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Board backs Byrne’s firing of college system official

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

MONTGOMERY — State board of education members whose districts include North Alabama said they had no prior knowledge that another high-ranking employee of the two-year college system was about to be fired.

But members said when Chancellor Bradley Byrne fired Debra F. Dahl as vice chancellor for fiscal and administrative services Monday, the action continued his goal of a stable system.

Byrne cited the need for a leader who shares his vision on rebuilding the system when he announced Dahl’s departure in a press release.

Her departure was immediate.

By the time Byrne announced his decision to the staff, he said, Dahl had vacated her office. He would not comment on the specifics of the firing.

Dahl had been under scrutiny because of an investigation dating to 2003 of financial dealings at the Alabama Fire College in Tuscaloosa. That investigation revealed Dahl approved sending $300,000 in two-year system funds to a private foundation headed by W.L. Langston, then Fire College president.

Daughter’s scholarship

Dahl said the approval was an error. A year later, the nonprofit foundation that raised funds for the Fire College gave a scholarship to Dahl’s daughter.

Two weeks ago, Dahl’s name came up again at a board of education work session when Byrne told members about the Alabama College System Foundation.

Tax records list Dahl as the chief financial officer for the foundation.

Board members, including two listed as current or former foundation board members, said they knew little or nothing about it.

Board member Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville, said she did not know about the system foundation, Dahl’s role with the group or her pending departure. Caylor said she learned that Dahl was gone “with a news release the same way you did.”

Although Caylor had no other comment about Dahl’s departure, she said colleges have valid reasons to have foundations.

“They can be extraordinarily valuable to colleges if they are run right,” she said. “I am not implying there was any impropriety in the system foundation.”

Caylor said Calhoun Community College President Marilyn Beck chaired a committee that drafted new operating guidelines for different college foundations in the state system. The purpose, Caylor said, is to ensure that the foundations follow proper regulations.

Board Vice President David Byers, whose district includes Morgan County, said his dealings with Dahl were good.

“I always found her to be very competent and straightforward,” said Byers, R-Birmingham.

Correcting system

He would not speculate about Byrne’s reasons for terminating Dahl but said the chancellor is still correcting “some things that surfaced when Roy Johnson was chancellor.” Byers said he was never on the system foundation’s board.

“Foundations for a system could be a good thing, if done right,” Byers said. “At the individual colleges, foundations give community leaders the chance to get involved. They raise money for scholarships and can be a good thing.”

Sandra Ray, whose district includes Lawrence County, said she believes Byrne has firm ideas about how he wants the system to move forward and that may have contributed to his decision to terminate Dahl.

“I truly think that ... Byrne has charted his course and wants people working with him who shares his ideas,” said Ray, D-Tuscaloosa. “He understands how important it is to keep us informed. Sometimes it looks like we are dumb as dirt or part of the collusion. I hope neither is the case in this instance.”

Ray said her name was on the membership list for the system foundation board of directors when she was the vice president of the board of education. Ray said she only learned of the role last year, however, and never attended a meeting or received financial information about the foundation.

The one time Ray received notice about a foundation meeting by telephone, she declined to participate.

“I told them I did not want any part of that,” she said.

Firing no surprise

Stephanie Bell, R-Montgomery, said she is not surprised that Dahl is gone.

“The foundation is only the latest thing,” said Bell who recalled the scholarship that the Fire College foundation gave to Dahl’s daughter and the $300,000 in state funds she approved for the foundation.

“I publicly called for her termination in connection with those things as far back as when Roy Johnson was still chancellor,” Bell said.

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