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Heads and tales: Mighty big footsteps

Saturday, October 25th, 2014

Craig WitherspoonLet’s say 25,000 children left behind: The Birmingham school system is shopping for another superintendent. Craig Witherspoon surprised many with his Oct. 7 resignation after four-and-a-half years on the job.

Most Birmingham superintendents since 1984 have served 2 to 4 years before moving on. Witherspoon’s tenure was marked with a high degree of rancor with the previous board and an apparent falling out with the current one.

Oh, and the state took over the city school system. One of the state’s worst districts was so dysfunctional (a situation Witherspoon inherited), it had to be run by the state itself, among the worst in education nationwide.

• A timeline of Craig Witherspoon’s years as Birmingham schools superintendent [al.com]

Mike HubbardEthics, or the lack thereof: The 2010 Republican takeover of the Alabama Legislature came about in part by a pledge to end the corruption of Democratic rule for a century. Monday, the leader of that revolution was indicted on 23 counts of corruption.

Mike Hubbard is still Speaker of the House, but for how long? He’s accused of using his office and his previous role as head of the Alabama Republican Party for monetary gain, including getting help from former Gov. Bob Riley and Business Council of Alabama president Billy Canary among others.

Are we better off than we were 4 years ago? An editorial in the Anniston Star says far from it, arguing that no matter which party is running the government, the state suffers with no relief in sight.

• Editorial: The culture in Montgomery [The Anniston Star]

Dalai LamaHouses of the holy: The Dalai Lama arrived Friday in Birmingham for a weekend visit. At 9 a.m., he will participate in a UAB symposium, “Neuroplasticity and Healing,” which will be streaming live for free on YouTube.

On Sunday, the spiritual leader will take the stage for two events. “Beyond Belief,” a 2-hour interfaith discussion, takes place at 9 a.m. at the Alabama Theatre downtown. He’ll speak at Regions Field starting at 2 p.m., with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

Both events will stream live for free in the window below.

• Human Rights Week in Birmingham

Video: The Dalai Lama at UAB’s symposium,
“Neuroplasticity and Healing”

Video: The Dalai Lama participates in an interfaith
discussion at the Alabama Theatre.

Video: The Dalai Lama with Birmingham mayor
William Bell (skip to 1:09).

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This week in Richard Scrushy: Tracking assets

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Last week, Richard Scrushy returned to Birmingham to answer attorneys’ questions about his many, many assets. The HealthSouth founder and convicted executive owes some $2.87 billion as a result of a civil suit this year.

Richard ScrushyThe Birmingham News has followed his deposition closely. A few highlights …

• Scrushy plans to return to the ministry and record Christian songs he’s writing in prison in Beaumont, Texas. Where he once earned millions annually, he now makes 18 cents an hour, teaching math, English, science and reading.

• He gave guns and his Corvette to associates, and set up a $24,000 trust each for seven of his children in 2007.

“I can’t believe that HealthSouth would be doing this to me,” Scrushy said Wednesday. He said he was unable to recall where certain high-priced pieces of jewelry were, including a diamond choker and bracelet set ($16,000), a five-strand diamond bracelet ($25,000) and a pair of diamond earrings ($25,000).

• “My company that I built for 20 years has been reduced to chasing my dead father’s tractor?” Scrushy yelled. “You’re picking at my dad’s dead bones. We’re reaching a point where it’s ridiculous.”

• Scrushy referred questions about his millions of dollars in holdings to his accountant Phillip Powell. But upon examining a list of assets submitted by Powell, Scrushy said, “I think his accounting may be wrong, and I would like to discuss it with him.”

• His assets are entangled in corporations, real estate deals and loans, and Scrushy has been found of being in contempt for not cooperating with the asset search.

More Richard Scrushy stories from the Birmingham News.

Heads up: Dome deal a done deal

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

Birmingham dome stadium drawing

After decades of discussion and debate, the City of Birmingham took a big step forward today in building a domed stadium. The city council approved $8 million annually in funding for a dome to be built adjacent to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex.

