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Senator Proposes Bill to Make it Easier for Former Inmates to Get a Job

A proposed new law could improve public safety and save tax dollars, all while repealing a chunk of the Alabama state constitution.

“We have over 783 places in the code of Alabama that places restrictions on people from getting an occupation, getting a job in a profession,” said Ward. “And it goes all across the spectrum. Just because someone committed a crime one time, now they’re no longer able to get a job.”

“The whole idea when someone gets out of prison- we want them to get a job,” Ward said. “We want them to pay taxes. We want them to be productive citizens and not a public safety risk.”

Fredrick Sherill understands how difficult the job search can be after prison. He got out of prison in September, after serving time for a crime he committed as a teenager.

“My crime was armed robbery,” Sherill told us. “I did 15 years, day for day.”

In prison, Sherill says he worked hard to get his GED and learn refrigeration and air conditioning skills.

But, the job search has still been a challenge.

“It’s hard when you being released from prison after doing a lot of time and you’re trying to do the right thing in society and being a law abiding citizen and there’s constant road blocks,” Sherill said.

The Foundry is helping Sherill and others re-enter society. And now, Ward’s bill could also help.

“Some of the sillier things, for example, if you’ve ever been to prison in Alabama for anything, any crime whatsoever, you can’t be a karate instructor,” Ward explained. “You can’t get a license. That’s a stupid law and it’s just government run a muck.”

Ward says many jobs are affected.

“You can’t be an engineer,” he said. “You can’t be a certain pharmacist, line workers. You can’t be a utility worker. You can’t be a water meter inspector. Those are just a few of many many jobs out there that you can’t even get a license for. The government is not going to say you’ve got to hire these people. But they should at least be allowed to get a license and apply for a job, if someone wants to hire them.”

Ward says similar bills have passed in other states and they helped reduce recidivism rates.

Sherill also thinks it could help.

“Judge me based on my work ethic, not necessarily a bad decision I made 15 or 20, sometimes 25-30 years ago,” he said.

Ward acknowledges some restrictions are necessary and must remain. For example, he says a sex offender should not be able to work in a school.

Ward also stressed his bill would allow someone to get a license for a job, but the employers would still have the final say who they want to hire.

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ADOC: Staffing Shortages Leading to Violence

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Violence continues to plague Alabama’s prison system. This month, the Equal Justice Initiative classified Alabama’s prisons as some of the deadliest in the country.

The latest inmate death was reported on Dec. 2 at Holman Prison - a maximum security facility which houses some of the most violent inmates in the state. The Alabama Department of Corrections says Holman is operating with less than 50 percent of the required correctional staff.

DOC says it's required to have 195 security staff to cover all shifts at the prison, but only 72 officers cover an inmate population of 951.

“There is a direct correlation between the level of prison violence and the shortage of correctional staff in an overpopulated prison system with limited resources for rehabilitating offenders," stated DOC spokesman Bob Horton in an email. “The proliferation of drugs and criminal activity inside prisons also contribute to an increase in violent incidents.”

WSFA 12 News witnessed the criminal activity and contraband behind the walls of Holman Prison firsthand. Through Facebook, we obtained a picture of Demaricous Mack, convicted of murder in Montgomery. He’s serving a life sentence in Holman Prison. The account had more than a dozen pictures of Mack posing throughout the prison, several showed Mack with a Little Caesars Pizza box, Popeyes chicken and an illegal cell phone.

Two Facebook live videos were also on the account. One showed two inmates who were likely high on the drug flakka, which has similar effects as bath salts, the second video showed a nearly 30 minute long prison boxing match where the public was wagering on the fights.

Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey says he wasn't surprised to learn an inmate posting pictures of prison contraband with an illegal cell phone was prosecuted by his office.

“I can tell you who is running the Department of Corrections, the inmates are running the Department of Corrections,” Bailey said.

In fact, Bailey watched the video of the inmates seizing from flakka in real time after someone sent him a link.

“At one time there were 6,000 people watching,” Bailey said.

