- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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March 18

The Cullman Times says light needs to be shed on practices surrounding taxpayer money allotted to sheriffs to feed inmates:

Meal money - the taxpayers’ money allotted to sheriffs to feed inmates - has been on the mind of Alabamians for months since a lawsuit filed by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in January.



The suit was filed against 49 Alabama sheriffs over the practice as part of a long-running dispute over the issue. They seek records showing how much the sheriffs profit from inmate food funds.

“This archaic system is based on a dubious interpretation of state law that has been rejected by two different attorneys general of Alabama, who concluded that the law merely allows sheriffs to manage the money and use it for official purposes, not to line their own pockets,” said Aaron Littman, a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Littman is right. Many sheriffs have over time turned the system into a way to garner extra income. However, not all of the sheriffs have taken advantage of the system. Some of the law enforcement officers feed inmates good meals and use portions of the money to support community initiatives. But the system, despite those who are responsible with the money, sets up a path to unethical behavior and violates the public’s trust.

A shadowy example of misuse of the money is Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin who used about $250,000 of meal money toward the purchase of a home in Orange Beach. Another sheriff sunk money into a failed used car business. And still another sheriff fed inmates wieners while packing money away for himself.

“I don’t change laws, I don’t make the laws,” Entrekin told WBRC. “People don’t like it. Get on their legislators and change the law. I, as the sheriff, have asked them to change the law, I, as the sheriff, have tried to give it back to the county commission on numerous times. They won’t take it. They don’t want it.”

The law has been interpreted to allow excess money to become personal income. That was never the intent. The money is taxpayers’ money that has fallen into a murky realm, creating a headache in the area of trust for many sheriffs.

Cullman County’s Alabama House of Representatives delegation was successful in passing a bill that would undo the old system and create an account for feeding inmates, allowing leftover money at the end of the year to roll over into the next year. The bill also gives the sheriff a pay raise, which is fair considering the huge responsibility of managing a department and a corrections center.

The Alabama Senate has the bill. There is no reason to wait on a solution from the state with the involvement or influence of the Alabama Sheriff’s Association. If that group had wanted a solution, it would have been done long ago.

Morgan County, through a local bill similar to the one for Cullman County, will be coming out from under the old law, provided voters approve the constitutional amendment in November.

Most voters will be quick to eliminate throwing their money into a dark room where there is no accountability. A lot of sheriffs, such as Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry, want to see the system changed. We applaud Gentry’s position on this issue and the efforts of local lawmakers to make a change.

Online: http://www.cullmantimes.com

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March 15

Tuscaloosa News on the proposal of a day to honor Rosa Parks in Alabama:

The Associated Press moved a brief news item recently reporting that an Alabama Senate committee brought the state closer to having a day set aside to commemorate Rosa Parks. The story was only eight sentences long, but it managed to reinforce all that we know about the civil rights icon. And, like most of what we think we know about historical figures, it wasn’t inaccurate, but falls way short of what Paul Harvey would have told.

“An Alabama Senate committee on Tuesday approved legislation to name Dec. 1 as Rosa Parks Day. The bill now moves to the full Senate,” the AP reported. “Parks was arrested Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a key event in the civil rights movement. Supporters began the push this year to get a day named for Parks.”

Parks was a brave woman who did a brave thing, but it is wrong to assume she acted in a vacuum. Parks wasn’t acting alone or without forethought. What she did was important, meaningful and dramatic. But it would be wrong to not remember that she was a part of a larger movement filled with brave men and women.

Why is Parks so celebrated, but few remember Claudette Colvin? Colvin was arrested in Montgomery on March 2, 1955, for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. That was nine months before Parks. Colvin was one of four plaintiffs represented by civil rights attorney Fred Gray in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and eventually brought a court-ordered end to bus segregation in Alabama.

Everyone knows of the great things Martin Luther King Jr. did, but not many remember that King likely would have taken a very different path if not for Benjamin E. Mays. A high school in Atlanta is named for Mays, but history has not honored him like it has his most famous pupils. Mays mentored King, Andrew Young, Julian Bond, Ralph David Abernathy, Maynard Jackson and nearly all of the others who emerged from Morehouse College to chart a historic course in civil rights history. It was Mays who appointed King the leader and spokesman for the group and it was Mays who served as his mentor throughout King’s adult life. Without Mays, it is uncertain the civil rights movement would have happened when it did, and it is absolutely certain that it would have been much different if it had.

It is important that our state celebrate Parks and King. Their contributions to our state and nation are meaningful, positive and lasting. That said, we should keep in mind that countless others also showed great courage during that time. There’s nothing wrong with a Rosa Parks Day in Alabama except that it leaves out Colvin and so many more. Perhaps a day set aside to celebrate the civil rights movement would be fitting.

Online: http://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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March 20

The Dothan Eagle says swatting pranks are no joke:

In January, two men sitting in front of computers separated by more than 1,000 miles were playing together in an online version of “Call of Duty: WWII” when a gamer in California decided to prank his counterpart in Kansas. He used some sort of number spoofing device and called the Wichita police to report that someone had an argument with their parents, shot the father in the head and was holding the rest of the family hostage. The caller gave the address of 28-year-old Andrew Finch. In the confusion that followed Finch’s opening the door to a SWAT team in hostage mode, the young man was shot and killed by police.

What was likely meant as a prank or a joke resulted in an innocent man’s death and unending anguish for the man’s family and the officer who fired the fatal shot. One would think that would put a sudden end to the rise of “swatting.”

One would be wrong. This week, the Houston County Sheriff’s Office received two similar calls reporting dire situations. When officers arrived at each of the scenes, there were no emergencies. Traces of the phone calls led to a dead end.

Perhaps the pranksters are proud of themselves, thinking they’ve pulled one over on law enforcement. However, they created situations that could have gone horribly wrong, resulting in someone getting hurt or killed. Worse, such “crying wolf” brings an element of uncertainty to a job that’s already tense.

Just as those who call in bomb threats face serious consequences, those who engage in swatting deserve the same. Sheriff Donald Valenza issued a strong warning on Tuesday: “I promise you, if I get my hands on you you’re going to jail.”

Lawmakers should attempt to get ahead of the curve, and draft dire penalties for swatting, to include the cost of answering false calls along with fines and other penalties.

Online: http://www.dothaneagle.com

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