $43,042.56 and one for $32,832,18. Minutes before the commission’s monthly meeting was to begin that evening, the sheriff delivered the final payment of $32,333.26, satisfying the $153,215.44 needed for the suspended January payroll and other requirements. However, this will not cover payroll for the sheriff’s additional 11 employees for the month of February and beyond.
There remain concerns that this same situation is going to repeat itself.

Newswire : Trump Administration finalizes plans to allow mining, drilling at two Utah National Monuments

By Brady McCombs, Associated Press

Bear’s Ears National Monument

The U.S. government implemented final management plans Thursday for two national monuments in Utah that President Donald Trump downsized. The plans ensure lands previously off-limits to energy development will be open to mining and drilling despite pending lawsuits by conservation, tribal and paleontology groups challenging the constitutionality of the president’s action.
The lands have generated little interest from energy companies in the two years since Trump cut the size of Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half, said Casey Hammond, acting Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management with the U. S. Department of the Interior.
Hammond said in a conference call the department had a duty to work on the management plans after Trump signed his proclamations in December 2017, despite the pending lawsuits that seek to return the monuments to their original sizes.
“If we stopped and waited for every piece of litigation to be resolved we would never be able to do much of anything around here,” Hammond said.
Market dynamics have limited interest in a large coal reserve found in the now unprotected lands cut from Grand Staircase and uranium on lands cut from Bears Ears.
But an economic analysis by the U.S. government estimates coal production could lead to $208 million in annual revenues and $16.6 million in royalties on lands cut from Grand Staircase. Oil and gas wells in that area could produce $4.1 million in annual revenues, the analysis says.
If interest comes as energy market forces shift, Hammond said the lands cut remain under federal control and governed by “time-tested laws” and subject to environmental regulations. He rebuffed the oft-repeated claim from conservation groups that there would be a “free-for-all” for mineral development.
“Any suggestion that these lands and resources will be adversely impacted by the mere act of being excluded from the monuments is simply not true,” Hammond said.
Trump cut the size monuments following review of 27 national monuments by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. He recommended shrinking two other monuments as well, but Trump has yet to take action.
Trump said he scaled back the size of the monuments to reverse misuse of the Antiquities Act by previous Democratic presidents that he said led to oversized monuments that hinder energy development, grazing and other uses. The move earned cheers from Republican leaders in Utah including former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Conservation groups have called Trump’s decision the largest elimination of protected land in American history. They criticized the Trump administration on Thursday for spending time on management plans they believe will become moot when the court sides with their assertion that Trump misused the Antiquities Act to reverse decisions by previous presidents.
President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 on lands home to cliffs, canyons, waterfalls and arches in southern Utah. President Barack Obama created Bears Ears National Monument in 2016 on a scenic swath of southern Utah with red rock plateaus, cliffs and canyons on land considered sacred to tribes.
“It’s the height of arrogance for Trump to rush through final decisions on what’s left of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante while we’re fighting his illegal evisceration of these national monuments in court,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “Trump is eroding vital protections for these spectacular landscapes. We won’t rest until all of these public lands are safeguarded for future generations.”

Newswire : . Southern Poverty Law Center names Margaret Huang, new president and CEO

Margaret Huang

by BlackmansStreet.Today

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund has named Margaret Huang, president and CEO of the Montgomery, Alabama-based organization, replacing interim president Karen Baynes-Dunning who took over after Richard Cohen and Morris Dees both resigned in rapid succession under a cloud.
Huang is currently the executive director of Amnesty International USA. She will assume her new position at the Southern Poverty Law Center April 20.
“I am thrilled to be joining the Southern Poverty Law Center at this moment and with this incredible staff and board as they rethink how to tackle their work fighting for justice against hate,” Huang said. “Change in the South is coming, and SPLC is eager to work collaboratively with other social justice advocates to ensure that the change improves the lives of all communities.”
Bryan Fair, SPLC Board Chairperson, announced Huang’s appointment in an email to the organization’s 350 employees in offices in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and the District of Columbia.
SPLC worked with Koya Leadership Partners to develop the candidate profile that led to hiring of Huang, a Tennessee native.
Under Huang’s leadership of Amnesty International USA, the organization has grown both in membership and financial stability. Her direction has seen campaigns to protect the rights of refugees and migrants at the US border, gun violence victims, survivors of torture and police brutality, among many others, said Janet Lord, chairman of Amnesty International USA.
Huang has devoted her 25-year-career to championing rights for others, working for justice, fighting for human dignity and advocating against discrimination and oppression in the U.S. and around the world, SPLC said in news release.
The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971 by Morris Dees and Joe Levin, a Montgomery, Alabama lawyer. Civil rights leader Julian Bond was SPLC’s first president.
In the decades since its founding, the SPLC shut down some of the nation’s most violent white supremacist groups by winning crushing, multimillion-dollar jury verdicts on behalf of their victims. It dismantled vestiges of Jim Crow, reformed juvenile justice practices, shattered barriers to equality for women, children, the LGBT community and the disabled, protected low-wage immigrant workers from exploitation, and more, according to its website.

