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Sentance keeping final report of smear campaign investigation locked up

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

A final report on the scandal surrounding a smear campaign launched to torpedo the candidacy of Dr. Craig Pouncey, for State Superintendent of the Department of Education is hidden away in the office of the man who ultimately landed the job.

Superintendent Michael Sentance is holding the results of an internal investigation into the Pouncey matter, claiming it is a “draft copy” of the final report. However, according to well-placed sources within the system, the report was not delivered to Sentance as a draft but as a completed document. These sources, not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, say Sentance is stalling for time. An email from the State Superintendent’s Office to APR said the report might be ready for the next Board meeting to be held this Wednesday.

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The false allegations against Dr. Pouncey, in the form of an anonymous Ethics complaint, were exposed by The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) in August 2016. Claims made in the so-called complaint accused Pouncey of falsifying authorship of his Doctoral Dissertation, launched a myriad of conspiracies.

Many people believe these accusations cost Pouncey the Superintendent position which later resulted in a Senate investigation.

Pouncey filed a lawsuit against Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), Board member Mary Scott Hunter, Intreim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, and ASDE attorneys Juliana Teixeira Dean, James R Ward III, and Susan Tudor Crowther.

On Friday, June 16, of this year, Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Roman Ashley Shaul received a motion to dismiss from the defendants.

It is widely speculated that some of the defendants, in this case, are fearful of what might be revealed in the report being held in Sentance’s office. Along with APR, several board members have called for Sentance to make the results of the investigation public.

Denying Pouncey the position of Superintendent is likely rooted in 2010 takeover of the State Legislature by the machine propelled by former Gov. Bob Riley, former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, Business Council of Alabama (BCA) chieftain Billy Canary, and others.

Mere months after leaving office, Riley registered as a lobbyist, citing his desire to continue his administration efforts to reform education and promote economic development. Writing at the time for the Birmingham News, veteran reporter David White captured the moment: “Riley said he supports charter schools and merit pay for teachers, and he plans to form an education foundation.” Then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard offered his opinion: “There has been no greater champion for education reform and economic development than Bob Riley.”

Hubbard was convicted of using his office for personal gain and other felony acts of public corruption, including representing “education” clients. At the trial, Hubbard was accused of making the Speaker’s office an extension of Riley’s lobbying efforts.

BCA chieftain Canary has also sought to influence education through his connection with legislators and in the last ALSDE elections, contributing more than $150,000 to two candidates. Both lost their bid despite Canary’s generosity.

However, Pouncey’s troubles didn’t begin with the anonymous complaint.

In June 2016, Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) emailed members of the State Board of Education encouraging them to not rush in finding a replacement for State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice, who was forced from the position by then-Governor Robert Bentley.

In her email, Rep. Collins asked the Board to keep interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland “a few more months to work on efficiency and effectiveness of the Department and the programs.” But well-placed sources within the Department of Education believed Collins, a darling of the BCA, was part of the larger plan. Canary, Riley, and Associates were continuing to wrestle control of public education away from the State’s elected Board.

In her email, Rep. Collins discouraged the Board from considering Pouncy (sic)— who had served as Bice’s Assistant Superintendent—for the top job in education.

“Lastly, I’ve only been associated with one person that actually had a letter written to Dr. Bice from the Speaker, [Mike Hubbard] asking him to not send a person back to the State House, and it was Dr. Pouncy (sic). I hope you do not consider him, he does not fit the priorities you set as a Board,” wrote Collins.

However, in an APR report, Larry Lee confirmed with former Superintendent Bice that no such letter was ever received. Lee writes, “She [Collins] opposes Pouncey because former Speaker Mike Hubbard wrote a letter to Bice telling him “to not let Pouncey come back to the Statehouse.” He further wrote, “And what was the crime Collins is concerned about? During a Legislative hearing, Pouncey stood up for public education when a Legislator attacked public schools.”

At the center of the investigation now tucked away in Sentance’s office was an anonymous Ethics complaint, accusing Pouncey of falsifying authorship of his Doctoral Dissertation and using State personnel and resources to earn his doctorate.

A letter with emails from 2009 containing thin allegations against Pouncey was distributed to Board members by, a yet, unknown individual or individuals. Subsequently, ALSDE General Counsel Dean informed the State Ethics Commission of the complaint. Ethics Commission General Counsel Hugh Evans, III, responded to Dean in a July 15, email stating, “We have received a complaint alleging certain possible violations of the Ethics Law on the part of Warren Craig Pouncey.”

Even through the State Ethics Commission is prohibited from receiving anonymous complaints, much less commenting on them, Evan did both claiming the complaint was not anonymous because he received it from the ALSDE board.

In mid-August, 2016 APR requested a comment from Juliana T. Dean, about the anonymous ethics complaint and her involvement. APR received a response from Michael Sibley, ASDE Communications Director stating, “The Ethics Commission did reach out to the State Department of Education (SDE) for a copy of the letter, after the Commission was informed of its existence, and was asked what needed to be done. Government agencies have mandatory reporting requirements pursuant to the Ethics Law.”

It is believed that the ALSDE investigation has been secreted away by Sentance to protect Hunter and others who may have played a significant roll in the smear campaign.

Even before the false complaint publicly surfaced, Hunter was telling individuals at a summer BCA gathering, that Pouncey had serious ethics problems and was “out of the running” for State Superintendent, according to at least two sitting State Senators and lobbyists who asked not to be named.

Later Senators Gerald Dial and Quinton Ross launched a Senate investigation into the allegations surrounding the leaked ethics letter and anonymous complaint filed against Pouncey. During one session of the Senate hearings, Senator Dial asked Hunter if, during the BCA meeting at Point Clear, she had spread a rumor about Pouncey’s ethic problems. Hunter said she didn’t remember. However, Dial then informed Hunter that she had, in fact, told him about Pouncey’s so-called problems during the BCA event.

While the Dial-Ross committee never resolved the issue as to who exactly plotted the dirty tricks to derail Pouncey’s selection as superintendent, it now appears that Superintendent Sentance is sitting on a report that might finally shed light on the scandal. As pondered by Larry Lee in APR, “Obviously, someone was trying to make sure Pouncey would not get the job. Why did they not want him?”

Was the Pouncey plot a conspiracy involving BCA, Riley Inc., or other special interests, or just loose confederacy of fools?

The public and press will have to wait until Sentance is forced to publish the ALSDE findings.

 

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

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Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

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Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

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Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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Sentance keeping final report of smear campaign investigation locked up

by Bill Britt Read Time: 6 min
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