Advocates urge a “NO” vote Black Warrior EMC sends out package of revised by-laws for a membership vote by May 1

Special to the Democrat by John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

BWEMC

Members of the Black Warrior Electric Membership Corporation, as of February 24, 2017 have received a package of materials, including a revised set of By-laws, a summary of the changes and a mail ballot to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on all of the changes in one vote.
Members have contacted the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which has been sponsoring “a co-op democracy project” focused on Black Warrior, to ask how they should vote on these by-law changes. Black Warrior members have also contacted the Greene County Democrat and other trusted community organizations to ask for advice on this by-law package.
If you receive your electric power from Black Warrior EMC you are a “member” of the cooperative. Black Warrior has 26,000 members in the rural parts of many of the western Alabama Black Belt counties including Greene, Sumter, Hale, Perry, Choctaw, Marengo, Tuscaloosa and others.
If you paid your deposit and have a Black Power Electric meter, you are a member of the “electric membership corporation” or cooperative and you have a vote on major issues facing the cooperative, like election of the board of directors, changing the by-laws and other important issues.
Rev. James Carter of Tishabee Community in Greene County said, “I was surprised to receive this 24 page set of new by-laws in the mail and a ballot to vote, without more explanations, without a meeting scheduled to explain these changes. I have an education but I feel you need to be a lawyer or other professional expert to fully understand this document and make an informed and intelligent vote on it.”

Carter, who is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to make Black Warrior’s Board and Management more transparent, accountable and democratic, also said, “ I am happy to see these by-laws because they answer many questions the members have been raising with Black Warrior, for a number of years, but they also raise new questions about additional discretionary powers granted to the co-op’s Board of Directors, which may adversely affect the members.
“We need more time and a series of meetings in the Black Warrior EMC service area to explain these changes and allow for the members to understand what they are voting on. We are also asked to vote up or down on the whole package in one vote even if we disagree with some of the specific changes or would like to add other changes to make the cooperative more democratic and responsive to its members.”
Adriauna Davis, a Community Outreach Worker with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, who has been meeting with BWEMC members to discuss and strategize ways to make the power provider more democratic and responsible to its members, said, “We plan to go to court, under our existing lawsuit, and stop this by-law mail ballot until a membership meeting or district membership meetings are held to explain these new by-laws and the changes.”
“In the meantime, we are urging BWEMC members to vote “NO” on the ballot and write in that, “ I do not understand all of these by-law changes and want a meeting to understand and discuss these changes,” said Davis.
Davis points out that the current BWEMC By-laws require a membership meeting to amend the by-laws. The Board and Management, who developed and sent out the new ballot revisions, say their effort is legal under new provisions of the Electric Cooperative Statute of Alabama, which allow for a mail ballot.
Marcus Bernard, Director of the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama said, “We received about 100 phone calls last week from BWEMC members who were mailed the by-laws package. They say that they do not understand what to do. Many do not fully understand that they are members and are entitled to vote on the by-laws and other matters. We are recommending a “NO” vote until there are educational meetings to explain the changes to members.”
Bernard pointed out that the BWEMC was founded in 1938 and has not revised its by-laws in 66 years since 1950. The co-op has not had an official Annual Meeting of Members to elect the co-op’s board of directors during this same period. Since their have not been official membership meetings, with the required quorum of 5% (1,300 members) the board has been allowed to perpetuate itself without meaningful input from the members.
The Democrat will be following this story closely in coming weeks and will have more articles and opinion pieces on these important issues.

Remember the Chibok girls of Nigeria

By Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.)
chibokvigil_6906_fallen_web120

Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla) speaks at podium during a candlelight vigil for the missing Chibok schoolgirls in front of the State Department in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 2016. Wilson was joined by several members of Congress and some of the schoolgirls that escaped and have relocated to the Washington D.C., metro area. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA Newswire)

