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The Education of Dr. Joseph Silver: Kicking the Hornet’s Nest, Part Two

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—The headline of a January 5 report by the Montgomery Advertiser reads, “Emails: Parade spat preceded Silver’s administrative leave.”

This is the Advertiser’s depiction of the events that would lead to Dr. Joseph Silver stepping down as President of Alabama State University after a short two and a half month tenure.

A spat, the words sound so simple and unassuming “a spat,” a petty disagreement, a lovers’ quarrel, children fussing on a play ground these are incidents that are usually considered spats.

The mounting tension at ASU between Silver, the Board of Trustees and senior administration was more than a spat or petty quarrel, it was a growing realization that Dr. Joseph Silver was a man unsuitable to lead the historic institution.

Information gathered during the ongoing battle within ASU is no longer available with attribution due to the nature of Silver’s settlement agreement. However, many of the incidences are common knowledge within the ASU hierarchy.

Soon after Silver was placed on administrative leave, he called a press conference to address what he said was “a smear campaign being waged against him.”

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According to a December report by WSFA, Silver read the following statement to the gathered media:

“The last several days have been the most challenging of my personal career. I came to Alabama State University to serve the students, to support the faculty and staff, to make the alumni proud of their alma mater, and to ensure that Alabama State was a great community servant. I came with the objective of taking this institution to the next level of academic excellence. In only two months, the tone was set in a positive manner.”

“An institution’s foundation should be laid with integrity and transparency, this should hold true for all institutions. Integrity and transparency are the hallmarks of how I manage. In reviewing the financials, contracts and other pertinent information of Alabama State, I discovered some items I considered questionable and troubling, at best, and a conflict of interest at the least. When I asked for clarifications, I did not get answers. When I asked for supporting data, the data was withheld.

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“No leader can run an efficient operation, if the senior staff person is not supportive and forthcoming. No institution of this type can endure multiple leaders attempting to be ‘president.’ I was placed on administrative leave because I raised a few probing questions and I refused to go along to get along. That is not my operating style.

“I apologize to the students, the faculty and staff, the alumni and the community for this matter disrupting your lives over the last several days. But, please understand that this institution is greater that any one of us. Whether I am here or not is not the concern. The real concern is taking this institution to the next level of excellence, with integrity, transparency and academic excellence as its foundation.”

“I also want to thank the students, faculty, staff, alumni and community for their huge support. For this, I am appreciative and humbled. Thank you and please understand that I cannot stand for questions at this time. This will be my last interview on this matter.”

“Take care and peace be with you.”

Silver, signed off with his usual, “peace be with you,” but did he intend for his comments to bring peace or hell’s fury down on the university?

Not many days later at a meeting with ASU Board Members—to discuss performance concerns—Silver told members that he would not resign his position as president, and if he didn’t receive all his money, he was going to “bring the University down,” according to sources within the system.

In Silver’s media address he said, “please understand that this institution is greater that any one of us.” Yet, his threat to “bring the University down” unless he received his payday, seems to indicate that he or at least his paycheck was greater than the future of ASU.

As to Silver’s allegations of “financials, contracts and other pertinent information…and some items I considered questionable and troubling, at best, and a conflict of interest at the least” an audit commissioned by Governor Robert Bentley will hopefully answer these accusations. However, as one individual close to the situation commenting on background said, “When you pay half a million dollars for a forensic audit, somebody is going to find something.”

Silver has left the university under a cloud of suspicion, but it is Silver who has a history of leaving universities under suspect situations.

In 2001, “The Savannah News,” reported of alleged intimidation toward staff and faculty by Silver, http://savannahnow.com/stories/031001/LOCssu.shtml “The reassignment of a Savannah State University professor and the termination of a staff member prompted State Rep. Dorothy Pelote to request an investigation into claims of administrative intimidation.”

Pelote wrote University System of Georgia Chancellor Stephen Portch in February, asking for an investigation after University Archivist Richard Riley was fired and Kenneth Jordan was removed from his position in the Masters of Public Administration program.

Both men signed a petition in November that called for the resignation of Savannah State University Vice President of Academic Affairs Joseph Silver.

“I don’t think any state employee should have to go to work and look over their shoulders because they don’t agree with their boss,” Pelote said.

“One professor called me and she was so scared she was trembling.”

Pelote said the action taken against the two outspoken employees so soon after they signed the anti-Silver petition was too much of a coincidence.”