Newswire : Ethics charges against Judge Marvin Wiggins dismissed

On Feb. 3, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary issued an order of dismissal regarding ethics charges against Judge Marvin Wiggins. Wiggins, who has served for 20 years in Hale County as a Circuit Judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, was charged with improperly communicating with the parties in a case before him outside of a court setting. Wiggins had spent nine months off the bench while the charges made their way through the system. In a statement released Monday, Wiggins said he was honored to return to the bench. “I have no ill feeling toward anyone,” he said. “I informed everyone I had not intentionally violated the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics and I am thankful the truth has been validated.” Wiggins noted the diversity of the circuit he serves. “This is the largest geographical Circuit in the State...we have some of the greatest, wealthiest and most powerful people and some of the meek and poorest people in the State. As a result, I strive to apply equal justice to everyone regardless of their economic status or political influence. In some instances, I have gone out of my way to be creative and provide alternatives within the law to provide peaceful resolutions. This approach has not always been acceptable with everyone and has, on occasions, resulted in public criticism.” Wiggins also thanked his supporters: “There have been so many people who have supported me morally and spiritually. I will always be grateful for the prayers, calls and support. More importantly, I am honored to return to the bench and continue dispensing justice with fairness and compassion. “ I am very appreciative for those who managed the dockets, maintained the integrity of our system, patiently waited on the resolution of their cases and those who have stood at the gate monitoring and defending the rights of the people. I am Blessed to be represented by one of the best legal teams in the country and a team of attorneys who are very skilled.” Wiggins also thanked his supporters: “There have been so many people who have supported me morally and spiritually. I will always be grateful for the prayers, calls and support. More importantly, I am honored to return to the bench and continue dispensing justice with fairness and compassion. I am very appreciative for those who managed the dockets, maintained the integrity of our system, patiently waited on the resolution of their cases and those who have stood at the gate monitoring and defending the rights of the people. I am Blessed to to be represented by one of the best legal Teams in the country and a Team of attorneys who is very skilled.”

Newswire: Sanders edges Buttigieg and Klobuchar in New Hampshire Primary

Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttageig and Amy Klobuchar

New Hampshire voters delivered a narrow but clear victory to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, as he edged out former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg for first place by less than 5,000 votes. But the surprise of the nation’s first 2020 primary was a close third place finish by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), counted out by many observers only a week ago, who now becomes a serious contender in the party’s more moderate wing. Sanders and Buttigieg each earned nine of the state’s 24 convention delegates, while Klobuchar took the remaining six. Trailing badly behind the front runners were Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in fourth place and former Vice President Joe Biden in fifth. Biden left New Hampshire on Tuesday to fly to South Carolina, which will hold its primary on February 29. With more than nine out of ten precincts counted, the Washington Post reported that Sanders had won with nearly 26 percent. Buttigieg had over 24 percent, Klobucher had almost 20 percent, Warren had just over nine percent and Biden had just over eight percent. Not appearing on the New Hampshire ballot was former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg. But the billionaire received enough write-in votes to win the hamlet of Dixville Notch, which traditionally reports its results shortly after midnight. Finishing last among the Democratic contenders, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang announced late Tuesday that he will end his quixotic bid for the party’s nomination, which drew a small but loyal following. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) also said he would end his longshot bid.