With that, Mayor Larry Langford announced on Paul Finebaum’s radio show this afternoon that the groundbreaking would take place on July 21, and that a Major League Soccer team has already shown interest in establishing a franchise at the facility, along with purchasing naming rights.

The dome, with a $630 million price tag, would be completed in 2014. The next step would be the BJCC paying architects $666,000 a month and acquiring land.

Meanwhile, the city has yet to pass a budget for fiscal year 2010, 14 days after the start of the new budget year. In dispute is the city’s financial health: either $26.4 million in the black or $17 million in the red.

Let’s hear what you think: Will the dome bring new jobs, new events to Birmingham? Will it be completed on time and on budget? Is this the right move for Birmingham given the current economy? Sound off in the comments …

Update: Feedback via Twitter so far …

  • BrennaWilson: For it, if it’ll bring fun things here. But I think its a poor choice w/our current money sit. RT @WadeOnTweets Dome: for it or agin’ it?
  • StaceyShirley: is it a dome deal or a dumb deal?
  • AABrasfield: nope. #dumbdome
  • manup4: dome=opportunity. Let’s stop fighting advancement.
  • mjoeirish: Bham dome. Check unemployment %age. You are right on bad timing.
  • filamentartists: Not big on LL, but dome is good! $$$’s are now going to be circulated back into the local economy. Nothing bad about that!

Feedback via Facebook …

  • 4:05pm July 14
    visionland 2, electric bugaloo! because inclement weather ruined so many stallions games… scrushy get the naming rights? hooboy.
  • 4:06pm July 14
    I’d be more impressed if he could land a Premiership team, but think of the travel expense…otoh, I hear Newcastle United is for sale, and there’s a Newcastle right around Fultondale – they wouldn’t have to change the name ;]
  • 4:08pm July 14
    Alright – they can hire all the laid off county employees! Who’s fanny are they pulling the $8 million from? That’s a lucrative fanny…
  • 4:16pm July 14
    I’ve said it before – this could be a money maker if they focus not on pro ball, but red neck fun (hunting, pro bass, nascar, ultimate fighting, wreslting). High school sports, college sports, stick with what works and it can make money, but pro sports are historically a no go. I’d add in beer festivals, barbeque cook offs, square dancing, and blue grass. Oh and dog shows! Ha ha!
    Still wish the design could play off the archecture of the old rail station!
  • 4:19pm July 14
    unbelievable.
  • 4:26pm July 14
    dude has NO IDEA what it costs to bring in a soccer team — that $8mm is just an ENTRY FEE into a BLACK HOLE, and soccer doesn’t sell tickets ANYWHERE in the US. teachers need to be screaming outside of city hall with posters before that passes, because someone’s on the take — use that money to create tax breaks to lure more auto business away from detroit.
  • 4:56pm July 14
    And so many worthy organizations were cut from the budget this year. It never ends.
  • 5:03pm July 14
    I think it’s a damn fine idea, myself. Then again, I like pretty much anything Larry does.
  • 5:08pm July 14
    A big resounding WTH and a follow-up with WTF
  • 9:04pm July 14
    Mayor Lala strikes again. What planet is he on?

What’s your take?

Heads up: John Katopodis guilty of mail, wire fraud

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

John KatopodisThe sideshow is over. The main act begins soon.

Once a city council member and a Jefferson County commissioner, John Katopodis (shown at left) formed a children’s charity, Computer Help for Kids, with then-HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy and then-Fairfield mayor and friend Larry Langford.

Scrushy, already sentenced to prison, lost a civil decision in June and owes $2.87 billion. With a ‘B.’

Langford, now Birmingham’s mayor, awaits federal criminal trial on Aug. 25 facing charges of conspiracy, bribery, fraud, money laundering and filing false tax returns alongside William Blount and Al LaPierre.

And Katopodis, for stealing money from the charity designed to bring computers to kids, was found guilty on all 97 counts of mail and wire fraud. The charity received money from the City of Birmingham and the Jefferson County Commission (during which time Langford served on the commission as member and as president).

But Langford is innocent until proven guilty.

