MONTGOMERY, Ala., June 6, 2007 - The problems many see with at least a third of the state's legislators having some employment or other relationship with the two-year college system will be addressed by Chancellor Bradley Byrne in the near future.
Byrne told reporters Tuesday that "obviously, the first two policy changes that we'll deal with - and there are two that are really joined together - the double-dipping policy and the governor also proposed a change in our leave policy. We have a policy review committee that involves employees in the system. And they have a set process to go through those and so it's my intent after they've had a chance to finish what they're doing to bring that to the board in August. So, those obviously, will be the first two."
Byrne says there are many different opinions in the Legislature about the double-dipping issue. "The Legislature is not a monolith. There are some people in the Legislature that think we need to absolutely prohibit all double dipping. I've heard from a number of them. There are some people in the Legislature that see nothing wrong with it at all. There are some people in the Legislature that think well, there's nothing wrong with it in concept, but it's been misapplied in places."
"At the end of day I've got to call my recommendation to the board on that policy the way I see it, and the Legislature is going to do whatever the Legislature is going to do as a result of it. I think I know everybody in the Legislature that works for the system. I was looking at a list the other day, some of them are longtime friends of mine. And I'm just not going to presume that any one of those individuals is not doing his or her job in the system. But I'm going to look into it because I think I have to."
"I think that we need to have a policy that at the very least more tightly restricts it. Whether we go so far as to outright ban it, I haven't reached that decision. So I don't have an answer to that. But I do think we need to more tightly restrict it and I think we can. I think at the very least we can do that."
Byrne says he has not had specific conversations with legislators concerning their possible use of the two-year college system as their own private playground. He says with two exceptions since he became chancellor he has not talked since he became chancellor with any legislators who work in the system. He says Quenton Ross was just congratulating him and telling him we'll talk later and that he's had discussion with Peblin Warren who is working at AIDT. "She and I had a discussion about a specific thing that she was working on. So I have not set down with anybody that works with the system and said how do you feel about being in the Legislature and working for the system. "
"I don't know that we'll necessarily have a conversation like that. We may have some conversations about the double-dipping policy. Since it affects them I'd like to hear what they have to say. I mean that's a fair thing to do. But I'm not going to come in there and automatically conclude that everybody that's in the Legislature that works for the system is not doing his or her job."
"I'd like to see each one on the merits and then make a decision about whether or not we can have a policy that affects this person, not that person, or whether we have to have a broad-based policy that affects everybody. That's going to be part of the homework we've got to do over the next couple of months."
Asked about Representative Guin's contract worth about $48,000 with Beville State and whether or not Byrne had the authority to end that contract, the new chancellor told the gathered reporters, "...I don't know whether the college is getting the bang for its buck in that contract. I haven't looked at that. I've not talked about that with the president."
"Do I have the authority unilaterally as the chancellor to terminate that contract - I don't think so. Well, I can order presidents to do things and then if they don't do what I say I can go to the board and say that they have been insubordinate...I would hope that if I had a view about a particular thing that was within a presidents purvue that they would give some credit to my view. On the other hand, the presidents are charged with managing their colleges. If the chancellor's going to manage all their colleges, then why do we need presidents. The presidents have authority and discretion and I think they need to exercise their authority and discretion within the law and the board's policy."
"I'm not going to get in there and tell them how to do every little thing. But if there are certain instances where I think that things are not being done right, I'm going to feel free, and most of them know me well enough to know, that I'm going to tell them what I think and I would hope they would give some credit to what the chancellor thinks about those issues, but I'm not going to be willy nilly doing that a lot."
"Part of what I've got to determine in regard to all these circumstances is - is it hurtful or helpful to the system. And I'm not going to make a presumption about that. I think I need to go do my homework about that and at the end of the day I've got to do my homework and make sure that I've got a well thought out supportable policy on double dipping."
"It looks bad - I understand that. I think people in general don't like double dipping. There is a PR cost there and I don't ever belittle PR costs because our system can't stand any more PR charges. We've about been charged enough in the PR arena. So part of what I hope we're going to be doing ... is to show the public that we're going to operate this system clean..."
Byrne says he's committed to these discussions being open. "Obviously at these work sessions you're going to see the board and me talking about more substantive things than I may want to answer for you today. I think I've said to y'all over and over again that I'm in a partnership with the board and I'm going to move with the board. That's the way to do this. I think they're very comfortable with that so I don't think that's going to be a problem. "
Another area that has caused some concern related and unrelated to legislators is the issue of relatives working in the two-year system.
Byrne says he has not asked anybody to step down because of these situations yet, but that he has looked at it.
"The board has a policy. My opinion is that we are going to abide by the policy. As long as that policy's in place and so long as I'm the chancellor I'm going to insist that that policy's followed. And there are going to be some painful decisions under that policy. Because there are going to be some people in the system that a lot of us have very warm, dear feelings towards who's family members may be negatively affected. But that's the policy and we're going to enforce it."
"...Before we hire somebody that's within a certain level of relationship with somebody who's at a certain level in the system, you actually have to have an outside committee, outside the college or the department that vets those people and makes a recommendation to whoever's going to be the appointing authority."
"And I can tell you that that and I'm not going to give you the particular instance, but I'm going to tell you we've actually had to implement that policy recently. It was followed to the "t" and somebody in the system's family member was not hired. So, the policy is working, but I'm telling you there's a human cost there because somebody's family member who otherwise might be employed in the system is not going to be employed in the system. But that's the policy and I think the policy is the right way to do it. So, of course whether I thought it's the right way to do it or not doesn't matter. We're going to enforce the policy. Period."
"It's only been in place a few months. So I don't think there was a policy up to that point, so we didn't have a policy. And part of the problem is when you don't have a policy, it's hard to hold people accountable for doing certain things until you have a clear rule for everybody to play by. Well we have a clear rule for everybody to play by. We have a policy and I'm going to expect people to follow that policy."
"I'm not prepared to talk about others at this point because the vice chancellors and I are going to go through all the policies that are relevant to their particular area. We're going to sit down one-by-one and say okay, in light of what we've learned over the last several months what about any of these policies do we need to look at more closely and perhaps change. So I think you'll see us, through that process alone have a pretty full set of work sessions and board meetings as we work through some of these policies."
"In some cases it's really just making sure the polices are clearer, not that we don't have a policy or perhaps it's not strong enough. It's just making something clear that ought to be made clear. In some other cases, we may have to rethink policies altogether. But as I've said since I was appointed that's something that I do in partnership I'll do in partnership with the board and so the way that's going to work is that we'll work the policies internally, then we'll bring them to the board work session and that's when you'll see them and they will see them and we'll have a chance to have a public discussion. Obviously all those work sessions are public meetings. We're going to do everything out in the open so you and everybody else can see and hear what we do."