Three years ago, Boko Haram terrorists burst into dormitory rooms at the Government Secondary School in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok and kidnapped nearly 300 girls simply because they dared to get an education. In the days leading up to anniversary of their kidnapping, there were plenty of headlines devoted to the “Chibok girls,” as these now young women are famously known. On April 14, 2017, we reached another sad milestone. Some of us paused to remember the anniversary of this horrific, ongoing tragedy. Soon the news reports will fade and the story of the still missing Chibok girls will slip once more to the backburner.
The 195 Chibok girls who haven’t been able to escape their captives or were not among the 21 released last October, are still the most compelling symbols of the Boko Haram insurgency, but we must never forget that the group has committed increasingly heinous acts in the past three years from which innumerable victims may never recover. Let me count the ways.
More than 2.6 million people are currently displaced across Nigeria and its neighbor nations in the Lake Chad region, and Nigeria is in the process of building a comprehensive orphanage to house approximately 8,000 children who’ve been separated from their parents. At least one million children have been forced out of school. Millions more Africans are at risk of starving to death and countless men, women and children all of ages, both Christians and Muslims, have been kidnapped, tortured, and/or killed.
It gets worse. In addition to engaging in the human trafficking of women, forcing them into sexual and domestic slavery, the insurgents also use children as suicide bombers. Even ISIS, to whom Boko Haram has pledged allegiance, has expressed concern that the group goes too far.
As a mother, a former educator, and indeed, a human being, I have felt heartbroken, shocked and angered by the daily horrors our West African sisters and brothers have been forced to endure. The actions of the world’s most deadly terrorist group have also emboldened me to use my voice and every resource available in the fight to ensure that the Chibok girls are not forgotten and to help eradicate Boko Haram and repair the damage it has caused.
I have traveled twice to Nigeria to meet with victims’ families and government officials and brought the #BringBackOurGirls movement to the United States. Each week that Congress is in session, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle participate in a “Wear Something Red Wednesday” social media campaign that helps maintain pressure on the Nigerian government to keep working to negotiate the release of the remaining Chibok girls and pull out all stops to defeat Boko Haram.
On December 14, 2016, President Barack Obama signed, into law, legislation that Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and I sponsored that directs the U.S. secretaries of State and Defense to jointly develop a five-year strategy to aid the Nigerian government, the Multinational Joint Task Force created to combat Boko Haram, and international partners who’ve offered their support to counter the regional threat the terrorists pose.
In a telephone conversation between President Donald J. Trump and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in February, the two leaders pledged “to continue close coordination and cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria,” according to a readout from the White House. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also has reportedly praised the Multinational Joint Task Force’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram a “success story,” but while the terrorist group may be down, it is far from out.
On June 12, we will mark another milestone in this terrible saga. That is the day the State and Defense departments’ five-year plan is due. It also is the deadline for the director of National Intelligence to assess the willingness and capability of Nigeria and its regional partners to implement the strategies outlined. We must use our collective voice to ensure they don’t miss this urgent deadline.
By now you may be asking yourself why any of this should matter to African Americans who are fighting their own battles to close the economic and opportunity gaps that still exist here at home and to exercise fundamental rights like the right to vote. Some of you may have never even heard of the Chibok girls. But if we don’t, who will? If we don’t teach the world to acknowledge that Black lives matter across the globe, who will? Until then, it will continue to cry for victims of terrorism in European nations, the Middle East and even Russia, while African and African-American lives lost go ignored.
Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and represents parts of northern Miami-Dade and southeast Broward counties. She serves on the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. To learn more about Congresswoman Wilson’s work in Congress, please visit her Facebook and Twitter pages and congressional website.

France pays a ‘debt of blood’ to surviving African vets from World War II

African WW II veterans
African vets from World War II

Apr. 17, 2017 (GIN) – Fifty years after over a million Africans fought and thousands died for France during the ferocious battles against Nazis in World War II, French President Francois Hollande has given citizenship and full pensions to African survivors of that war and other conflicts.

In a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris on April 18, the veterans – aged between 79 and 90 – received their new certificates of citizenship. Mr Hollande said France owed them “a debt of blood”.

“France is proud to welcome you, just as you were proud to carry its flag, the flag of freedom,” the President told a group of 28 surviving vets.
Human rights activists including the granddaughter of a Senegalese soldier, have long been calling for justice for the veterans. Aissatou Seck, who is herself deputy mayor of a Parisian suburb, has been a lead campaigner for African veterans’ rights.

Last year, she started a petition that gained tens of thousands of signatures in less than a week. The veterans have long been struggling for recognition and equality in France. Until 2010, they received lower pensions than their French counterparts.

