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Analysis | Could Auburn actually fire Gus Malzahn?

Josh Moon

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Is Auburn planning to fire Gus Malzahn?

I’ve been getting that question a lot — way more than a political reporter probably should — after I tweeted on Monday that some AU reps met with former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and/or his reps.

It was a slow Monday in the sports world, I guess, because that bit of information — information that was mostly already out there (except for the details on Stoops) — blew up.

So, let’s take a minute and set some things straight.

First and foremost, I stand by everything I said on Monday. There was a meeting between reps for AU and Stoops or his reps. That meeting went well, according to someone very familiar with the conversations that took place that day and in the two-plus weeks since.

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I understand that Stoops denied the contact on Monday evening, and that’s fine. I’m guessing there’s some level of deniability that he built in that technically makes what he said true.

Coaches do that a lot. They say things like “I am not going to be the coach at Alabama,” when technically they’ve just stalled the contact. Or they deny contact with a school, when they actually met with a booster not employed by the university. Or they deny meeting with anyone … because they actually sent their agent instead.  

I’m not going to play this game. I have reported what I know from multiple reliable sources. You can make up your own mind.

But there is other information to be considered.

For the past several weeks, numerous outlets that cover AU athletics on a daily basis — including a couple of longtime AU beat writers — have provided detailed reports on a growing movement within the ranks of boosters and top donors to oust Malzahn.

Such a move would be astounding for a couple of reasons, but primarily because the university provided Malzahn with one of the biggest and dumbest contract extensions in recent memory just last year. It tacked on an additional seven years and $49 million, and it came with a YUUUUGE buyout.

If Auburn fires Malzahn this year, under the terms of the contract, it would owe him around $32 million. And that money would have to be paid out in large chunks, with half of it due within 30 days.

That said, about a month ago, as Auburn was in the midst of yet another Malzahn mid-season swoon, I was told by a couple of prominent donors that there was talk of an “escape hatch” in Malzahn’s contract. I dug into it a little more and found that the folks at Tigers Unlimited had alerted university officials to a rather significant problem with the financing of the contract extension: No one had secured the funding from TU.

Apparently, because TU is a private entity, for it to be obligated to cover the majority of Malzahn’s contract — as it currently is — there’s a formal step that has to be taken. I assume this involves a signature and notary stamp, but I’m only guessing.

That formal step was never executed, according to two people who should know. And some at AU wanted to use that loophole to weasel out of the contract extension and/or possibly force Malzahn into a negotiation.

It was never clear to me just how serious anyone at AU took this scheme, but the fact that so many were talking about it told me that the major players had turned on Malzahn. That was mostly not the case a year earlier, when that stupid extension was greenlit.

It was also around that time that some prominent donors and trustees began discussing alternatives to Malzahn as head coach.

There was agreement on one thing: If they were going to consider dropping a chunk of change to send Malzahn packing, it would have to be for a home run, can’t-miss hire.

“We weren’t doing this and hiring some longshot,” said one of the donors who was part of the discussions. “That’s about all we agreed on, but we agreed on that.”

Stoops’ name was at the top of the list. But it was tossed out, the donors said, almost as a sarcastic wish — with no hope of it ever happening. After all, Stoops had retired only a year ago and he has no real ties to Auburn.

Still, a couple of AU donors reached out. They set up a meeting. And to their surprise, it went extremely well. There seemed to be genuine interest from Stoops in returning to coaching, and in the Auburn job specifically, the sources said. Since that time, the two sides have remained in contact and there is a general feeling that the interest remains high on both sides.

Where that leaves things, I’m not sure.

But I do know this: the way this info leaked, some people wanted it out there. Too many people knew what was going on, and too many people were willing to talk about it. I suspect that was partly to gauge fan response, and to ensure that making such a change would be supported by the overall fanbase and by the top donors.

Six weeks ago, there’s no chance it would have been received well. On Monday, after a blowout loss to Alabama and an ugly loss to Georgia, there is much more support. There’s a growing concern among “donors who matter” that AU is falling too far behind UGA and UA, and that it will eventually hurt the team in recruiting. Not to mention, some of the money spent to fire Malzahn — if AU ends up owing him that full buyout, which is unlikely — could be recouped by on-the-field successes.

So, there is suddenly momentum to pull off what was an unthinkable move just a few weeks ago: Eat a $30 million buyout and fire Gus Malzahn.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Corruption

Opinion | Want to fight public corruption? Start with the Alabama Ethics Commission

Josh Moon

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What can I do?

That question has come to me more than a few times since I wrote Monday that the last line of defense between the public and political corruption are the people — an informed, active, engaged people.