Richardson is candidate for school board District 3

My name is Veronica “Bookie” Richardson and I am proud to announce my candidacy for School Board Member of Greene County, District #3. I am grateful to have this opportunity to give back to an amazing school district and to the county. I believe that a strong public school is essential to the future of not only students, but the entire community.
I was raised in this county where I am a resident of the Branch Heights community for over Forty years. I am the fourth child of Ms. Jeanette Hunter and Mr. Matthew Rivers. I’m married to my wonderful husband Christopher and have one child Kenny. I am a member of Ezekiel Baptist Church here in Eutaw.
Greene County School System has a proud history of educational excellence. I should know, I am a 1996 graduate of Eutaw High School; where I received a quality education that prepared me well for college that of which I’ve graduated from Shelton State in Tuscaloosa, attended Florida A & M University, Tallahassee, Fla. and The University of West Alabama at Livingston. I would like very much to see that same opportunity given to each and every student. I want to see that greatness come back to our schools and continue.
There are many difficult decisions for our school system that have to be made and addressed, while maintaining the best interests of our students. I want my community to know that I can be trusted with this precious responsibility. So what do I stand for? I want a good solid public education for every student, no matter if they are on track for a four-year college degree or a well-trained trade.
The Bible says “To whom much is given, much will be required.” I have been given much and now at this moment in time, it is required of me to be the voice for our children. On March 3, 2020, I am asking you all for a chance to do my part. Thanks for your support and God bless.

Alabama New South Alliance endorses Biden for President, Billie Jean Young for State School Board (District 5) and many others

Ivan Peebles a Greene County High School student and ANSC Board Member gives greetings at ANSC Luncheon. Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, keynote speaker and Everett West of Birmingham, ANSC Vice President sit at front table.
Billie Jean Young, Candidate for State School Board District 5, speaks at ANSA screening on Saturday.

The ANSA delegates heard from four candidates running for the District 5 State School Board position, which represents 15 counties across the south central part of the state.
Candidates Billie Jean Young, Tanya Smith Chestnut, Joanne Shun and Woodie Pugh addressed the group and answered questions about closing the school achievement gap for Black children, infusing Black history into the school curriculum and increasing resources for public education. Billie Jean Young received the endorsement.
Laura Casey, a Montgomery attorney was endorsed for Chair of the Alabama Public Service Commission over Robert Martin. In her screening, she exhibited a firm grasp of the problem of wresting control of energy policy and pricing from the utility companies, which is the role of the Public Service Commission.
The ANSA also had a spirited screening of candidates for U. S. Congress from around the state and endorsed: District 1 – James Averhart, District 2 – Nathan Mathis, District 3 – Adia Winfrey, District 4 – Rick Neighbors, District 7 – Terri Sewell.
The ANSA also endorsed incumbent Doug Jones for U. S. Senate, although he is not opposed and will not appear on the March 3 primary ballot.
ANSA also urged a ‘No’ vote on Statewide Amendment No. 1 which provides for appointment of the State School Board by the Governor in place of the current system of election by districts.
ANSA chapters around the state will have screenings for county and local candidates over the next two weeks and submit these recommendations to the state office to be included on sample ballots together with the endorsed statewide candidates, to be distributed at the polls for the March 3 primary election.
The Greene County ANSA membership will hold screenings for local candidates running for Revenue Commissioner and School Board seats in Districts 3, 4 and 5, on Sunday, February 9, 2020 at 4:00 PM at the Eutaw Activity Center.
After the ANSA endorsement screenings, the group reconvened for a luncheon as the Alabama New South Coalition. The group heard a greeting from Ivan Peeples, a Greene County high school senior and ANSC youth 2nd Vice-President. There were also remarks from William Scott of the U. S. Census Bureau on the importance of a full count for the 2020 Census, which will be held on April 1, 2020.
Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham was the keynote luncheon speaker, who spoke on the importance of voting in the 2020n elections. He said, “We expect there will be disagreements in the March primary but we must come together and vote together in the November 3 General Election, to change the direction of this country.”
Woodfin stressed, “ The Democratic Party is the party of hope for people. The other side embraces fear and supports disunity. We must come together in November to use our ballots to change America and Alabama for the better.”
Persons interested in joining and leaning more about ANSC, may contact Shelley Fearson at the ANSC State Office in Montgomery at 334-262-0932; or Carol Zippert, Greene County ANSC at 205-372-0525.
Meeting in Montgomery on Saturday, February 1, more than 150 delegates to the Alabama New South Alliance (ANSA), a sister political organization of the Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC), made endorsements of candidates running in the March 3, 2020 primary.
ANSA members heard from candidates and asked them questions as part of the endorsement process.
Representatives of Presidential candidates: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Michael Bloomberg were present and participated in the screening. Former Vice President Joe Biden received the ANSA endorsement.

