Ken Hare In Depth: ASU and Medicaid controversies still alive - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Ken Hare In Depth: ASU and Medicaid controversies still alive

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Alabama State University officials are in the final stages of selecting a new president to lead the university, with the board of trustees currently scheduled to consider three finalists for the position on Friday.

So when those finalists had their final meeting with the search committee recently, Alabama taxpayers concerned about allegations of financial abuses at the university might have expected each of them to categorically promise to ensure that such abuses end.

Based on news reports, it didn't happen.

OK, so maybe it's a little unrealistic to expect strong statements from the finalists. After all, the actions of a couple of the trustees who will decide who will be hired as president were among those whose dealings with the university were questioned in a preliminary forensic audit about financial issues at ASU. Perhaps the finalists didn't want to lose the potential votes of those trustees by questioning what has gone on in the past at ASU.

But at least, taxpayers might have assumed, all of the finalists promised that if they were hired as president, no such shenanigans would be allowed in the future. Surely at least that much happened, right?

Not so much.

Based on news coverage, not one of the three finalists -- state Sen. Quinton Ross Jr. of Montgomery, Gwendolyn Boyd of Maryland, or retired Brig. Gen. Samuel Nichols Jr. of Virginia -- appears to have made such a specific promise. They talked around the issues, but no one appears to have come right out and said: "Whether or not the allegations of problems in the past prove true or false, you can rest assured nothing like that will happen on my watch."

The closest the candidates for president came to such a promise was when Boyd, a top administrator at Johns Hopkins University, spoke of the need for transparency.

"The only way to make people believe is with transparency," Boyd said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. "You have to do your own investigations. Present your problems, lay them out for people to see. And then tell people how you're going to fix them. That's the only way to make people believe in you — show them what you're doing."

Ross, who is currently director of adult education at Trenholm State Technical College, compared the allegations against ASU officials to his own legal problems when he was found not guilty of allegations that he took gambling money in exchange for support in the Senate for gambling legislation.

"As they say, you've been tried by fire and of course in the society that we live in it can happen to anyone but it's the way you embrace it and move forward," Ross said.

Saying that he was vindicated in the end, he said: "I think the university is in the same unique position as far as false accusations and things that may not necessarily be true but if you stand, if you go through it, you'll come out the better for it on the other end. What we have to do is embrace anything that has been considered an imperfection, correct it and move forward but never losing our zeal as far as who we are and what we stand for."

For now, it appears that those Alabamians concerned about how public money is being handled at ASU won't get the categorical promises they deserve to clean up any financial abuses at the university.  

Maybe, just maybe, some of the trustees on Friday will ask the candidates for a categorical and specific promise that if hired as president, he or she will make it a priority to ensure there are no sweetheart deals for top officials of the university or for their families or cronies. Maybe, just maybe, a trustee or two will have the courage to ask the candidates to explicitly promise that they will not tolerate sexual harassment by top officials at ASU -- an issue that no one seems to want to address despite the recent findings of a federal court.

And maybe, just maybe, the trustees will refuse to hire any candidate for president who isn't willing to make unequivocal commitments in these areas.

The public can always hope.

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Governor's "bogus" comment insults public universities

Based on news reports, Gov. Robert Bentley appears to be getting increasingly touchy about his opposition to expanding Medicaid by using almost all federal dollars in the first three years, and 90 percent or more in federal money after that.

Critics have pointed out that the governor's stand against expanding health care coverage for as many as 300,000 Alabamians is hard to understand for a physician, and that it also runs counter to his pledge to focus on creating jobs.

But despite his frustration with supporters of Medicaid expansion, I believe the governor's use of the word "bogus" to describe economic studies of the impact of expanding Medicaid in Alabama was an insult to the work done by the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama Birmingham.

A study by two respected economists at the University of Alabama Birmingham estimated the  new economic activity from expanding Medicaid in Alabama would generate $1.7 billion in new tax revenue for the state from 2014 to 2020. And a  study released by the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research which was commissioned by the Alabama Hospital Association estimated that an expansion would create 30,000 new jobs and pump more than $2.1 billion into the state's economy.

If Bentley had simply questioned whether the details of the economic studies were accurate, that would be understandable. Economic studies are just estimates, and economists often vary widely in their predictions.

But the use of the word "bogus" to describe the studies was over the top. Synonyms for "bogus" include fake, fraudulent and sham. By using that word, in effect Bentley was accusing respected researchers of deliberately misleading the public.

In fairness, some of those on the other side of the issue from Bentley have used some over-the-top language as well to describe those who oppose expansion of Medicaid. If Bentley wants specifically to go after those critics, so be it.

But that does not justify the insinuation by the governor that these respected researchers did not do their best to show the impact of expanding Medicaid in Alabama.

In fact, the research by the Alabama professors essentially mirrors similar research across the nation. The range of economic impact and effects on job creation may vary from study to study, but the majority of the studies show that expansion would have a tremendous positive effect.

And this much is indisputable. Expanding Medicaid would increase health care access for hundreds of thousands of low-income Alabama families. That alone makes it worth doing. The positive impact on the economy and jobs are simply icing on the cake.

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Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at khare@wsfa.com.

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