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Is parole board appointment legal?

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The outgoing chairman of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, Sidney Williams, questioned on Thursday whether Gov. Bob Riley's appointment of a new parole board chair was legal under the state's new sunshine law.

Williams said the committee that is charged by state law with nominating parole board
members didn't give public notice of their meeting as required by Alabama's open meetings law.

But Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, who chairs the parole board nominating committee, said the panel does not come under the provisions of the open meetings law because it is an advisory board and only makes recommendations to the governor.

"The meeting lasted about 10 minutes and there was little or no discussion," Cobb said.

Gov. Bob Riley on Wednesday appointed longtime federal probation officer Bill Wynne to be chairman of the board, replacing the 72-year-old Williams, whose term expires at the end of this month. Wynne of Daphne served in 2005 and 2006 on a special Pardons and Paroles Board set up to help relieve overcrowding in Alabama prisons.

State law says the governor is to appoint members of the parole board after receiving recommendations from the five-member advisory board that is chaired by the chief justice and includes the presiding judge of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House and the president pro tem of the Alabama Senate.

Traditionally each member of the committee will submit a name to the governor after holding a meeting to discuss possible candidates. Jeff Emerson, Riley's communications director, said the governor decided to appoint Wynne after receiving nominations from the five committee members.

Cobb said state officials close to the process told her that the committee normally did not meet in public to discuss possible nominees.

News reporters have covered some meetings of the committee in the past. The Associated Press covered a 2001 meeting in which then-Chief Justice Roy Moore questioned whether the meeting should be closed, but the committee decided to keep the meeting open. The Oct. 19, 2001 meeting where Williams was nominated was open to the public and covered by news reporters.

Open Meetings Law

Williams said he believes Alabama's Open Meetings Law requires such committees to hold public meetings and to send out notice of their meetings. He said there was no public notice given of a meeting of the committee before Riley announced Wynne's appointment.

The parole board advisory committee is not registered under the open meetings section of the Alabama Secretary of State's Web site, which posts listings of public meetings by state boards and commissions.

"I feel that since they didn't do that, they held an illegal meeting," Williams said. "They need to go back and do the whole thing over again."

The executive director of the Alabama Press Association, Felicia Mason, said she is not sure the committee comes under the provisions of the law requiring meetings of public boards to be open. She said the law requires public meetings of bodies that expend or appropriate money.

"It appears to be a very rare incident where the act did not address this board because it does not expend or appropriate public funds," Mason said.

Williams said he submitted his name for consideration to the board and is not bitter that he was not nominated by any of the board members.

"We just want it done right," Williams said.

Others nominated to be board chair were Loxley Police Chief and former Escambia County Sheriff's Department chief deputy Michael Scott Murphy, nominated by Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom; former Etowah County Community Corrections director James G. Cary Jr., nominated by Senate president pro tem Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove; and Lowell Stephen McGill Jr., an investigator for the Alabama Department of Pardons and Paroles and a former state corrections officer, nominated by House Speaker Seth Hammett and by Judge Pam Baschab, presiding judge of the criminal appeals court.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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