The video shows an inmate on the prison floor with his body contorted, the second inmate is babbling, upside down on a prison bed, unable to move his body. The prisoners are horsing around with the two inmates, and eventually both become conscious and begin to fight. At least four inmates are videoing the incident on cell phones.

“We need to start holding people accountable,” Bailey said. “How are they charging the cell phones? They are coming in from somewhere, this is like a frat house, not a prison.”

“One of the things I talk to kids about is how bad prison is and why you never want to go to prison,” Bailey said. “Then we have some of these folks who are on Facebook Live talking about how great prison is, look we have our cell phones, we can FaceTime, we can eat Popeyes chicken and Little Caesars Pizza, we can do drugs. What are we suppose to tell the kids now? It’s apparently one big party at the Alabama Department of Corrections.”

WSFA 12 News immediately sent our findings over to the Alabama Department of Corrections. Spokesman Bob Horton confirms the department launched an investigation.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections Investigations and Intelligence Division is aware of the inmate’s activity and is conducting a thorough investigation into the social media accounts and how the inmate obtained the cellphone and other contraband,” Horton stated in an email. “ADOC dispatched Correctional Emergency Response Teams (CERT) to the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore where the teams conducted a search of the facility for contraband. During the search, the teams confiscated illegal contraband, to include cell phones, which were turned over to the Investigations and Intelligence Division.”

DOC did not respond to our specific questions regarding whether inmates were allowed to hold boxing matches, how many cell phones were seized or if any DOC employees were implicated.

Horton confirmed 4,241 cell phones were seized in 2016 and 3,883 cell phones were seized in 2017.

A month following our discovery, inmate Vaquerro Armstrong, 29, was fatally stabbed at Holman Prison. Hours later another inmate was critically injured after being stabbed in a subsequent fight. Following the two incidents, the CERT team seized makeshift weapons, illegal cell phones, drugs and other contraband.

The ADOC confirms it’s aggressively working to reverse these dangerous trends with short-term and long-term solutions.

Immediately prison officials moved 30 inmates to other facilities in an effort to mitigate violence inside Holman, and it’s increased staffing in its Investigation and Intelligence Division to prevent future violence and corruption.

“ADOC is developing a long-term plan that will revitalize the prison system’s infrastructure and lead to safer and more secure correctional facilities for both inmates and staff," Horton commented.

WSFA 12 News reached out to Sen. Cam Ward, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has been intimately involved in measures related to the ADOC. Ward says we can expect to see multiple bills regarding Alabama’s prison system, specifically one that would authorize the hiring of upwards of 2,000 corrections officers. That measure would cost the state around $40 million.

It’s a Class C felony for inmates to possess a cell phone, wireless communication device or computer, it’s also a Class C felony anyone to possess with the intent to deliver those devices to inmates.

If you are aware of an inmate with a cellphone or contraband, you can contact ADOC through their website or call 1-866-293-7799.

Copyright 2018 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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Alabama Prison Homicide Rate Highest in Nation

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — In the span of three hours at a southwest Alabama prison, one inmate was fatally stabbed and another was seriously wounded after being stabbed in a separate fight.

Eighteen inmates have been killed by other inmates since October of 2016, according to statistics and news releases from the Department of Corrections.

The Montgomery-based nonprofit organization Equal Justice Initiative released a report last week finding that Alabama’s prisons are the most lethal in the nation. The report found that Alabama’s rate of over 34 homicides per 100,000 people incarcerated is more than 600 percent greater than the national average from 2001 to 2014.

“The violence is epidemic,” Morrison said. “We have a crisis that is not going to get better until we see a more effective and committed response from state leadership to addressing the issue

Bob Horton, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said the prison homicide rate is a “priority concern.” He said he could not comment on the nonprofit’s findings because he did not know how they did their comparison.

“There is a direct correlation between the level of prison violence and the shortage of correctional staff in an overpopulated prison system with limited resources for rehabilitating offenders. The proliferation of drugs and criminal activity inside prisons also contribute to an increase in violent incidents,” Horton wrote in an email.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections recognizes the seriousness of the problem and is taking steps to reverse this trend,” Horton wrote.

