Commission takes first step to approve new voter registration system

Bob Dooley of Keet Consulting Services addresses the Marengo County Commission in its Tuesday meeting. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

Marengo County commissioners Tuesday took the first step to approve a new system of voter registration services.

Bob Dooley with Keet Consulting Services in Pelham explained how KCS would gather all of the Marengo County data on voters and information on the precincts for house, senate, commission, council and city precincts.

Such information on their software would eliminate the Marengo County Board of Registrations having to spend months updating records when KCS could do it in 24 to 36 hours, said Dooley.

He told the Commission the one-time start-up fee for the service is $7,500 for the size of Marengo County, with a $500-per-month maintenance fee. There would be no contract.

If the county chose to forgo the start-up cost, the county would be charged $675 per month.

Board of Registrars member Barry Hunt told commissioners that “It’s taking a long time” to update all the county records using paper maps and spreadsheets. Bringing KCS on board “would certainly help us.”

Commissioner Freddie Armstead challenged the company to lower its start-up fee. At the end of the Commission meeting, and after KCS representatives had left, members voted to accept KCS’s proposal if Chairman John Crawford can negotiate a price reduction either for the start-up fee or the monthly charge.

The county approved a resolution for the redemption of Bonds for Series 2011-B Warrants taken out for the renovation of the courthouse and the annex. The move was made because for the first time the county can pay more than the minimum on the bonds, which now are set to mature in 2034.

Traffic from overloaded trucks is causing undue wear and tear on County Road 1. Commissioners voted to prohibit trucks weighing more than 25 tons from using the road and to post signs to that effect. Any company shown violating the restrictions would be fined a bill for repair.

The Town of Sweet Water will have a speed bump installed in front of the school subject to a formal request by the city. The town will purchase the speed bump for a cost of about $400, said county engineer Ken Atkins, and county workers can install it and put up signage.

Commissioner Calvin Martin asked if there were any way the county could finish paving roads that are now only

Justin Coleman was recognized for his completion of the Alabama Jail Training Academy. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

partially paved. “That’s something that we as commissioners need to look at,” said Martin.

Armstead said ADECA won’t honor a request to lump all the roads together in a grant, but the county could float a bond issue to pay for it.

Atkins agreed, adding that the cost of paving one mile of road is about $350,000. Funding sources for roads haven’t changed since 1992, he added.

In other action, the Commission will look into replacing the uncomfortable wooden chairs in the small courtroom.

Ricky Hall and Carolyn Rogers were reappointed to the E911 Board from Districts 3 and 5 respectively. Armstead will make his recommendation for District 1 at the January meeting.

Commissioners recognized Corrections Officer Justin Coleman for completing the Alabama Jail Training Academy.

Demopolis Rotary raises more than $2,000 and 1,800 cans of food

In spite of the chilly temperatures Wednesday morning, a dozen members of the Demopolis Rotary Club met at the Demopolis Food Bank to deliver a record-breaking number of non-perishable items donated during its annual food drive.
Hunter Compton, co-chairman of the drive, said Rotarians and their partners collected 1,868 items of food and $2,000.16 during November.
“This should be the most canned goods AND money that we have raised in any one year to date,” he said.
The donations came from a Westside Elementary School competition among classes; DHS JROTC cadets helping Rotarians to encourage DHS football fans and shoppers at Vowell’s Fresh Market to donate, and generous contributions from St. Leo’s Catholic Church, First United Methodist Church, Bible Chapel, Parr’s Chevron, Malone’s Texaco, Langley Shell and Foster Farms.
Compton also thanked Batter Up for donating four wing parties for the winning classrooms at WES.
Through the first four years of Thanksgiving food collections, the Rotary Club has raised 7,368 canned goods and $6,500 to benefit the Food Bank.

Demopolis to vote on three-mill property tax Dec. 12

When the polls open Dec. 12 for the special election to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat, voters in Demopolis will have another issue on the ballot to vote on.

A three-mill property tax is up for renewal this year to benefit Demopolis schools.

The last time the tax came up for renewal in the summer of 2007, Demopolis voters approved it by a whopping 87 percent.

Community support for Demopolis schools is one reason Supt. Kyle Kallhoff believes the school system will attain its vision of being in the top ten percentage of the school systems in the state.

