Board bars 2-year-college employees from legislative service
By M.J. Ellington
MONTGOMERY — The score was 1 for the governor and two-year college chancellor and zero for the state’s top teacher lobbyist.
The state board of education adopted policies Thursday that will prohibit two-year college system employees from serving in the state Legislature.
Hundreds of observers, many of them members of the Alabama Education Association, distributed green paper signs that said “Alabama Education Association says Vote No.”
Applause and jeers, including some for Gov. Bob Riley’s comments, and impassioned speakers who ignored time limits led board Vice President David Byers to gavel the meeting back to order on more than one occasion.
In the end, the board approved policy changes that Riley and Chancellor Bradley Byrne said would help end double-dipping and strengthen accountability in the two-year college system.
Board member Ella Bell, D-Montgomery, cast the lone votes against the policies.
One policy prohibits two-year college system employees from holding statewide elected office beginning in 2010. The system also would be prohibited from entering into contracts with companies in which state officials have a financial interest of 5 percent or more.
In a companion policy that defines rules for leaves of absence, current lawmakers working for the system can use earned flextime personal leave time for legislative service.
To use unpaid leave for legislative service, they will need permission from their college president and Byrne, who said employees will have to prove that their service in the Legislature will not have a negative impact on the college where they work.
AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert, sporting a white bandage across the bridge of his nose, opened his comments with a joke. “Let me say that Gov. Riley did not hit me,” Hubbert said. “But I blame him for everything else.”
Hubbert said the policy restrictions disenfranchise educators and put them in a category with convicted felons as the only Alabamians who cannot serve in the Legislature.
After the meeting, Byrne said the policies will face a U.S. Justice Department review before they go into effect.
Hubbert said his organization will sue to stop the policies, probably before the end of the week.
Both Byers, R-Birmingham, who represents Decatur on the board and Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville, whose district includes Limestone and Madison counties and Calhoun Community College, supported the policy changes.
Byers typically presides at the meetings, and in that role abstains unless he needs to break a tie vote. After the meeting, Byers said if he voted, he would have voted in favor of both measures. Sandra Ray, D-Tuscaloosa, whose district includes part of Limestone County, had a doctor’s appointment and did not attend.
The votes came after a noisy public hearing in which 17 people spoke, many of them members or employees of AEA or legislators who would be impacted by the new policies.
Caylor, a former Huntsville City Schools superintendent, said her views on double-dipping go back more than 20 years. “I’m a retired educator who waited until after I retired to run for the board of education,” she said. “I do not believe my vote disenfranchises anybody.”
Stephanie Bell, R-Montgomery, told educators in the audience that their role on campus is crucial.
“You can’t serve two places at once,” she said.
As a former University of Alabama professor when first elected to the board, Ethel Hall, D-Midfield, has been on both sides of the issue.
“Twenty years ago when I decided to run, I was a full-time employee and was told I could not,” Hall said. “I went to court and was told I could serve.”
After winning her seat, Hall, said she tried working full time, teaching a class and serving on the board.
“I found out I could not do it all,” said Hall, who ended up leaving the university as a result.
“For those who threaten me with how many votes you’ve got, it does not matter,” Hall said. “I’m not running again.”
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