A round-up of Sunday editorials from Alabama’s leading newspapers

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A round-up of Sunday editorials from Alabama’s leading newspapers:

The Anniston StarMore time is good for charter schools in Alabama

Some states sprinted toward charter schools 20 years ago. Others jogged, calmly and orderly. Alabama’s journey to charter schools, meanwhile, has resembled a pedestrian’s slog up and down Anniston’s Henry Road — slow, with twists and turns and peril.

Those comparisons get us to this: Alabama’s first charter schools won’t open until 2017, state officials said this week, and that sounds about right to us. For too long, Alabama has been hampered by a virulent anti-charter school belief that stomped down most rational discussions about those schools. Now that the state Legislature has OK’d charters, a 12-month rush to christen Alabama’s first charter school next fall would be the height of foolishness.

We’ve waited this long. Methodical preparation will prove beneficial.

Quite frankly, our concerns about charter schools don’t involve calendars and start dates. They involve implementation, oversight and performance. If anything, these years of Montgomery debate about charters have allowed informed Alabamians to get a better understanding of how these schools work — and how they don’t, in some cases. That is the key.

Charter schools are neither utopias nor universal successes. They can work wonders and they can be dismal additions. In truth, the entire concept of charter schools in Alabama rests on the decisions made by the Alabama Charter School Commission. Its members are contractors building a house from scratch. If their blueprints are sketchy, if the foundation they pour is weak, then it won’t stand. Cracks and failures will be inevitable.

We’re as eager as anyone to see substantive change come to public education in Alabama. Our children, especially those in many rural and low-income areas, deserve better than what they’re getting. Another year to build a charter-school program built on concrete, defensible policies isn’t such a bad thing at all.

The Birmingham News – Acclaimed director says Civil War was about ‘slavery. slavery. slavery.’

The most celebrated Civil War documentarian of the modern era said yesterday that the War Between the States’ boiled down to one thing: “Slavery. Slavery. Slavery.”

Long before Downton Abbey and Sherlock, 40 million viewers tuned into PBS to watch Ken Burn’s acclaimed documentary, “The Civil War.” The nine episode series won more than 40 industry awards and is widely regarded as contributing to a revival of interest in Civil War history and analysis.

Now Burns is making the media rounds promoting an updated and remastered version of the series which will air September 7 – 11 to recognize the 150th anniversary of the end of the war and the 25th anniversary of the series.

According to Burns, from the country’s beginning, “slavery was like a sleeping serpent. It lay coiled under the table during the deliberations,” and that the Civil War continues to inform and affect life in America.

In part because of films like Birth of a Nation that glorify the Ku Klux Klan, Burns argues that Americans have “permitted themselves to be sold a bill of goods about what happened.”

Emphatically, he lays to rest the myth that the Civil War was about states’ rights or nullification:

In South Carolina’s Articles of Secession, they do not mention states’ rights. They mention slavery. Slavery. Slavery. And that we have to remember, it is much more complicated than that, but essentially the reason why we murdered each other… was over, essentially, the issue of slavery.

Since the beginning the United States has been a nation of complexities and contradictions. As Burn puts it, “the main American theme is freedom. It’s about individual freedom in opposition or in tension with collective freedom.”

The Decatur Daily – Hits and misses

Jurors need to follow rules

Evidence of jury misconduct was presented in court Wednesday relating to the May conviction of Joel Moyers for capital murder.

According to one of the jurors, five other jurors discussed the case at lunch. Specifically, they talked about how to convince a holdout juror to change his mind.

While the pressure on jurors to reach a verdict can be intense, the consequences of misconduct are dramatic. It erodes confidence in the system, and it potentially wastes money. The cost of a capital murder trial — including defense and prosecution costs — runs close to $300,000.

Limestone County Circuit Court Judge James Woodroof soon will be in the unpleasant position of having to decide whether the alleged jury misconduct requires a new trial. His focus must be entirely on whether Moyers received a fair trial. Looming in the background, however, is the enormous amount of time and taxpayer money that went into the case.

Cold Case Unit shows its value

Technology at times seems to be a mixed blessing, but its benefits were evident in this week’s trial of David Leon Garth Jr.

A series of brutal rapes in 1985 and 1986 traumatized Decatur. With no firm identifications, and without the benefit of DNA technology, the rapes went unsolved. In 2012, however, the state attorney general’s Cold Case Unit opened an investigation. Decatur police still had three of four rape kits from the incidents, and the DNA matched Garth.

Garth, 46, already was in prison serving a 99-year sentence. Any questions about the financial wisdom of trying him for the rapes was answered conclusively by one of the victims after the jury found him guilty.

