Thomas Jefferson penned these words that survive in the United States Constitution:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,
deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
These words survive from the Holy Scriptures: [Isaiah 62:6]
On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent.
I had the good fortune to arrive on this earth in 1945, the same year that the deadliest and costliest War ever fought ended on the deck of a battleship in Tokyo Bay. The greatest generation came home from war and raised baby boomers. We were the luckiest kids in the world. The generation that survived the great depression and the great war taught those boomers the meaning of freedom and the value of life & liberty. They gave us the iron ore that could be found in family, instilled the meaning of courage under the fire of life, and taught us to forge the steel of strength and character under duress.
Surviving boomers have lived through America’s greatest decades. From 1950 through 2020 American civilization has seen the greatness America has to offer. Truman, Eisenhower, Peace, Progress, Prosperity, JFK, Cuban Missiles, LBJ, Nixon, Viet Nam, Watergate, Counter Culture, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Berlin Wall, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, 911, Iraq, Afghanistan, Barack, Trump, & Russiagate, to name a few highlights.
During years of calm followed by tumultuous seas we still felt safe. We were never threatened by foreign invasion or unseen enemies. As we grew into adulthood and left the nest we knew we were safe in the promise of America. Safe in the security of a country founded on the principles of a Constitution and a Bill of Rights enjoyed by every citizen and a promise that our government was there to defend our rights, not trample them. Safe in our faith, our flag, the gifts of our forefathers, the treasure of freedom.
For most boomers adult conciousness of world affairs was awakened with the stirring rhetoric of Ronald Reagan. The “great communicator” led us into conservatism and heralded our march out of the political world of our parents. Reagan showed us that communism could be defeated without firing a single missile. He made us believe that all Americans could have a voice in government, including the middle class, and you did not have to join the Republican party with your bank account.
By 1990 most of the boomers had abandoned the Democratic party of our parents generation for the inspirational promises of conservatism, the images of transparency in government, and pledges of accountability to the citizens. By the year 2000 almost every seat in county and state government in Alabama was held by a Republican.
20 years into Century 21 it is now self-evident to any informed adult that the boomer world we knew no longer exists. Our safety is at risk, the walls of Camelot have been breached and the future our grandchildren will inherit will not be the same. For the first time in my life I have questions about who will actually be running the United States after January 2021.
For the last few years enough evidence has been proffered to convince a reasonable person that our own government has engaged in large scale intelligence gathering [also called spying] on its own citizens. Only a short time ago such an act was unimaginable and arguably unconstitutional. Furthermore, regardless of your political affiliation, there can be no reasonable argument made to defend the two-tiered justice administration system operated by the United States Department of Justice that has been revealed to the public. The mountain of evidence is too overwhelming to ignore. It is increasingly clear that the Rule of Law does not apply to everybody.
And if you don’t have questions about the integrity of your last presidential election then you may be living in isolation regardless of whether you cast a red or blue ballot.
Today we know more about the devious and evil workings of the deep state in Washington than we would have ever known had it not been for the election of the Orange Man in 2016. Love him or hate him, Donald Trump has pulled back the curtain on Washington DC and exposed the corrupt machinery along with a pile of dirty laundry. If you are looking at it analytically, absent a red or blue lens, the pervasive and evil corruption flies in your face like a Golden Eagle diving for a chicken snake.
At every state level in this country citizens should be shouting; where are the watchmen that we elected and sent to congress to protect the rights of the citizens, to defend our borders, to uphold the constitution as each of them swore upon the bible upon their entry to office?
Where are the Republicans who promised to defend the Constitution, support the party of Jefferson and Lincoln, defend the Bill of Rights and protect us from our enemies, both foreign and domestic.
For four years it has often been hard to find a Republican to publicly support the incumbent President. During the run-up to the 2020 election where was the Republican party when the election rules were being changed in key states of the Union, allowing a massive re-tooling of election procedures in this nation that allowed the election of a candidate who rarely left his basement to campaign? Where were the watchmen that were supposed to keep this country safe from evil doers?
The failure of the Republican party is not limited to the Washington swamp. It surrounds us in Montgomery and the tentacles of alarm extend to the county levels. The watchmen sleep at the switches of state power too. Republican failures have manifested at the grassroots level and that is most concerning in this day and time.
