Chastened panel ends funding freeze for work-force training
By M.J. Ellington
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MONTGOMERY — A red-faced Gov. Bob Riley accused the state Board of Education on Thursday of micromanaging and jumping to conclusions when it halted distribution of state funds for work-force development programs.
Afterward, the board rescinded the funding freeze it enacted March 2.
"The question has come up several times this week to my staff about whether the money is being used appropriately," Riley said. "That is an insult to me, to AIDT and to work-force development."
AIDT is Alabama Industrial Development Training, an institute of the Department of Postsecondary Education that encourages economic development through job-specific training.
"There are 18 people in New York today negotiating one of the largest contracts the U.S. has ever seen," Riley said. "I cannot have a situation where this board questions every contract we negotiate."
The governor said that, unless resolved, the issue of the board's direct oversight of spending of work-force development funds could affect the state's ability to negotiate incentives when recruiting new industry.
Riley said he talks to the two-year college system chancellor several times each week.
But the governor said he didn't receive a single call or question from board members before the meeting during which the board froze the funds.
In emergency session that day, the board halted disbursement of the funds until it received answers about how they would be used.
"I want to go on record as saying this would not have been necessary had we had all the information earlier," said board member Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville.
At issue was about $30 million for work-force development training funds and industrial incentives included in a $57 million special legislative appropriation to the two-year college system in 2006. The Legislature's appropriation gave former Chancellor Roy Johnson discretionary control over the funds within certain guidelines.
The board fired Johnson on July 11 as a result of a federal investigation of the system that raised questions about nepotism and spending on outside contracts.
Board member Randy Mc-Kinney, R-Gulf Shores, who objected to the freeze at the time, said lingering questions from Johnson's tenure and the continuing investigation were among the board's concerns.
Before resigning suddenly Feb. 28, interim Chancellor Thomas Corts outlined appropriate uses of the funds for state Finance Director Jim Main. Main said earlier this month that the reason was to ensure that the money would go for its intended purposes.
Riley told the board that some longstanding incentive agreements were legal and binding and unless the board released the funds, the state couldn't honor some commitments made years before.
New interim Chancellor Rene Culverhouse said Corts made only one reference to the work-force development portion of the appropriation in a report to the board in December, but he began study of the issue at the board's request soon after taking the job last summer.
Culverhouse said Corts began meeting with Riley, Main and other officials about use of the funds last summer. Culverhouse said Corts had the authority to authorize and direct use of the funds.
But Culverhouse concluded that the board was not wrong to request more information about Corts' final action because it had little information about the transactions.
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