Among the disbursements:

  • Katopodis withdrew money in New Orleans casinos.
  • He spent $250,000 on his friends.
  • He bought a guitar and electric piano for Langford and arranged for a car to be sold to Langford.
  • One check had the memo “TV Langford,” indicating a TV set purchased to give to Langford.

But Langford is innocent until proven guilty.

The issue surfaced in 2008 when HealthSouth filed a suit against Katopodis, which alleged charity money going to him, Langford and untrained computer technician/Playgirl centerfold/gay porn star Ryan Idol.

But Langford is innocent until proven guilty.

Katopodis is the fifth convicted former commissioner in the past three years, joining Mary Buckelew, Jeff Germany, Chris McNair and Gary White. He will be sentenced Oct. 28, facing up to 20 years per count and forfeiture of $162,910.

Langford is out on $50,000 bond. And he remains innocent until proven guilty.

Until proven guilty.

Birmingham News: “John Katopodis guilty on all 97 counts in Birmingham federal court”
Birmingham Business Journal: “Former JeffCo Commissioner Katopodis convicted of fraud”
Birmingham Weekly: “Katopodis Found Guilty On All Counts”

Heads up: Richard Scrushy ordered to pay HealthSouth $2.87 billion

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Richard Scrushy, HealthSouth founderThe last, last shoe has dropped. HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy must pay $2.87 billion as a result of a civil suit filed in 2002. Circuit Judge Allwin Horn ruled Thursday in the bench trial, writing, “Scrushy knew about the fraud and was an active participant in the fraud and consciously and willfully breached his fiduciary duties as CEO. Scrushy was the CEO of the fraud.”

Scrushy, who founded the physical rehabilitation company in 1984, was convicted in 2006 for bribery, conspiracy and mail fraud. He’s serving a 7-year sentence in a Texas federal prison.

Shareholders are likely to see very little of the fine, after the lawyers receive their cut.

Scrushy has the option to appeal the decision to the Alabama Supreme Court.
Birmingham News: HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy ordered to pay company $2.87 billion

Heads up: What will kill Birmingham first?

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

A race between swine flu and lost jobs


View H1N1 2009, swine flu, in Alabama in a larger map

U.S. Steel announced earlier today that it plans a temporary shutdown of its Fairfield plant, which employs 2,000 workers. Shutdown and restart dates were not announced. The plant is one of the company’s five (out of seven) North American operations shutting down.

But back to swine flu for a moment …

Above is a map with confirmed and probable swine flu cases in Alabama.

So what’s hurting us more: economic meltdown or mild bug? Or both?

Heads up: Alabama reports two possible swine flu cases

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

swine flu - playadura - flickr

Mexico City, Mexico, April 27, 2009

Alabama health officials announced earlier this evening that two sick schoolchildren in the Huntsville area are 95 percent likely to have contracted swine flu. The students attend Madison’s Heritage Elementary. As a precaution, schools and businesses in the area are closed for up to the next seven days.

A variant of influenza, swine flu is usually found in pigs and most often causes mild symptoms in humans. While regular influenza kills 500,000 people worldwide (36,000 Americans) each year — usually as a result of pneumonia in susceptible young and elderly patients — swine flu this year has caused eight deaths out of 148 cases worldwide.

The World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert to 5, the second-highest level, alerting countries to prepare immediately.

Also:

Birmingham News: Two Madison cases probably swine flu, Alabama officials say

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Heads up: Ladies’ choice

Monday, March 16th, 2009

basketball While only one men’s team in state has a halfway chance of making it into the Big Dance, the women are faring slightly better. Auburn is headed to north to play Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Auburn, a No. 2 seed, tips off at 11 a.m. Saturday in Piscataway. Yes, scenic Piscataway.

Bracket: NCAA

• Birmingham News: Auburn women will open NCAAs against Lehigh

• • •

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Heads up: March sadness

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

basketball Who’s going to the Big Dance? Not Alabama, nor Auburn, nor UAB.

Instead, the Alabama State Hornets are heading for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Sort of. They play Morehead State on Tuesday in the play-in match for the 64th spot, to face No. 1 Louisville on Friday.