To be fair, it’s awful easy to sit behind a keyboard and say everyone should get involved in government and be watchdogs, and it’s a whole other thing to actually go and do it.

So, I’m going to give you a suggestion here. I’m going to recommend a good starting place, a way to flex your watchdog muscles.

The Alabama Ethics Commission.

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That’s the five-member commission that is supposed to hold politicians and public servants accountable, that’s supposed to uphold the state’s ethics laws and investigate violations.

But more than a few times, the Alabama Ethics Commission has served as a safety net for crooks and given soft landings to public officeholders who should have fallen hard.

The reason the Commission is able to get away with things like not upholding campaign finance reporting fines is because you — the general public — usually isn’t paying attention. And I get why.

The meetings are boring and filled with complex and complicated arguments. And right in the middle of every meeting is a looooooong executive session, which sometimes stretches on most of the day. It’s hard to find agendas prior to meetings, and even if you do, the specifics of what’s taking place aren’t usually included.

That said, your attention to what happens at these meetings is vitally important. Remember, this is the same group that started the ax falling on Robert Bentley.

And as luck would have it, we know of something that’s supposed to be happening at a meeting in the near future, most likely at the Dec. 19 meeting.

The Commission will be asked to rule on Attorney General Steve Marshall’s accepting more than $730,000 in questionable campaign donations.

Now, I’m not telling you what to believe on this. Although, I’ll gladly tell you that I think the donations Marshall accepted clearly violate Alabama law and that the Commission should find him guilty of ethics violations and send the case to the Montgomery district attorney’s office for prosecution.

But you make up your own mind, and no matter what you end up believing, contact the Alabama Ethics Commission and let the commissioners and staff know that you’ll be paying attention.

Here are the facts of the case:

Alabama has a ban on multiple political action committees transferring funds between them and then donating that money to a candidate. The reason for this ban is simple: those transfers mask the original source of the funds, leaving it impossible for regular folks to determine who’s paying to influence their government.

As Steve Marshall argued in a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, the ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers is the only thing standing between the citizens and a quid pro quo government.

There is no corresponding federal law, meaning federal PACs are free to participate in the transfers. The Republican Attorneys General Association PAC participates in such transfers, and it has long used those tactics to hide the source of funds going to GOP candidates.

RAGA made five donations to Marshall totaling $735,000, and it used funds that had been part of PAC-to-PAC transfers.

While Alabama law does not trump federal law, there are specific guidelines within the Alabama ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers that make it clear that the responsibility of following the law is the candidate’s. For example, the law says it applies to both state and federal PACs and it provides a remedy for the candidate if he or she accepts PAC-to-PAC money.

That remedy gives the candidate 10 days to return the funds. If he or she doesn’t, each instance is a crime and accepting multiple donations in violation of the law rises to a felony.

Those are the facts.

It’s unclear what the Ethics Commission plans to do about all of this, but given the fact that it let this matter — which was filed back in the summer — go unaddressed until after the election gives me a good idea.

But what should be made clear to the commissioners — chairman Jerry Fielding, Charles Price, Butch Ellis, John Plunk and Beverlye Brady — is that you’re watching them. You’re paying attention to what they do and that you expect the right thing to be done.  

Call 334-242-2997 and ask to speak with Fielding. He’s the chairman. Or you can email the Commission at [email protected].

That number is the main line for the Commission and the email is the general office email. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that there are no individual phone numbers or email contacts for them. Corruption grows best in a dark, quiet hole.

They’re counting on you not paying attention.

 

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Corruption

Opinion | The fight against public corruption isn’t lost yet

Josh Moon

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This will likely not surprise you: I get a lot of correspondence.

Emails. Twitter direct messages. Facebook messages. Text messages.

Every day. All day long. They come rolling in, usually from someone who disagrees with something I’ve written or has taken issue with something I said on TV or who wants to say something bad about my mama.

At this point, there’s very little contained in a letter or message to me that would surprise me.

Or, at least, that’s what I thought until the last couple of weeks.

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When the Matt Hart letters started rolling in.

If you don’t know by now, Hart is the recently fired head of the Alabama Attorney General’s special prosecutions office — the team that prosecutes political corruption. If that seems like it should be a relatively obscure position, well, it should.

Except for a couple of things: 1. We have a ton of political corruption in Alabama, and 2. Hart went after all of the crooks, regardless of party or political influence.

For those reasons, I guess, people in this state paid attention to the guy who was doing the prosecuting. And right now, I feel safe in saying that no one topic has prompted more messages than Hart’s firing by AG Steve Marshall a couple of weeks ago.

