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Byrne likely to head colleges Board expected to back choice for chancellor

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A Baldwin County senator and former State Board of Education member is the likely choice to be the next permanent chancellor of the state's two-year college system.

Gov. Bob Riley proposed second-term state Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, at the Board of Education's called meeting Wednesday. He called the pending decision "the defining moment for this system."

The board will consider the nomination at a 3:30 p.m. emergency meeting Thursday in Montgomery. Members expect to elect Byrne unanimously. The senator said late Wednesday that if selected, he would serve. He served eight years on the board before his election to the Senate five years ago.

Byrne would give up his Senate seat, and a special election would be held to replace him, Riley said.

Riley said he was concerned about the impact of a lengthy national search for a chancellor on a system rocked by a federal investigation and the departure of three chancellors in less than a year.

The board originally called the meeting to start the process of a national search to fill the post.

After the board fired Roy Johnson, the system's last permanent chancellor, in July 2006, interim chancellors Thomas Corts and Renee Culverhouse each quit the post without notice. Culverhouse resigned Tuesday, citing health reasons. Corts resigned abruptly Feb. 28.

Riley proposed Byrne as someone with credibility who knows the system and has the skill to work across party lines to make needed changes.

He said two critical projects — completion of an aviation center in Ozark and development of a robotics center in North Alabama — are in limbo until the board finds a chancellor. National reputation, grants for colleges and the effectiveness of work-force development programs to attract industry also depend on the two-year college system's stability, he said.

"We need someone intent on reform," Riley said. "Without this, we will exacerbate the problem."

"If there was a motion, I would second it," said board member Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville, as Riley proposed Byrne.

Byrne said that, if selected, he would spend as much time as possible at the system's various colleges. "It is important to be visible, to work with community leaders," Byrne said.

Although Byrne does not yet know how to accomplish his first goal, he said his first priority is to "make the entire system transparent."

He called the relationship between the board and the chancellor a partnership.

Only Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, was absent from the meeting. Members at the meeting all endorsed Byrne's nomination, but Ethel Hall, D-Midfield, said she believes at least five people on the board knew ahead of time that Riley would nominate Byrne. Other members said there was no early agreement.

"I have no objection to Bradley Byrne, but I really think there were already five votes for Byrne when we came," Hall said. Hall said she has planned to suggest Mobile district attorney and former attorney general candidate John Tyson for the post.

Board Vice President Sandra Ray, D-Tuscaloosa, said that when Byrne served on the board, the two did not always agree but could always talk. "What we need above all else is good communication," Ray said. "Bradley is a good communicator."

Randy McKinney, R-Gulf Shores, also endorsed Byrne, whose former seat on the board McKinney now holds. "It was an interesting suggestion when I first heard it," McKinney said. "After I thought about it, I would put it in the category of brilliant."

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