Over the course of the last 30 years we have all voted in the State of Alabama to turn most state elected offices into GOP held seats, thinking that we were electing officials that believed in conservative and transparent government and the rule of law. We have trusted that we were electing watchmen to look out for and protect the rights of our citizens, a promise often made by the Republican party.
But what did we witness in 2020 from the office of the Republican Governor of Alabama?
In the face of a threatening global pandemic our Governor partnered with State health officials and cloaked herself in the “emergency powers act” granted to her by the Alabama legislature to be used in times of disaster, and began issuing executive orders. In April 2020 she began closing offices, shutting down businesses, issuing quarantine orders, mask orders, suspending public gatherings, closing churches, and mirroring the pervasive acts of other governors around the country faced with the COVID threat. When her authority under the act expired, she found new ways to reauthorize her emergency powers without consulting or obtaining the consent of the legislature.
Then finally, on December 3 Gov. Kay Ivey said she has no plans to put new restrictions on businesses in response to the surging case numbers, hospitalizations, and positive test results as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates in Alabama.
“We’ve been dealing with this thing for quite some time,” Ivey said. “Several months. We know what to do, what works. I have no plans to shut down any businesses. No plans to shut down businesses. They’re doing a good job of protecting their patrons. We need to keep our folks working and earning a living.
Where were the watchmen while Governor Ivey was keeping our state offices, small businesses, and churches, almost entirely closed down without objection for almost nine months.
While the pandemic raged on mid-2020 the conservative republican Governor made another life changing announcement without the consent of the governed.
In 2019 Governor Ivey announced that developer teams have qualified to receive “Requests for Proposals” to build private prisons. This process started in June 2019 when Governor Ivey announced a project to provide new prison facilities in Alabama thru a “leasing process” with private companies. At the time Ivey said “The revitalization of prisons in Alabama is crucial, and this plan to improve the state’s infrastructure is a major step towards reduced recidivism and improved public safety. I am committed to propelling this plan forward.” (emphasis added)
The Governor’s office also released a statement that said “Alabama is revitalizing its corrections system by replacing prison facilities that pose the greatest risk to public safety, place the largest financial burdens on taxpayers, and inhibit development of programs for inmate rehabilitation. Governor Kay Ivey is leading this change, fulfilling campaign promises to improve the state’s infrastructure and reduce public safety risks. The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) is working with Alabama-based public works professionals, HPM, which has partnered with national prison and correctional system experts, CGL. These improvements are part of Alabama’s commitment to reduce crowding and facilitate statewide prison reform which will save money, make prisons safer, reduce recidivism, and improve public safety.”
In September 2020, following the original announcement from the Governors Office that a prison would be located in Bibb County local residents and public officials were blindsided by the announcement. There had been no advance notice from any official with the Governors office or the Department of Corrections.
Governor Ivey did not speak with any resident of Bibb County before she made her decision that we know of. And she is still not talking. In fact, nobody in Montgomery is talking and they are all Republicans.
After being unable to obtain any information about the prison project from any local official, including our former Senator, The Bibb Voice reached out to the Governor’s office and requested information under the Alabama Open Records Act.
At the time we were only seeking to confirm the location of the prison and to learn some basic information about the plans for the project. The ADOC RFP#2019-04 (look here if you want details) which is available on the Department of Corrections website clearly states that the proposer filings would be subject to Alabama’s Open Records Act disclosures.
We soon learned that the Republican Governor had a different definition of transparency and had found a new interpretation of the Alabama Open Records Act.
Gina Maiola, Press Secretary for the Governor, referred us to Samantha Rose, PIO for the Department of Corrections, after providing no information responsive to our request. On 9/18/2020 The Bibb Voice was advised by the spokesperson for ADOC as follows:
“Thank you for your inquiry. The Alabama Open Records Act governs requests for final public writings/documents of the State. Proposals submitted by the Developer Teams are not considered final writings of the State as they remain subject to ongoing negotiations and, therefore, must remain privileged at this point in the procurement process.
As we have noted, the procurement process has now entered into a confidential negotiation period to ensure and secure the best possible value for the State. The ADOC expects financial close for the facilities to occur in late 2020, at which time the financial terms, as well as filings slated for public release pursuant to the terms of the RFP (which are subject to redaction to protect security-related information), will become publicly available.”
