Chancellor Outlines Cooperation, Openness, Ethics in Statement to Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala., June 5, 2007 --  Following are the opening remarks (as transcribed by of Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education Chancellor Bradley Byrne at his first official press conference as head of the two-year college system.

Byrne has held to his promise so far to be transparent in both his dealings with the press and the public as his first actions as chancellor indicate.  Also, of even more significance, all 9,000 plus people who work in the postsecondary system will undergo ethics training.  The first people to be trained - the new chancellor and all the college presidents.

Chancellor Byrne's comments:

"This will be different for those of you who covered us in the Senate, starting on time.  I'm going to go ahead and get started I know some of you will have questions for me afterwards and I certainly welcome your questions as always.

I have been on the job 12 days, here in the Department of Postsecondary Education.  There's a longer gap in between our board meeting in May and the work session in June and I wanted to go ahead and give something of a report before we have our work session next week, although as those of you know who cover the board have noticed in the past, it's very important to be at the work session because a lot of the discussion about action items and other things that occur at work sessions.

Also,  at next week's work session, I'm going to give a progress report which will go through a lot of different things that you'll be interested in.  And we'll roll those out on that day with the board and you, I just want to give everybody a heads up.  This will be a pretty important work session.  But before the work session I wanted to give you a report about a few things, because I think it is newsworthy and the people that you are reporting for will want to know about it.

First of all I've had 12 very good days; they've been hard days because there's been a lot of work to do.  But I have had an enormous amount of positive support both from within the system and from without the system.  People have been very, very responsive in a positive sense and I've just been very pleased  with both the response that I've gotten and the information that's being provided to me.  Even though I served for a long time on the board and obviously I was keeping up with budgets, etc. when I was in the Legislature, still there's something of a learning curve when you come over here and you take over as the chancellor.

I have met with the department members, everybody in the department.  I've had individual meetings with the vice chancellors.  I've had group meetings with the vice chancellors.  I've met with a number of presidents individually.  The presidents will be in as a group this week for me to have a group meeting with the presidents.  I have already spoken to one of the constituent groups - the Public Relations Association of our college system met down at Point Clear on Friday and we had a good meeting.  And there are other groups like that, Deans of Student Services and others like that I will be meeting with in the course of June, because June is their month to be meeting after the school year.

A couple of things that are more substantive I wanted to bring to your attention.  The first is that on May 30 of last week I made a  memo to all the presidents and the other executive directors in the division and the Department of Post Secondary Education to make it clear that it's our obligation to cooperate with any and all legal and criminal investigations that are involving the system in any way, shape or fashion.

I did not put that memo out because I thought that there was any problem like that or that I had any indication that there was a lack of cooperation.  It's just that when a new chancellor starts and given the nature of the investigations we're in, I thought it was a good thing to make that statement and put that out there.

And I have had nothing but very good, positive reaction from everybody within the system.  I think everybody understands this.  I think everybody understands the importance of this and certainly it's my intent in working with the staff here at the department and the presidents to continue to insure that we are cooperating with all the law enforcement authorities.  I've had some conversations with them, the different authorities that are investigating the system, and I've indicated that we will cooperate completely with them and I must say I've been pleased with their response to that.

Obviously,  there's a lot that goes on in these criminal investigations that cannot be shared with us in advance of whatever action they're going to take, but I've been pleased with the fact that they've been willing to talk with me and at least give me some sort of general parameter, however general it may be,  about what's going on.

I also issued on May 31st another memo which has to do with our compliance in the system with the Alabama Open Records Act.  That's very important to those of you in the press.  You'll recall at the time that I was appointed I said one of the main things we need to do is make sure that our system is transparent and open.  Well, the fundamental way to do that is to make sure that we're compliant with that act.

Once again, I don't have any indication necessarily that anybody in the system is not complying with that, but starting out and given the level of press inquiries we've had about various issues, we thought it was important to make sure that they heard from the chancellor my position about that.

And, I have had very good response from people throughout the system on that.  If indeed y'all encounter some issues there that we need to know about let us know.  I don't think you will.  It is our intent to make sure that when you make legitimate requests under that act that we're going to be responsive to them as quickly as we can.

Obviously in some cases the requests can be voluminous and we have people who are going to be responding to them that have other tasks that they're supposed to do.  We hope that you will work with us as we work with you to try to get those to you in a timely fashion.

Then the third item is - We are going to do ethics training here in the department and with the presidents this month.  I was very pleased, when I asked Jim Sumner with the Ethics Commission, that he readily agreed to come here and first of all train me, the chancellor, and everyone in our department, all the department staff int the ethics laws that pertain to our department.  Our legal counsel, vice chancelor for legal affairs Joan Davis will follow behind that with some training for all of the people in the department on the appropriate policies of the State Board of Education that work in conjunction with the ethics laws so we'll have a pretty complete picture for the people here on the staff.  And then, later on this month, on June 25, Mr. Sumner will meet with all the presidents at the Presidents' Association meeting and Ms. Davis as well and they will do that again with the presidents, so at the end of this month, everybody in the department, beginning with the chancellor and every president,  will be thoroughly trained on the ethics laws in Alabama and on our policies that work in conjunction with those laws so that we can be sure that we are in complete compliance with those.

Once again, I don't have any indication that any of the people being involved in this training are not in compliance.  I think it's important we start off and make sure we're all clear about what the law is and what our board's policies are.

Now, Mr. Sumner was also gracious enough to agree to do that same thing with all the 9,000 employees in our system.  Obviously, that's going to take a little while.  We can't accomplish that in June.  We may not be able to do that live.  We may need to use distance learning capabilities that we have within the system to deliver that.  But I think it's important that we make sure that every employee in our system has the same knowledge and the same understanding of not only what the law and the policies of the board are but what they're expected to comply with as employees with the system.

As I've talked about this with various people in the system, I've been very pleased and gratified by their positive response to the opportunity to do that and in point of fact have had a number of presidents and other people in the system that think we ought to  be doing updates on this on some sort of a regular basis.

So that will become in my judgment a regular thing both at the department level and at the college level.  There probably will be some policy changes over the course of the next several months.  And obviously as we make policy changes, we'll be needing to get that information out to the people within our system so they know about those policy changes.

My intention today was to make sure that I brought those things to your attention.  There may be some other items that you have. I would like to ask you to hold off on asking any questions about what's going to be on the work session agenda because it's not finished.  And I need to get that out to my board before we have that discussion.  But let me assure you, when we're back in this room a week from Thursday when we have that work session there's going to be a lot of things on there that I think you will be interested in.

And I'm sure we'll have a good discussion around the board.  One other thing I intend today is, and I think I've already announced this previously.  I've told everybody this, it's my intention to have a recommendation at the  June 28th board meeting on the situations regarding Bishop State Community College and Shelton State Community College, two issues that have sort of been hanging on for a period of time because of some of the turnover in the chancellor's position.  It's something I think we need to go ahead and address this month, so we can go ahead and move on at those colleges.

Having said that I'd be more than happy to answer any questions."

More from the new head of the two-year college system is available at the bottom of the page.  Byrne talked Tuesday about many issues including his thoughts on double-dipping, lobbyists, workforce development and his upcoming recommendations related to two colleges and their presidents.