Project update: What’s happening in Montgomery County

Hello, fellow sifters.

I know it’s been a while, but I’m back, and I plan to provide more frequent updates on what’s happening in Montgomery. So stay tuned!

I’ve put together a (sort of) brief update on the status of projects and issues the Montgomery County Commission has been working on. I’ve written about all these topics fairly recently, so refer back to our archives if you need some more information.

Youth Facility improvements: The commission has been discussing how it will fund $8.2 million in renovations needed at the Montgomery County Youth Facility. Last year, the county hired architects Seay Seay & Litchfield to prioritize the renovations and manage the project. The county also entered into a preliminary contract with Schneider Electric, an energy solutions company that conducted an energy efficiency study. The commission has the study, and has to decide whether to let the company work on the electrical, mechanical and plumbing upgrades using $1.1 million in federal energy conservation bonds that were allocated to the county in December 2011 by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. The county would bond the rest of the project, but the company will guarantee that the energy savings will pay for the cost of the project over time.

However, Seay Seay & Litchfield told the commission they can do the work on the facility at a lower cost than Schneider. The county has to decide whether to allow Schneider to move forward, or lose the $30,000 it already paid Schneider for the study and let the architectural firm do the work. The commission will see a presentation from both companies at future meetings and then make a decision.

The commission also asked the Alabama Department of Youth Services for $3 million in funding available through the Alabama Public School and College Authority. The executive director of the state agency asked the state’s finance department to release the money. The county is waiting to find out whether they received the funding.

The county also plans to use money received by refinancing the county’s bonds for the project.

South probate office: Earlier this month, the County Commission unanimously renewed its two-year lease with Capitol Plaza Associates for the south probate office for $1,869.57 per month, or about $22,434.84 per year, plus fees for the common area maintenance. The lease can be terminated with written notice three months before vacating.

The commission also tentatively agreed to consider leasing an unspecified amount of space in the main portion of the Montgomery Mall from Blue Ridge Capital. The commission is meeting with Probate Judge Steven Reed during the information session at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 4 to discuss moving the south office to the Montgomery Mall.

Election center director: The Montgomery County Commission has not yet taken action to move forward with hiring a director of elections, a position that has been vacant since Justin Aday left at the end of November. The commission has twice denied motions to approve starting the process. Commissioners have said they wanted to wait until Probate Judge Steven Reed was sworn into office. The director of elections reports directly to the probate judge.

However, it’s been several weeks since Reed was sworn in, and the county still hasn’t taken action. Before the City-County Personnel Department can move forward with advertising the opening, the commission has to approve filling the position.

The position requires candidates to have a master’s of business of public administration or a J.D. and four years of experience administering and conducting public elections, or an equivalent combination of education and experience, according to the job description. The starting salary is $58,610.

Changing the annual leave policy: In December, Deputy Sheriff Derrick Cunningham proposed the commission change the county’s annual leave policy so employees who don’t have an opportunity to take leave (also known as their vacation time) beyond what they’re allowed to carry over from year to year will be compensated for it. Under the current policy, employees are only allowed to carry over a certain number of hours based on their years of service. The new policy would allow employees who reach 40 hours or more over the maximum annual leave can be given the option of being paid for those hours, subject to approval. The employee would have to give one month notice of his or her intent to take advantage.

The change, however, would have a serious impact on the county’s annual budget because the policy would apply to all county employees.

According to a report requested by the County Commission, 28 employees who work for the sheriff’s office lost a total of 648.65 hours in 2012.

The commission will be discussing the policy at a future meeting.

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Making way for development

At the last Montgomery City Council meeting, the council approved a land swap between the city and two private companies that is needed for the redevelopment of the Maxwell Boulevard area.

The city, which owned five parcels of land west of Morris Street, swapped the land for four parcels on the east side of the street owned by Noble Investments, LTD. and Moore Properties, Inc. There was no monetary exchange, and it was an “equitable” exchange, said Montgomery Deputy Mayor Jeff Downes.

Downes said the city now owns all the land on the east side, and the other companies own everything on the west. The city has no concrete plans in place, but the land will be available for sale should any development opportunities come up, he said.

“It’s going to be easy for us to market and sell if we don’t have a hodgepodge of parcels,” Downes said. “We have a clear parcel of land.”

Map of parcel exchange north of Maxwell Boulevard

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Look out, Starbucks

The day I’ve been waiting since April 26 has finally come.