Clearly the Office of the Governor and the Department of Corrections does not believe that the citizens of Bibb County have a right to any information about a prison, designed for 3,100 inmates, the size of a town, that is to be built within their county.
The residents of Brierfield, the community nearest the proposed site of the Bibb prison, held a couple of meetings and formed a group called “Block the Brierfield Prison”. They have been unable to get any information from the State about where the prison will actually be located or who is to build it.
“I’m just worried about the manpower we would have to try to cover the influx of an additional 3,000 people in that rural area,” Bibb County Sheriff Jody Wade said.
Sheriff Wade was one of the first people to voice his opposition to the proposed mega prison.
Wade says response times for his officers and other municipalities in the county would be drastically impacted if they had to help emergency situations at the facility, given the alleged location is out of the way for most agencies.
“And the location of the current facility, currently located in Bibb County which is in Brent is within the call area of Brent Police Department. So you’ve got a municipality there where it’s located. Which is right next to another municipality in Centerville. So, there’s immediate backup. It’s a lot closer to the hospital and the ambulance services and more to the volunteer fire departments concentrated in this area,” Wade said.
Wade also says there aren’t enough officers in the county to help the prison. Currently, the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office has 10 full-time officers. Other cities like Centerville have five full-time officers. Brent has six, Woodstock has five, and West Blocton has only two full-timers.
Sheriff Wade understands there are things that need to change in the prison system and some facilities do need upgrades.
On Monday December 14, Chris Nelson, a resident of nearby Montevallo, addressed the Bibb County Commission about the prison projects that the State is proposing in 3 counties. He stated that he is a member of a group opposed to all of the projects and that he has spoken in all of the proposed counties to city councils, county commissions and public officials and has gotten about the same “blank stare” response every place he has been. Meaning; no body has been able to get any information from the State. No one he has spoken to knows what the State is doing and no one has gained any co-operation from the State.
So how can this be? Governor Ivey has decided to use taxpayer funds to contract with private owners who will build prison facilities on privately owned land in Bibb, Elmore, & Escambia County, without the consent or knowledge of the county government or the citizens of those counties? Nobody knows anything?
In response to Mr. Nelson’s appearance before the Commission, Bibb County Commissioner Matt Downs said that he and State Representative Russell Bedsole travelled to Montgomery to meet with Commissioner Jeff Dunn of the Department of Corrections. After an unproductive meeting they left with what they came in with; no information.
For more recent information, and the actual location of the prison, check out this article from Birminghamwatch.org
So Where Are The Watchmen.
What has happened to the promises of Conservative and Transparent Government, and Accountability to the Voters, made by the Republican Party.
Who is looking out for the interests of the citizens of Bibb County?
The prison issue is not just a Brierfield issue. It is a Bibb county issue.
We need trusted watchmen in state and county government that are there to look out for the interests of the citizens of this county. Who is going to protect the watershed of the Cahaba River, our most valued natural resource and asset?
Who will give assurances to the citizens of Bibb County that the construction of a self-contained prison city will bring more economic benefit to the citizens of the entire county that will outweigh the harm that will be caused to the residents of the area surrounding the property and the impact on environment and natural resources of the region.
Who will be the watchmen working for the citizens. Surely we will not entrust elected officials in the office of the Governor or the Department of Corrections.
For more than 30 years I have voted Republican because I believed the promises of the Republican party and the men and women who ran for office under the banner of the GOP. What I have seen in the last few years at the federal and local levels belies those promises.
Our Governor has used the powers of her office in a manner that is inconsistent with the promises of the GOP. Our elected county officials are kept uninformed and unempowered to protect the interests of the people they are elected to serve.
I am sadly disappointed in the political party that I have supported for more than 30 years. The GOP has failed us all. Another political party is not the solution. We must demand more from the people we elect to public office and we must send more watchmen.
It will take some more time to mend the fences and overcome the damage that has been done to our public trust. The citizens of Bibb, Elmore and Escambia counties deserve better treatment from the State of Alabama and the office of our Republican Governor.
NOTICE: This column is the opinion of the writer. It may not necessarily represent the views of the Bibb Voice editorial board. The Bibb Voice does not take a position on whether the proposed prison mentioned in this article is good or bad for Bibb County. We do not have enough information to make an informed judgment. Your comments are welcome.