Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: November 2011 Archives

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November 26, 2011

Personal use of government cell phone leads to suspension and ethics complaint

The Montgomery Advertiser reports: An audit of the Alabama Public Service Commission has recommended the body adopt policies to prevent employees from using cellphones for personal use.

The audit follows an incident this fall when a prominent employee was suspended for using a state-issued cellphone to run a private business. ...

In September, the commission voted to suspend Janice Hamilton, director of the energy division, for a period of six weeks after Hamilton admitted to conducting personal business on state time using a state-issued cellphone. Hamilton paid back about $938 in overtime. ...

The case has been referred to the Alabama Ethics Commission. -- Read the whole story --> Audit of Public Service Commission recommends cellphone use policies | The Montgomery Advertiser | montgomeryadvertiser.com

November 21, 2011

Alabama's ethics law and gifts to teachers

The Mobile Press-Register reports: This Christmas, students won't be able to give their public school teachers gift certificates or anything deemed valuable without breaking Alabama's new ethics law.

They can still bake cookies, or bring in something consumable such as hand lotion or a candle, a potted plant or a coffee cup, said Jim Sumner, director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, which has been asked to clarify the law as it relates to holiday gifts.

But cash or anything that a teacher could turn around and resell is out of the question, Sumner said, as are holiday turkeys and ham. -- Read the whole article --> Ethics law: No gift certificates, anything of value for teachers this Christmas | al.com

Alabama receives preclearance for congressional and State BOE plans

The Department of Justice today precleared the State of Alabama's Congressional and state school board districts.

Pre Clearance Letter for Congressional and SBOE

November 16, 2011

Jefferson County does not have enough workres to run an election

The Birmingham News reports: Probate Judge Alan King today told the Jefferson County Commission that staffing the upcoming primary elections may be difficult because not enough workers are on staff to do the work.

"With the shortage of staffing in general services, Jefferson County at present will not be able to conduct the March 13 election or, if needed, the April 24 runoff," King said. "With the layoffs in the county, and particularly in general services, it is apparent that we must implement a new election support staffing model. ... Otherwise, we will not have the capability to properly conduct the Jefferson County elections." -- Read the whole article --> Jefferson County can't run primary elections with current staffing, probate judge tells County Commission | al.com

November 13, 2011

GOP and Dems opening qualifying for primary

The Gadsden Times reports: Republican Party qualifying for the 2012 primary opens Monday, and Democrats will open their qualifying Dec. 3.

Qualifying will close at 5 p.m. Jan. 13. The 2012 party primaries will be March 13, earlier than usual. Besides state and some local offices, March 13 also is the date for the presidential primary in Alabama. The general election is Nov. 6. ...

Besides U.S. president, PSC president and chief justice, other offices up for election next year include all seven U.S. House seats, four state Supreme Court seats, three Court of Civil Appeals seats, three Court of Criminal Appeals seats, odd-numbered state Board of Education seats and numerous county judicial positions. -- Read the whole story --> Qualifying for Alabama elections begins Monday for GOP | GadsdenTimes.com

November 6, 2011

Exemption requests abound under new Ethics Law

The Birmingham News reports: The Alabama Ethics Commis­sion has received nearly 200 requests to certify din­ners, trips and conferences as allowable exemptions since Alabama 10 months ago adopted a new ethics law, which caps how much a lobbyist can spend on a public official.

The events range from associations paying for pol­iticians' hotel rooms during their summer conferences to sponsors picking up meals for the General Fund budget committee.

The new ethics law caps what a lobbyist can spend on a legislator's meal to $25 per meal, with a limit of $150 in a calendar year. It rules out the free tickets, golf outings, social trips and one-on-one dinners lobbyists used to treat legis­lators to. But the new law also has exemptions to allow work sessions, economic devel­opment functions, educa­tional events and recep­tions and dinners that are considered widely attended events.