The prison system’s monthly reports list that 16 inmates died in homicides in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. So far this fiscal year, the department has reported two fatal stabbings.

Twenty-nine-year-old Vaquerro Kinjuan Armstrong was fatally stabbed Dec. 2 at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore. Armstrong was serving a 22-year sentence on a 2009 first-degree robbery conviction in Talladega County. About three hours later, another inmate was critically wounded when another fight broke out in the same prison.

Staffing levels have been raised as an issue in an ongoing lawsuit over prison mental health care. Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn told The Associated Press earlier this year that estimates filed with the court show the state needs to add about 1,800 officers — nearly doubling current staffing levels.

The department has begun an effort to recruit and retain additional staff. As an initial effort to increase officer ranks, the department authorized a five and 10 percent pay increase for officers at minimum and maximum security prisons.

State Sen. Cam Ward, co-chair of the legislative prison oversight committee, said EJI’s finding sounded accurate.

Ward said a side effect of sentencing reform efforts, which sought to relieve prison overcrowding by keeping nonviolent offenders out of prison, is that prison populations are made up mostly of violent offenders.

The Equal Justice Initiative filed a class-action lawsuit in 2014 against the state Department of Corrections in connection with previous homicides and assaults at St. Clair correctional facility.

The Equal Justice Initiative said it re-initiated its investigation of Elmore Correctional Facility this year after receiving dozens of reports of stabbings, assaults, extortion, and excessive use of force.

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Bill Being Considered on Parole Board Discretion

By Jennifer Horton | November 15, 2018 at 6:59 PM CST - Updated November 15 at 9:05 PM

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Changes could be on the horizon for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.
State leaders are still evaluating the Board’s Corrective Action Plan which was submitted this week. That plan was prompted by the governor after dozens of violent inmates were scheduled for early parole consideration.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles is arguably one of the most powerful entities in the state, with little accountability, but that could soon change.

Sen. Cam Ward, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he’s working on a plan to rein in the Board’s discretion.
“Unless you have some sort of impeachment, there’s nothing you can do to them," Ward stated.

When Ward was working on the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2015, he proposed limiting some of the Board's power.
“There was resistance to that, and the Justice Reinvestment Initiative had very little with who was paroled, or how they were paroled,” he explained. “I believed they had too much discretion, I said it in 2015, and I believe the same thing today.”

Ward is working with law enforcement and prosecutors to draft a bill imposing accountability for the Board to follow their self-imposed guidelines.

“Take their policies and procedures and put it in the statute,” Ward said of the forthcoming legislation. “What we are dealing with here at the Parole Board are murders, rapists, child molesters, and [the Board members] are taking their own guidelines and throwing them out the window and making it up as they go along.”

Ward believes the early release of violent inmates is responsible for a statewide increase in crime.

“We’ve seen a 25 percent spike in violent crime rate and a big part of that is due to those who were previously incarcerated being released too early,” Ward stated. “I think the Parole Board was being way too generous in the number of people they were releasing who were previously convicted of violent crimes.”

Ward denies the Board was pressured to release more inmates due to prison overcrowding, and isn't sure what prompted their actions.

“The Justice Reinvestment Initiative dealt with non-violent offenses,” he explained. Non-violent offenders now account for less than 15 percent of the current prison population, according to numbers Ward stated during an interview.

He wants to ensure the Department of Corrections (DOC) isn’t a revolving door for the same inmates. “If they follow their Corrective Plan to the letter, then they should be OK,” Ward stated. “But then my concern is that plan is pretty much what the guidelines are anyway - it really didn’t change much.”

Ward was citing the proposal to eliminate a process the Board calls ‘select review,’ or the opportunity to request an early parole hearing for those convicted of a Class A Felony that imposed serious physical injury, sex offenders with a victim 12 years old or under, or those convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to more than 15 years behind bars. Those offenders would serve 15 years or 85 percent of their sentence, whichever comes first, to become eligible for parole.