“I never knew if the person I’m talking to could’ve been that person,” the victim said of her assailant. “I’ve been his prisoner for 30 years.”

Lawrence County needs to resolve animal issues

A handful of volunteers stepped up in a big way to address a growing problem with stray animals in Lawrence County, but it’s a problem the County Commission is legally obligated to address.

Since terminating an animal control contract with Bobbie Taylor, who was charged with animal cruelty and neglect, the county hired a minimum-wage animal control officer temporarily. She collected 300 strays in six weeks. Lacking a place to house them, she resorted to pleading with people to keep them on a temporary basis, until rescue agencies will take them or their owners are found.

One of the foster families has 28 cats. Another had as many as 26 dogs.

The generosity of the families caring for the animals is laudable, but the county is responsible for dealing with the strays.

It’s past time for the commission to confront the problem and deal with it.

Dothan Eagle – Pride in our community

A common complaint about the media – local, regional, national and international – is that the news is always bad. That’s an understandable observation; much of what takes up air time and newspaper real estate explores the worst of us – murder, mayhem, criminal and subversive behavior, political shenanigans, and mishaps that result in tragedy.

However, there is far more to our day-to-day lives than the most recent terrible thing.

Several weeks ago, members of our staff undertook a project to examine the extent of pride in our community. What they found was eye-opening – in virtually every walk of life in Dothan, the people of our community are proud of where they live, the work they do, the endeavors they’re involved in and the people who live, work, play and worship around them.

The depth and breadth of the stories we heard are heartwarming, and in a special insert in today’s Eagle, our staff has assembled many of those expressions of pride.

Each of the stories provides a glimpse into residents’ perspective on this area they call home. Among our favorites are the stories told by volunteers, who have committed to activities to improve our city and surrounding area with no material compensation, only the depth of pride in contributing to the greater good.

We present these stories today, and urge our readers to save the special section and enjoy each story at their leisure. We’re sure you’ll finish with a greater appreciation of the place you call home. We know we did.

The Enterprise Ledger – Schedules for Tide and Tigers bottom heavy

In 10 days, we can perhaps find out if Jeremy Johnson is going to be a combination of Peyton Manning and Randall Cunningham.

In 10 days, we will find out if Alabama’s defense will match the Pittsburgh Steel Curtain.

In 10 days, we’ll see if Steve Sarkisian is somehow still employed by USC.

The first two will take time to develop. The latter will continue to be a black eye on Pat Haden and the Trojans’ football program as long as “Sark” roams the sidelines. You simply cannot allow such acts at an institution of higher learning, unless of course how to conduct yourself properly is not a requisite of your school. Sarkisian tried to come back Tuesday and saying his drunken act caught on video at a USC fan event was the result of a mixture of alcohol and medication. Does that not make him look worse? Shouldn’t a guy making the money he makes at USC, ANYONE for that matter, know better than to mix alcohol with medication? Shouldn’t a guy in his position just know better than to get drunk ANYWHERE outside of his home?

Get the guy help, yes, but he will likely never have the respect of players and their parents again. How can he discipline a player if he gets into trouble for acting like a fool?

We get rid of Jameis Winston, a first-teamer in the history of college football’s bad boys, now we get a coach acting a fool. Oh, and then there’s Baylor’s Art Briles, who is in more hot water than four scoops of Folger’s in my morning coffee pot.

Fortunately, the games begin next week.

Auburn and Alabama each have powerful openers.

TimesDaily – Mass shootings leave all of us with feelings of insecurity

Through Wednesday, 2015 had seen 238 days and 247 mass shootings in America.

That’s a simple fact, not a political position. This terrible dilemma is not about politics, but as a nation we seem to have drawn cultural lines, and so desperately hold them dear that our first reaction upon hearing of the latest slaughter is to defend or attack, rather than to study and deal with the problem at hand.

That dysfunctional thought process, fueled by rants and shouts on both traditional and social media, is not only dehumanizing to the victims and their loved ones, it’s unproductive.

A TV reporter and cameraman are shot and killed during a live broadcast. We respond by alluding to whatever social position we value. Guns are either to blame, or could have saved the day. The shooter owned a gay symbol, so the gay flag must be done away with, as some have said of the Confederate flag.

Pick your position and point a finger.

We can blame society; we can blame social media; we can blame guns or sexual orientation or race or religion.

None of that matters, and no amount of rhetoric can make it lead to a solution. But it does raise the unanswered question: Are we culpable for what we allow as a citizenry and what we do not?

We are not helpless — no matter what a political leader, a media figure, or our misguided conscience says — in putting an end to this.

