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Time to end double dipping?
Scandals, future of 2 college presidents priorities for chancellor

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

MONTGOMERY — Double-dipping, scandals and the future of two college presidents were among the priorities two-year college system Chancellor Bradley Byrne outlined Tuesday.

After 12 days in his new role, the former Republican state senator from Fairhope said critical staff shortages in key areas may have contributed to the system's recent problems.

Revelations that came from a federal investigation of the system led to former Chancellor Roy Johnson's termination last July. Three interim chancellors followed before Byrne's selection as permanent chancellor in May.

The system currently lacks a communications director and has no one to oversee its work-force development programs or the private college licensure program. Byrne said proper oversight in those areas could have helped solve some of the system's problems before they escalated. Now, filling those positions is a top priority.

Byrne said he was surprised that the system had no one in charge of work-force development, something he said the last permanent chancellor, Johnson, handled himself. Byrne said he would not take on that task. "There are not enough hours in the day to do that," he said.

Ethics training

In a conversation with reporters, Byrne said the system would implement ethics training for its 9,000 employees, including those at Calhoun Community College and Athens State University, and begin the process of filling vacant key positions.

State Ethics Commission Director Jim Sumner agreed to do the training, beginning with the system's central office staff and then college presidents, at the commission's conference in Orange Beach on June 25. Training for other employees will take longer and may involve teleconferencing, he said.

Byrne has met with the presidents of the system's colleges and technical schools and with federal prosecutors still conducting what he called a "broad-based" investigation of the system.

He said he expects to have recommendations on the presidencies of Bishop State Community College in Mobile and Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa for the state Board of Education to consider at its next regular board meeting on June 28.

"I can tell you so far that I have not asked for anyone's resignation and no one has offered a resignation," Byrne said. "A lot can happen between now and the 28th.

Bishop President Yvonne Kennedy, who is also a state senator, and Shelton President Rick Rogers have been under fire since a federal investigation into system irregularities uncovered problems at both campuses. Some board members called for both to be terminated, but the investigation and a year of turnover in the chancellor's post slowed the process.

Byrne said the most important thing to determine is whether people in those positions are doing a good job, something he is still assessing.

The new chancellor said he also expects to look at the proposed policy changes on double dipping and a system leave policy.

Gov. Bob Riley proposed in May that the board adopt a policy on double dipping to address problems he believes come when state legislators also draw a salary at one or more of the state's two-year colleges.

Byrne said that he is not prepared to say that everyone in the Legislature who works at a two-year college needs to resign. "I'm not going to presume that people who serve in the Legislature are not doing their jobs," Byrne said. "But I feel that I have to examine it."

The proposed double-dipping policy is similar in scope to legislation Riley proposed in the current legislative session that met with an icy reception from many lawmakers.

Byrne said he intends to enforce the family member hiring policy already in place that caused controversy and months of discussion among board members before they approved the measure. The policy restricts when or if system colleges may hire family members of board members or key system employees.

Byrne said decisions that come as a result of following the policy may be painful, but he supports it. "We had an instance recently where we did not hire a family member who would have been hired otherwise," he said.

The new chancellor said he hopes to look as well at the system's policies on lobbying. He also emphasized the relationship of the chancellor with the board.

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