Commission holds public hearing on 5mil tax increase Greene County Commission suspends pay for 11 members of the Sheriff’s staff since he has not met agreement to cover additional salaries

A long simmering dispute between the Greene County Commission and Sheriff Jonathan Benison came to a boil this week.
The Greene County Commission budgeted $1,251,489 for the operation of the Sheriff’s Department and the Jail, for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2019. This is more than half of the County’s General Fund Budget and is in line with surrounding counties of similar size in the state.
The Sheriff in the past has chosen to supplement these budgetary funds, with funds paid to support the Sheriff’s Department by electronic bingo. The Sheriff has not paid any supplementary funds during this fiscal year since October 1, 2019, to help cover the salaries of his staff. The County Commission used contingency funds to cover the additional staff but the full annual contingency allocation for the County General Fund for all agencies was used by the end of December.
The Greene County Commission reached an agreement with the Sheriff at the end of December that he would pay $940,000 in annual supplementary funds, on a monthly basis, to cover his additional staff. The monthly base amount is $78,300, with a monthly increment to cover the three months ($240,000), which had not been paid to that point.
Allen Turner, County Commission Chairperson said, “ I have met with the Sheriff and his attorney numerous times, over the past four months and he knows the agreement. He agreed to make his initial payment by the end of January 2020. As of today – February 5 – he has not paid us anything. We had no choice but to suspend his staff until the Sheriff does what he agreed to do.”
The 11 staff members, 5 deputies, 5 jailers and an administrative staff member were selected based on senority.
Their end of the month payroll is being held pending resolution of this disagreement between the Sheriff and the Commission.
During this same time period (beginning with the month of September 2019), the Sheriff Benison has not paid to the Greene County Commission, the montly $72,000 in bingo license fees, that were previously paid to the County government and used as matching funds for Federal and state highway construction and repair.
At press time, the Democrat checked and there was no resolution of this budgetary and financial disagreement between Sheriff Benison and the County Commission.
Public Hearing held
On Wednesday, January 29, 2020, the Greene County Commission held a public hearing on its proposal to raise ad valorem property taxes by 5 mils for the Greene County Health System and other agencies.
The 5 mil increase would support six specific agencies and programs of Greene County and would be designated in the proposal, as follows:
• 3 mils for the Greene County Health System, for support of the hospital, emergency room, nursing home, physicians clinic and other health services
• 1 mil for the Greene County Commission General Fund
• .25 mil for Greene County Parks and Recreation Board
• .25 mil for Senior Citizens nutrition and other programs
• .25 mil for storm shelters
• .25 for Greene County Public Works Department
Currently a mil of additional property tax generates $160,000 additional revenues, from the appraised tax rolls of Greene County, for use by the agencies. Twenty Greene County residents attended the public hearing and some made comments.
Iris Sermon from E-911 urged the Commission to make sure all of the agencies to be supported by this tax increase are accountable and report their work regularly to the Commission.
Nick Wilson with the Greene County Ambulance Service asked why funding for EMS and the ambulance was not included in the tax increase proposal.
James E. Morrow of Boligee asked why the Greene County Golf Course was not included in the proposal.
Jane Mays of Jena said her taxes were regularly going up and did not see a need to pay new taxes.
Gilda Jowers suggested that the Commission consider an occupancy tax for people employed in Greene County and hire grant writers as an alternative to raising the property tax.
Commissioner Turner said that the Commission has been studying the finances for a while and this was their best proposal at this time. At the end of the hearing the Commission voted to formally approve the proposal for a 5 mil increase in the property taxes as proposed and send it on to the Greene County Legislative Delegation for approval.
The Commission proposal must be advertised in a local newspaper for four weeks, submitted to the Legislative Delegation, approved as local legislation and signed by the Governor.
After this process, the bill for a 5 mil increase in property tax, will be a local amendment subject to approval by a referendum of the voters in Greene County in the November 3, 2020 General Election.