Those messages generally fall into two categories: 1. “I’m mad as hell!,” or 2. “What are we gonna do now?”

If you’ve written me one of these letters and not received a reply, consider this your answer.

I get it, and I don’t know.

The fact is Hart’s ouster, which comes a year after his top deputy — AG candidate Alice Martin — also resigned, is a significant blow.

Hart and Martin are a sort of white-collar-crime-fighting duo, beginning with their days in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama. As al.com’s Kyle Whitmire pointed out recently, prosecutions of political corruption spiked in that office while Hart and Martin were on the job.

Then those prosecutions spiked at the AG’s office when Hart landed there.

At the federal level, Hart was chasing primarily Democrats. At the state level, after the GOP takeover, it was Republicans.

Because corruption doesn’t vote straight ticket, even if you do.

But now, we’re in trouble.

Taking Hart’s spot is a prosecutor who has never tried a public corruption case and who has spent her life in and around state politics and defense attorneys. Maybe Clark Morris will be a fantastic prosecutor and turn this state upside down rooting out public corruption — I truly hope that’s the case and I’ll be happy to write about it if so — but I have my doubts that she’ll be half as dogged as Hart has been.

And so, I guess that leaves the business of exposing and stopping public corruption to just one person: You.

That’s right, you. And me. And all of the good people who live in this state who are sick of crooks and political welfare and good ol’ boys and smoky back rooms and brother-in-law deals and pay-to-play scams.

You all care about this stuff. I have your letters to prove it.

So, it’s time to take some action. To pay attention to what’s going on. To show up at board meetings and council work sessions and county commission meetings and state legislature committee hearings. It’s time to start asking questions and making phone calls and writing letters.

If you need help, I guarantee you that we at APR will help all we can. And I’m certain other media outlets will help, too. Whether it be with making sure you know when and where to go for meetings or helping expose the corruption or illegal behavior you find.

Our system of government was set up from top to bottom to represent everyday people, and it is designed — in most cases by law — to give the people it represents a voice.

Look, I know you’re busy. I know you have lives and jobs and kids and the dog isn’t going to drive itself to the vet, but this is important too. In fact, it might be the most important thing, because it literally encompasses almost all of your life — from the taxes and fees and costs you pay every day to the quality of your kids’ schools to the success of the company you work for to the 401k you’re relying on.

It matters.

And it’s up to you to make sure the crooks don’t win.

 

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Featured Columnists

Opinion | The Hoover situation gets stranger every day

Josh Moon

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What’s happening in Hoover makes no sense.

Every day, there’s another report that’s stranger than the last report. Every day, someone says something that they have to almost immediately correct. Every day, there is some action taken by city leaders or Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officials that makes it seem as though they actually want bigger and more frequent protests.

We’re now two full weeks past the shooting of E.J. Bradford in the Galleria.

For those who need a quick recap: Bradford was in the mall when a fight broke out and shots were fired, striking two people. There are conflicting reports saying he might/might not have been friends with one of the participants in the fight, but regardless, no one now believes that he was involved. When the shooting started, Bradford apparently headed for the door and was helping others, while at the same time carrying his firearm, which was legally purchased according to his family’s attorney. An on-duty Hoover police officer mistook him for the shooter and shot Bradford. According to a private autopsy paid for by his family’s attorneys, Bradford was shot three times in the back.

It’s a truly awful situation. That has been handled in the most awful way possible.

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Initial press releases from Hoover labeled Bradford, although not by name, as the shooter. When that was obviously wrong, the city decided to say he was involved in the altercation that led to the shooting. That, too, was wrong, so a third swing at it just made him out to be a crazy person waving a gun around — which also had to later be corrected.

As you might imagine, Bradford’s family and the local black community — sensing a city coverup of a white cop shooting an innocent black man — were pretty angry about all of that.

And things haven’t improved much.

City and police officials eventually went to the Bradford family to apologize. But promises to be more open with the investigation and share video from that night have fallen flat. Mostly because ALEA has stood in the way, claiming the release of any info would hurt the ongoing investigation.

And so, now Hoover has a roving band of protesters that shows up at random places, blocking traffic, stopping businesses from operating and generally causing havoc throughout the city. Because they want answers about what happened that night.

And you know what? That’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, we should have some answers. No, not a completed investigation, and nothing that would jeopardize the overall investigation, but something.

Like that video.

Why can’t the video be made public? Hoover city officials certainly wanted to show it, before ALEA stepped in. It didn’t jeopardize the investigation to allow literally dozens of people, including the attorneys for the Bradford family — al.com reported on Thursday evening — to watch that video.

