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Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, is congratulated by members of the State Board of Education during a special meeting Thursday of the board in Montgomery, where Byrne was picked to be chancellor of Alabama's two-year college system.
AP photo by Mickey Welsh
Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, is congratulated by members of the State Board of Education during a special meeting Thursday of the board in Montgomery, where Byrne was picked to be chancellor of Alabama's two-year college system.

State board picks senator to head 2-year colleges

From staff, AP reports

MONTGOMERY — Sen. Bradley Byrne will take the helm of the state's troubled two-year college system after the school board voted 8-1 to appoint him Thursday contingent on his resignation from the Senate and contract approval.

Byrne, a Fairhope lawyer who served eight years on the state school board, said he plans to start in about two weeks after wrapping up cases and looks forward to "coming back home."

"I had eight of the best years of my life serving on this board. We did some great things," said Byrne, who described the board members as "dear friends."

"I think they want somebody who's going to go into the position as a leader, but a leader whose main goal is cooperation with this board to make the right decisions," he said after the meeting.

Board member Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, cast the lone vote against Byrne.

She apologized to Byrne before the vote but said she didn't receive notice that the board was to consider hiring a permanent chancellor.

Bell was out of state Wednesday, when the board held a called meeting, during which Gov. Bob Riley suggested Byrne as chancellor.

She also objected to voting without first going through the application process. She said the rapid vote disenfranchised minority applicants who had no opportunity for consideration.

After the board's meeting, Calhoun Community College President Marilyn Beck said Thursday was a really good day.

"I understand Mrs. Bell's position," Beck said. "But with multiple chancellors in a short period of time, it had gotten to the point where it was tough to move through the community and talk to leaders, even when there was no big scandal at Calhoun."

Byrne, a 52-year-old Republican, takes on a post that has been the focus of criticism since Roy Johnson was removed and fired last year amid a probe of corruption and questions about nepotism in the system. His appointment comes after a whirlwind of activity that was touched off when interim chancellor Renee Culverhouse abruptly resigned Tuesday, citing health problems.

Culverhouse's departure left the board looking to fill the head spot for the fourth time in less than a year.

Gov. Riley's recommendation of Bryne came during the board's informal work session Wednesday where they had planned to discuss the parameters of the permanent chancellor search.

Members said the position's "revolving door" heightened their desire to move quickly and fill the permanent position instead of having a national search as originally planned.

"I'm not so sure if we went nationally how many candidates we would have interested," Gulf Shores board member Randy McKinney said.

Two-year system attorney Joan Davis was named acting chancellor until Byrne takes the job.

She said a board policy that requires a 30-day hold before personnel decisions are made does not apply to the board's appointment of a chancellor, which can be done at any time.

The board had approved Culverhouse's contract on a 5-4 vote less than two weeks before her resignation, and she will resume her job as president of Gadsden State Community College after her medical leave.

Some board members had doubted Culverhouse's willingness to clean up the embattled system, questioning her ability to oversee her fellow college presidents and her attempt to hide problems from the public cautioning employees against releasing too much information about the system.

Byrne said one of his top priorities will be making the system transparent.

"We need to face our problems, face them honestly — don't try to act like they're not there — assess them in a way that we can come up with solutions and we have to have a consensus on the board," he said. "We have to have a consensus on the board to make those solutions a reality.

He also said he would do research before making a recommendation to the board about Riley's proposed policies to keep two-year employees from holding "no work" jobs and serving as elected officials.

A special election will be held to find Byrne's replacement in the Senate, and Republican McKinney said he and his family will be discussing him making a second attempt for the seat. He said a decision could come over the next few days.

Byrne defeated McKinney to take the seat in 2002.

Board member Ethel Hall, who had planned to recommend Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson for the chancellor's position, said she hopes Byrne can be the balm to create a bipartisan board.

"I would like to see our votes based on what's best, and I hope that will come again when we are not divided according to politics and I truly mean that," she said. "I just really want us to be a board and that board to have decisions based on what they believe truly is best for the system."

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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