© 1999 - 2005 League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham and
League of Women Voters of the United States
A Publication of the League
of Women Voters of
A Note from the President
Many thanks to Eric Velasco, reporter for The Birmingham News, for his remarks to LWVGB during our September membership meeting. Highlights of his presentation on the inner workings of the Jefferson County Commission are included in this VOTER. Our next unit meeting is set for Thursday, October 27th. Elaine Witt, formerly with The Birmingham Post Herald, will speak to us about what she learned during 18 years reporting on local affairs. Mark you calendar to attend!
The LWVAL Legislative Study and Consensus materials are now available online at www.lwval.org/legstudy/members/. (Resource information now also includes the LWVAL Consensus Policy.) The deadline for submitting consensus reports to the LWVAL Board of Directors has been extended to April 1, 2006 in order to give local leagues adequate time to hold multiple study sessions. Specific information about LWVGB’s consensus schedule will be forthcoming. Access to the materials will require the same username/password combination as the For Members section of the LWVAL website. Please contact Jean Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 870-3063 if you need login assistance.
The National League has recently released Local Voices: Citizen Conversations on Civil Liberties and Secure Communities. The report contains findings on the results of public deliberations with a diverse group of citizens across the country on homeland security and civil liberties. View the complete report at www.lwv.org.
Finally ... a gentle reminder ... dues payments for 2005-06 are past due! If you have not yet renewed your membership, please do so today.
Have You Renewed Your Membership?
If you haven't already done so, please complete this form and send it with your check, payable to LWVGB. Mail to: Leonette Slay, Treasurer; 320 Albermarle Drive, Birmingham, AL, 35226.
[The membershp renewal form may be used for new membership, also! Just note "new member."]
October 27 7:00
pm, Homewood Library, Room 101 Featured
speaker Elaine Witt, formerly with The Birmingham Post-Herald,
will reflect on what she learned during 18 years as a local reporter.
Thursday, October 27
pm, Homewood Library, Room 101
Featured speaker Elaine Witt, formerly with The Birmingham Post-Herald, will reflect on what she learned during 18 years as a local reporter.
LWV Releases Report on Civil Liberties and Secure Communities
The League of Women Voters recently released findings and recommendations from its Local Voices: Citizens Conversations on Civil Liberties and Secure Communities project, a multi-faceted initiative designed to foster public dialogue on balance between civil liberties and homeland security.
The report reveals that Americans feel more openness in government is key to striking a balance between security and individual liberty. Another finding is that people value a system of checks and balances and are concerned about policies that favor greater security at the expense of basic freedoms and rights.
“The League of Women Voters is the right organization, at the right time, to call for a conversation that is open to all Americans. This report does that by offering recommendations for action,” said President Kay J. Maxwell. “Government needs to share information with and listen to the public. The public needs to make efforts to keep informed and to make their voices known. And the media and other organizations need to facilitate and monitor activities that achieve these ends.”
A copy of the report is available on the LWV website at www.lwv.org. League members are asked to send letters to their congressional representatives urging them to read the report and support its recommendations.
(Reported by Virginia Randolph)
New Age Candidate Forum
LWVGB went Internet live with al.com and the Birmingham City Council Elections. Due to our reputation for being fair and definitely non-partisan we were chosen to extend invitations to candidates and review material posted for an Internet candidate forum. Like DNET, (national LWV’s online activity for election information and communication with candidates), the al.com site allowed candidates to post information on their experience and qualifications. Candidates were also encouraged to add a statement of intent or goals for the office. Citizens submitted questions and candidates posted their responses. Though not all incumbents submitted information, at least one candidate in most of the district races did. Some candidates submitted just a link to their web site, some submitted biographical information, statements of issues and answered questions.
Questions submitted appeared thoughtful, in this writer’s mind. They included issues of
Thanks to Sarah McDonald, Yvonne Brakefield, Betty Warnock, Paulette Rowe, Jean Johnson, Nancy Ekberg and Cissy Bennett for helping with various aspects of the project.
How are elections handled? Do they comply with HAVA? Are the rules applied in the same way in Jefferson County and Shelby County? How do HAVA rule applications in Alabama compare with the way the rules are applied in Wisconsin, Georgia, Oregon, etc.?