In an article entitled, http://savannahnow.com/stories/070901/LOCssumony.shtml “Federal officials review Savannah State spending,” Savannahnow.com reported that The U. S. Department of Education was looking into allegations that the University’s Title III funds were used for, “unnecessary international travel and campus improvements”

According to the “Savannah News” story, “U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Babyak confirmed there would be an investigation into allegations that Savannah State University officials misused Title III funds, including trips for family members to accompany them to Ghana to develop the school’s international education program.

[Dr. Joseph] Silver said the allegations were untrue.

“No spouses, children or no Savannah State University personnel traveled on SSU funds. (SSU President) Dr. (Carlton) Brown’s wife and daughter came, but their expenses were not paid for by Title III,” Silver said. “We’re not that crazy.”

SSU has used Title III money to pay for travel to China and Ghana to establish student and faculty exchange programs. Title III has funded two delegations of Savannah State students, faculty and staff to travel to Ghana, paid for university administrators to travel to China and for Chinese professors to travel to Savannah State to finalize exchanges.

Internal documents from SSU and the Department of Education relating to funding requests and approvals show that the 1999 Ghana trip expenses included the travel, lodging and meals for a 20-member delegation totaling about $47,000. The 2000 Ghana trip cost about $23,000. Two trips to China for Savannah State Professor George Hong and a follow-up visit by Brown and Silver cost about $26,000. The cost for six Chinese consultants to come to Savannah State was about $5,700.

However, university officials had not responded to requests for confirmation of these figures as of Friday evening.

The approved Title III funding in 2000-01 for the university’s international education program is $155,040.

As well as the foreign trips, the Department of Education will investigate allegations that Title III money was unwisely used to build a one-hole putting green and to refurbish a tennis court in 1998.

More than $100,000 was spent on the construction, contracts, supplies, equipment and personnel used to complete the putting green and tennis court. The project was authorized in the 1997-98 budget year during the John T. Wolfe administration as part of the university’s academic recreation program and was completed in 1998.”

Further reports show that there were Title III irregularities at SSU.

During Silver’s time at SSU no less than four lawsuit were filed for firings of tenured teachers.

Dr. Colton Brown and Dr. Silver had come to SSU as a self described “Dream Team” yet according to many staff and faculty their tenure was one, long, restless night.

In 2010, savannahnow.com, reported, http://savannahnow.com/news/2010-03-14/former-ssu-team-reunited-clark-atlanta-university#.UOxP8KUTto4

“They [Silver and Brown], had a nine-year love-hate relationship with faculty, alumni and student groups. Supporters loved them for raising academic standards, bringing in a wave of new research grants, providing scholarships and securing accreditation. Critics protested their heavy-handed management style, blamed them for a string of campus scandals and NCAA Division I sports losses, and petitioned for their termination.”

In 2006, Silver suddenly announced his retirement. Three months later, Brown resigned amid a state audit, which revealed sloppy and counterproductive money-handling practices on campus, including “an illegal $8,500 loan Brown made to his vice president for business and finance.”

It would seem that Silver’s history should have alerted the ASU search committee to the potential problems that might arise from hiring Silver.

In Silver’s two plus months at ASU allegations of his condescending method of communication style, micromanagement, and strained relationship with the senior staff and Board of Trustees emerged. Little of this information made its way into news reports around Montgomery.

Silver has left Montgomery $685,000 dollars richer, the University has suffered innumerable harm.

Perhaps the story of the man who kicked the hornet’s nest will never be fully known but it is certain that he was not a match for one of Montgomery’s crown jewels.

Thousands of people have spent over a century building a stellar reputation for ASU, yet, in a matter of months the press and Dr. Silver have brought the storied school nothing but consternation, embarrassment and heartache.

It is said that truth will set us free and that time heals all wounds, if this is so then better and brighter days are ahead for Alabama State University.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Elections

Trump Truck and boat parades this weekend

Brandon Moseley

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Trump boat parade

As Election Day draws near, Alabama Republicans are excited about promoting the re-election of Donald J. Trump as President and the election of Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate. This weekend two pro-President Trump events are happening in the state. There will be a truck parade from Ashland to Phenix City on Saturday sponsored by the Clay County Republican Party, while there will also be a boat parade on Wilson Lake in the Shoals sponsored by the Colbert County Republican Party on Sunday.