So, why can’t everyone else watch the thing and see what happened?

It’s a video. Watching it won’t change it. Nor will it change the other facts and other evidence.

Because the silence here isn’t helping. The protests are growing larger and they’re getting more hostile. There’s a serious threat of protests at schools now, which will really elevate the anger.

And things are going to continue to trend ugly. Because the facts in front of the protesters are very ugly.

They know video exists. They know Bradford was shot in the back three times. They know Bradford was wrongly accused by the city and PD after he was dead. And they know there’s been enough time and enough evidence for police to ID the real shooter, find him in Georgia and bring him back.

That’s a lot of one-sided info.

There’s no reason for this to continue on without any answers for the family and community.

That it does is truly mind boggling.

 

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Featured Columnists

Opinion | A real outsider

Josh Moon

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Donald Trump got a lot of votes in Alabama.

Even today, after two years of implementing policies that have undeniably hurt this state, he still enjoys healthy support in Alabama.

While it would be easy to tie that support to Alabama’s history of racism and Trump’s tendency to say racist things and support racist people and push racist policies, there’s more to it than that. Oh, sure, a good portion of this state loves that Trump is rolling back civil rights investigations of police departments and coddling Nazi-sympathizers and terrorizing Hispanic babies, but there’s a larger percentage of people who like Trump because he was different.

He was an outsider. He was going to buck the system. He was going to change things, kick out the career politicians, get rid of the lobbyists and bankers and return control of America to the regular, working-class people.

Now, we can discuss the gullibility of a grown person believing a New York City millionaire, who was born with two silver spoons and no concept of an average American’s life, would ever be the one to restore power to the regular people, but that’s what they believed.

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And that’s where this whole thing went wrong.

As a matter of fact, the entire Trump phenomenon in rural, white America is a microcosm of a larger problem — one that has destroyed the middle class and stagnated workers’ wages and led to decreasing paychecks and increasing bills.

They keep picking the wrong outsiders.

Poor white people continue to believe that the next rich white guy they elect is going to be the one to finally share the secret of how they too can become rich.

Instead of voting for people who represent their interests, who understand their daily struggles, who feel their pains, the white, working-class and poor voters in rural America have voted in one wealthy conman after another. Falling time and again for ridiculous lies.

Here’s what that looks like in Alabama: A group of lawmakers who have found countless ways to trim from programs that help the poor, the disabled, the elderly, teachers and children have yet to broach the subject of Alabama’s lowest-in-the-nation income taxes or a property tax system undeniably created to disenfranchise black citizens.

Last year, on the heels of several rural hospitals closing and the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, the state’s answer to health care funding woes was to implement a Medicaid work requirement that will undoubtedly prevent needy people from receiving health care they need.

At the same time, despite billions in economic incentives doled out to rich corporations and car manufacturers, Alabama remains a state with one of the highest poverty levels and lowest worker wage levels. And those wages, despite the alleged influx of “good paying jobs” brought by the incentive deals, aren’t growing.

Do you know why these things happen?

Because Alabama voters go to the polls and elect people who do not understand their daily struggles. Instead of doing what the people of the Bronx and Queens did: Boot out the rich incumbent who had lost touch with the people he served and replace him with someone who understood them.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

That’s right, the 29-year-old who Fox News has convinced you is an evil socialist is actually the perfect example of the sort of an outsider that working-class people should be voting for.

Because she is a working-class person. She’s someone who understands the plight of working men and women. And she believes that if government is going to help anyone in this country, it should start at the bottom, where the aid is most needed and most impactful.

She hasn’t even officially started in Congress yet, and she’s already causing waves as she pushes back against a system that has been manipulated to favor the wealthy.

She has publicly criticized her colleagues on both sides of the aisle for not paying their staffers living wages — criticism that apparently pushed many to change their ways.

Do you know how that came about? Because AOC is broke until she starts receiving her Congressional pay, she’s dining in dive bars and cheap restaurants. While in one, she was speaking to the wait staff and discovered that many of them were also Congressional staffers working second jobs.

Funny the things that happen when people who actually represent the majority of America show up to govern.

Before the deal with the staffers, she publicly discussed the absurdity of her receiving the Congressional, super-cheap health insurance plan, but was forced to pay twice as much for basically the same plan when she worked as a waitress.

During the campaign, she refused all corporate campaign donations.

You see, that’s a person who represents regular people, who’s fighting to solve everyday problems.

That’s an outsider.

 

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Analysis | Could Auburn actually fire Gus Malzahn?

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
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