News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Hall may be qualified, but shouldn’t be on college staff

While the practice of "double-dipping" — holding down two public-payroll jobs — is generally frowned upon, Alabama's legislators are taking the concept to a new low by holding positions in the two-year college system while controlling education funding.

The practice is bad for taxpayers and bad for education.

Legislators, who make $30,000 a year in their capacity as lawmakers, are absolutely entitled to earn a living, however, they should be prohibited from working at institutions for which they control funding. A Birmingham News investigation reveals that 28 of 140 current legislators — 20 percent — work in the state's two-year college system. All but two were hired after they were elected.

Elected officials are to serve the public. But it is wrong when the public served is one's self.

Voters elected House District 19 Rep. Laura Hall, a Huntsville Democrat, to her first term in 1994. Calhoun Community College hired her four years later.

Ms. Hall told THE DAILY she is proud of her service to Calhoun and its students. Her degrees indicate she is qualified for the position.

But the appearance of impropriety should disqualify Ms. Hall and other legislators from such positions. Ms. Hall's legislative community service grant funds have provided scholarships to students in her district, some of whom attended Calhoun. In other words, the school that pays her was the eventual recipient of funds controlled by Ms. Hall.

Ms. Hall says the recent emphasis on the state's two-year system is a passing fad, and that "maybe next week they'll focus on funeral directors or some other profession in the Legislature."

We doubt that. Ms. Hall obviously knows the difference between private enterprise and publicly funded institutions. For the most part, funeral directors don't receive public funds. State colleges do.

Legislators should be held accountable to ethics laws prohibiting the appearance of a conflict of interest. When one decides to take office, he or she should give up the right to be on the payroll of a public institution over which he or she controls funding.

Members of the state board of education say they were unaware of the nepotism and abuse in the two-year system.

The state Supreme Court has refused to prohibit legislators from double dipping.

Legislators refuse to police themselves and continue to abuse the system.

Now that voters are aware of the practice, and how common it has become, perhaps they will curb this abuse of power in the voting booth.

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