On April 26, I moved from Connecticut to Montgomery – a place devoid of perhaps the most amazing fast food chain on earth: Dunkin Donuts.

On April 26, my heart broke. I was devastated. Where would I get my iced coffee on the way to work? Where would I get my beloved ham and cheese Wake-Up Wrap for only 100 calories? Would I only ever sink my teeth into a warm, flaky croissant when I visited my family? Would I ever have another deliciously-glazed pumpkin donut in October?

I furiously started searching for the closest Dunkin Donuts. The restaurant locator at DunkinDonuts.com brought me some of the most depressing results ever: There is no Dunkin Donuts within 50 miles of Montgomery. The closest was 77 miles away in Pelham, Al., followed by 90 miles in Birmingham, 95 miles in Bessemer, 102 miles in Cottondale and 109 miles in Dothan.

I started to think it could be months before I place my lips over one of those orange and pink straws. A fellow reporter offered to take a road trip with me to the Dothan Dunkin Donuts. I seriously considered going to Birmingham for DD coffee one Sunday. But then one day, another reporter told me there were plans to build a Dunkin – right here in Montgomery! I quickly became excited, and started searching the archives. I found the brief that had been written more than a year ago, but there was no other solid evidence that this was really happening. I started asking around – city officials, friends who have lived here a while – but had no luck.

Ok, so I probably sound obsessed. But I didn’t know life would be so hard without my iced coffee with milk and one sugar. And it wouldn’t be so bad if there were coffee shops all over town or if I had easy access to an iced coffee. But if I’m at work (our office is downtown) and I want coffee, the closest Starbucks (or anything for that matter) is on Zelda Road, approximately 10 minutes (or 4.4 miles) away.

There are four Starbucks in a city of more than 200,000 people. Let’s put that into context.

In the Northeast, Dunkin Donuts are everywhere. You can’t drive more than a few miles without running into one, or even two. Some are across the street from each other. They’re in gas stations, Wal-Marts, Stop & Shops and in their own buildings. Let me throw this stat out. In the town I lived in, Norwich, which has a population of about 40,000 (roughly one-fifth the size of Montgomery), there are seven Dunkin Donuts. Not to mention another 16 within a 10-mile radius of Norwich.

For months, I’ve been trying to cope. I went to Starbucks. The coffee is good, but it’s expensive. It’s nearly $3.50 for a large iced coffee, which is roughly the size of a Dunkin medium. And Krispy Kreme – there’s only one here in Montgomery, and it’s completely out of my way. I haven’t even tried the coffee there. So, I decided to improvise. I bought ground Dunkin coffee, made it in my own coffee pot, and refrigerated it overnight. The result? It gave me the boost I needed, but it wasn’t the same. Nothing will ever be as good as my beloved Dunkin iced coffee. I was starting to lose hope.

But then one beautiful Saturday afternoon, everything changed. My friend and I were on our way to Salsaritas on Vaughn Road for some pre-pool lunch. On a plot of land next to the plaza was the beginning of some construction. I asked my friend if she knew what it was. She looked at me and nonchalantly said, “Dunkin Donuts.” Was she serious? How did she know? Why didn’t I know? How long had she kept this information from me?

All these questions came pouring out of my mouth. But her answers didn’t matter. I was absolutely thrilled. And this week, it was confirmed. Harrison Kwan, a Connecticut native like myself, said the Dunkin Donnts – located at 8025 Vaughn Road – will likely be open by October. And he said he’s committed to at least three Dunkin Donuts locations in Montgomery.

So the day has finally come.

October, for many reasons, will be a wonderful month. I’ll get to see my favorite band – a Texas country group called the Casey Donahew Band – play for the first time when they come to Tuscaloosa. I’ll turn 25, and my car insurance will go down. And perhaps most importantly, I’ll get to introduce my Southern friends to the wonder that is Dunkin Donuts. Look out, Starbucks. Dunkin is pushing its way onto the all-day breakfast scene in Montgomery.

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The “nature” of county politics

At last week’s Montgomery County Commission work session, Chairman Elton Dean made some interesting comments that shed some light on county politics.

Edward Davis, vice chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Human Resources, submitted his resignation April 12. The nominating committee unanimously recommended Donnie Mims, the county administrator, replace Davis until September 2015, when his term is up. Terry Benton, the director of the county department of human resources, wrote a June 26 letter to Mims asking him to accept the nomination.

