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CAPITOL LETTER
Decatur people working to influence decisions

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — The capital city was anything but sleepy this past week as changes continued to come at the Statehouse and people with Decatur connections wielded influence in high places.

Not his thing

Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, is known for his cutting questions. When state agencies come before the Joint Legislative Contract Review Committee to explain why they want outside contractors to do work for their departments, Holmes does not mince words if he thinks people are not following state law.

As the ranking House member on the committee, Holmes chaired the September meeting last week because former chairman Neal Morrison, a Cullman Democrat, resigned to become acting president of Bevill State Community College.

At the two-day meeting, with its long agenda and controversial contract proposals from the corrections and Medicaid departments, Holmes was more subdued than he said he likes to be.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Holmes said that being chairman is not really his cup of tea; It requires him to be more “diplomatic” than is his nature.

The House and Senate rotate chairmanship of the committee, which the House currently has.

The committee elects the chairman, and Holmes said Thursday that he plans to call a meeting for that purpose before the next regular contract review meeting the first week of October.

Speaking of Morrison

House members in both parties said Morrison is a straightforward guy and they will miss his leadership and hard work
at the Statehouse. He could work with Republicans, and he did not try to accomplish his job in an underhanded way, they said.

A former Wallace State Community College adult education director who worked at the college before he ran for the House, Morrison said he legitimately put in whatever hours required at his college post, working nights and weekends to manage his responsibilities.

But after two-year college Chancellor Bradley Byrne tapped Morrison as acting president of Bevill State Community College on Aug. 29, bloggers were quick to point out the contradiction in the chancellor’s words and actions.

Byrne said he wants to end double-dipping among system employees because legislators cannot effectively hold office and do a good job at their college posts at the same time.

The bloggers said Byrne hired the double-dipping “poster boy” for the newly vacant Bevill State post only a few days after convincing the state Board of Education that a double-dipping policy was good for the system.

Byrne was a Republican Senate leader from Fairhope until he resigned to become chancellor in May. He said he believes the new policy that bans double-dipping is the right way to end abuse of the system in the Legislature. He also vowed to fill vacant system jobs with the best people possible. Byrne said he did that when he tapped Morrison for Beville State.

One anonymous local lawmaker observed that in doing so, Byrne also removed one strong Democrat from the Legislature, opening an opportunity for Republicans to possibly take another seat at the Statehouse.

About those robots

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said members of the local legislative delegation are working hard to convince decision makers that Calhoun Community College is the right place for the robotics center that Gov. Bob Riley wants for North Alabama.

“It would be a great place for something like that,” Hammon said after a conversation with Riley. “We’ll continue to try and bring it here.”

Praise for Sentell

Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel Director Lee Sentell is proud of the work his department does to promote Alabama.

Last week, the Southeast Tourism Society affirmed longtime Decatur resident Sentell’s pride by naming the department the best in the South for its “Year of Alabama Arts” campaign. The current honor marks the third time in four years that the organization put Alabama at the top spot. Sentell’s department also won in 2004 and 2005.

“When you consider that our tourism agency’s budget ranks 11th among the 12 Southern states, this recognition is that much more impressive,” Riley said.

2 Decatur Cabinet members

Decatur roots are important to Sentell, who likes to point out that his hometown provides two Cabinet members for Riley. The other is Richard Allen, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections.

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