African troops, mostly from Senegal, fought in the deserts of North Africa, the jungles of Burma, over the skies of Germany and against Italian Fascist troops who, backed by thousands of Eritrean colonial forces, invaded Ethiopia.

During World War II, the Tirailleurs Senegalais (colonial infantry) comprised roughly 9 percent of the French army. Of the more than 200,000 black Africans recruited, approximately 25,000 were killed in battle.

At the war’s end, former prisoners of war were repatriated and interned in the Thiaroye holding camp near Dakar, Senegal. Denied back pay and pensions equal to those of the white French vets, some 1,300 Senegalese fighters mutinied only to be met by gunfire by French soldiers on Nov. 30, 1944. Between 30 and 75 Africans died in what became known as the Thiaroye massacre. A military tribunal sentenced some of the survivors to 10 years in prison.

One of those who fought for the French was Leopold Senghor, later President of Senegal. He spent two years as a Nazi prisoner of war and wrote of his experiences in his now-famous book of poetry “Hosties Noire”, Black Hosts, published in 1948.

The Black Press shows resilience of the Black community

By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)

Benjamin Chavis
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, , CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association
For 190 years, the Black Press has chronicled the spirit and resilience of the African-American community.
“You can see it in the spirit of the process that we have [developed] in documenting our history—we are marvelously resilient by nature, we are street fighters, guerilla fighters and resilience defines us,” said NNPA Foundation Board Chairman Al McFarland.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a trade group of more than 200 Black-owned media companies in the United States, also known as the voice of the Black community, has been the repository of Black history for generations, capturing that spirit and resilience through compelling journalism and stirring images. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, the president and CEO of the NNPA, said that the strength of the Black Press has been widely demonstrated through decades of change.
“Since 1827, the Black Press in America has been on the frontline of publishing in the interests of freedom and justice,” Chavis said. “Today, the NNPA continues to represent the resilient, trustworthy tradition of the Black Press that is indispensable to Black America.”
Janice Ware, the publisher of the “Atlanta Voice,” which was founded in 1966 by Ed Clayton and J. Lowell Ware, said that like other NNPA member newspapers, the Voice had a defined vision and mission. “[The Atlanta Voice] has been the vehicle that has allowed the important information [affecting African-Americans] to be captured,” Ware said. “I celebrate my father for his vision to start the publication and our motto, which is, ‘A people without a voice cannot be heard.’”
The venerable, award-winning publication was born out of the refusal of the White-owned majority Atlanta media to give fair and credible coverage to the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, the Voice states on its website. “Our motto is still prevalent today,” Ware said. “We’ve got to record our history; if we don’t, they will.”
As the media industry continues to evolve, driven by advances in technology, Black newspaper publishers balance “click-bait” and quick-read content with longer, in-depth news articles.
Rosetta Perry, publisher of the “Tennessee Tribune” in Nashville, said that even though millennials aren’t reading traditional newspapers as much as past generations, news organizations in the Black community—including newspapers, radio stations, magazines and websites— are working together to ensure that critical information reaches the masses. “There are many stories about Black people both domestic and international that the mainstream media ignores or underplays,” Perry said. “The Black Press cannot afford to be silent or not be certain to get the word out about them, whether it’s voter suppression or police misconduct and brutality.”

In 1973, Howard University, a historically Black institution in Washington, D.C., collaborated with the NNPA, to establish the Black Press Archives at the school’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. The archives also include a gallery of distinguished newspaper publishers and historical records related to the Black Press. Black newspapers are also collected and preserved there for scholars, students and the public.
“While some think that the Black Press is no longer needed, they need only to look at the newsrooms of the mainstream press—newspaper and television—and see that when pressured after the Civil Rights Movement, they hired more Blacks,” in the past than they do now said Dorothy Leavell, the outspoken publisher of the award-winning Crusader newspapers in the Chicago area.
Leavell continued: “And, most said the Black Press wasn’t needed. While they were employed, the Black reporters were not given the freedom to report stories as they existed, often White editors changed the story with headlines that fit their perspective, not the essence of the story, if some of them recognized their stories as submitted, it was rare.”
Leavell said that when Black reporters were making good salaries at mainstream media outlets, they mostly remained silent. Many now want to speak up as their numbers are dwindling. Many have left predominately White newsrooms and returned home to the Black Press, added Leavell.
“The Black Press is driven by a purpose and a mission to tell the truth and to stand up to those who would rob humanity of its fullness,” McFarland said. “We stand to call attention to the truth of our existence and to the commitment of freedom and liberation. Our spirit is underlying in our newspapers; we are resilient and we no longer have to see ourselves through the lenses of Europeans.”
McFarland added, “There’s a new narrative that says we have been winning and we are winning.”

