During the special legislative session I vacillated between publicly calling to task my own state senator, or remaining silent while Sen. Tom Whatley attempted to place an onerous amendment on November’s ballot. If approved, the amendment had a provision detrimental to Auburn University. Thankfully, the clock ran out and the bill never got a vote; however, lest we face the issue again, we should examine it.
Whatley authored Senate Bill 17, a proposed constitutional amendment that provided staggered terms and term limits for Auburn’s trustees. Had those been the only issues, the bill would’ve had universal support. Regrettably, this story has a dark side.
Prior to the regular legislative session, Auburn’s Trustee Selection Committee (TSC) nominated several outstanding candidates who were confirmed by the Senate. Some of our incumbent trustees were also re-nominated and confirmed.
One trustee, John Blackwell, wasn’t eligible for re-nomination because he had passed age 70. His 12-year term expired March 7, 2012. Blackwell is widely known to have close associations with former trustees Robert Lowder and Lowell Barron.
Unfortunately, buried deeply inside Whatley’s SB17 was a skillfully worded provision adding four years to Blackwell’s now-expired term. Whatley repeatedly refused to eliminate that provision and denied that his friendship with Blackwell’s son, Sen. Slade Blackwell, had influenced his bill. Whatley and Blackwell share office space at the Capitol. Frankly, Whatley’s denials don’t pass the smell test. (Disclosure: This writer contributed to Whatley’s campaign.)
This begs troubling questions: Did Whatley actually think a blatant act of favoritism would escape the scrutiny of his constituents? Why not allow the TSC to nominate an Auburn alum who would serve with distinction? Why would Whatley risk his credibility extending the term for an otherwise-ineligible trustee?
The Auburn Family expects better, especially from our senator who’s an Auburn alumnus.