LaPorsha Brown takes her father’s seat on County Commission; Chairman signs Greenetrack Settlement Resolution; approves ARPA funds allocation

LaPorsha Brown, her daugther Peyton Brown and District Judge Lillie Jones Osborne
Linette Brown, LaPorsha Brown, her daugther Peyton Brown and District Judge Lillie Jones Osborne

The Greene County Commission opened its March 14, 2022 meeting with newly sworn-in Commissioner LaPorsha Brown representing District 1. Ms. Brown was appointed by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey to fill the unexpired tern of the late Mr. Lester Brown, LaPorsha’s father. LaPorsha was sworn in Friday, March 11 by Greene County District Judge Lillie Jones Osborne, and will serve until the new commissioner for District 1 is selected in the General Election in November.
Ms. Brown also followed in her Father’s role as she was selected to serve as Vice Chairperson of the Commission. She received three votes for vice chair and Commissioner Roshanda Summerville received two votes.
The commission approved option one relative to the Greenetrack settlement on past due rent to the county for use of its share of Greenetrack property. The settlement resolution calls for $800,000 to be paid to the county by Greenetrack in five annual installments of $160,000. The specific payment plan requires an annual payment of $260,000 with $160,000 toward repayment of past rent and $100,000 in current rent payment. This rental settlement is for two years followed by a renegotiation of the current rental payment amount only. The commissioners approved the settlement on a four to one vote with Commissioner Corey Cockrell voting no.
Commission Chairperson, Allen Turner, stated that he has signed the Resolution agreement and now Greenetrack’s CEO and President, Luther Winn, must sign for it to go into effect.
The county’s Roads Department capital funding project received unanimous approval by the commissioners as well as the Franchise Agreement with Charter Communications regarding broadband services in the county. At the work session held March 9, the commission was informed by Robert Smith Charter Communications that the federal government is financing the broad band in specific areas of Greene County. The franchise agreement is needed for the right-of-way, which will provide a 5% feee to the county when the project is operating. Once the network is in, it will be possible to extend the service to other areas of the county.
The commission approved a Positive Pay arrangement for all bank accounts assuring that only listed checks will be paid.
An Employee Association bank account, which was dormant with a minimal balance, will be closed with the funds to be deposited in the general fund account.
The commission approved establishing a rainy day fund and a public works fund with $500,000 from bingo monies allocated to each fund. The commission also adopted a Fund Balance Policy requiring reserve funds. This policy was approved with four votes for; commissioner Corey Cockrell voted no.
In the commission’s recent work session the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds were discussed, noting that the county has $204,646.78 remaining and an additional $787,733.50 allocated. The commission approved a plan for expending these funds which include the following: Each commission district would be allocated up to $100,000 for qualified ARPA projects; $300,000 to the Highway Department; $150,000 for Essential Worker Pay; approximately $5,000 each to the Activity Center and the Highway Department for multi media upgrades; Approximately $10,000 each for Courthouse and Activity Center bathroom renovations. Remaining funds to be allocated later.
The commission approved a request from the Greene County Board of Education for an agreement that the county will turn over to the board moneys from millage taxes already prescribed to the board.
CSFO, Macaroy Underwood presented the commission an update on FY 2022 refunding bonds cited below.

County Refunds Bonds, Saving $336,000
Greene County Commission approved its Series 2022 Refunding Bonds in the par amount of $3,655,000 to refund its Series 2007 Bonds generating a savings of $336,316.81 or 8.72% savings. Several weeks ago, the county authorized Piper Sandler & Co. and finance to review current market conditions to determine if the county’s outstanding debt could be refunded (refinanced) at a lower interest rate to save more than 3%. This process is similar to refinancing your home mortgage and it leads to issuance of the County’s Series 2022 Refunding bonds reducing the county’s annual debt service payments by $50,000 per year from 2023 through 2037 (over the remaining life of the bonds). The annual debt service payments are secured by Road & Bridge Ad Valorem Tax and Capital Improvement fund revenue; therefore, the county will have additional funds for road projects over the next 14 years.