Criminal justice professor Adam Lankford of the University of Alabama has done a study revealing the U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population and produces 31 percent of its public mass shooters.

Other facts: More than 60 percent of the world’s school and workplace shootings from 1966 through 2012 were committed in America.

We have produced five times the number of mass shooters in the past half-century as the second-highest country on the list, the Philippines.

Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof, of The New York Times, reported more Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years of terrorist attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

The Gadsden Times – Using reserve deputies a gold-star idea

Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin proposed this week to relieve the strain on his department’s budget by employing reserve deputies on a part-time basis to fill certain, specific jobs now requiring a deputy, thus cutting down on the number of overtime hours paid.

We see this as a smart move, fiscally, and a reward for the reserve deputies who have donated their time not only in serving the community, but in passing the strict requirements to become a reserve.

Here are a few points to consider:

  • Entrekin’s proposal would allow for reserve deputies to take over roles such as security details and monitoring prisoners who are hospitalized. The sheriff noted as an example a prisoner who has been hospitalized since February, meaning a deputy has to be posted around the clock, seven days a week, as a guard.
  • Part-time employees will work limited hours, meaning they do not accrue retirement or other benefits.
  • There would be no initial outlay of money, because each deputy is trained and outfitted with the proper gear.
  • As mentioned already, reserves donate countless hours in service to the community. Receiving an offer of pay is a nod to their commitment.

The Huntsville Times –An unabashed liberal’s take on the election so far

As we approach another Presidential election, Democrats should be poised to win in a historic landslide particularly against current GOP front-runner and daily gaffe blowhard, Donald Trump, yet nothing this election cycle has been predictable or boring.

For a seasoned politico, like Clinton, this should be like taking candy from a baby, except Trump is one belligerent, colicky, and extremely big whiny baby who seems to be highly oversensitive to questions that he can’t answer without spewing nonsensical rhetorical cacophony. Trump also has the luxury of only being accountable to his main donor, himself, which alone should speak to why he is unfit to be trusted with nuclear bomb codes and may also explain why his comments are so egocentric and absurd. His most trusted advisor, himself, is nothing short of an arrogant fool that will surely embarrass America on the world stage if we’re crazy enough to elect this charlatan. Sadly, Americans are watching his reality show slow motion train wreck campaign and Democrats need to quickly find a way to prevent his undisciplined and misogynistic mouth from sucking all the air out of the room.

Although, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton maintains a sizeable lead in current polling, her position is far from secure. She will likely survive the media-fueled scandal mongering that has focused on her emails while serving as Secretary of State, but her bigger issue is an overall apathy that many voters feel about her candidacy and policy positions. Being an heir to the nomination, regardless of resume qualifications, doesn’t engender the unbridled enthusiasm as seen in the Bernie Sanders campaign. Clinton’s odds to win the nomination: 2-1.

Democrats are getting increasingly more excited about “Feeling the Bern” because he appears to genuinely feel their pain especially when talking about issues such as growing wealth disparity and reforming Wall Street. As Sanders gets bigger and bigger audiences, they are less apprehensive about the “socialist” moniker attached to him and more excited about the fact that he substantive and innovative policy solutions. Sanders odds: 4-1, but improving.

Press-Register – Heard about new law making it illegal to smoke in a car around children? Well…

You’ve probably seen something on social media about a new law that prohibits people from smoking in a car when children are present. There is such a law, but it won’t affect people in the U.S.

Let’s talk about that:

I saw where smoking while in a car with children will be illegal Oct. 1. Is that correct?5

Yes, if you live in England.

Starting Oct. 1, it will be illegal for retailers to sell electronic cigarettes to someone under 18 and for adults to purchase tobacco products or e-cigarettes for someone under 18. The law also makes it illegal to smoke in private vehicles that are carrying someone under 18.

Tell me more…

The law says that private vehicles must be smoke free if they are enclosed and more than one person is present and one of them is 18 or younger. The fine for violators is about $78 US dollars. A convertible with its top back doesn’t count as enclosed but one with a sunroof – even if it’s wide open – does. The rules don’t apply to motorhomes, campers, boats or work vehicles.

Why the change?

It all comes down to health. Secondhand smoke is dangerous, particularly in an enclosed space such as a car. It can be particularly harmful for children, who breathe more rapidly and have less developed airways, lungs and immune systems.

Scary facts

More than 80 percent of cigarette smoke is invisible and opening windows does not remove its harmful effects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency,the level of toxic air in a vehicle where someone is smoking is up to 10 times greater than levels that are considered hazardous.

Montgomery Advertiser – Ala.’s education budget doesn’t have a surplus

A few days back, on a Saturday morning, I was killing a little time by scrolling through the Twitter feed when I stumbled upon an interesting exchange.