Meanwhile, all’s not lost for other state teams. UAB plays at Notre Dame Tuesday and Tennessee-Martin comes to Auburn Wednesday in first-round NIT action.

Brackets: NCAA | NIT (PDF)

• Birmingham News: Alabama State to tangle with Morehead State in NCAA Tournament

• • •

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Heads up: Grand jury investigates Alabama Attorney General Troy King

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Alabama Attorney General Troy King Will gambling bring down the state attorney general? Last week, a grand jury heard witnesses testify about Troy King‘s relationship with gambling interests. U.S. Attorney Alice Martin is said to be leading the investigation.

Alabama’s “top cop” may be under investigation for selective prosecution of electronic bingo operators. He had accepted gifts from Alabama Power, but is responsible for representing customers before the Public Service Commission. King may have asked favors from Post Secondary Education Chancellor Roy Johnson while his office was investigating Johnson, who pled guilty to corruption charges, including receiving $1 million in kickbacks.

King said, “I don’t think I’m going to start talking about rumors. I don’t know the details of what you may or may not have heard, but I don’t think I’m going to start addressing things that may or may not have been heard in testimony before a grand jury.”
• Montgomery Independent: Federal Grand Jury in Montgomery probes actions of AG

• • •

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Heads up: Trace Adkins, Sara Evans, Gretchen Wilson set for Sticks

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Trace Adkins - Sticks Country Music Festival Yet another music festival will spring forth in Alabama, this one in Auburn. The Sticks Country Music Festival brings top acts to Auburn in April. Starting at $85, expect to see Trace Adkins (at left), Sara Evans, Gretchen Wilson, Diamond Rio and Rodney Atkins, among others.

The event takes place April 17-18 at Parker Hill, about 10 miles north of Auburn [map]. Like Bonnaroo and Enterprise’s Bamajam (which debuted in 2008), Sticks will encourage attendees to camp on site. Start planning your summer concerts now: It’s going to be a busy season.
Birmingham News: “Sticks festival set to build fan base in Auburn”

• • •

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Heads and tales: Here we are now, entertain us

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

The First 48 - A&EHomicide, life on the street: A&E’s reality doc “The First 48” airs at 8 tonight with a look at Birmingham’s finest on the job. Mayor Kincaid had nixed the idea back in 2007, but Mayor Langford gave it the OK. Will Birmingham, with its mixed bag of media images and Top 10 crime rate, fare well or poorly?

From the show site:

In Birmingham, join Lieutenant Praytor, Sergeant Noblitt, Detectives Williams, Anderson, Bristow, McCurdy, Morrow, Cotton, Jacobs, Tanks, Lucas and Torrence as they:

  • Investigate the murder of a victim found in the bed of his burnt out pick-up truck.
  • Trace the final route of a young man racing away from his killer after being shot in his car.
  • Discover the truth behind the murder of a man gunned down while driving home from work.
  • Crack open the story behind a shooting and car crash that leaves a young man dead at the wheel.

Saddest reality of all? “The experience has been the same for other detectives. Residents and witnesses who usually wouldn’t give them the time of day were talkative for the cameras. Criminals even confided to detectives that they watched the show. ‘It actually helped us,’ said senior detective Jody Jacobs. ‘The people liked to be on camera.’ ”

For those without cable (like us!), you should be able to watch online or buy from iTunes once the vids are posted. [See more in our special report, Crime Watch.]

• Birmingham homicide detectives to be part of new season of A&E show ‘First 48’ [Birmingham News]

[Don’t forget: “Survivor” recaps starting next Thursday featuring our two Alabama contestants: survivor.wadeonbirmingham.com.]