Politicians and lobbyists do not have to get Ethics Commission approval be­fore sponsoring events, but the requests that have been made offer a glimpse at the wining and dining that still is going on in Montgomery. -- Read the whole article --> Alabama's new ethics law fails to stop exemption requests from lobbyists and public officials | al.com

November 5, 2011

GOP complains about use of official letterhead

The Mobile Press-Register reports: The head of the Alabama Republican Party today blasted state Rep. Napoleon Bracy Jr., D-Prichard, for using his official letterhead to advocate leniency for a brother-in-law convicted of a federal drug offense.

"Representative Bracy owes his constituents an apology for abusing their trust in this way," GOP Chairman Bill Armistead said in a prepared statement. "I am certain they did not vote for him in order for him to use his authority to protect convicted criminals."

A party spokeswoman said Bracy is free to advocate for criminal defendants as a private citizen but that using his official stationary is inappropriate.

Bracy said his actions did not violate any ethics law or rule. He said he focused on the importance of defendant Lorenzo Evans Jr. to his children and said he wrote the letter after his niece asked him to in January. -- Read the whole story --> Alabama GOP chairman blasts state Rep. Napoleon Bracy for seeking lenient sentence for relative | al.com

November 4, 2011

"Alien law vs. ethics"

The Decatur Daily reports:The sanctity of communications between lawyer and client, historically highly protected, could become a victim of the state?s recently passed illegal-immigration law.

In an email distributed Monday to members of the Morgan County Bar Association, lawyers were advised that they should "cautiously err on the side of disclosure" if asked by investigators to divulge information provided by clients who are undocumented immigrants.

The dilemma for lawyers comes from Sections 5 and 6 of the law, which make it a crime for an "officer of the court" to adopt a practice "that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws by limiting communication" with immigration officials. -- Read the whole story --> Alien law vs. ethics - Decaturdaily.com

Humtsville councilman committed "minor violation" of Ethics Law

The Huntsville Times reports: The Alabama Ethics Commission has determined that Huntsville City Councilman Richard Showers committed a "minor violation" when he allowed his daughter to gas up at a government fuel terminal on the day after the April 27 tornadoes.

Commission General Counsel Hugh Evans said the five-member ethics panel granted Showers' request to resolve the case administratively.

State law allows for an administrative resolution to minor ethics violations involving less than $250, as long as the public official admits guilt and makes full restitution.

If the state attorney general's office consents, Evans said, Showers would be fined a maximum of $1,000 with no possibility of criminal prosecution. -- Read the whole story --> Ethics commission says Huntsville City Councilman Richard Showers' use of fuel terminal a "minor violation" | al.com

Anniston councilman arrested for violation of council-manager law

The Anniston Star reports: In the wake of City Councilman John Spain's arrest Wednesday for allegedly violating the law that establishes rules for Anniston's government, the city is still operating. ...

The arrest didn't affect the daily operations of the city, and if Spain is convicted it still won't because the council members are not involved in the daily administration of the city, said Anniston City Manager Don Hoyt. That's because Anniston, like more than 3,500 other U.S. cities, follows the council-manager form of government, a form that experts say is designed to keep politics from out of municipal services. ...

Spain was charged Wednesday with ordering a police officer in January to provide him a police incident report. The first page, giving an approximate address, date and time and what the call was about, is public record. However, police said, Spain ordered he be given the entire report, which contains more details of the investigation. -- Read the whole story --> Anniston Star - Powers separated in council manager municipal government

November 2, 2011

Auburn redistricts

The Opelika-Auburn News reports: The Auburn City Council approved a redistricting plan and a request by residents along East Thach Avenue for a speed-limit reduction.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the council unanimously approved a redistricting plan for the city's eight wards after the body's only black member delayed the decision in October over concerns about a lack of a minority majority among voters in Ward 1.

Councilman Arthur Dowdell said he was satisfied the plan was the best option after discussing it with the city staff ahead of the meeting.

The proposal affects about 9,800 residents and attempts to create relatively equal populations among the wards while preserving the current majority-minority district in Ward 1. -- Read the whole story --> Auburn approves new council districts | oanow.com