Transcript of May 10 State Board of Education Meeting - Byrne Appointment

(Note:  Following the roll call, the following took place as relayed in a transcript of events from Boggs Reporting and Video Services.  I have changed the transcript only slightly as it kept referring to Senator Byrne as Senator Burns and I have added the first names to differentiate between Ms. Ella Bell and Ms. Stephanie Bell.)

Governor Riley:  Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to take just a moment to thank Dr. Culverhouse for her service.  Yesterday, I received a letter from her resigning from this position.  And as many of you know, she's been sick for quite some time.  I'm not quite sure what the problem is, but she feels she needs to take this time and focus on her recovery.  And I respect her decision to do that.  All those in favor of accepting her resignation?

(At which time, an affirmative vote was taken.)

Governor Riley:  Any opposition?

(At which time, there were no opposing votes given.)

Governor Riley:  The next item we have on the agenda is the consideration for the new chancellor for the  Post-Secondary Alabama Education and College System.

Ladies and gentlemen, after receiving the resignation yesterday, I realized that we need to replace Dr. Culverhouse.  And what I'd like to do is ask Senator Byrne to come and sit and talk with us.  Before we have a discussion, I think it would be good to ask him if he would jus come, talk to the board.  All these members are the people that you served with before.  And personally, I think everyone on the board is going to have the vision that Senator Byrne has for the school board to go into the future.  And as your chancellor, I think it would be good to know what his visions are. I think we would like to just hear what things you would like to see accomplished and just talk to us about that.

Senator Byrne:  Good afternoon.  Since I left this board to serve in the Legislature, there have been some changes to the Post-Secondary Board.  These changes to the board are changes that had to be made in the system and to this board.  And what you, as a board, have done has transported us to where we are today.  So part of my vision is to assist in what the workforce has done.  I think you're doing a fantastic job and I'd like to help further assist the board to move the board toward tomorrow.

We are now widely known. The Department of Education has vastly grown since the last time I served on the board.  Last week, I was in church and a young man's getting ready to graduate.  And I said, "Are you going to Auburn?" And he said,"No sir.  I'm going to Faulkner State."  And in talking with his parents, they said, "We think it will be good for him to go where he has smaller classes, more structure, and he'll get the attention he'll need from a post-secondary school.  So we're going to send him to Faulkner State."

And there are many people who are doing that, who aren't quite ready to make the transition to go to a larger state school, like Auburn or Alabama.  They are going to smaller, more intimate schools which provide them the opportunity to excel and succeed further with their educational careers.

There are many people in Alabama who have no more than a remedial education.  I was talking about that today in the Senate.  Alabama has a large group of adults who are illiterate.  And post-secondary education allows them to come back to school, get the education they need to help them get better jobs, and, in turn, make more money.  The post-secondary schools give people the opportunity to move beyond that.  And it's not just for the adults; it helps their children.  And helps break the cycle of illiteracy in this state.  And that's something that needs to be addressed.

So part of my vision is to take what the workforce development has already done and take it to the people of this state,  who have jobs waiting for them.  Governor Riley has brought industry into Alabama.  And Alabama now has a booming economy.  And there are numerous job opportunities available to people today, that weren't here 10 years ago, 15 years ago.  So I see all of us as being a part of that.

We're giving the people of Alabama the opportunity to help our state grow educationally and economically into being more successful.  And that helps everybody.  And that's something that needs to be addressed.

One of the last things I'd say is, number one, people do not like to be surprised by their chancellor.  There are some instances where that is going to happen.  But they particularly do not like to be surprised by their chancellor.  I know when I sat on the board, we got surprised on quite a few occasions.  It's not a pleasant feeling.  The board needs to be informed about what's going on.

The second thing is the chancellor needs to know what's going on with the board.  If somebody needs a piece of information, or if there are issues or concerns that need to be raised, we need to be able to sit down and talk, and say, this is what's going on.  We need to act as one body.

When I sat down and talked to Governor Riley yesterday, and he asked me if I would consider the position of chancellor, I didn't know what to say.  I told him I didn't know if I appreciated it.  But this board has always held a special place in my heart.  And this board will always be dear to my heart because of the work its doing for our state.  It was a hard decision when I left this board to be a part of the legislature because of that.  And I have other obligations; I have a family and a law practice.  But I want to be where my heart is.  And that's with this board.  And I'm willing to do the work that needs to be done with this board to help move it towards the vision that we all have.  Thank you.

Governor Riley:  There are certain decisions that need to be made when one goes into public service.  And what I'd like to do - unless, somebody has something else to do - is we're going to take all the time we need to be sure we're real comfortable about our decision. We had a long talk yesterday about how this board would feel, and some of the concerns that the board may have.  So what I would like to do, we have one person that would like to speak on this matter. Why don't we have him come up now; Mr. Theron -

Mr. Stokes:  Stokes.