Greene County Commission acts on County Engineer’s requests

At a routine meeting the Greene County Commission approved requests coming from Willie Branch, County Engineer, for sale of surplus property and vehicles as well as improvements to the William M. Branch Courthouse and Eutaw Activity Center.
The Greene County Commission approved the following requests from the County Engineer:
• declare equipment and materials, a pile of scrap metal, as surplus and eligible for sale;
• declare surplus and sell three dump trucks and one low-boy, for a guarantee of $526,000;
• purchase three dump trucks at $131,644 each and one low-boy for $114,989, to replace the ones sold. This arrangement allows the county to have new equipment for a small annual lease payment;
• approve placement of a sign by the Extension Service on the Eutaw Activity Center building;
• approve agreement with KDM to install 5 thermostats for the cost of $10,000 in the Courthouse and an annual contract of $4,600 to maintain the HVAC service in the Courthouse;
• approved agreement with ADS Security for the Eutaw Activity Center, at an installation cost of $1,098 and $49.95 a month for three years for the system; and
• approve travel for Highway Department Office Manager for training on June22-24, at Orange Beach, Alabama.
Paula Byrd, Chief Financial Officer gave the Commission a detailed financial report through the end of March, which is the six month period of the fiscal year which bean October 1, 2016. The report showed bank balances of $ 2,786,484 in Citizen Trust Bank and $2,172.444 in Merchants and Farmers Bank for a total of $4,958,929.
Another $684,146 in bond sinking funds are in the Bank of New York.
Ms. Byrd also reported on payment of bills and claims of $686,540 for February and that the total of expenses from all accounts were running at 44% of budget, which is below the 50% goal at the middle of the fiscal year.

The Commission also approved transfer of 1.96 acres, in the Eutaw Industrial Park area, to the Greene County Industrial Development Authority. The Authority plans to enter into agreements to make the land available to WestRock to expand their manufacturing facility and create new jobs.The Commission did not approve a request from the City of Eutaw to move a power pole from one corner to across the street.
The Greene County Commission approved the appointment of Jasmine Smith to the Greene County Hospital Board and Mattie Strode to the Greene County DHR Board. Both appointments were from District 2.
In the work session, preceding the regular meeting, the Commission heard from Marilyn Gibson, Chief Librarian, who asked the Commission to reconsider an appointment to the Library Board. She argued that the person that was replaced was very experienced and helpful in writing proposals to secure funds for the library. The Commissioners said they could not change an appointment but that the Library Board could give special status as an emeritas member, without a vote, to anyone they thought could assist and support them to make the library better for Greene County.

Eutaw City Council approves proclamation honoring E-911

Mayor Steele and Eutaw City Council members present proclamation to E911 staff and officials and new officer’s : Tommy Johnson, Jr. and Christopher Gregory

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2017, the Eutaw City Council paid its March bills and claims, approved Good Friday as a holiday for the staff and approved a proclamation honoring the E-911 staff for National Public Safety Communications Week.
After taking these positive steps, the City Council and the Mayor began arguing about past issues and discussions.