“This is one of the things that separates us from the rest of the Black Belt,” he said.

Since a mill is valued at approximately $75,000, three mills will bring in about $250,000 of the $20 million budget of the Demopolis City School System. Under the tax levy, property owners pay 30 cents on each $100 of the assessed value of taxable property.

Kallhoff said that in the past the funds raised from the tax have been used primarily for personnel expenses such as teacher salaries not covered by the state reimbursement, aides and adjunct teachers, employee incentives, School Resource Officers, professional development and maintenance employees.

The money also has paid for SmartBoards at the middle and high schools, buses, bleachers at the high school and fencing around the middle school football field.

The three-mill tax issue will be only on the ballot in the city of Demopolis and will continue for another 10 years beginning in October 2018.

DCS holds stakeholder luncheon

Demopolis City Schools honored its supporters Thursday at the second annual Stakeholder Luncheon held in the Demopolis High School library.

The event, explained Supt. Kyle Kallhoff, is a way of thanking all the people who support the school system and bring them up to date on its progress.

Each of the four Demopolis principals gave a brief overview of one thing the school was focusing on this year. Kallhoff stressed the upcoming 3-mil renewal vote on the Dec. 12 ballot in Demopolis and reported on enrollment and budget trends and the capital plan.

At the conclusion of the presentation, Kallhoff recognized two people who have worked tirelessly on behalf of the school system. Named 2017 Tiger Champions were J.R. Rivas and Jason Windham.

Kallhoff said the renewal of the 3-mil property tax is held every 10 years. It is limited to voters in District 2, who, 10 years ago, approved the renewal by 87 percent. The tax brings in up to $250,000 annually.

The financial support of the school system by local residents “is one of the things that separates us from the rest of the Black Belt,” said Kallhoff.

Enrollment in Demopolis schools is 2,331, the first time in five years it has gone over 2,300, he continued. The figures show a growth of 127 students since the 2013-2014 year, and this year’s totals do not include the pre-K enrollment of 51.

The school system must consider adding on to its campuses since they are reaching their capacity. “We need to accept growth or stop growth,” said Kallhoff.

One of the considerations is whether to accept students from outside the city limits. Demopolis has an open enrollment system, which means it welcomes students from Marengo and other counties and doesn’t charge tuition. Almost half the current enrollment – 1,067 – are from out of city.

Accepting those students greatly helps with state funding, said the superintendent, but local funding is not greatly impacted with higher out-of-system numbers.

Demopolis schools get 11 percent of its money from federal sources, 64 percent from the state and 22 percent from local funding. Another 3 percent come from school-based fees.

The local financial support is above average for the state, Kallhoff said. He also praised the Demopolis City Schools Foundation for, among other things, making it possible to purchase robots for coding and programming classes and for the broadcasting programs on the campuses.

He reviewed the nine Career Tech programs now offered at DHS, including the newest HVAC dual-enrollment curriculum with Shelton State. He said 68 percent of DHS students are involved in some career-based program.

Not included in the career tech curriculum is the broadcasting cluster. It is separate so that it can be more flexible and creative than what a state-sponsored curriculum would allow.

Kallhoff went over the Capital Plan Five-Year Plan submitted to the state every year. Of the eight priorities on the list, only the first two are being addressed with the funding available. They are adapting Demopolis Middle School to meet ADA requirements and remodeling all student restrooms in the schools.

Westside Elementary School principal Roshanda Jackson chose the Leader in Me process as her one area of focus to discuss. It is a whole school transformation that helps develop children to be competent individuals.

Both Leon Clark at USJ and Brandon Kiser at DMS spoke on the coding, programming and robotics courses at their schools. “We’re preparing our students for jobs that don’t exist yet,” said Kiser.

DHS principal Blaine Hathcock said he was disappointed that his school was not listed in among the top 50 in the state by ACT scores. “That’s not acceptable.”

DHS has instituted a school-wide effort focusing on ACT skills. While all the scores aren’t in yet, he said there has been remarkable progress among those that have been returned. Higher ACT scores can equate to thousands of dollars in scholarships for students.

“The bar is going to move,” he said. “We’re going to be in the top 50 or die trying.”

