Board Member has Issues with Chancellor's Interview

MONTGOMERY, Ala., July 11, 2007 -- State Board of Education member Mrs. Ella Bell believes an interview I did with two-year college Chancellor Bradley Byrne left the wrong impression of Trenholm Tech and she was none too pleased at some of the chancellor's comments.

Mrs. Bell called me on Tuesday afternoon saying people at the State Board of Education meeting had told her the interview was not fair to Trenholm and she needed to take a look at it.

Bell's primary concern was what she perceived as the interview saying that Trenholm Tech was somehow "not worthy" of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

From the Interview:  Trenholm is not accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges (SACS) but is seeking that accreditation.  I asked Byrne if he had spoken about Trenholm with Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges, when she made a recent visit to Montgomery.  Byrne says, "No, we did not get into that."

Mrs. Bell's Comments: "Trenholm is not accredited by SACS because it is not a community college, but a technical college and SACS oversees community colleges. So what Trenholm is in the process of trying to become is a community college.  This was part of the plan when McClammy began the library over there.  That is one of the requirements.  You're implying the program is not worthy, when in fact it is a technical college."

From the Interview:  Regarding Trenholm, Byrne says, "I don't have a particular date, but sometime in the next several weeks.  At Trenholm, I want to look at some of the facility issues that Mrs. Ella Bell has raised and I want to talk with the interim president about where things are so that I get a good picture in my mind about what needs to get done by the new president."

Mrs. Bell's Comments:  "He doesn't need to pay someone $100,000 to tell him what the problems are and it doesn't take months.  He just needs to go over there when it's raining.  He could go over there right now and see the air conditioning doesn't work and there's brown water coming out of water fountains."

From the Interview:  But Byrne says he does have concerns about Trenholm.  "Well, the particular concern that I have about that school is that it's been floundering for a long time.  Even before I came on the Board, it was an institution that was not performing at the level that it could.  And, it still isn't, even after all these years.  So my concern is that we get the appropriate leadership in there  and...we can get to the level where that institution is thriving, because I don't consider it to be a thriving institution right now."

Mrs. Bell's Comments:  "When he (Byrne) was on the Board he was part of the reason they had so many presidents come and go.  Do you know how many interim presidents they had?  Must have been at least six or seven before there was another permanent president. (After Mr. McClammy).  Their first hire as permanent president came when Tony Molina came.  The leadership of Fred Gainous was the reason it floundered.  They never did a presidential search.  It is no fault of Trenholm...It is the direct result of the State Board of Education."

Bell said she "didn't know what he means by that" in reference to Byrne's comments that Trenholm was "an institution that was not performing at the level it could."

"How are they supposed to be performing?  If it's providing quality workers for Hyundai - they are performing."  She also said regarding Trenholm's culinary arts program that "there's nobody's program in the state that's better.  At what level are they supposed to be performing.  I don't believe I have ever seen standards for performance of the two-year colleges."

As far as getting the right leadership in there, Bell said, "It's not so much I don't believe his (Byrne's) heart is in the right place, but he's been in the position to exert leadership and he didn't.  I understand he wasn't the person representing District 5 but that was no reason for him to forget District 5 existed (when he was on the Board.)  It wasn't his concern on the Board."

From the Interview:  Since Trenholm has a culinary arts program, I asked Byrne if he's seen any indication there may be similar problems to those found with the Best Grill at Bishop State.  "I haven't seen anything to indicate that we have a situation similar to that (Best Grill).  I had lunch over there (Trenholm) a few weeks back.  The food was good.  The program seemed to be well run and they were charging people for their meals and everything appeared to me to be operating as it should.  Now of course as we get through looking at various programs around the system, we may find that there's an issue there, but I don't see one right now. "

Mrs. Bell's Comments:  Mrs. Bell said she was not that familiar with the Best Grill at Bishop State so she didn't want to comment.

From the Interview:  He says since the school is a technical school he's looking for a president "that has the vision and the background to be able to take that school to the next level in providing technical and job training education for the Montgomery area."  He says the search will begin in the coming months and he hopes to have somebody before the board by the December meeting.  "That's the timeline and as far as I'm concerned we're going to stick to it."

"Now we are going to be doing some advertising to try to get the word out a little bit more broadly than we typically do on all four of these vacancies where we have searches that are about to begin because I want to try to get the best possible pool of applicants that we can find."  In general, Byrne says in all his presidents he's looking "for somebody with integrity, someone who's a professional, someone that has a vision and someone that has both the people skills and the work ethic to make that vision happen."

Mrs. Bell's Comments:  Mrs. Bell's only comments on this section related to what she hoped to see for Trenholm. "I want it to be a technical and community college with not less than 10,000 students.  We could have one of the most educated citizen bases in the state.  You take Trenholm and give it some good resources and time and along with AUM, Alabama State and Troy we are supposed to be one of the best educated areas in the state. We are not at that level."

She had no comment regarding the advertising of the presidential search or the qualities the chancellor is looking for in a new president.

From the Interview:  Speaking of integrity, Byrne says his speech on mission, character and integrity to the presidents down at Orange Beach recently has gotten "very positive feedback from a number of presidents.  A number of them thanked me and said that it's exactly the sort of thing they wanted to hear and appreciated hearing and nobody came up to me afterwards and said gee, I wish you hadn't talked to us about integrity or character."

Notwithstanding the interesting interchange between a few of the presidents and Alabama Ethics Commissioner Jim Sumner, related to some of Sumner's previous comments about the two-year system, Byrne says he believes the presidents got the message on character and integrity:

"A number of them have talked to me since then about ways they are approaching the issue and about ways they are trying to bring that same message to their own staffs, so I think they took it to heart and are taking it seriously."

Mrs. Bell's Comments:  Mrs. Bell's problems with this section were related to Ethics Commissioner Jim Sumner.  Bell reminded me that Sumner "had compared the system to cockroaches hiding under the carpet" at one point in time.  Bell says, "If Jim Sumner heard and he knew and he didn't go get an exterminator, he should resign.  If you did not get an exterminator, you are as guilty as they were.  That just does not speak well of you as the ethics commissioner.

Note:  The complete story on the interview with Chancellor Byrne is linked to at the bottom of this page.

Reported by:  Helen Hammons