State board OKs policy to limit nepotism at 2-year colleges
By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Board of Education adopted a policy Thursday severely restricting the hiring of relatives of board members and of top officials in the state's two-year college system.
Acting Chancellor Thomas Corts called the system's new policy against nepotism the strongest of any state agency. Several board members complained that the action was not strong enough, but all but one of the provisions of the policy passed on unanimous votes.
The board voted 5-2 to turn down an amendment by board member Stephanie Bell of Montgomery that would have prohibited all hiring of relatives of board members, the chancellor, vice chancellors and college presidents. Board members rejected by a 4-3 vote an amendment offered by board member Randy McKinney of Gulf Shores that would have prohibited all hiring of relatives of the chancellor and board members.
"I want to hold the chancellor, vice chancellors and members of the board to a higher level of responsibility," McKinney said.
The board began working on the new policy after it fired former chancellor Roy Johnson last year amid allegations of corruption in the system and reports that a number of Johnson's relatives worked in the system.
The new policy states that no relative of the chancellor, vice chancellors or board members may be hired or appointed president or to other equivalent top management positions in the system.
The policy also prohibits the chancellor and state board members from trying to influence the hiring of relatives to other positions within the system and requires all applicants for community college positions to disclose if they are related to other employees in the system.
The policy also places restrictions on the awarding of contracts to relatives of board members and requires that the system's contracts be published on the Internet.
Much of the discussion at Thursday's meeting centered on whether the new policy was strong enough. After the meeting, Corts praised the policy as "a step in the right direction," but said he personally would have favored "a stronger policy."
"Absolutely this is a tremendous step. We labored hard over it," said Corts, retired president of Samford University.
Several board members worried that an absolute ban on hiring employees of board members and other officials would deprive the system of the most qualified people for some jobs.
"I'm for the best person being hired without influence and for the entire public to know about it," said board member David Byers of Birmingham. "I think it would be mean-spirited to begin barring people from employment."
An official with the Alabama Education Association, which represents many two-year college employees, had asked the board to delay voting on the matter for a month to give employees more time to review the policy.
But Mary Bruce Ogles, assistant executive secretary of AEA, said she has no problem with the policy.
"It's fair and it gives the opportunity for the public to have confidence in the hiring," Ogles said.
Board member Ethel Hall of Fairfield said she doesn't think the two-year system was as bad as it appeared to some after the firing of Johnson.
"I think what happened caused some people to say 'the system is rotten' and that ruined the reputation of the system," Hall said. "I hope people will now see that we tried to do something."
Board President Pro Tem Sandra Ray of Tuscaloosa said the best part of the new policy is that it makes it easier for the public to find out if relatives of system officials are getting preferential treatment in hiring and in the awarding of contracts.
"They say that sunshine stops abuse. Under this policy, the public will have more access and maybe there won't be as many surprises," Ray said. She said the board could come back later and strengthen the policy if needed.
Highlights of new nepotism policy for Alabamaís two-year colleges:
No relative of the chancellor, vice chancellors or board members may be hired or appointed president or to other equivalent top management positions in the system.
The chancellor and state board members are prohibited from trying to influence the hiring of relatives to positions within the system or the awarding of contracts to relatives.
All applicants for community college positions are required to disclose if they are related to other employees in the system.
The systemís contracts are to be published on the Internet.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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