DCS Board looks to expand ‘Leader in Me’ to second campus

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Pleased with the “Leader in Me” process now being implemented at Westside Elementary School, the Demopolis City Board of Education Monday approved funding to expand into U.S. Jones Elementary School beginning next fall.

The BOE meeting was held a week early because of the Thanksgiving holidays.

A part of the Franklin Covey series of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Leader in Me” is designed for elementary-aged students. The three-year, $40,000 cost for USJ will be paid for with federal Title I funding, said Supt. Kyle Kallhoff.

Eventually, he hopes to include Demopolis Middle and Demopolis High schools with the process that is adapted for adolescents.

The first reading of federal Child Nutrition Policies – one new and changes to two others – was made. A public hearing on the policies will be held Dec. 12 at 4 p.m.

The two revisions involve meal patterns and wellness, and the new policy concerns price and payment.

The personnel report approved by the board saw the conditional employment of Donald Richardson as a DHS custodian, substitute licenses for Janice Coats and Victoria Gandy and medical leave of absence for Tammi Western-Scott, DMS teacher.

The board approved travel for a DHS teacher to attend the Association of Foreign Language Conference in Nashville, Tenn., paid for with state professional development money. It also okayed the disposition of equipment beyond repair.

Overnight and out-of-state trips approved included:

  • DHS Boys Basketball to Wallace Hanceville Community College Nov. 21 and Dec. 20.
  • DHS Girls Basketball to Alabaster Dec. 27-29.
  • DHS Boys Basketball to Corinth, Miss., Dec. 28-29.
  • USJ fifth-graders to Washington, D.C. in April.
  • DMS Honor Band students Dec. 7-9.

The board also accepted a volunteer staffing agreement between Compass Rose Events, sponsored by Georgia-Pacific, and the DHS Band. The band received $2,000 for its efforts.

Also approved were the Career Tech Education Work-Based Learning Manual, a sign at the DHS Spring Sports Complex, disposal of out-of-date textbooks at DMS and DHS and Kallhoff’s attendance at the 2017 Alabama Association of School Boards convention in Birmingham Dec. 7-9.

In his report, Kallhoff said student enrollment continues to grow, with 26 more students attending Demopolis schools this year over last.

He said the 3-mil property tax renewal is coming before voters in Demopolis, an issue that requires approval every 10 years. Kallhoff said Demopolis residents traditionally have shown support for their schools by endorsing the tax renewal when it comes up for vote.

Recognized for outstanding performance were teachers, staff and students from WES and DMS. From WES were Penny Stanford, teacher; Sherron Brown, staff, and Kameron Besteder, student. At DMS, the honorees were teacher Charlene Jackson, staff member Tracy Stein, and student Taliah Isaac.

The next meeting will be held Dec. 18.

Partnership with BWWMH first of its kind for UAB

For more than a year the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority board worked long hours to form a partnership with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Health System.

The hard work became official Oct. 1 when the two entities signed a Management and Affiliation Agreement.

At the Wednesday meeting of the Demopolis Rotary Club, Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital board vice chairman Alan Bishop explained the benefits of the partnership with the hospital and to the Demopolis area. He told local Rotarians that the process has been “quite a journey.”

“The time that has been spent has been unbelievable,” he said.

Cooperation started early with the formation of a transition team of representatives from the hospital, UAB, the city and the county. Former Robertson Banking Company President Al Garrett came out of retirement to chair the team.

While UAB has expanded its medical services to Montgomery and other larger communities, the partnership with BWWMH is the first venture into rural health care. The move was made possible because of legislation in 2016 opening the door for University Health Authorities to help rural systems. The collaboration brings with it the Birmingham-based hospital’s management and expertise, marketing, physician recruitment and purchasing, Bishop said.

Such affiliation also brings with it UAB’s reputation strength, he continued.

Already in place was a recently opened branch of the University Medical Center in the Outpatient Building of the hospital, joining UMC’s two other locations in Tuscaloosa and Northport.

Two UAB officials now serve on the BWWMH board. “I thought they’d send down a couple of middle managers,” said Bishop. Instead, the two are Don Lilly, senior vice president of network development and affiliate operations, and Sean Tenney, chief operations officer for the Medical West Hospital. The two sat in their first board meeting on Oct. 26.