The current guidelines state;
"Excluding those crimes committed prior to March 21, 2001, when an inmate is convicted of one or more of the following Class A felonies, the initial parole consideration date shall be set in conjunction with the inmate’s completion of eighty-five (85) percent of his or her total sentence or fifteen (15) years, whichever is less, unless the designee finds mitigating circumstances: Rape I, Kidnapping I, Murder, Attempted Murder, Sodomy I, and Sexual Torture; Robbery I with serious physical injury, Burglary I with serious physical injury, and Arson I with serious physical injury. Serious physical injury in this paragraph is as defined in title 13A-1-2(14) of the Alabama Code."

Ward will introduce the bill in March during the regular legislative session.

Until then, the governor and attorney general must approve the Board’s Corrective Action Plan. The moratorium on early parole hearings for violent inmates is still in place.

Copyright 2018 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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Gov. Ivey Issues Moratorium on Early Paroles

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday placed a 75-day moratorium on early paroles, and replaced the parole board chairman.

The governor's moves follow concerns that the state parole board had freed violent offenders.

Ivey announced the action in a news conference with Attorney General Steve Marshall after the two had met with parole board members.

The order signed by Ivey directs the board to stop considering inmates for parole before they complete a designated amount of their sentence. She also asked the board to develop a corrective action plan. The governor also shuffled which board member will serve as chairman. Lyn Head will serve as chair, replacing Cliff Walker.

"There will be no more early parole during this period," Ivey said. "It's obvious we need a new approach so we can strengthen management and operations of that agency to better protect the people and public safety."

A spokesman for the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles said there was no immediate response to the criticisms from the two statewide office holders.

The two actions come after prosecutors and victim advocates expressed alarm over who was being released from prison and the adequacy of parole supervision once an inmate is released. A man charged in the July murders of a 7-year-old boy, his great grandmother and another woman in Guntersville had been released from prison in January after being granted parole.

"When I talk to prosecutors what they are saying is they are seeing more of those violent offenders showing up," Marshall said.

WSFA had reported about concerns about the number of inmates being considered for early parole.

Parole board rules said inmates convicted of serious crimes such as rape will get initial consideration for parole after they serve 85 percent of their sentence or at least 15 years, whichever is less. However, board members can also take into account mitigating circumstances and also expedite consideration to respond to a crisis.

The parole board issued a statement to WSFA earlier this month disputing an increase in early paroles or any change in procedure.

"The agency's position is we do not have data showing a dramatic increase in violent inmates being considered for parole prior to their original set date. If such data exists from another entity, we would be happy to analyze their numbers," the agency statement read.

Sen. Cam Ward, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers might consider trying to take away some of board members' discretion in deciding who gets released.

"There's no question there is a problem," Ward, a Republican from Alabaster, said. "I think there are violent offenders who are being considered for parole way too early."


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TIS Recreating Historic Thompson Farmhouse

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – When Thompson Intermediate School teacher Amber Broadhead and the school’s student committee began brainstorming ideas for the school’s Alabama Bicentennial project, they didn’t have to look further than the name on the school building.

Earlier this year, TIS submitted a community project idea to the Alabama Bicentennial Commission in an attempt to be named an “Official Alabama Bicentennial School” and receive a $2,000 grant to implement their project.

In May, TIS was one if multiple local schools to be named to the list and receive the state grants. Now, Broadhead and her students are getting to work.

“The kids are so passionate about this project,” Broadhead said. “We wanted to do something that would involve the community as well as the school.”

Through their project, the students will be working to construct an outdoor classroom at the current Thompson Middle School – where TIS will move after renovations are completed to the city’s school buildings over the next several months – recreating the look of the since-demolished Thomas Carlyle Thompson farmhouse in Siluria.

In the early 20th century, Thompson donated the land to house Alabaster’s schools, and his family’s name has been attached to the schools ever since.

