Ken Hare In Depth: Governor's call for resignations carries clou - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Ken Hare In Depth: Governor's call for resignations carries clout

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Last Friday, I wrote a column suggesting that the chairman and vice chairman of the board of trustees of Alabama State University should resign if they truly want to do what's best for the university.

No big deal. My opinion plus two bucks could get you a cup of coffee, but that's about all.

Then on Monday, the president of the Student Government Association at ASU also called for the resignations of Chairman Elton Dean and Vice Chairman Marvin Wiggins.

That's a bigger deal, because it is ASU students who are most affected by the university's myriad problems -- financial woes, credit issues and a warning from the university's accreditation agency. However, while the students certainly should be applauded for making their voices heard, they really have little power to force change.

By Tuesday, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley had joined the chorus. That's a big deal -- a really big deal --  because the governor of Alabama has the power to remove trustees from office.

Bentley, who serves as the president of the board of ASU and other Alabama public colleges, has the power under state law to remove trustees of public colleges who have a conflict of interest.

Bentley cited the statute in letters to Dean and Wiggins asking for their resignations. It states: "It shall be unlawful for any member of the board to be financially interested in any contract or transaction affecting the interests of the university; to procure, or be a party in any way to procuring the appointment of any relative to any position of financial trust or profit; or to influence the appointment, nonreappointment, retention, dismissal or compensation of any employee of the university except through the prescribed procedures for such purposes, and the violation of this provision shall subject the member so offending to removal by the Governor or the board."

 Dean and Wiggins were cited for conflicts of interest in a forensic audit ordered by the governor. Those conflicts were among several reasons cited by ASU's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, in a letter sent last week outlining why the agency had issued an accreditation warning against ASU.

A spokesperson for the governor said Tuesday that the SACS letter carried a "heavy weight" in the governor's decision to seek the resignations.

"The governor has serious concerns about the SACS letter and its potential effects," said Jennifer Ardis, the governor's press secretary, saying it was one of several reasons for the request.

When I asked if the governor was prepared to remove Dean and Wiggins if they did not voluntarily resign, Ardis said the governor preferred to let his letters speak for themselves.

In his letters, Bentley refers to an apparent attempt to usurp the power of ASU President Gwendolyn Boyd and to make it more difficult for trustees to be removed from office.

Bentley wrote in each letter: "I am disappointed to learn that a proposed amendment to ASU's bylaws has been circulated to members of ASU's board of trustees, excluding me, as president and a member of the board."

He also wrote: "Out of deep concern for the future of ASU, the student body, its accreditation and financial standing, I am compelled to request your voluntary resignation as a member of the board of trustees of  Alabama State University immediately. The deadline for response to this request is close of business, 5:00 p.m., Thursday, July 24, 2014."

Bentley indicated the proposed bylaw change would have made the university's general counsel answerable to the board, not the president, and made the attorney-client privilege exist between the general counsel and the trustees, not the president. That would be a key difference in a criminal probe aimed at a trustee.

According to Bentley's letters, the proposed amendment also would give a board committee chair the power to direct the president to take actions.

I believe that last provision alone would virtually ensure that SACS would come down hard on ASU as its investigation goes forward.  It clearly would involve the trustees crossing the line between setting policy to micromanaging the day-to-day operations of ASU.

I won't repeat the details of the arguments I made last week in suggesting it is time for Dean and Wiggins to go. In summary, they boil down to the fact that they apparently have conflicts of interests, they have presided over several years of mismanaged spending, they presided over a board that ran off one president when he appeared to be trying to do his job, and they appear to be trying to undercut new President Boyd as she attempts to struggle with the financial mess the trustees helped to create.

Now the governor has raised another reason -- this proposed bylaws amendment, which certainly appears to be a last-ditch effort by Dean and Wiggins and perhaps other trustees to undermine the president and to cling to power.

Alabama State University has a vibrant new president who clearly loves the university and wants to do what's best for students. Under the right leadership, ASU could return to being a powerful force for good in the state. The focus of all concerned should be on protecting the rights of students, ensuring the viability of the university, and making certain that public money is used wisely. 

It's time for Dean and Wiggins to go. They might deny all the negative claims against them, but they cannot persuasively deny that they have become a distraction in ASU's struggle to address the serious problems it faces.

 If they don't do the right thing and leave voluntarily, Bentley would be justified in using his statutory authority to remove them.

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

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