By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Gov. Kay Ivey visited Atmore last week. But those who weren’t at Atmore Municipal Airport between 10:30 and 10:33 a.m. on Wednesday, January 15, missed it.
The governor’s jet, scheduled to land “between 9:30 and 9:40 (a.m.),” took off late from Montgomery due to fog, encountered heavier fog the further south it flew, and finally eased onto a local runway at 10:28 a.m., an hour behind schedule, and taxied to a stop.
Ivey was in Escambia County to conduct a tour of Holman Correctional Facility, where the state’s toughest convicts — and all those sentenced to die for their crimes — are housed and to meet with the maximum-security facility’s warden, Cynthia Stewart.
Stewart and Ivey were reportedly scheduled to talk about overcrowding and violence within the state’s penal system, along with the threat that the state could lose control and oversight of the system to federal officials.
The meeting reportedly had little or nothing to do with the impending construction of three “super prisons,” a prison privatization plan under which Holman and medium-security Fountain Correctional Facility face possible closure.
The Governor’s Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy held its final pre-session meeting on January 7. The group is expected to release in the near future a report filled with its recommendations on how to address the state’s ongoing prison crisis.
Ivey’s staff issued a brief and vague statement on the intent of her local visit.
“The governor’s visit today is a sign of her commitment to addressing the challenges that face our state’s correctional facilities,” the statement reads. “Seeing prison conditions firsthand is a priority for Governor Ivey, as it will provide her the most up-to-speed information as she continues to work with the legislature this coming session.”
The Alabama Legislature is set to open its 2020 session on February 2. Prison reform is expected to be the major topic of debate among legislators.
Mayor Jim Staff, who had planned a formal greeting for the state’s chief executive during her time on the ground here, got instead what one veteran journalist labeled “a wink and a wave.” Ivey was assisted down the stairs of her jet, gave Staff a quick handshake and smile, then was gone.
“It’s a big thing to have the governor or any politician here when it’s something more than campaigning,” Staff said.
The mayor almost missed the brief visit himself. He waited outside the fence until one of the governor’s staff members noticed his disappointment and invited him to accompany her for a quick face-to-face.
Staff said he understood the time restraints within which the governor works.
“They’re way late now, and she was in such a hurry,” he said after a convoy of black state cars — carrying Ivey, her senior staff and two agents from the Investigations and Intelligence Division of the Alabama Department of Corrections — quickly pulled out and headed for Holman. “That girl (a woman on Ivey’s staff) told me that if I wanted to shake (the governor’s) hand, I could ride out with her, but all I could do was shake her hand.”