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March 17, 2011     The Tuskegee News
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March 17, 2011

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PaEe A-4, The TuskeEee News, March 17, 2011 OPINION Forestry Commission budget cuts could be considered catastrophic Dear Landowners: Today, the Forestry Commission is facing a crisis that will result in a catastrophic reduc" tion in our capability to continue protecting you a~d Alabama's forests. As a forest landowner and homeowner, you re- ceive a major benefit from the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC), even if you have never called on us for assistance. Our firefight- ers are on call, for you, every hour of every day, to protect your property from wildfires. Over the past several years, we have taken extraordinary measures to reduce our operating costs in the face of steadily declining revenue, Although the Alabama Forestry Commission is a "public safety" agency, in the past 16 months we have been forced to reduce the number of firefighting crews by nearly 25 percent. With our current staffing levels, we do not have the personnel to provide landowners and homeown- ers with adequate fire protection during periods of high fire occurrence. The Governor's recommended 2012 State General Fund (SGF) budget for the Alabama Forestry Commission is $7.7 million. This is a reduction of $5.8 million from the 2011 SOF budget. A reduction of this magnitude, com- bined with other losses in revenue, will result in the AFC having only 50 percent of the fire- fighting crews needed to protect Over 22.7 mil- lion acres of forestland and over 8,000 communities identified as moderate-to-high risk areas for fires. Reductions of this size will result in many counties having little or no protection from wildfires. We will reach a point where we can- not respond to multiple wildfires, resulting in fires which destroy tens of thousands of :~:::of forest land, along with homes and other tures. The state has seen a steady growth the past few years of more and more homes being built within forested areas, increasing the risk of wildfire damage and complexity of forest tire fighting. Additionally, these reductions will mean all AFC services with the exception of firefighting would have to be eliminated. If you value the forests of Alabama and the services of the Forestry Commission, please call, write, or visit your local legislators and ask them to keep the AFC's general fund appropriation for 2012 level to what was received in 2011. We expect the Legislature to begin consider- ing the 2012 budgets within the next several weeks and your contacts are critical to help en- sure the AFC can continue to provide fire pro- tection for the homeowners and forest landowners of Alabama, as well as other serv- ices provided by the Forestry Commission. If you need additional information to share with your legislators, we have "talking points," fact sheets, and other material available. Please call the AFC office in your area, or con- tact Mike Kyser (334) 240-9357 or Regina Miller at (334) 240-9303 if such material would be helpful. The ability of the Forestry Commission to pro- vide even the most basic services is at stake. I hope you will join many of your fell6w landown" ers who are already making contact with legis: lators and other leaders in state government. Thank you in advance for helping in this most important effort. Sincerely, Linda Casey State Forester Letters to the Editor Policy The Tuskegee News gladly accepts letters to the editor. Letters should be submitted to The Tuskegee News office by Friday prior to the next Thursday publication date. Letters must be signed and contain a contact phone number. Letters should also be typed double-spaced (non-italics, sentence case). The Tuskegee News reserves the right to edit all letters for content and length. ey selects excellent lnet Gov. Robert Bentley has gar- nered 'an excellent cabinet. Much like his predecessor Bob Riley, he has chosen and coaxed into service people who are serving to better the state and not themselves. Many, if not all, of Bentley's api pointments are financially inde- pendent, comfortably retired or career public servants uniquely and highly qualified to run the state agencies they will oversee. Bentley's cabinet members are very similar to Riley's cabinet. In fact, at least five of Bentley's ap- pointments are holdovers from Rfley's illustrious team. John Harrison~has been reap- pointed as Banking Superinten- dent. He has been the state banking chief since 2005. He is a lifelong community banker and former Mayor of Luverne. Jim Ridling has been reap" pointed as Commissioner of Insur- ance. Ridling is perfectly suited for this post. He is