“Really, the only thing we have now is the picture of Thomas Carlyle Thompson hanging in City Hall. There isn’t much commemorating how important he was to the city’s history,” Broadhead said. “This project is devoted to allowing the students to learn more about their own community and the history of Alabama.”

Per the guidelines of the grant, the students will work over the next several months to complete the outdoor classroom and have it ready for use by May 2019. Broadhead said the outdoor classroom will also be accessible to the community after it opens.

On the morning of Sept. 19, several students on the TIS student committee and their teachers met with state Sen. Cam Ward, state Reps. April Weaver and Matt Fridy and Alabama Bicentennial Ambassador Bobby Joe Seales and his wife Diane to celebrate the school’s inclusion as a Bicentennial School.

The TIS bicentennial-themed float will also follow directly behind Seales’ grand marshal car in the Alabaster homecoming parade on Oct. 10.

“Thank you all so much for your support,” Broadhead told the group after it took a photo under the school’s “We are an official Bicentennial school” banner. “The kids are very familiar with the Alabama Bicentennial and how important it is to our school.”

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CAWACO Awards Grant to Minooka Trails Project

By The Clanton Advertiser


Minooka Park in Jemison is scheduled to undergo expansion after receiving a Recreational Trails Program grant.

The Cawaco Resource, Conservation and Development Council presented a $10,000 grant to the Chilton County Parks and Recreation Board, which was used to match a $150,000 Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs grant and a $27,400 grant from the Chilton County Commission to help cover the estimated cost of the project, according to a Cawaco press release.

“Cawaco is leaving its mark on both of our parks,” Parks and Recreation director Gerald Arrington said. “They’ve really been good to us.”

Cawaco RC&D is an organization that supports educational and community development projects in Central Alabama.

“It takes a big team to get something like that to happen,” said Drayton Cosby with Cawaco.

Commissioners Steve Langston, Jimmie Hardee and Joe Headley were joined by Sen. Cam Ward, Rep. Jimmy Martin, Rep. April Weaver and members of the Chilton County Extension Office during the Cawaco grant presentation on Aug. 29.

According to Arrington, 83 acres has been purchased and will be home to several trails, including the possibility of a more suited beginner loop.

The park’s current beginner loop is only one mile long.

“It’s a hidden jewel out here,” Ward said about the park.

The goal for the new section of trails is to be wider and more conducive for riding side-by-side ATVs. “We’re looking forward to bringing in new riders,” Arrington said.

Arrington hopes to have the project completed by next spring. The additional land puts the park at roughly 450 total acres.

“It is a tremendous asset for the county,” Martin said

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Thank You to Alabama's Teachers

My oldest daughter just turned sixteen. She’s driving, and as a dad, it’s a thrilling, but scary moment in life — this week, she started the tenth grade, and the reality is that during the school year, she spends nearly as much time at school as she does around home. For young people like my daughter, those hours at school are shaped primarily by their fellow students and their teachers.

If everything turns out right, a young person will enter Alabama’s schools around the age of five or six, and by the time they graduate at seventeen or eighteen, they will have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of mathematics, history, American and English literature, biology, and chemistry, among other subjects. We entrust teachers with the awesome responsibility of educating our young people about the basic structure of the universe - to understand and reason through, for instance, the process of photosynthesis – so that they can think analytically when confronted with any type of problem. That’s an incredible responsibility; and to teach such important knowledge to students who, well, haven’t yet achieved full impulse control, is no small task.

We trust our teachers to impart knowledge and facts, but we also expect our teachers to model virtuous behavior before our young people, because knowledge isn’t the same thing as wisdom, and we want our kids to become responsible adults. The best teachers can not only clearly communicate lessons on the history of the Civil Rights movement, but can also talk about, and model in person, the virtues of courage and perseverance that animated heroes like Rosa Parks.

Facts are stubborn things, as the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, and what she meant by that is that the world is governed by certain unalterable truths, including, for instance, the truth that a free market economy lifts more people out of poverty than socialism does. Teachers turn this knowledge into wisdom by showing students the link between effort and reward: the harder you work, the better grades you will get, and the harder you work once you graduate, the more opportunities you will have in the workplace.