UAB is very conscious of its brand. Within the next two to three months, an approved UAB sign will be erected on U.S. Hwy. 80 to let everyone know of the relationship between UAB and BWWMH.

While the link with the Demopolis hospital is the first venture into rural health care for UAB, Bishop said it probably won’t be the last. Lilly’s focus has been to expand UAB’s outreach.

Such a partnership is a win-win for both facilities. With BWWMH handling cases that normally would be transferred to UAB, beds will be freed in Birmingham for more acute medical needs.

“UAB is not here just to be a nice guy,” said Bishop. “UAB is here to make money.”

The new partner is studying the survey that BWWMH conducted to determine what services are needed in the area.

State Attorney General addresses Demopolis Rotary

Mayor John Laney, Attorney General Steve Marshall and Demopolis Police Department Chief Tommie Reese.

Alabama ranks No. 1 in the country for the number of prescriptions written per capita for opioids state Attorney General Steve Marshall told the Demopolis Rotary Club Wednesday.

Opioid use is one of the most pressing issues facing the nation today, he said. Some 147 people die daily from opioid overdose, more fatalities in three weeks than died in the 9/11 disaster.

Marshall said he is among those appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey to a task force to determine what actions can be taken to stem the use of addictive prescription drugs, what he said is more a public health issue than one of law enforcement. He is firmly convinced of the need to actively take steps to solve the problem rather than just talking and studying the issue.

He referred to previous success in curtailing meth labs in the state. Because of steps taken, the number of meth labs plummeted 90 percent in just five years.

Law enforcement officers are becoming mental health professionals today, Marshall continued, and jails are more often than not turned into detox facilities. He said the country has to get over the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Marshall to become Alabama’s attorney general to finish out the term vacated by Luther Strange, the former AG, who Bentley appointed to the U.S. Senate. Marshall said he already had been planning to run for the post and is expected to campaign for the job in the next regular election.

The attorney general post is the last state elected job he will strive for, he promised. “I don’t want to be your governor. I don’t want to be your senator,” he told Rotarians.

When he took the AG post, Marshall asked people what they expected of him.

“Don’t embarrass us,” was the response he got most, which he said was very sad.

“We should be held to a higher standard,” he stated.

Calling himself a storyteller, Marshall related three cases he tried in which he learned lessons that have stayed with him since his start in Marshall County. The first concerned a young woman who was an addict and drug dealer murdered by an irate client. While the prevailing attitude was that the community was better off with one less dealer, Marshall treated her case the same as any other, and the murderer received a 108-year sentence.

The woman’s mother said her daughter had made some bad mistakes in her life, but her murder “took away her chance to change.”

Through his actions, he said, the community began to see law enforcement in a new way. Distrustful residents began to cooperate with police officers. “We saw a safer place.”

The second case saw Marshall prosecuting a respected police officer who offered to make tickets or arrests disappear if certain women he cited would do him a favor. His accusers were a stripper, drug addict, thief and body piercer, none of whom ordinarily would gain sympathy from a jury.

“I have a responsibility to enforce the law,” said Marshall. “I did the right thing for the right reason,” and the officer is serving jail time.

Every day we get to change lives, he said, as he told a third story. A 12-year-old girl testified against her step-grandfather for sexual abuse, which he denied. After the man’s conviction, the young girl looked into Marshall’s eyes for the first time and thanked him for believing in her when no one else would.

Among those attending the Rotary meeting were three Demopolis police officers, including Marshall’s good friend Chief Tommie Reese. When Marshall was asked if law enforcement is as well respected around the state as the officers are in Demopolis, the AG said, “I don’t know of anyone more respected than Tommie Reese.”

Smaller communities have a kinship that can be lacking in larger cities, Marshall continued, and added he is willing “to work with those who are willing to risk their lives for total strangers.”

UMW Bazaar kicks off Christmas Season Nov. 8

Eleanor Park shows an afghan made by Jackie Brooker that will be given away at the Bazaar. (WAW | Jan McDonald)

For more than 60 years the women of the First United Methodist Church of Demopolis have unofficially started the Christmas season in the city with their annual bazaar.

It is time again for the UMW Bazaar, an event that is anticipated—and worked on—throughout the year.