a retired and for- mer President and Chief Executive Officer of Southern Guaranty In- surance Company. He began his lifelong career in insurance with Fireman's Fund in' 1967. He is also a cofounder of a bank in Mont" gomery. Bentley has reappointed Tom Surtees to continue as Director of the Department of Industrial Rela- tions. Surtees has enjoyed a suc- cessful career in human resources. He has held prominent posts with Citation Corp. and Stockhom Valves in Birmingham. He has also served as a member of both the Jefferson County Board of Ed- ucation and the Pleasant Grove City Council. Nancy Bucker has been reap- pointed by Bentley to remain as Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources. She is very highly respected in her field as well as by the Department person- nel. Bentley kept another one of Inside the Statehouse by Steve Flowers Columnist Rfley's people in his administra- tion but changed his role. Art Faulkner was Homeland Security Director under Riley. He will be Director of the Alabama Emer- gency Management Agency under Bentley. Bentley chose highly qualified professionals to lead several other major departments. He selected some outstanding people who are experts in their fields to direct the National Guard, Mental Health and Children's Affairs agencies. Major General Perry Smith has a distinguished military resume a mile long. He will be the Adjutant General and be in charge of the National Guard. Zelia Baughn will be Commissioner of Mental Health. She was formerly the Ad" ministrator of Psychiatry at UAB. Marquita Davis has the perfect re- sume for Commissioner of Chil- dren's Affairs. Many consider the appointment of Speaker Seth Hammett as Di- rector of the Alabama Dovolop- ment Office to be Bentley's most stellar appointment. Hammett is perfectly suited for this verylm- portant industry recruiting post. Along with Hammett, Bentley chose two more former legislative colleagues to serve in his cabinet. Former Republican Representa- tive Mac Gipson of Prattville will be Administrator of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Bentley chose Representative Spencer Col" her of Bayou La Batre, who was probably his best friend in the Leg- islature, to be the Director of Homeland Security. Gov. Bentley has also selected several of his closest lifetime friends to join his inner circle. His choice to head the burgeoning Medicaid Agency is physician Bob Mullins of Valley. Bentley and Mullins grew up together in Columbiana and have known each other virtually their entire lives. They even roomed together while in medical school. Mullins is eminently qualified to be Medicaid Commissioner. He has been a beloved family physician in Valley for nearly four decades and is a former President of the State Medical Association. Bentley chose another of his dos- est friends to be his Chief of Staff. Circuit Judge Chuck M~one of Tuscaloosa is the presiding judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit. He has had a distinguished career as a lawyer and jurist in his home" to~vn of Tuscaloosa. He has been a judge for 10 years and has chosen to leave the bench to serve his best friend in Montgomery. Bentley and Malone are both active deacons to- gether at the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa. Bentley has tapped a young'but distinguished Birmingham Lawyer with Finance Department experience, David Perry, for the very prominent position of ~']nance Director. Bentley has chosen suc- oooo~- ] ~ oino~man John Cooper of Huntsville to be the Director of the Department of Transportation. Popular Prattville Mayor, Jim Byard, ~ head the politically powerful ADECA. Dr. Bentley has chosen an exem- plary cabinet and gotten off to an excellent start as governor. See you next week. Steve Flowers is Alabama's lead- ing political columrdst. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at Introducing Tuskegee to Tuskegee. . . I would like to begin this Mayor's Corner with a prayer for the recovery of one of the most courageous role models that I know, Mrs. Amelia Boyn- ton Robinson. Mrs. Robinson is in the hospital in Montgomery and we ask all to pray for her and her family during these difficult days. Mrs. Robinson is the motiva- tion behind the Mayor's Cor- ner, for it was her suggestion that I began to write to the citi- zens on a regular basis. I can remember it like it was yesterday when we were seated at the same table at the Kel- logg Conference Center located on the campus of Tuskegee University. Mrs. Robinson said, "Mayor you should write a column in The Tuskegee News and you should call it the Mayor's Cor- ner". Although others had sug- gested that I write a column before, it seemed as if the tim- ing was right when she spoke to my heart. I will forever be grateful