But during the July 9 work session, which is an open meeting before the formal session that gives commissioners a chance to discuss items on the agenda, Dean said he was against appointing Mims because he is white. He said the person who replaces Davis, a black man, should be black as well. When asked about it again a week later, Dean stood by his comments.

“We want to be equally represented. Mr. Davis had been a long-time member of the human resources board. He’s worked 25 years for the community,” Dean said. “When you replace somebody of that nature, you should try your best to go back with someone of that nature.”

Dean said there isn’t enough black representation on the seven-member board.

Three of the current members are white, and three are black.

After Dean voiced his concern, County Commissioner Reed Ingram suggested a black female that could be appointed.

Appointments for the Montgomery County Board of Human Resource are made jointly by the County Commission and City Council.

According to state statute, the purpose of county Boards of Human Resources (the Department of Human Resources is the state’s social service agency) is to appoint and advise a county director of human resources. The board is responsible for identifying areas of need and developing facilities for “human betterment.” The board members serve as ex-officio members of the county’s Quality Assurance Committee. They also serve on state Department of Human Resources committees and task forces.

Each appointee serves a six-year term, but isn’t limited by a certain number of terms. At least two women have to serve on the board at all times.

Benton said the board usually plays a supportive role when it comes to special projects related to child welfare programs, jobs and other public assistance programs.

“There’s an expectation that they’re familiar with the social service community, and humanitarian issues in the community,” Benton said. “I hope whoever they appoint will be a supporting member. It’s their decision.”

Posted in Montgomery City Council, Montgomery County Commission, politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

It’s time for Pike Road candidates to qualify

Despite a several-month hiatus, The Daily Siftings is back. As Jill’s replacement, I’ve heard from coworkers, city officials, county officials and countless others that I have big shoes to fill. I hope I can do that, at least somewhat, as I get my footing here in Montgomery.

As most of you know, I moved here from Connecticut about 10 weeks ago. Yesterday, I did some extensive research on how elections in this state are run. My sources? The Montgomery County Election Center and the eleventh edition of the handy-dandy “Candidate Filing Guide” put out by the secretary of state’s office. I took a trip to the election center earlier today to find out the status of campaign fundraising for some of the county and Pike Road candidates.

Tuesday, July 3, was the first day Pike Road residents could qualify as candidates for the Aug. 28 municipal election. Four of the current town councilors (Betsy Atkins, Chris Dunn, Leroy Tolliver and Robert Steindorff) will run. Ty Glassford, who has served on the Pike Road Volunteer Protection Authority since 1991, has also joined the race.

Since there are no districts in Pike Road, each candidate has to choose a “place” to run in. The top five vote-getters do not win the election, which I thought was a bit strange. Those who wait to announce their candidacy can essentially choose who they run against. Incumbents aren’t required to run in the place they held before. Atkins, for example, opted to run in place three, a seat that’s currently held by Tommy Brassell. Brassell is the only incumbent who hasn’t yet submitted paperwork for re-election. He, and anyone else who wishes to run, has until July 17 to file.

None, however, have reached the campaign fundraising minimum threshold of $1,000, which is when they’re required to file a report with the election center. Starting July 28, the candidates will be required to file a weekly finance report.

Mayor Gordon Stone, the only candidate so far running for mayor so far, has raised more than $22,500 as of June 29. The only recorded expenditure he’s made was $3,440 to Diamond Leasing in June for administrative work, according to the finance report.

Check back later this week for campaign finance information on probate judge candidates Reese McKinney Jr. and Steven Reed, as well as county commission candidates.

Posted in elections, Pike Road, politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

… or maybe there WILL be more ‘Siftings’!

City Government reporter Kala Kachmar will be reviving ‘The Daily Sitftings’ blog with upcoming posts.

Kala has already taken over the Siftings Twitter account (@dailysiftings) and you can find links to her stories there along with links she shares on the Advertiser’s Facebook page.

I’m sure we’re ALL looking forward to getting back to sifting.

Terry Manning, multimedia editor

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No more ‘Sifting’

After recent personnel changes, it’s been decided that “The Daily Siftings” blog will be discontinued.

We wish Annie and Jill all the best in their new endeavors and hope you all will stay on the lookout for new education- and government-themed blogs from the Montgomery Advertiser.

