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Board makes Byrne chancellor selection official

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

MONTGOMERY — State Sen. Bradley Byrne became two-year college Chancellor Byrne on Thursday, and just as he promised the day before, he took immediate action to avoid being "double-dipping" Byrne.

The Fairhope Republican walked across the street to the Statehouse and formally resigned from the Senate.

The state Board of Education approved Byrne's contract by an 8-1 vote, with Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, casting the lone no vote.

The three-year contract will pay Byrne $248,325 per year plus a vehicle allowance and fringe benefits.

"I know we say we cannot go home again, but we can," Byrne said in his acceptance remarks.

He had served on the board for eight years before he was elected to the Senate five years ago.

Byrne already had a post-secondary staff meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon, as well as meetings scheduled within the next week with at least one prosecutor involved in investigations into the two-year system.

No cost-of-living raises

Board member Stephanie Bell, R-Montgomery, who served on the committee that wrote Byrne's contract, said the new chancellor declined automatic cost-of-living raises available to other state employees.

"Sen. Byrne said he wanted the contract to be between him and the board," Bell said. "I appreciate that."

Ella Bell had wanted a national chancellor search to open the selection process to minorities. She said the board didn't give the required amount of notice before its meeting during which it agreed to consider Byrne's nomination.

Ella Bell was at a conference in Washington, D.C., on May 9, the day Gov. Bob Riley first proposed Byrne's nomination. She said official notice of the meeting did not describe the meeting's actual subject matter.

Although her objections were similar to those stated in a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association over the process used in Byrne's selection, Bell said she had nothing to do with the AEA suit.

"I do not belong to AEA, and I am not part of a suit," Bell said. "If I was, I would have a different lawyer."

Legal action

AEA lawyer Theron Stokes also told the board that more legal action could come in the future.

"You have allowed the governor to handpick this candidate in a secret meeting," Stokes said. "This board must follow its own policies."

Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Gene Reese on Wednesday declined AEA's request to issue a restraining order to stop the board from hiring Byrne.

Randy McKinney, R-Gulf Shores, disagreed with Ella Bell's charges.

"We have 21/2-weeks notice about the meeting, and you were the only one absent," Mc-Kinney said. "We made sure we gave proper notice of the meeting on May 10. I resent your comments."

Stephanie Bell told Byrne that his new job "would not be an easy ride." Last summer she, too, supported a national search for a chancellor, but she said the events of the past year, during which three different people assumed the role of chancellor four different times, changed her mind. "I believe a national search would just prolong our problems," she said.

David Byers, R-Birmingham, whose district includes Decatur; Ethel Hall, D-Fairfield; and Stephanie Bell negotiated Byrne's contract.

After the meeting, Riley said he believes Byrne is "exactly the right person at this time for the job." The governor said he expects to announce within a week a date for the special election to replace Byrne.

Board Vice President Sandra Ray, D-Tuscaloosa, said there was no intent to exclude Ella Bell from the board's discussion about Byrne.

"I did not even know she was not going to be there," Ray said.

Ray and Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville, said Byrne is well qualified to take charge of the embattled system.

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