Montgomery focusing on state education system
By M.J. Ellington
MONTGOMERY — Except for continuing replays and spoofs of the Charles Bishop/Lowell Barron Senate floor altercation, attention in Montgomery shifted from the Legislature to the state education system last week.
There were smiles on the faces of two-year college employees and State Board of Education members at a Thursday work session.
Board members said they sensed a positive change in new Chancellor Bradley Byrne’s approach to tackling the system’s complicated problems.
“For the first time in the longest time, I looked forward to coming to this meeting,” Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville, said.
Stephanie Bell, R-Montgomery, said the new chancellor has an ambitious agenda but she looks forward to his leadership.
“At least he is trying to make changes,” said Board Vice President Sandra Ray, D-Tuscaloosa.
Randy McKinney, R-Gulf Shores, had a handwritten statement on his feelings about Byrne’s leadership. “If you asked me about the chancellor, I am impressed,” McKinney said. “AEA should cease in its attempt to remove him and should allow him to serve and do his job.”
AEA filed suit to overturn Byrne’s selection arguing that the board violated its own policies of advertising such positions and presenting all personnel issues to an employee advisory committee for comments before a vote.
McKinney the candidate
McKinney has more than one reason to be happy about Byrne’s new job. He said last week that he will run for the District 25 Senate seat that Byrne left to take the chancellor’s job.
In 2002, McKinney ran against Byrne for the seat and lost in a close race. McKinney said he will make his announcement official when Gov. Bob Riley sets the date for a special election to fill the seat.
Board members briefly discussed a contract that former two-year college Chancellor Roy Johnson signed with the Retirement Systems of Alabama to lease the building that RSA’s top leadership will vacate when its new headquarters building on South Union Street is completed.
Among other things, the building increases the system lease expense by $500,000 per year, something that board members say could be hard to manage. Byrne said he is still trying to gather information about the obligation that board members said they did not realize Johnson made final without their knowledge.
Weeks after legislators voted themselves a 60 percent pay increase, voters may look with skepticism on any proposals to give the Legislature more space.
People who work in the Statehouse, however, say the lack of public access, particularly for people who use wheelchairs, is a big problem in a building originally designed for offices, not large gatherings.
With more people coming to public meetings and standing-room-only crowds that line the hallways, some say the building has outlived its usefulness as a place to house the Legislature.
The Legislature this year passed a bill by Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke, to begin finding solutions to the problem. Gov. Bob Riley signed the bill into law Thursday. The action sets up a Legislative Building Authority to examine the best ways to use the space in the current building and also look at other options.
Other options could include a new building.
The current building, once highway department headquarters, was modified for the Legislature to use in 1986. Originally, the move was temporary while the state Capitol building underwent extensive historic renovation.
The Legislature never moved back to the Capitol, where space designed for lawmaking 150 years ago was even less suitable for modern work devices than the highway building.
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