These are some issues that Voters Service will be addressing in the near future. Help us find the answers! Just send an email to Virginia Randolph email@example.com or call 699-5582 to volunteer. We will hold a planning session in November (probably on a Saturday morning for about 1 hour). We will share the results of this inquiry at our April membership meeting.
Did you know…?
Jefferson County Commission
(Reported by Beverly Nelson)
About $480 million of Clean Water Act compliance projects identified by the JCC are unfunded, according to a confidential report prepared by engineering firm Burk-Kleinpeter. Commissioner Gary White, who oversees the sewer department, explained that work mandated by the 1996 federal court consent decree must be done first. Any money left over can go to high priority Clean Water Act projects. White admitted that some of the projects may never get done.
Doris Powell, new chair of the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, spoke before the October 4 meeting. Although Ms. Powell had been on the job only 13 days, she assured the commission that transit authority bills had been paid and she was reviewing budgeting for fiscal year 2006. She is asking that a transit authority external affairs committee be formed. The city of Birmingham contributes 26% and Jefferson County 20% of the transit system funding. Funding must be a priority; the transit system faces a $5 million deficit and a need for upgraded services.
Birmingham Water Works Board
(Reported by Sarah McDonald)
One of the benefits of being no longer President of the LWVGB is that I can now concentrate on the smaller picture. To that end, I am covering the Birmingham Water Board meetings. After attending an informational meeting, I realized that I needed a primer on the Water Board. There was no such written material, so it was suggested that I meet with Randall Chafin. He gave me an excellent history of the Water Works in Birmingham, explained the organizational structure of the utility and provided me with enough information to follow the Board and its function going forward. Stay tuned for more exciting reports!
Has a New Open Meetings Act
Criminal punishment for violating the law was
abolished. Instead, citizens can sue public officials over
violations and seek monetary damages. While closing the
“good name and character” loophole, the new law
still provides nine exemptions for officials to call
“executive sessions,” which do not have to be
Speaking of Transit….
Make a note now to
attend our November 17 meeting at the Homewood Library! Doris
Powell, the recently appointed chair of the Birmingham-Jefferson
Transit Authority, will recount her first two months on the
share her vision of public transit in our area.
Eric Velasco, reporter for The Birmingham News, was the featured speaker at our September 22nd membership development meeting. Based on two years’ experience assigned to the Jefferson County Commission, he shared some history, facts and observations about its inner workings.
Mr. Velasco noted that in 1986, the number of commissioners increased from 3 to 5. Since Jefferson County does not have an administrator, commissioners have both legislative and executive duties. Between 1986 and 2002, there was no overlap in responsibilities between commissioners. Each commissioner ran his or her assigned departments without oversight, with commissioners routinely approving one another’s decisions as a professional courtesy. In 2002, Larry Langford was elected to the commission and became its president during a wave of sewer scandal revelations. He revived a committee system in which each commissioner is assigned areas of responsibility (finance, roads and transportation, sewer system, etc.), but two other commissioners serve on the committee and participate in decision-making. In practice, however, most committees meet with fewer than three commissioners
As to the current “hot topic,” the Jefferson County Sewer System, Velasco told us that only one-half the homes in Jefferson County are hooked up to the sewer system. It will take $46,000 per household to pay off the current sewer debt. Approximately 75% of the county's bond debt is for the sewer program. Annual debt payments of about $250 million are scheduled to begin in 2007. The 2006 debt payment is estimated at $208 million.
Velasco noted that, of the three states he’s covered, only Alabama relies on sales taxes to raise money for education. The law the commission used to approve the new one-cent sales tax requires that proceeds be distributed to school systems proportionately. In other words, student population will determine the amount of money each school system receives from the tax.
Velasco believes a region-wide sewer and water system, under the auspices of the Public Service Commission, would improve operations. Home rule would help cities and counties function more efficiently. And the Commission president should be elected by a countywide vote and act as CEO. Other commissioners should continue to be elected by district.
Note: Eric Velasco reported on the Jefferson County Commission (JCC) for two years and is currently assigned to the County Court System. Barnett Wright now covers the JCC.
Millennium Development Goals
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development
For more information on the Millennium Development
Road Map towards the Implementation of the United Nations Millennium
Declaration at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals
Nations Day 60th Anniversary Dinner
LWVGB Board of
League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham
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