How Recommendations on College Presidents Should be Handled Debated by Board

MONTGOMERY, Ala., June 18, 2007 -- Is the process being used to determine the fate of two-year college presidents Dr. Yvonne Kennedy at Bishop State and Dr. Rick Rogers at Shelton State fair?  And when should the board get the recommendation from Chancellor Bradley Byrne - before the board meeting on June 28th or at that meeting?

These were some of the issues discussed at Thursday's State Board of Education meeting.  Also in an interview with, board member Mrs. Ella Bell says she believes the media has "made a real good profit probably off of sensationalizing about the two-year colleges and I do believe that a lot of it was sensationalism."

Bell says, "I hear people telling me about indictments.  I haven't seen anybody yet, except the gentleman out of Tuscaloosa, the legislator out of Tuscaloosa and these two women with regard to the house purchase."

"I've not seen anybody else convicted and it appears to me that on a daily basis we're convicted by the press.  I'll even go so far as to say that I believe that most of the press responds to the Birmingham News and what they present."

Regarding the situation at Bishop State, Bell says:

"My concerns are these.  When I first heard about the problems of Mrs. Kennedy, Dr. Kennedy.  I called the Examiners of Public Accounts and I spoke to one of the persons who did the audit at Bishop State and this is how he explained it to me.  He said, 'Mrs. Bell, what is happening at Bishop State is a conspiracy and there are several levels of employees involved.'  He said, 'Now seriously, if you try to audit what was there like all other people conduct audits you will go in and you will ask for a sample.  Well, if there's a conspiracy and those who are involved in the conspiracy remove all of the paperwork regarding that conspiracy, then the paperwork to that conspiracy cannot ever be included in your sample because it's never there.'

But Mrs. Stephanie Bell says not so fast. "With Dr. Kennedy we have at least five years of very, very poor audits from the examiners.  Then you go beyond that and you have academic problems, you have problems with the athletic program and you also have accreditation issues."

Chancellor Bradley Byrne says there's nothing simple about the issues, especially related to Bishop State and the volume of information to digest makes the task of evaluation difficult.  "These issues are not easy issues for anybody.  We've got a report from the examiner back in February that showed several things and of course we've got two internal investigation reports and on top of that you've got the report from the accreditation agency and of course Bishop goes before the accreditation agency meeting in Florida (this week).  So we're going to get more out of that.  There's quite a lot of information on Bishop, so much so that it's taking me a long time to go through it with my staff and make sure we all understand it."

A lengthy discussion took place at the board meeting when board member Stephanie Bell asked the chancellor to provide information on his recommendation before the board's official meeting on June 28th.  Byrne reiterated the complexity of the task before him.

"I've been on this job three weeks and things are moving pretty fast.  The last thing that I want to do is to make a recommendation to you on something of this magnitude that I and the staff haven't thoroughly reviewed and thought through.  I'm not going to bring you anything until I am ready."

"And it may be I bring to you a recommendation on the 28th and you decide as a board that you don't wish to act on it that day - I don't know.  But I'm going to get you a recommendation as quickly as I can but I want to make sure I let all of us know that we're going to do it by the 28th, if not on the 28th," said the chancellor.

Byrne initially said that he would try to get the recommendation to the board before the meeting "but I don't want to make guarantees that I can't make good on, but I'll be happy to sit down and discuss with you what process I'm following and what we're looking at because there's an awful lot of things going on here.  And I just don't want to be premature on it until I know that I and the staff are ready.  We're not ready right now," said Byrne.

Stephanie Bell responded to the chancellor saying, "I think it's only fair to the board not to walk into a situation without understanding the recommendations."  But board member David Byers saw problems.

"I'm not sure I agree with Ms. Bell on that.  I think it's fair to the individuals that there not be headlines that say what the recommendation's going to be before we get it publicly.  We may decide not to act on it.  We may decide we need a three-hour meeting to consider it.  I don't know what we're going to decide at that particular meeting.  I just think it's important, whatever your decision is, whether it is in a work session, whether it's in a meeting that it's made publicly, that it's announced publicly, that we discuss it publicly, that we not read about it before its publicly announced.  Our history is that's what occurs and as one board member I would prefer that not to happen."

Mrs. Ella Bell chimed in with another discussion of Mr. Blackledge's work.  "I read some of Mr. Blackledge's work and I've never seen anything from this office to make any charges against anybody."

Byrne reminded the board once again Thursday that "It's not my place as the chancellor to levy charges at anybody.  I am not a criminal investigator.  I am not a criminal prosecutor.  So I'm not going to be leveling charges against anybody - that's somebody else's job."

Bell then took a minute to tell Chancellor Bradley Byrne exactly what she expected from him with regard to the recommendations:

"I don't just want you to tell me what you recommend.  I want you to tell me why you recommended it in detail and I just want to make sure that when I see charges that are levied or whatever at your level I want to make sure that everything is just right and exact.  I don't know how to say this any other way than the way that I'm getting ready to say it.  But I've watched this board work and I know for a fact that everything's not always done fairly and I'm not going to be a part of anything that is not done fairly and I just want to make that crystal clear to everybody here."

Ms. Betty Peters told the chancellor that she' has "total confidence in the process that you're taking and I agree with what David said.  If we have to designate an hour or two hours or three hours that you believe it's necessary to present the recommendation that you're going to recommend that we do that."  "To take whatever time is needed.  I'm willing to listen to what you have to say on the 28th and act accordingly."

Vice-President of the board, Mrs. Sandra Ray said, "I certainly don't expect to have anything prior to that meeting."

At Shelton State, there have been accusations that Rogers benefited from the stealing of state funds.  The probe by investigators in regard to Shelton has been related to the investigation into the Alabama Fire College.

At Bishop State, 27 people have been arrested thus far for the alleged theft of more than $200,000 in financial aid and sports program money.

Reported by:  Helen Hammons