Governor Riley:  Mr. Theron Stokes.  Why don't you come up and talk to us?

Mr. Stokes:  We appreciate the opportunity to be here and talk to you today.  First, we'd like to thank the board for what it's doing for the future of the Alabama education system.  We think the board is doing a great job; you're doing a great job moving Alabama forward.  And you need to be commended on that.  But what our concern is first is now electing a chancellor.  In electing an interim chancellor, there's no problem.  We think there should be an interim chancellor in place.  However, we disagree with the placement of a permanent chancellor because by doing so, you have done one thing - you're violating your own law.  You're violating 101.02, which requires that personnel matters - all personnel matters be laid on the table for 30 days.  That is our issue.

We know this board has a responsibility, but I recognize that in the past, it has appointed interim chancellors.  And at this point in time, to appoint a chancellor on a permanent basis, without consideration of all qualified applicants, would be doing exactly what this board claims it does not want to do.

For one, it has a policy of giving equal opportunity for all persons, regardless of their race, creed, or color.  We would like for that opportunity to be given in this situation.  We would like the opportunity for minority applicants: Asian, Hispanic, African-American, anyone who might apply - females.

We think that is important because if we're going to say that is the standard for this state, we must do it from the top up.  And we think this is the opportunity to do so.

And this is not anything, any kind of indictment against Senator Byrne.  We're not saying he's not a highly qualified person.  We're not saying that.  We're only saying that the process must work.  In order for us to have confidence for those little kids in our schools, for those adults who are training, that they're going to have equal opportunity.  And if he proves to be the most qualified applicant, after consideration of all qualified applicants, that's great.  But we're saying, what if there is someone else that is highly qualified?  We need to consider that person also.

One of the things we'd really like to say is we're holding open the opportunity for other applicants.  And there's no emergency situation that exists now in which we need to take this action.  The process of how it came about, who was consulted, who was considered; I know right now, we don't know.

But for all those other John Doe applicants who have been seeking opportunity to have a position as such, should be give an opportunity.

So it's our position that this board must follow its own policy.  Let's give equal opportunity to all applicants, regardless of who they are.  And by doing so, we are setting an example of how really this state is going to work.  Are we going to be sure that our children are given equal opportunity?  We're asking you to please do that.  And we're asking that you do not violate the Open Meetings Law by going and having meetings, and selecting someone without everyone knowing about it.

Don't violate the law that states you need to consider all applicants.  Be the one to set an example and appoint an interim chancellor.  Your own history dictates that you are very selective in this process and you can appoint an interim chancellor.

I heard the governor speak, and at no point did I hear him say that we are going to appoint an interim chancellor. And I never heard him say that there was an emergency, which would require him to appoint a permanent chancellor.  So what we're asking you to do is, follow your own rules.  Be an example for all those children that you're working for.  Show them that you're giving the opportunity that all people were given equal opportunity to serve as chancellor.

Governor Riley:  Thank you, Mr. Stokes.  Alright, what I'd like to do now is take some time for any board member, who has any questions.  I'd like to give them an opportunity to do that.

Ms. Ella Bell:  I have a question.

Governor Riley:  Go ahead.

Ms. Ella Bell:  As a matter of fact, I have several questions.  First of all, this board has been under scrutiny for a long time.  And I've sat on this board for many years.  And we've gone through many chancellors.  And as I sit here, I, as a black woman, have never been given the opportunity to apply for the position of chancellor.  And I take offense to that.  I can't even understand how anybody could come and ask that such a decision be made.

And besides the fact that I was sitting in a conference, for the Gates Foundation, trying to get some money for my poor district.  And I hear from my son, who doesn't work for this board, and who doesn't work for your office, governor, that we're getting ready to get a new chancellor.  And I ask myself, how is it that my son knows about what's happening in my board before I do?

I've got a cell phone.  I have a secretary in my office that could get a message to me.  And I also have e-mail.  And to call this an open air anything, infuriates me.  I felt as if - and you're an attorney, I understand that.

Senator Byrne:  Yes, ma'am.

Ms. Ella Bell:  But to sit on this board, requires that somebody call me and say, we're considering appointing a permanent chancellor tomorrow; it requires that.  And I didn't get it.  And I don't know, some folk, sometimes I can play the little game, and sit here and smile.  But I can't do that now.  And then, when I heard what happened to Senator, I mean, Representative Kennedy the other day out of Mobile, I was horrified.  And I said to myself, they're just going to take a position from black women.

And this little money I get from this board, doesn't mean nothing to me, you know, take your seat back.  This little $1200 month, it ain't going to pay my bills.  Do you understand what I'm saying?  I ain't going to lose nothing because of it.  And if that's all it means for my black self to sit here, is that you can have somebody black on this board, don't say that.  You know, then, let's just go ahead and call it what it is.