Greene County bingo distributes $359,785 for December

Shown Above: Pastor Michael Barton, representing the City of Eutaw; Lavonda Blair CSFO Greene County Board of Education; Greene County Hospital Board CEO Dr. Marcia Pugh; Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison; Union City Councilwoman Helen Stanford; Forkland Mayor Charles McAlpine; Boligee City Councilwoman Ernestine Wade and Bingo Clerk Emma Jackson

The Greene County Sheriff’s Department reported a total distribution of $359,785 for the month of December 2019 from four licensed bingo gaming operations in the county. The bingo distributions for December are contributed by Greenetrack, Inc., Frontier, River’s Edge and Palace. Green Bingo is no longer in operation, however, a bingo license was issued by Sheriff Jonathan Benison to a new entity, the Raymond Austin Memorial Foundation for Rural Advancement & Development, Inc. on August 8, 2019.
The recipients of the monthly distributions from bingo gaming designated by Sheriff Benison in his Bingo Rules and Regulations include the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the cities of Eutaw, Forkland, Union, Boligee, the Greene County Board of Education and the Greene County Hospital (Health System).
The following distribution reports, excluding the Palace, also contain an additional $24,000 from each bingo operation but does not give the recipient of this total amount of $72,000.
Greenetrack, Inc. gave a total of $67,500 to the following: Greene County Commission, (no distribution); Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, the Greene County Health System, $7,500 (+ $24,000 for undesignated recipient).
Frontier (Dream, Inc.) gave a total of $67,500 to the following: Greene County Commission, (no distribution); Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, Greene County Health System, $7,500 (+ $24,000 for undesignated recipient).
River’s Edge (Next Level Leaders and Tishabee Community Center Tutorial Program) gave a total of $73,425 to the following: Greene County Commission, (no distribution); Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, and the Greene County Health System, $13,425 ( + $24,000 for undesignated recipient).
Palace (TS Police Support League) gave a total of $151,360 to the following: Greene County Commission, (no distribution); Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $80,960; City of Eutaw, $24,640; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $7,040; Greene County Board of Education, $7,040 and the Greene County Health System, $17,600.

Newswire : U. S. launches new deal for Africa as ‘Growth and Opportunity Act’ soon to expire’

former Pres. D.arap Moi and Pres. U. Kenyatta


Feb. 3, 2020 (GIN) – The African Growth and Opportunity Act (known as “AGOA”) which aimed to assist the economies of sub-Saharan Africa and improve economic relations between the U.S. and the region is out of step with the new trade deals of the Trump administration.
Inotherwords, time’s up. A new economic plan is on the drawing board and African leaders suspect it’s a Trumpian take it or leave it deal.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to be the first to sign on to the bilateral “free-trade agreement” at a Rose Garden meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington this week. It will be America’s first such deal with a sub-Saharan nation and replace the 20 year old AGOA that expires in 2025.
AGOA, which provides 39 sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access to the U.S. for about 6,500 products ranging from textiles to manufactured items, has come under increasing criticism in Washington, which wants fast-growing African economies to open up to US goods and services.
But the model agreement has few fans among African leaders who have a preference for multilateralism as they move towards an African Continental Free Trade Agreement which comes into force in July.
“The Trump administration wants to do bilateral deals, not multilateral deals,” said Aubrey Hruby, in an interview with the Financial Times.
Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s principal secretary for foreign affairs, hinted at the risks for Kenya’s fragile, sometimes flailing, economy. “They could easily swamp our markets into oblivion, he said. “Any deal cannot b at the expense of our local capabilities, which are nascent at best.”
Meanwhile, in late-breaking news from Kenya, flags are flying at half mast for Daniel arap Moi who served as Kenya’s president from 1978 to 2002. He died peacefully this week at Nairobi Hospital, according to his son Senator Gideon Moi. He was 95 years old.
Moi was an autocratic leader who ruled for more than 20 years.
“Our nation and our continent were immensely blessed by the dedication and service of the late Mzee Moi; who spent almost his entire adult life serving Kenya and Africa,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement. He came to power in 1978, upon the death of President Jomo Kenyatta, having been vice-president until then.
Diplomats said an attempted coup four years later transformed him from a cautious, insecure leader into a tough autocrat.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has declared a period of national mourning to last until the funeral day, with the national flag being flown at half mast.