The pickup trucks will assemble at the Ashland Industrial Park in Clay County, 8240 Hwy 9, Ashland. There is a pre-departure rally at 10:00 a.m. central standard time. The trucks will depart at 11:00 a.m. and then proceed on a parade route that will take them into the bitterly contested swing state of Georgia. The Trump Pickup Parade will wind through east Alabama and West Georgia traveling through LaGrange and Columbus before concluding near the Alabama/Georgia line in Phenix City, 332 Woodland Drive, Phenix City at approximately 2:00 p.m. central time. Speakers will begin at 3:00. Trump flags will be on sale at the event.

The Phenix Motorsports Park will be hosting what sponsor hope could possibly the world’s largest Pickup Tuck parade in U.S. history that is routing over 50 mile through Georgia in effort to “pickup” President Trump’s numbers in GA.

A number dignitaries have been invited to address the Phenix City rally, including Coach Tuberville. Former State Sen. Shadrack McGill, Trump Victory Finance Committee member former State Rep. Perry O. Hooper Jr., and Paul Wellborn, the President and CEO of the largest Family owned Kitchen Cabinet manufacture in the USA are among the featured speakers who have committed to speak at the event.

Entertainment will be provided by: Charity Bowden, an up and coming country music singer who was the runner up on “The Voice”. Charity will sing ‘I am Proud to be an American’ as well as songs from her Voice performances. The McGill Girls will also perform. The three beautiful and talented sisters will be singing patriotic songs in three part harmony. Geoff Carlisle, a professional DJ will be keeping the crowd pumped with music and entertainment.

Following the speakers and the entertainment there will Trump truck-vs- Joe Bidden truck races down the drag strip for the finale.

The Northwest Alabama boat parade will be on Sunday. The boats will gather at 2:00 p.m. near Turtle Point and then the flotilla will parade around the open waters of Wilson Lake til 3_00 p.m.. There will be a contest for best decorated Trump boats.

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Trump supporters have held a number of large boat parades across the state to show their support for the re-election of Pres. Trump.

Boat parade sponsors say that this parade will be: pro-American, pro-law enforcement, pro-military.

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Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise

Eddie Burkhalter

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COVID-19 Corona Influenza Virus Molecules Image Stock Photo

The number of rising hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama is a concerning sign of a possible coming surge of the disease, state health experts said Friday. Alabama hospitals were caring for 888 coronavirus patients Friday, the highest number since Sept 9. 

UAB Hospital was caring for around 80 COVID-19 inpatients Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, speaking to reporters Friday. UAB Hospital hasn’t had that many coronavirus inpatients since Aug. 18, when the disease was surging statewide.

“We have been dealing with this since March, and I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard,” Lee said. 

Alabama added 3,852 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but 1,287 of them were older positive antigen tests, conducted in June through October and submitted to ADPH by a facility in Mobile, according to the department. Still, Alabama’s daily case count has been increasing, concerning health officials already worried that as the weather turns colder and the flu season ramps up, Alabama could see a surge like the state had in July.

Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases was 1,247 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept 4. Over the last 14 days, Alabama has added 17,451 new COVID-19 cases.

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Friday’s inclusion of those older positive test results throws off the day’s percent positivity, by Thursday the state’s percent of tests that were positive was nearly 16 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.

The state added 16 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing to total confirmed deaths statewide to 2,859. Over the last two weeks, 206 deaths were reported in the state. Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily deaths on Friday was 15.

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Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”

Harris noted the data dump of older confirmed cases in Friday’s data, but said “but nevertheless, I think it’s clear our numbers are going up.”

Harris said it’s not yet clear what’s causing the continued spread, but said it may be due at least in part to larger private gatherings. ADPH staff has mentioned a few outbreaks association with such gatherings, but Harris said it’s hard to know for certain if that’s the major driver in the state’s rising numbers.

“It’s football season and the holidays are coming up and school is back in session,” Harris said. “I think people are just not being as safe as they were.”

Harris noted that on ADPH’s color-coded, risk indicator dashboard, red counties, which denotes counties with rising cases and percent positivity, the 17 red counties on Friday were distributed across the state.

“So there’s not one event, or even a handful of events. It seems like there’s just a lot of things happening in a lot of places,” Harris said.

Alabama’s rising numbers are mirrored in many states. The U.S. reported more than 71,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearing the country’s record highs, set in July.

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News

Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology

Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.

Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”

The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.

Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.

“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”

Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.

“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.

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Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”

Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.

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The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.

“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”

Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.

“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”

District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.

“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”

District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” 
Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”

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Elections

Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies

Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

Josh Moon

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones speaks during the Democratic National Convention.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C. 

Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.  

But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump. 

“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”

Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”

Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home. 

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“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat. 

“I rest my case.”

You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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