© 1999 - 2005 League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham and
League of Women Voters of the United States

The Voter

October 2005

A Publication of the League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham.
Re-formatted here for web publication with index and links added. Web Editor's navigational notes added in [bracketed italics].


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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 jjohnson@brooknet.com 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.

-- Yvonne

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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."]

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October Meeting to Feature
Journalist Elaine Witt
Invite a friend to attend!

Thursday, October 27

7:00 pm, Homewood Library, Room 101
1721 Oxmoor Road

Featured speaker Elaine Witt, formerly with The Birmingham Post-Herald, will reflect on what she learned during 18 years as a local reporter.

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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.

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Voters Service
(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
  • Crime
  • Road/street paving
  • Domed stadium
  • Filling positions on boards (e.g. Airport authority)
  • Robust city-wide recycling program
  • Economic development in general and in the I-65 interchange area with I-22
  • “Blended” form of municipal government with district and at large representation
  • Representation of citizens in other districts
  • Flood zone
  • Expanded public transit
  • Family friendly business in areas of crime and loss of businesses
  • Landfill
  • Abandoned houses, high grass, litter

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.

Volunteer Opportunity
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 vrand@bellsouth.net 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.

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Did you know…?

  • Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama was one of nine senators to vote against a ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone detained by the United States.  The amendment, sponsored by Senator John McCain, passed the Senate 90-9 on Wednesday, October 5.  The other Alabama Senator, Richard Shelby, voted with the majority.
  • Of the nation’s 85 largest cities, the Birmingham area is the hardest hit by this year’s increase in gasoline prices. A study by Sperling’s Best Places found that families in the southern metro area of Birmingham with two members commuting to work would pay $2,420 more this year because of higher gas prices.  The study notes that inadequate public transit offers commuters few viable alternatives.

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Observer Corp

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!

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Alabama Has a New Open Meetings Act

Alabama’s new Open Meetings Act went into effect October 1.  The new law replaces the 90-year-old Sunshine Law, which allowed public officials to meet privately to discuss the “good name and character” of an individual.

The new Open Meetings Act requires that

  • All committee and subcommittee meetings of government bodies must be open.
  • Advance notice of all meetings must be given.
  • Secret ballots are prohibited.
  • Job performance of public officials (including fire chiefs, school superintendents and public employees earning more than $50,000 a year) cannot be discussed behind closed doors.
  • Electronic media and communications cannot be used to circumvent the goal of an open meeting.
  • News media representatives may tape meetings.
  • Officials acting within the parameters of the law will be immune from liability for statements made during meetings.

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 public.

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Member Spotlight
Jessie Tehranchi

Margie McDermott was LWVGB president when I joined in 1993. That year I participated on the League's health care reform committee. In later years, I served as the action chair for the LWV.  In that role, I telephoned members to alert them of upcoming legislation.
Jessie Tehranchi

Jessie Tehranchi brings personal commitment to her role as LWVGB transportation chair.

LWVGB adopted a position on public transportation in 1980 that was subsequently updated in 1994 and 2005.  I am serving as transportation chair for the LWVGB this year.
This is an exciting time to hold the transportation position!  The League has an opportunity to be a leading advocacy organization in the public transportation movement. Expansion of our public transportation system is critical for Greater Birmingham’s development and growth. It will require our voices to get this public transportation legislation passed. I hope that you will join in on the action. As upcoming transit legislation is introduced in the Alabama state legislature, I will be asking you to call your state representatives to ask for their support. Please do your part to promote the public transportation cause.

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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 job and share her vision of public transit in our area.

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September Membership Meeting
Eric Velasco speaks on the Jefferson County Commission

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.

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UN Millennium Development Goals
Published by the United Nations Department of Public Information

By 2015, all United Nations Member States have pledged to:

1.  Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

    • Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day
    • Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger

2.  Achieve universal primary education

    • Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling

3.  Promote gender equality and empower women

    • Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015

4.  Reduce child mortality

    • Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five

5.  Improve maternal health

    • Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality rate

6.  Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

    • Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
    • Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases

7.  Ensure environmental sustainability

    • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs; reverse loss of environmental resources
    • Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water
    • Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers by 2020

8.  Develop a global partnership for development

    • Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory. Includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction – nationally and internationally
    • Address the least developed countries’ special needs. This includes tariff- and quota-free access for their exports; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction
    • Address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States
    • Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt problems through national and international measures to make debt sustainable in the long term
    • In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs to developing countries
    • In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies – especially information and communications technologies

For more information on the Millennium Development Goals, see Road Map towards the Implementation of the United Nations Millennium Declaration at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals

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United Nations Day 60th Anniversary Dinner

The LWVGB is cosponsoring the annual United Nations Day Dinner with the Greater Birmingham Chapter of the United Nations Association USA. The dinner is scheduled for Tuesday, November 1 at The Club (Staterooms 1, 2 and 3). Social hour begins at 6:00 p.m. with dinner to follow at 7:00 p.m. The cost is $35 per person. To make a reservation, print the reservation form, fill out and mail with your check.

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About the Voter:

The LWVGB Voter is a publication of the League of Women Voter of Greater Birmingham.

Beverly Nelson, Editor
Email: beenel@bellsouth.net

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October 25th
ACCR Annual Meeting
The Harbert Center,
2019 4th Avemue North [map]
RSVP by email to accr@constitutionalreform.org
Visit www.constitutionalreform.org for further information.
3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
October 26th

Common Ground Meeting
Greater Birmingham Ministries
2304 12th Avenue North [map]
Visit www.commongroundal.org for more information.
2:00 PM
October 27th
LWVGB Monthly Membership Meeting
Elaine Witt, formerly with The Birmingham Post Herald
Reflections on 18 years as a local reporter
Homewood Library, Room 101
1721 Oxmoor Road [map]
7:00 PM
November 1st
U.N. Day Dinner
The Club, Staterooms 1, 2, & 3 [map]
$35 per person
[Print reservation form]
Social Hour @ 6:00 PM
Dinner @ 7:00 PM
November 2nd
LWVGB Board of Directors Meeting
Unitarian Universalist Church
4300 Hampton Heights Drive [map]
6:00 PM
November 17th
November Membership Meeting
Doris Powell, Birmingham-Jefferson Transit Authority Chair
Public Transit in Greater Birmingham
Homewood Library, Room 116
1721 Oxmoor Road [map]
6:00 PM

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