Movie magic: Airing at 7 tonight on WABM-68 is “Honeydripper,” a 2007 John Sayles film starring Danny Glover and Keb Mo’ set and shot in Alabama. Despite some past success with luring Hollywood productions to the state, our pal Chuck and Black and White laments the number of films that got away, including Lifetime’s Natalee Holloway flick. The stars that fell on Alabama are landing elsewhere.
• Honeydripper [Amazon.com]

Gotta give us what we need: Seriously? Chuck D at Miles College?! Damn. 7 p.m. Wednesday, free admission. In honor of the Public Enemy frontman: “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps / Sample a look back you look and find / Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check / Don’t worry be happy / Was a number one jam / Damn if I say it you can slap me right here.”
• Chuck D at Miles College [Black and White]

• • •

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Heads up: Former governor Guy Hunt dies

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Alabama governor Guy Hunt Former Alabama governor Guy Hunt died this afternoon at age 75 after battling lung cancer for several years. He made history repeatedly: first Republican governor since Reconstruction in 1986, first governor to be removed from office for a felony ethics conviction in 1993, and recipient of a rare full pardon based on the belief in his innocence in 1998.

He served in the Army during the Korean War, worked as an egg farmer and an Amway salesman, and served as a Primitive Baptist preacher. The Holly Pond native leaves behind a wife and four children.

Birmingham News: Guy Hunt — farmer, preacher, Alabama governor — dead at 75

• • •

More on Guy Hunt:

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Heads up: Tales from the unemployment line

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Wade Kwon - Birmingham Business Journal, Bob Farley, f8photo.org

What’s the best way to survive a layoff? What do you do when your full-time job has become all-time career confusion?

The current issue of the Birmingham Business Journal has an in-depth story on making your way in 2009 without a job but with direction. Lauren B. Cooper interviewed yours truly, and the incomparable Bob Farley of f8photo.org shot the portrait. My thanks to both and the paper for including me.

The link takes you to the online snippet (full access comes only with a year’s subscription at $86). Or head to your favorite newsstand today and slap down $2 for a print edition.
Birmingham Business Journal: Recession, job cuts create a talented labor pool

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Heads up: Larry Langford’s first year

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

In his first year, Mayor Larry Langford has proposed more ideas than you’ve forgotten about. Really.

Birmingham mayor Larry LangfordThe former Fairfield mayor, TV reporter, theme park entrepreneur and Jefferson County commissioner took office Nov. 13, 2007.

His effort to jump-start, well, everything about the city of Birmingham has generated publicity, arguments, questionable funding and often little else. Save for XO laptops (most still sitting in a warehouse) and periodic neighborhood cleanups, are residents and businesses better off than they were 365 days ago?

The Birmingham News did its standard roundup, prominently mentioning the elephant in the room (the federal grand jury investigation into his commissioner days). Langford says:

“I don’t feel like I need to justify anything to any of these people. The proof is right in front of their faces. We are further along than we have been in the last 20 years.”

An editorial marking his first anniversary in office repeats an oft-heard request: Finish a proposal, any proposal, before moving on to the next 10. Langford usually counters this by saying the city’s too far behind to concentrate on any one project at a time.

Birmingham Weekly catalogs the mayor’s cavalcade of ideas one agonizing month after another. It’s a litany of broken promises and political favors:

November 2007: Before taking office, Langford effectively fires Police Chief Annetta Nunn. In an interview with ABC 33/40, Langford says he will retain Nunn as a consultant to finish upgrades in police technology. Despite the promise, Langford never gives Nunn any such contract.

January 2008: The mayor’s office proposes a $1.4 million contract annually renewable with Ion Interactive to provide camera surveillance for the Birmingham Police Department. Ion Interactive was started by Claude Estes IV, a Birmingham accountant. … The contract is not put out for bid. The council approves the contract. The mayor’s office proposes a $1.3 million, 12-month contract with Tech Providers, Inc. to install financial software and train city employees to use it. Tech Providers Inc. was started by Claude Estes IV. … The contract is not put out for bid. The council approves the contract.

Really, you can just flip open any publication at any time to read about such shenanigans. In the most recent issue of Black and White, learn about him trying to hire a duplicate purchasing agent with a $102,000 salary.

Or just periodically check the BhamWiki for the ever-growing list of initiatives from Mayor Langford.

Larry Langford. Misunderstood dreamer? Schemer? Or about-to-be-indicted loser? And can Birmingham survive another three years?