By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The first controversy has arrived for new Alabama State University president Quinton Ross.
Ross and ASU are drawing criticism from some for the hire of chief of staff Kevin Rolle, who was forced to resign from Alabama A&M after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor forgery charge related to the reimbursement of moving expenses at that university.
This is not a controversy.
The fact that Rolle’s hire is being questioned at all is ridiculous.
It stinks. And it’s exactly the sort of shady thinking that former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and his staff were relying on when they started a crusade against the state’s largest black colleges.
The investigation Bentley concocted at ASU is well known, as is its outcome now: no charges of any kind against anyone – we don’t even know for sure that charges were presented to a grand jury – despite nearly five years of investigating.
Within those five years, ASU was crippled financially. The governor’s office, through its hired forensic auditors, initiated personal attacks on two trustees, going so far as to accuse one – in a financial audit – of marital infidelity despite having nothing more than rumors.
A short time into the investigation, sources within the Bentley administration told me that they were almost certain that no evidence of fraud would ever be produced. But still the investigation continued on, costing ASU money and students.
Meanwhile, at A&M, there were other problems.
Infighting on the board of trustees had drawn Bentley’s attention, and in he went, ignoring along this same time far more serious financial issues at Auburn University (as detailed by a state examiners report), at Alabama (detailed by al.com’s reporting of trustees’ connections to a local bank) and UAB (related to its attempts to kill off its football program).
Instead of the millions of dollars in state money potentially being misused at those institutions, Bentley focused his attention and the state AG’s office on … moving expenses.
One line in the state examiners report from Alabama A&M noted that Rolle, a VP at A&M, didn’t have proper documentation for more than $6,000 in moving expenses.
Now, no one disputed that Rolle moved from South Carolina to Huntsville in 2009 (the audit was conducted in 2016). And no one disputed that A&M had agreed to reimburse Rolle for those expenses.
But there was no proper receipt, so the state flagged it.
Rolle couldn’t find the receipt. The case was headed to a grand jury for an indictment. And I’m being serious – a case was being made by the Alabama AG’s office about freakin’ moving expenses. In the meantime, Auburn’s new president, still with the stench of an investigation over using his previous employer’s plane too much, was FLOWN to Auburn, his belongings sent for. Not a peep from the governor’s office.
And so, the pressure mounted on Rolle. And there’s a reason it mounted. His son was battling cancer. He had health insurance, and good health insurance, but the bills were still piling up, and Rolle damn sure couldn’t afford to lose his job and his health plan.
So, he faked a receipt.
What’s the big deal? It’s not like he was stealing the money. That’s how much it cost to move. It’s what he paid. So what if the receipt isn’t genuine? Right?
That ended up costing Rolle his job. His life. His freedom for a brief time.
When he went to court and pleaded guilty, the judge on the case noted that he had received dozens of letters on Rolle’s behalf – from his employers, his former employers, his coworkers, A&M alumni, local preachers, students.
The judge suspended the sentence and let him walk with probation.
So, ASU and its new president are giving the guy a break. And good for them. Although it is a bit of a no-brainer. For goodness sakes, the president of A&M wrote to Ross to encourage him to give Rolle a chance.
I’m sick of insignificant crimes ruining the lives of people forever. Especially black people.
ASU has long been a place that provided black citizens a glimmer of hope, a hand up when they chose to put in the effort and work, a place of second chances for those desperate for them.
It’s nice to see that the new president – a champion of “ban the box” legislation while serving in the Alabama Senate – hasn’t forgotten that important role.