and Mayor's Corner by Omar Neal M~yorfruskegee appreciative for her wise coun- sel. This p stweek we received the 20.11 draft update of the Tuskegee comprehensive plan; a yearlong process of citizens input, gathering information and updating the already exist- ing 2010 comprehensive plan. After reading the document in its entirety, I was amazed at the ebbs and flows of our city for the past 100 years. I asked myself, how many citizens truly recognize the greatness of Tuskegee and what she has meant to the evolution of the world. This small city has con- tributed greatly and we should all be very proud of that fact. However, for the past 30 plus years Tuskegee has taken a hit in terms of population, infra- structure, retail, healthcare, Jobs, education, public safety, and recreation decline. Although I can truly say that we are on our way back and that we have a plan to revital- ize our great and historic city. One thing that the citizens must understand is that we did not arrive in our current posi- tion over night. It will take time to restore Tuskegee fueled by commitment and a coopera- tive spirit from all of our citi- zens. I encourage every citizen to read the 2011 comprehensive plan and make your thoughts known before it is adopted by the City Council. This is a 10-year plan that will serve as a guide for the de- velopment of Tuskegee. How well do you know Tuskegee? Then please allow me to in- troduce a great city with a great people, Tuskegee, Ala- bama. A With spring break for local Brooks went through 33 items , schools this week, there is no under consideration for dealing rest for the weary when it with the budget shortfall. comes to dealing with financial The options aren't pretty, issues facing education inAla- ranging from possible layoffs to bama. schools closings and cutting That's the situation with the progressive programs. They Macon County Board of Educa- Hill be discussed in more de- tion after Gov. Robert Bentley tails at the Thilrsday, March 17 recently declared 3 percent pro- meeting of the board. It begins ration, trimming $439,152 at 6:30 p.m. at Booker T. Wash- from the Macon County School ington High School. Even District's current budget, though students and teachers That's on top of proration cuts are on spring break, a large of 9 and 11 percent the final crowd is expected to he in at- two years of former Gov. Bob tendance. Riley's Administration during which the governor wiped out * * * * * * * * * * * all the reserves and stimulus Another group taking a break money going for education, this week is the Alabama Leg- As is her mindset, Macon islature. It's a good thing. Schools Superintendent Dr. Legislators need a break to Jacqueline Brooks wasted lit- catch their collective breaths tle time tackling the latest after the newly-elected Repub- challenge. During a called lican majority has pushed meeting of the board last week, through its agenda like a bull- Noted in Passing by Guy Rhodes Editor/Publisher dozer moving anything in its path. A special session that lasted six days before Riley left office -- but with the elected Repub- lican legislators in place pushed through much needed ethics reform. Since the Regular Session under Gov. Bentley began, the controversial DROP program for educators and a new educa- tion budget formula have been on a fast track. Speculation is that Republi- can leaders Mike Hubbard, Speaker of the House, and Del Marsh, president pro tempore of the Senate, want to pass the education and general fund budgets in April and adjourn long before normal completion time. That means little if any -- other legislation Hill be consid- ered. State Sen. Billy Beasley of District 38, and State Rep. Peb- blin Warren of District 82 are Democrats representing Macon County. With 22 of 35 Senate seats and 65 of 105 House seats held by Republicans, Beasley and Warren are predictably frustrated, along with their fel- low Democrats, by having little to no input in the proceedings. There appears to be a spirit of vindictiveness led by Hubbard. Many believe Riley is calling the shots for Hubbard, who openly admires Riley .as his mentor to the degree one of Hubbard's children is named Riley. Riley endorsed Bradley Byrne as the Republican nomi" nee for governor. Bentley shocked Bryne in claiming a narrow victory for the nomina" tion and then easily defeating Democrat Ron Sparks for gov- ernor. Bentley assumed office in January and already reports have surfaced Riley h~s prom- ised political and financial sup" port for Attorney General Luther Strange for governor in 2014. Stay tuned for some interest- ing days, weeks, months and years ahead for state politics. It won't be pretty for Democrats. Guy Rhodes is editor~publisher of The 7bskegee News. He can be reached at guynrhodes@bell-