Great teachers impart knowledge, model wisdom, and often they do so at a great cost to themselves: growing up, the best teachers I had were the ones who were willing to stay a few minutes after class to answer my fifteenth question how to solve a quadratic equation. Many teachers often sacrifice time and effort beyond what’s required — the clock often begins before eight, rarely stops at five, and every hour in-between is dedicated to their craft.

As a state senator, I am committed to ensuring that our schools are well-funded and that our teachers are competitively paid. Nothing is more important to the future of Alabama than supporting education policies that work — and as in business or sports, personnel is policy. I am grateful to the great teachers we have, and I promise to always have your back in Montgomery. Thanks for all that you do — the impact that you have on my daughter and thousands of other students is life-changing.

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Helena Receives $8,000 Grant for Park

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA–Joe Tucker Park will see some improvements to the boundless playground equipment, thanks to a grant that was approved at the Monday, July 9 Helena City Council Meeting.

The Community Development Fund Grant comes to Helena in the amount of $8,000 from the Alabama Association of Resource Conservation and Development. The grant was discovered by State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster while serving on the appropriations committee. Ward felt that the city of Helena could put the grant to use and called Helena Mayor Mark Hall to see if there was a need.

“I was told there was a grant for the area but nobody had asked for it so I asked for it,” Ward said at the July 9 Helena City Council Meeting. “The Resource Conservation and Development delivers grants and when we have a little extra money for projects we want to put those to use. The mayor and I talked and $8,000 later we’ve got some money to improve Joe Tucker Park.”

The city of Helena knew that several of the boundless playground equipment would need to be replaced at Joe Tucker Park totaling close to $10,000 and the grant will help fill that need.

“We were trying to find a way to replace the equipment but Cam called and said, ‘Hey I’ve got you a grant that you could probably qualify for if you have something in your department that needs to be fixed,’” Hall said. “I said ‘Oh wow this is a Godsend’ so as usual Cam came through for us and got us the grant that will help us tremendously. We just want to thank you for coming through at a time when we need it most.”

In other business, the Helena Council approved Resolution 07092018 with the Shelby County Highway Department for a caution light service agreement at Shelby County 91 at Hillsboro Parkway, approved funds for the 2018 10U Helena Rage All-Star Team for competing in the 2018 All-Star World Series in Gulf Shores and approved changes to member of the Helena Historical Preservation Committee.

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Shelby Legislators Honor "Doc" Mahan

ALABASTER – On May 8, Dr. Stanley Michael “Doc” Mahan was honored for his lifetime of service and commitment to the community of Brierfield, Montevallo and the surrounding areas by having a bridge near Montevallo named in his honor.

Mahan’s family settled in the Brierfield area off of Highway 139 more than 200 years ago. Mahan founded his dentistry, located along Highway 139 above Mahan Creek, in 1966. He spent the last 50 years serving the community as a dentist before retiring to his current home at Shelby Ridge in Alabaster.

On May 8, Dr. Mahan was honored by state Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and state Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, at a ceremony at Shelby Ridge with commemorative plaques signed by Gov. Kay Ivey naming the bridge that runs above Mahan Creek on Highway 139 the Mike “Doc” Mahan Bridge.

A teary Dr. Mahan accepted his awards in front of his family, his dental staff and the staff at Shelby Ridge who currently care for him. He reminisced about his time serving the community in many different capacities and thanked his wife, Linda, for all her support throughout the years.

Dr. Mahan received his undergraduate degrees from Auburn University and the University of Montevallo before pursuing his DMD at the University of Alabama, where he graduated in 1966. In addition to his dental practice, he has also served as adjunct faculty at the University of Alabama and the University of Montevallo. He has also served in many different dentistry honor societies, local fire departments and been a faithful member of the Montevallo First United Methodist Church.

“Dr. Mahan has been an instrumental part of the fabric of Shelby County’s history,” Administrator Roderick Watkins at Shelby Ridge said. “We are happy to be just a small part of honoring his legacy today.”

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