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Byrne: College employees can follow rules or leave

By Bayne Hughes · 340-2432

Chancellor Bradley Byrne has a message for those working in the scandal-scarred Alabama College System who aren’t willing to live by the rules.

“Please leave, and leave now,” Byrne said at Calhoun Community College on Monday morning during fall semester in-service training in the Health-Sciences Center.

The state’s two-year college system has been riddled with controversy during the past year, including the firing of long-time Chancellor Roy Johnson amid allegations of nepotism and questionable contracts. Byrne, hired in May, is the fourth chancellor in the past year.

Federal investigators are also looking at Shelton State Community College and the Alabama Fire College in Tuscaloosa and Bishop State Community College in Mobile.

“We’ve been bogged down in scandal at a time we don’t have the luxury to be bogged down,” Byrne said. “We need to get past this so that it’s so far in the past that it’s not even a thought on our minds.”

Byrne said he couldn’t guarantee that scandal is a thing of the past yet because of the ongoing federal investigations and the state media.

A Birmingham News reporter won a Pulitzer Prize in April for his stories that exposed the problems with Johnson and the two-year college system.

“I’m not going to tell you everything is resolved, but the vast majority of you (college system employees) wake up every day, go to work and play by the rules,” Byrne said. “We cannot let a small number of people define us. We are people of integrity who obey the law.”

Byrne said he is taking steps to clean up the college system. He is requiring every staff member to participate in training on Alabama ethics law and state Board of Education policies.

He implemented a total review of the two-year colleges and plans to start a system of internal audits.

Byrne recently unveiled proposed policies that wouldn’t allow the use of unpaid leave without his approval and would ban employees from serving in the Legislature.

Without this leave, system employees would have a difficult time serving in the Legislature. The policy would give legislators until 2010 and the next election to make a choice between their college jobs and legislative seats.

Former state Rep. Bryant Melton, D-Tuscaloosa, lost his office after admitting he funneled legislative discretionary funds through the Fire College and then used the money to pay gambling debts.

“Unfortunately, good legislators are tainted by the acts of a few, but we need to make sure that this practice that robs the system stops,” Byrne said. “Being on the job every day is important. Everybody working in the system is expected to be at work every day performing their tasks as professionals.”

The state Board of Education is expected to consider Byrne’s proposals at its Aug. 23 meeting.

State Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, works in institutional effectiveness at Calhoun. She taught at Johnson High School in Huntsville for 25 years before going to Calhoun in 1998. She began serving in the Legislature in 1993.

After the speech, Hall said she and other legislators shouldn’t have to pay for the things a few bad individuals did. She doesn’t want to have to choose between her job and serving in the Legislature.

“The people made the decision (that she should serve),” Hall said. “They knew what I do when they elected me. It’s a choice the citizens make.

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