— Terry Manning, multimedia editor

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So, have you heard about Birmingham?

Well it would be pretty hard to not have heard by now that the Birmingham Board of Education is under investigation by the state and is essentially being taken over by a state team. The board has been told not to take any action on items that are not routine.

According to the Birmingham News, the school board is not allowed to “initiate or approve any non-routine items at its meetings without the state’s OK.” Birmingham’s ban on taking action will be in effect until the state’s investigation of the board is complete, the paper writes. Some Birmingham area legislators are questioning whether such a move is legal.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice

The school board antics just an hour or so north of here have been in the limelight since last week when State Superintendent Tommy Bice attended a Birmingham board meeting and the state board made its decision to investigate. The Birmingham board’s shenanigans make Montgomery’s previous inter-board feuding look tame.

The state intervention comes after months of infighting by the board, as well as questionable meeting practices, and at the request of some board members that the state step in. At the recent meeting where Bice attended, the board attempted to fire its superintendent twice and ended up squabbling among each other.

All this to say, could something like that have happened or happen in Montgomery? It’s been awhile since bickering stalled a meeting in Montgomery, but it has certainly happened. Though in recent months Montgomery officials have taken steps to stamp out infighting. Remember the Alabama Association of School Boards training from earlier this year?

At that time the AASB had hoped the Birmingham board could be next to take advantage of the communications training.

Would they benefit from such training? Or is the Birmingham School Board too far gone? Do you see similarities to Montgomery or are they completely different?

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Carlinda who?

Most folks in Montgomery probably still remember Carlinda Purcell, even though she was the school system’s top leader a couple superintendents ago. After all her departure was fairly dramatic.

Former Superintendent Carlinda Purcell at the joint meeting of the Montgomery County Commission, the Montgomery City Council and the Montgomery County Board of Education on May 4, 2006. (Montgomery Advertiser file photo, Mickey Welsh)

The Reading (P.A.) Eagle reports the school board there recently selected Purcell to lead its system. She will begin this summer and have a five-year contract. Her starting salary will be $175,000.

Since her split from Montgomery in September 2006 (which was less than amicable) Purcell has been a finalist for several jobs, including ones in Toledo, Ohio and Rochester, N.Y.

Purcell came to the system as superintendent in December 2004. You will recall she was asked by the school board to step aside in August 2006. In the end it took court-ordered mediation and a settlement that involved the school system buying Purcell’s home to sever the relationship between her and Montgomery Public Schools.

It took more than a month before the details were worked out and also involved Purcell filing suit against the board.

The 600 Keeneland Court home where Carlinda Purcell lived when she was Montgomery County school superintendent. (Montgomery Advertiser file photo, Julie Bennett)

The board ended up giving Purcell a settlement of more than $223,000, which included a year’s compensation and money for her relocation. Her home was  purchased for $327,500 and the board paid her $56,000 in accrued vacation, insurance allowances and deferred compensation. The home was sold in December 2009.

Purcell was later replaced by John Dilworth, who was on the job for two years. He was replaced by current Superintendent Barbara Thompson.

According to the Reading paper, the issues in Montgomery were discussed during Purcell’s interview where she indicated the friction was “the result of a new board coming into power and a conflict of philosophy and style.”

The answer satisfied the Reading board who voted unanimously to tap Purcell as their superintendent. She begins July 1.

Posted in Montgomery Public Schools | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Dirty jobs? More like crucial jobs.

You may recall lots of recent chit chat about a proposed career tech center for Montgomery Public Schools students. The board has appeared pretty enthusiastic about giving, as Superintendent Barbara Thompson would say, students “new pathways.”

The center would be about teaching students the knowledge they need to obtain jobs in skilled trade fields, think welding, plumbing, etc. Thompson wrote a guest column about the new tech center in Sunday’s paper. The idea would essentially be to marry at-risk students, who don’t necessarily thrive in the traditional classroom setting, with specialized/needed skills that interest them.

In her column and in previous discussion Thompson has made mention of Mike Rowe (creator of Dirty Jobs, very cool show if you haven’t seen it) and his testimony before Congress where he talks about the importance of getting students training for these jobs. Ask yourself: in 20 years, what if there are no skilled plumbers?

The board and Thompson have watched his testimony and we thought we’d share a video of it here. What do you think?

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