And I don't have to come here on the matter of electing a permanent chancellor, and I being a duly selected member of this board, am not even being called about it.  Finding out about it from someone who does not sit on this board, not your office, really insults me.

And then I come here today, and Ethel said she knew nothing about it, before the meeting yesterday.  David said he knew nothing about it, before the meeting yesterday.  Somebody knew about it before the meeting yesterday.  So we know that there was somebody that was talking about it.  That's my position on what happened yesterday.

And with regard to my questions:  If we were to elect someone for this position of chancellor, you should have to have experience in dealing with the Board of Education, other than with the Senate.  You know, during your tenure here, I came to this board and we had a wonderful reading program for the children of Alabama.  And it was doing wonderfully in everybody's district but mine.  So I'm trying to tell you that I know for a fact, that you don't always make decisions, on this board, for the greater good of the education of the children - all children.

My poor children are still trying to get caught up on their reading.  Do you feel, as your predecessor, that we need to have two boards?  We're on the same board.  You know, he felt that we needed a separate board.

And I want to know how you feel about that hotline that allows people to make accusations against folk.  But it does not necessarily protect those folk, even if the accusations are false.

Senator Byrne:  I can say that I haven't had experience in governing something with the magnitude of the Board of Education.  I have had experience in working with the department on legal issues, as an attorney.  And I think I have a reputation of knowing and following the statutes and laws that are set in place.  There are many rules and regulations on the docket and I understand why they're there.

But one of the things I have learned about that is to wait and listen to what the board has to tell you and allow the opportunity of the regulatory process to take place.

And regarding your second question, it was - I'm sorry, I've forgotten the second question.

Ms. Ella Bell:  And this board allows, pretty much, people to come and take money and give it out like everything's equal.  So my question is:  How am I supposed to have the confidence that you're going to do something to eradicate that change?  You look over here and this is nice and then there's my poor, little district that's struggling.  And I can't even understand why the board would support that.  To allow people to take whatever money and there's such a broad gap

And I understand the sole responsibility is up to black folk to get ahead.  That's the case; that has always been the case.  But not everyone's district is like mine and what can we do to change that?  And it should be the sole purpose for our education system to serve black folk, or poor folk.

And that is one reason why I just can't even imagine why this board stands here and gives people money as if they're all given the same.  And what are we going to do to ensure that everyone is given the same money?  And we know they're not.  Do you understand what I'm saying?

Senator Byrne:  I understand.  Every person, regardless of the color of their skin, or their ethnicity, or their economic standing, deserves the best quality education, the best quality structure, and the best quality teachers, in the best quality school system.  And we have a lot of flaws in the public school system, and that's part of the struggle.

We've got to do all we can to get those worked out in order to provide that.  But we've got to do all we can do to get that struggle worked out.

Ms. Ella Bell:   I don't want you to think I disagree with you, but I do want to say this.  We were in Decatur, Alabama.  And I was sitting there at a conference in their million dollar auditorium, looking at their five-million dollar building, and they've got a virtual hospital.  And think to myself that I was going to be sick.  They ain't even thinking abut my district.

That was the worst thing they could have done, was to invite me up there to see that. J And here are my poor children in my district - I have the poorest district, and they're struggling.  So that's where I am.  I am sick of being last.

Senator Byrne:  I'm sorry; I've forgotten what your other question was.

Ms. Ella Bell:  Okay.  Are you going to be a Republican president?  Do you feel we need to have two boards?

Senator Byrne:  You know, I was asked that question yesterday by the press.  And well, I don't think that's up to the chancellor.  I think that's up to the Alabama Legislature and the members of the board.

Ms. Ella Bell:  That's brilliant; that's brilliant.  Now, how about the hotline?  You can call in and say anything you want to about anybody.  And then it's all over the papers and the news.  And, you know, nobody can sue anybody.  And I want to know how we can ensure that if we have hotlines, both sides are protected?

Senator Byrne:  I don't know enough about the hotline, and I want to be able to adequately answer your question.  But I learned early on, as a freshman senator, that there are going to be a lot of things that are going to be said about you that are not necessarily true.  And our legal system is designed to protect both sides of the legal system.  So we need to use that as a model and allow due process to take place.

Ms. Ella Bell:  Now, see, that's great.  What'd you say, due process?

Senator Byrne:  Yes, ma'am.  Did you have any more questions?

Ms. Ella Bell:  No, you answered them all.

Mr. Randy McKinney:  This board has been through a lot of transition over the past few years; we've been through four chancellors.  And I've always admired your work ethic while you were here on this board.  We have a lot of problems we need to address and we need unity amongst the board.  And your willingness to come in the midst of this situation, and work towards putting it back together, speaks volumes.  And I think it says a lot about how you run your business and run your life.

