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Decatur representative elected vice chair of school board

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A Republican whose district includes Decatur was elected vice chairman of the state Board of Education on Tuesday at the urging of Gov. Bob Riley.

Riley nominated David Byers of Birmingham to replace Sandra Ray, D-Tuscaloosa. Byers will preside at board meetings when Riley is absent and also address other board matters between meetings.

Riley is president of the board by virtue of his office, but he often misses board meetings because of his other duties.

Byers’ selection marks the second time in less than three months that the board, almost evenly divided by political party, has approved a Riley nominee for a key education position. The last time was in May, when the board hired former Fairhope Sen. Bradley Byrne as the two-year college chancellor.

In the spring, Riley pushed the board to adopt guidelines for two-year college employees who also serve as state legislators. Byrne then began taking steps for the board to consider policies on flexible employee work schedules, leave time and double dipping.

Byers has voiced reservations about some of those policies, but Tuesday, Riley stressed Byers’ leadership abilities as a key reason for his nomination.

Byers’ selection during the board’s annual meeting Tuesday came over the objection of two Republicans: Stephanie Bell of Montgomery and Betty Peters of Dothan.

Bell said she doubts Byers has enough time to devote to the position. “Attendance has been a problem in the past,” Stephanie Bell said.

Riley said he and Byers discussed that Monday. “He believes he has the time,” Riley said.

Peters nominated Randy McKinney, R-Gulf Shores. But McKinney, an announced candidate for state Senate in Byrne’s old district, said he would rather not have the job. The board later chose McKinney as president pro tem, to preside at meetings if neither the president nor vice president can do so.

The four Democrats on the board supported Byers and all but one board member, Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, voted to approve McKinney as president pro tem.

Democrat Ethel Hall, D-Midfield defended Byers and cited the unusual family and business circumstances in 2004 that caused him to step down as vice president at that time.

Byers’ father and two business partners died of heart attacks that year, leaving him as the sole partner of his firm at that time.

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