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Do you know if you’re a member?
State official, senator unaware of foundation and their membership

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Development Office Director Neal Wade joined the ranks Tuesday of state officials saying they didn’t know they were members of a college system foundation the chancellor wants curtailed.

Also, state Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said he first learned about the body and his membership on it less than two weeks ago.

The Alabama College System Foundation’s nonprofit tax forms, filed with the Internal Revenue Service every year since 1998, include Barron’s name every year.

Two-year college system Chancellor Bradley Byrne raised concerns about the foundation during the state Board of Education’s work session Sept. 13.

The Board of Education, on which Byrne served for eight years, has governing oversight of the two-year college system.

Byrne said he was surprised he’d never heard of the foundation during that time. He said he is concerned about the how the foundation — established to raise scholarship, grant and recognition funds for the two-year college system — spent its money, particularly $490,000 in 2006.

Byrne said in an e-mail Tuesday evening that he doesn’t wish to abolish the system foundation board. Instead, he wants it limited to awarding scholarships.

He also wants to reform its membership to exclude state Board of Education members and the system chancellor.

Byrne said he wants the foundation audited by a different accounting firm than one that does month-to-month accounting, in keeping with recommended nonprofit management.

New policy

The foundation also would have to comply with a new policy on foundations, which the Board of Education will consider at a future meeting.

Byrne was not the only person surprised.

“I never participated with that group,” Wade said Tuesday. Reached by cell phone while he was traveling in North Alabama, Wade asked a reporter to read him the list of foundation board members with whom he supposedly served.

Tax records for 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 list Wade as a foundation board member.

Others listed during that period include two-year system Chancellor Fred Gainous and Renee Culverhouse, then college system attorney and now president of Gadsden State Community College.

Culverhouse also served briefly as interim chancellor from February to April 2007.

Other foundation board members listed during the time Wade supposedly served include Ray Petty, former president of SouthTrust Bank in Montgomery, who was unavailable for comment, and Barron.

‘Significant group’

“That is a significant group of people,” Wade said. “I was not aware I was on that group. I would remember any meeting with that group, and I do not.”

At the time the foundation formed, Wade was president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and was involved in Alabama industry recruiting for companies including Mercedes and Honda.

Wade left Alabama for several years in 2000 to become vice president for economic development of the St. Joe Co., a real estate holding and operating company in Florida.

Barron, also traveling in North Alabama, relayed a reply through his Senate office in Montgomery.

Barron said the first he heard about the foundation was after Sept. 13, when a reporter asked about his 2005-06 involvement with the foundation board. Barron denied serving during those years.

He said Tuesday he never served at all and did not know about the group.

Several two-year system employees were on the foundation’s board of directors list by virtue of their jobs, including the chancellor and the system attorney.

So, too, were members of the state Board of Education who served as vice presidents. Normally, the board’s vice president presides at meetings and acts as a board contact for day-to-day business.

Former board Vice Presidents Ethel Hall, D-Midfield, and Sandra Ray, D-Tuscaloosa, said they never attended a foundation board meeting, and Hall said she had never heard of the body. Hall’s name was on the list as member in 1998-2005 and Ray’s in 2005-06.

Ray said she learned about the foundation after she received a call asking her to meet by phone with other foundation board members “late last year.”

“I told them I did not want any part of it and did not participate,” Ray said.

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