And I think yesterday, we talked about a two-pronged approach to what we're looking at:  We're looking at correcting some of the problems; and speaking productively about the things that are happening in the system.  And there are a lot of good things in the system.  And, I feel, your understanding of this, makes you the right person to come fill this position.

And if we do it nationally, we would not produce anyone who knows this system, this very day, more than you.  And it would take too much time to get up to speed.  And once again, I don't feel like we have the time to waste.  I feel you're aware of the job that needs to be done. And I want to thank you for being willing to take this opportunity.

Ms. Hall:  I want to say that I enjoyed working with you on this board.  And I want to say that because of the work that you did while you were on this board.  And I think that with your leadership, and the seasoned board that we have, I think you can handle the job.  Everything you've said, we can take and elaborate on, and work together and move forward.  And I look forward to working with you again.

Mr. Byers:  I know it's been a few years since you've served on this board.  And in that time, we've been through several transitions.  And as a result of that, things work a little differently now.  And I think you're ready for the challenge that lies ahead of you.

Senator Byrne:  Thank you.

Ms. Ella Bell:  You know, all this talk about him being the chancellor.   As far as I knew yesterday, the only thing we were going to start to do was start a search, a nation-wide search for a chancellor.  If I'd known all of this was already decided, I would've missed my meeting and come up here.

Ms. Stephanie Bell:  No one knew yesterday what was going to happen.  This all came about so quickly.

Ms. Peters:  I appreciated the work that you've done when you served on this board.  And I think you're ready for the challenge and look forward to serving with you.

Mr. Byers:  At this time, I'd like to make a motion to nominate Senator Byrne for the position of chancellor of the Alabama Post-Secondary system.  At which time, his position would become effective upon his resignation from the Alabama Legislature, at which time the details of his contract will be negotiated.  And I make a motion to nominate Senator Byrne to fill the position of chancellor.

Ms. Stephanie Bell:  I second.

Gov. Riley:  All those in favor?

Ms. Caylor:  Wait a minute, what did you say?

Mr. Byers:  I nominate him -

Ms. Caylor:  No, I mean what is it that you read there?  I'd like to know what the terms of his nomination are.  I didn't know we were in the process of electing a permanent chancellor either.  I thought we were coming here to begin a nation-wide search.  So I think it's only fair for us to see what it is that you're proposing.

For one thing, I'd like to know when you would be able to start.  And is this something that you've discussed with Rebecca?  How does she feel about this?  How much longer do you plan on serving in the Legislature; doesn't the session continue until June 186h?

Senator Byrne:  I do have some obligations, obviously, with the Legislature and with my law practice.  I have some pending cases that I'm obligated to.  And one of my partners who would take over those cases, who has just gotten married, is still on here honeymoon is coming home to quite a surprise.

Ms. Caylor:  You didn't call and tell her?

Senator Byrne:  So there are some things that need to be worked out.  And as far as the Senate, the ending date of the session is June 18th, but they broke a quorum yesterday.  So things are going to begin to move much faster.  And we should be out well before that date.

Ms. Caylor:  So what are you saying, two weeks?

Gov. Riley:  First of all, I don't think that's a fair question.  He's not obligated to resign from his Senate position, until he's been officially offered another position.  And that hasn't happened yet.

Ms. Caylor:  Well, I'd like to know when he'd start.  And the other thing, there are a lot of long days ahead of us.  Are you still going to be able to stay here in Montgomery?  Are you going to be able to still be able to stay with Rebecca's parents?  There are a lot of long hours and I want to know if you're going to be able to honor that?

Senator Byrne:  Well, I've been putting in a lot of long hours with the Legislature the past few days.  But I'm sure you want a serious response to your question.

Ms. Caylor:  I would like a serious response.

Senator Byrne:  Rebecca's mother has been my landlord here in Montgomery for the past 10 years.  So I will be able to stay here.  And when I first told her I was considering this position, the first thing she asked me was, do you feel that that's the best decision for the State of Alabama?  And I said, yes ma'am.  She didn't ask if that was the best thing for me, but for the state.

Gov. Riley:  At this time, I'd like to take a vote for the nomination of Senator Byrne to fill the position of chancellor for the Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education.  All those in favor?

Ms. Ella Bell:  I'm sorry.  I cannot sit here and in good faith nominate you for the position of being permanent chancellor.

(At which time a vote was taken)

Gov. Riley:  Eight yeas.  Any opposition?

(At which time an opposing vote was taken.)

Gov. Riley:  One opposition; Eight yeas, one nay.  I now appoint you as the chancellor of the Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education.  Before we adjourn.  I'd like his contract to become effective after he resigns from the Alabama Legislature.  And the details of his contract to be worked out by Ms. (Stephanie) Bell and Ms. Hall.  Meeting adjourned.

(The meeting adjourned at approximately 4:20 p.m.)