The issue that precipitated the arguments was a motion by Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson to advertise in the newspaper for four weeks, the contents of a bill to be introduced in the State Legislature to change the selection process for members of the Board of Directors of the Eutaw Housing Authority to give the Council a role with the Mayor in appointing these board members.The Eutaw City Council, the Mayor and the city and county housing authority boards have been in an uproar for the past several months over who was properly appointed to the Eutaw Housing Authority Board and how to proceed with the merger of the city and county housing authorities.
Mayor Raymond Steele strenuously opposed the motion to advertise changes in the Alabama statute on the selection of members to a city housing authority. He said, “You are trying to take away powers given to me by the law, I am not trying to take away your powers as the City Council.”
Latasha Johnson replied that the purpose of her amendment was, “To share your role in appointing housing authority board members not to take away your authority.” She went on to say, “ In a way we are married for four years, the Council and you the Mayor and we need to learn how to work together.”
Councilman Joe Lee Powell said he was concerned that the mayor seemed to want to have “a dictatorship over the City Council.” Powell indicated that he was still concerned that the Mayor would not accept documents that he provided showing that Veronica James was incorrectly removed from the Eutaw Housing Authority Board and should be reinstated.
Mayor Steele complained that the City Council was retaliating against him by proposing to change the legislation to share the power of appointing the Eutaw Housing Authority Board. The Council then voted 4 to 2 to approve advertisement of the bill proposed by Latosha Johnson. The Mayor and Councilman Bennie Abrams voted against the motion.
Mayor Steele raised the issue of revisiting the rules and procedures for community groups to use the National Guard Armory for meetings, social events and fundraisers. The mayor said that he would like to discuss his concerns about improving and maintaining the facility at the next City Council work-session scheduled for next Tuesday, April 18. Councilman Powell reminded him that community groups charging admission or raising funds at activities using the National Guard Armory needed to come before the City Council if they were seeking a waiver of the rental fees.
Mayor Steele said the air conditioning and heating system in the building needed to be updated and other improvements made to the building. The Council agreed that a community group that had reserved the Armory for a music concert on April 15 could proceed with their event.
Council members said that they approved payment of the bills and claims but wanted a better reporting of funds and a budget against which to approve expenditures in future meetings.
Councilwoman Sheila Smith asked about the status of enforcement of the vicious dogs ordinance. Mayor Steele said the Eutaw police were issuing summonses for people to register their animals and to see if sufficient space was available to keep the animals in the city. If the owners were not complying with the ordinance then the police were taking action to correct the problems with stray and vicious dogs.
Valerie Watkins, a resident in whose house there was a sewage back up asked when the City was going to make the repairs to her home. Mayor Steele said that he was working on the claims with the City’s insurance agent and would be able to respond soon.
In the public comment sessions, several citizens rose and spook to urge the Mayor and City Council to work more closely together.
David Spencer distributed a written letter to the Mayor and City Council members concerning his allegations of voter fraud in the October 2016 Municipal Election Runoff.

Governor Kay Ivey signs jury override bill

In one of her first official acts as Governor, Kay Ivey, on Tuesday, April 11, signed into law a bill that says juries, not judges, have the final say on whether to impose the death penalty in capital murder cases.
Ivey signed the bill, which had been passed by the Alabama House of Representatives on April 4, by a vote of 78-19. The same bill had previously passed the Alabama Senate by a vote of 30- 1.
Alabama was the only state left in the nation had these judicial override provisions.
Senator Hank Sanders of Selma had sponsored the bill in the Senate for several years along with a bill requiring a moratorium of the death penalty until Alabama studies and reviews the equity of the death penalty.
Sanders said, “Senator Dick Brewbaker, a Republican from Montgomery asked me if he could sponsor the jury override bill in this session and I agreed because my interest was to end this practice.”
According to the Equal Justice Initiative. Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence. Sanders said that a quarter of the persons presently on death row are there because the judge overrode the jury’s decision on their case.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, sponsored a bill to end judicial override in the House. On the House floor, England substituted Brewbaker’s bill for his, and it won final passage. This bill was pending the Governor’s signature when Robert Bentley resigned and Kay Ivey moved up from Lieutenant Governor to the Governor’s position.
“Having judicial override almost undermines the constitutional right to trial by a jury of your peers,” England said.  England’s bill, as introduced, would also have required the consent of all 12 jurors to give a death sentence. Current law requires at least 10 jurors. Brewbaker’s bill left the threshold to impose the death penalty at 10 jurors.
Ebony Howard, associate legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, issued a statement applauding the bill’s passage.
“Alabama should do everything it can to ensure that an innocent person is never executed,” Howard said. “The bipartisan effort to pass a bill that would keep a judge from overriding a jury’s vote in capital cases is a step in the right direction. As of today, Alabama is one step closer to joining every other state in our nation in prohibiting judicial override in the sentencing phase of death penalty cases.”
Alabama Arise, a statewide advocacy group on social justice issues and ending poverty in Alabama, also supported passage of the bill as one of its legislative priorities for this session.