The bazaar will be held Wednesday, Nov. 8, in the Methodist Church education building, and all the favorites will be back: baked goods, Attic Treasures, silent auction, handmade gifts and, of course, the luncheon featuring the traditional chicken salad plate.

Doors are open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the luncheon will be served beginning at 11 a.m.

Demopolis schools to invest in new ID system

The Demopolis City Schools Board of Education met in the newly-renovated Demopolis High School library Monday.

By the first of the new year all four Demopolis City schools will have a new identification system in place to better monitor visitors and volunteers.

The Board of Education approved the system Monday at its meeting held in the Demopolis High School library.

The initial cost of the scanning system from Alabama Card Systems, Inc., is $13,000. Thereafter, the school system will pay $250 annually to renew and update the federal sexual predator database.

Supt. Kyle Kallhoff said his office has been working for about six months on setting up a better way to supervise who will be working closely with individual students. Before the ID monitors are set up, he will meet with the schools’ principals to set up business rules and guidelines for those on campus.

Federal funding will be used to pay for the visitor management system.

Kallhoff said this is the first step in a more comprehensive monitoring system that he hopes to set up in the city’s schools.

The board gave approval to Kallhoff’s request that he and board attorney Alex Braswell continue “negotiations and execution” of the US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights Resolution Agreement for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards at Demopolis Middle School.

The issue stems from a complaint filed with the school system in April of 2015.

Kallhoff said if the negotiations are not approved, it can jeopardize federal funding for Demopolis schools.

Along with the negotiation approval, the board gave the okay to hire Ward Scott Architecture to conduct an accessibility survey and plan and oversee bidding and construction work related to the ADA compliance at DMS.

The $50,000 cost for the work at DMS is included in the capital funding budget approved in September.

In other action, the board approved:

  • The Continuous Improvement Plans for all four schools and the school system.
  • Out-of-town travel for the DHS JROTC to Birmingham.
  • Second and final installment for A-Plus Software of $10,000. The initial $30,000 was paid in 2016. The school system now will only pay an annual licensing fee.
  • An agreement with the Blackbelt Community Foundation Head Start and U.S. Jones Elementary to prepare and provide lunches that Head Start will pay for.

Personnel action included:

  • Conditional employment of Major Walker as Transportation/Maintenance Assistant.
  • Madoline Huff and Geraldine Walker as substitutes, with Walker also as a nurse.
  • Transfer of Reginald Atkins from DMS to DHS.

Continuing the practice of recognizing outstanding teachers, students and support staff, the board honored from USJ: Anne Johnson, teacher; Sylvia Tate, support staff, and Fernando Mancilla-Otero, fifth grader.

Honored from DHS were Lisa Lawrence, teacher; Pam Morgan, support, and Xavier Jackson, senior.

The next meeting of the board will be held Nov. 13.

Sylvia Tate

U.S. Jones Elementary School fifth grader Fernando Mancilla-Otero

DHS librarian Lisa Lawrence

DHS paraprofessional Pam Morgan

Demopolis High senior Xavier Jackson

U.S. Jones Elementary Teacher Anne Jones

County Commission holds short meeting Tuesday

In what had to be one of the shortest meetings on record, the Marengo County Commission Tuesday still took care of several items of business.

Commissioners amended the cancellation policy at Chickasaw Park requiring those who cancel reservations to pay a $10 fee. The fee will cover the cost of the lodging tax that the county must pay to the state.

Jason Windham received approved from fellow commissioners for a resolution supporting the Demopolis Babe Ruth league. After a recent visit from New York by the vice president of Babe Ruth, the city was awarded the 2019 Southwest Regional Championship. Windham said some 10-16 teams will travel to Demopolis to take part in the tournament.

Members also approved a renewal of the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission (ATRC) Agency on Aging Contract.

The commission approved Request for Proposals on repainting the jail and parts of the courthouse after steam cleaning stripped some of the paint from the buildings.

The commission tabled any action concerning Medicaid coverage for county inmates until it can receive further clarification on the matter.

The commission also approved a proclamation in honor of Woodrow Campbell who has coached at Marengo High School for 39 years. The high school will be naming the athletic field in Campbell’s honor.