Mary Scott Hunter, a member of the state school board, and state Sens. Phil Williams and Will Ainsworth – all three Republicans – are going back and forth over a proposal that some Republicans in the Alabama Legislature are pushing.

One that would steal $250 million from public education.

The theory that is being used to support this lunacy is that the education trust fund has money to spare, because it has a reserve fund that actually has money in it. The reason it has money is because these same GOP lawmakers thought it was important to set up a fund that would safeguard against lean financial years.

So, they implemented the rolling reserve act, which created spending caps and set up reserve accounts that required the state to save some money in case of down times and also to make school improvements.

After a few decent economic years, there is money in the reserve fund.

But pretending like there’s an overflow of cash in that account is misguided, because public school funding in Alabama is still down some 20 percent since 2008. Teachers have seen one raise in the last eight years. Transportation still isn’t fully funded by the state. Textbooks are still a major issue for some districts.

So, when Hunter noticed a story stating that Alabama’s education trust fund budget had an excess of money and that lawmakers were pushing the idea of robbing that fund to cover the general fund’s $250 million hole, she took issue.

“There is no ‘large’ excess in the two ETF budgets I know best: K-12 and community colleges,” Hunter tweeted.

To which Williams replied: “No. You don’t know best. Never saw you in a budget meeting. Surplus is real and better than taxes.”

Yeah, he’s sweet.

Opelika-Auburn News – Making Auburn better

On May 5, 1998, the Auburn City Council adopted a long-range plan for the city called Auburn 2020.

“Seven committees consisting of approximately 200 citizen volunteers, elected officials, and city staff spent much time and effort toward creating comprehensive reports that address the areas of education, growth and development, intergovernmental relations, transportation, utilities and technology, family and community, and public safety,” a city resolution signed by then-Mayor Jan Dempsey said. “These seven reports outline detailed strategies and goals to guide the decisions of the City Council aimed at making Auburn a better community through citizen involvement.”

Auburn has accomplished many of the “22 Goals for 2020,” which are listed on the city’s website along with the plan. Some of the goals include:

Continue strong community financial support of the Auburn City Schools with the goal of retaining the reputation as one of the outstanding public school systems in the Southeast.

Establish a community network of sidewalks and bicycle trails that will allow all citizens to use alternative modes of transportation.

Construct a senior citizens center to house expanded programs for Auburn’s seniors and a teen center for afternoon and evening recreation for Auburn teenagers.

Auburn 2020 has served the city well, and CompPlan 2030, adopted by the City Council in October 2011, provides goals, objectives and policies on areas such as future land use, natural systems, transportation, parks and recreation, public safety and historic preservation, through 2030.

That plan is designed to be evaluated and updated every five years.

It may be time for Auburn leaders to update both plans to help address the city’s remarkable growth.

Auburn is one of the most desirable cities in which to live in Alabama, as evidenced by population, commercial and industrial gains. Thousands of residents enjoy “The Loveliest Village” because it is not a big city, yet enjoys many amenities that larger cities do not have.

However, many people fear the city’s current growth could have long-term consequences. They cite recent and proposed developments near the heart of the city. A new apartment complex on Ross Street along with a proposed 75-foot, mixed-use development at the corner of Wright Street and West Glenn Avenue alarm many residents – especially those who have lived in Auburn for decades. We’ve published many of their letters on this page.

The Tuscaloosa News – Redistricting: It’s just a matter of who benefits

We don’t envy the panel of appeals court judges who have been picked (or perhaps picked on) to adjudicate the lawsuit over Alabama’s legislative districts. They have the unenviable task of gerrymandering legislative districts in a way that pleases the U.S. Supreme Court but not in a way that displeases the U.S. Supreme Court.

In other words, just about any redistricting plan involves gerrymandering. The question is, who does it benefit?

On the surface, that might sound cynical. As grade-school children, our history and civics texts taught us that gerrymandering, the act of intentionally altering a district to the benefit of a politician, party or definable group, was unconstitutional. On that just about everyone agrees — as they go merrily about their way gerrymandering districts.

Take the Alabama Black Caucus for instance. It doesn’t like the brand of gerrymandering employed by Republicans who won a super-majority in 2010, running in districts drawn by Democrats. But let it never be said the Alabama Black Caucus doesn’t like gerrymandering.

In fact, it suggested that it could easily gerrymander districts that suit them. All they’d need to do was blatantly violate the principle of one man, one vote by allowing district populations to vary by as much as 10 percent. The districts drawn by Republicans varied in population by only 2 percent.

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