Governor signs legislation, which will restore felons voting rights

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow of TOPS

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow

Last week, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act, passed in the last legislative session, which will codify those crimes that meet the definition of moral turpitude and allow many former felons with lesser crimes the opportunity to have their voting rights restored.
Huffington Post estimates that as many as 250,000 people were disenfranchised because of the law. This includes about 15% of the state’s African-American voting age population and 5% of its white population.
Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, founder of The Ordinary People Society, a Dothan nonprofit advocacy group, said the law would have wide-reaching impacts on many felons across the state, including many incarcerated offenders who would regain the right to vote and therefore be eligible to vote via absentee ballot. Glasgow, who has been working to re-enfranchise many felons since shortly after he was released from prison in 2001, said the legislation would also restore voting rights for Alabamians who are charged with felonies but have not been convicted.

The Alabama Legislature passed this bill to codify the specific laws that could be considered ‘moral turpitude’ and prevent felons from restoring their right to vote. The bill lists fifty specific Alabama statutes, including Murder, Manslaughter, Kidnapping, Rape. Sodomy, Terrorism, Child Pornography and others that will permanently prevent former felons from regaining their rights. All other felons will be able to get their rights restored at the local voter registrars office or through a process of application to the Alabama Pardons and Parole Board.
Rev. Glasgow has been working for many years to get the basic citizenship rights of formerly incarcerated people restored. This legislation, which passed on unanimous votes in the Alabama House and Senate, make clears which felonies are of such magnitude as to limit a person’s citizenship rights. All other lower level felonies will not longer prevent someone from voting, even persons in jail, awaiting trial will be able to vote absentee.
Citizenship is something Glasgow does not take for granted. When he was released from prison in 2001 at the age of 36, he had recently become ordained and was eager to start his life anew. Growing up, he had watched his half-brother Al Sharpton lead civil rights marches and protests and eventually launch a national voter advocacy organization, and Glasgow looked forward to following in his footsteps. He wanted to grow his ministry and similarly help black citizens fight for equal rights under the law.
When we was told he couldn’t vote because of his felony conviction, it felt like the state was slamming the door on that new life. “When they told me, I got angry,” he said. “I got so angry that I said okay, if I couldn’t vote, I’m gonna make sure everybody I know get their voting rights and are able to vote.”
For three years, while using his ministry to educate people about the importance of voting, Glasgow also fought the state of Alabama through the lengthy and complicated pardon process, eventually getting a partial pardon in 2004 that would allow him to vote.
Four years later, he learned that his struggle had been unnecessary. The state had made a mistake and misunderstood its own law. “I should never have been stricken off the books at all,” he said.
As it turned out, Alabama had been disenfranchising felons using a century-old, discriminatory provision, which states “no person convicted of a felony of moral turpitude” should be permitted to vote. But the state had never officially defined what constituted such a crime, leaving it up to individual registrars to make that decision themselves.
Glasgow’s drug charge, he learned, was not necessarily a crime of “moral turpitude,” so he and thousands of other Alabama citizens had been wrongfully turned away from the polls for decades. After realizing the scope of the problem, Glasgow became one of the most prominent faces in the fight to get the state to explain what the vague phrase means.
When the Alabama constitution was adopted in 1901, the disenfranchisement of those “convicted of a felony of moral turpitude” had less-than-veiled racial implications.
Though no official definition was given, crimes of “moral turpitude” were commonly understood as crimes more frequently committed by black citizens. According to the president of the all-white constitutional convention, the purpose of the disenfranchisement provision was to “establish white supremacy in this state.”
And that’s exactly what the law did. “It allowed registrars to deny the right to vote to black people and grant the right to vote to white people,” said Danielle Lang, the deputy director of voting rights for the Campaign Legal Center, which is currently challenging Alabama’s disenfranchisement law in court. For decades, unelected county registrars were given broad discretion to decide who they would block from the polls.
That arbitrary system was used until 1985, when the U.S. Supreme Court attempted to roll back the racist wording. In a unanimous ruling, the court held that the “moral turpitude” language is intentionally discriminatory and violates the Equal Protection Clause. But it was short-lived victory — voter suppression efforts quickly surged back in Alabama.
Eleven years after the ruling, Alabama lawmakers inserted the same “moral turpitude” provision into a state disenfranchisement law. The law was different enough from the constitution to pass muster, but provided no new justification for the vague language.
“Until maybe this week, it has continued to function in a way that allows for arbitrariness and therefore allows for discrimination,” Lang said.
It’s hard to know how much arbitrariness actually exists in the system because the state has not responded to requests for data, but “we do know quite a bit from anecdotal evidence,” Lang said. One county could allow a person to vote with a conviction for drug possession with intent to distribute, but another county could decide to kick him or her off the rolls for the same crime.